SOME OTHER WEDDING
The wedding venue, a large thatched house built beside a small lake, was out in the wilderness, on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Eliot sipped champagne and looked around the room: the white fairy lights hanging from the domed ceiling; the tables, decorated with sunflowers and small wooden elephants; trunks raised.
As their wedding song came to an end, his sister squeezed Martin’s hand, and the guests were invited to join the newlyweds on the dance floor. Eliot’s parents went first – they’d always been great dancers; then his elder brother, still with a drink in hand, was pulled up by his wife. They’d had their troubles lately, but seemed past all that now, swaying close together, laughing.
Soon, Eliot was the only one left sitting at the table. He was happy to sit alone, to drink and watch, but seeing his cousin Jane in the middle of the dance floor, her tanned, athletic body conspicuous in a light yellow bridesmaid’s dress, her eyes fixed on him with intention, he quickly rose and strode out to the balcony.
Ah, look who’s here. Eliot my boy, said his Uncle Charles, smoking a cigar, drinking his usual, rum and coke. Doesn’t your sister look beautiful?
So there’s just you. When’s it going to be?
Who knows? he said, switching his drink from one hand to the other.
You’d do well marrying someone from home. Stop your shenanigans with those senoritas, such volatile types.
Eliot shrugged, and drank. He’d forgotten how much the pirate his uncle could be after a few rum and cokes – bushveld cappuccinos, his uncle called them, because he drank them daily and usually before lunch.
Still teaching in Spain?
Eliot nodded, aware of what his uncle would say next.
We have schools here, too, you know. You should come home. Sure, this country has its problems, but where don’t they?
I’ve been away too long…
What kind of talk is that?
Eliot prepared himself for another onslaught of his uncle’s barroom wisdom when he felt his hand being taken from behind.
Come on you, said his cousin Jane. You need to dance. Here Dad, take his drink.
She took the glass from Eliot’s hand, gave it to her father and pulled Eliot back inside.
Wait, I really would prefer…
Oh come on, it’s a slow one. You don’t have to move much.
She led him to the middle of the dance floor. Her yellow dress could barely contain her body – her breasts pushing down and her toned thighs pressing up – and the other guests yielded to staring at her as if her presence had a cosmic effect, a sun pulling all things towards it. She held him close and put her cheek against his. He felt his legs turn to wood, and his head began to swell.
Relax will you.
I’ll try, he said. Not sure where to focus his eyes, he closed them. He remembered how they danced as kids. He liked to be watched back then.
Look at them, said Jane, her breath hot in his ear.
He opened his eyes. His parents danced nearby, sharing hearty asides with old friends, happy that the wedding had gone to plan. Proud of their daughter. His mother, her lips glossy and red from a fresh application of lipstick, looked directly at him and smiled.
You should dance with her, said Jane. She hasn’t seen you in so long.
He looked away, his eyes moving down, but seeing her breasts, he looked up again, and remained staring, just above her head, at the white lights, which caused the room to blur.
There’ll be time enough after the wedding, he said.
Come on, just do as I say. We’ll dance over to them and make a swop. Besides, your dad’s a much better dancer, she said, kissing Eliot on the cheek.
But as they began to move towards his parents the song ended and another, more upbeat song began. People cheered and sang along to an old favourite. Eliot broke away from Jane.
I guess I’ll wait for the next one.
Where’s my old Eliot gone? Just promise me you’ll dance with her before the end of the night.
He grabbed a bottle of champagne and a glass from the table and headed for the back of the room. People at other tables were talking and laughing. They all seemed to be reminiscing or making plans for the next big occasion. Some of his sister’s friends called out to him. He had not seen them since school; dressed in suits and low cut dresses, they all seemed like unsuccessful film stars reduced now to acting out real life.
How are you?
Fine, I’m well. How are you?
Great. How many years has it been?
Too many. Good to see you.
You’re looking well.
Thanks, you too.
See you later, maybe.
Yes, we must catch up.
He noticed a door hidden in the shadows behind the bar and, making sure not to be seen, opened it.
He found himself outside alone in a small courtyard. In the centre stood a gazebo. He opened the champagne and poured himself a glass. The sky was clear and full of stars. The constellations of the southern hemisphere seemed like strangers to him, but finding the Southern Cross he was immediately placed in the nights of his youth. He was seldom alone on those nights, yet since then, like the sky, his point-of-view had shifted.
He heard the distant music coming from the party and every now and then the shout of someone toasting to the health of the newlyweds. He looked up at the gazebo, decorated with pink ribbons, tied at every corner from top to bottom. This gazebo, he thought, forgotten here, the remains of some other wedding. He stood under it. Though its wooden structure was sturdy, the paint was weathered and white flakes lay on the ground. He imagined how the couple must have stood beneath it, making their vows before a priest, and, perhaps, these stars. He held up his glass to them, wishing them well, and sipped his champagne. This forgotten wedding, under a gazebo, a thousand witnesses light-years away. He put down his glass and untied one of the ribbons and put it in the breast pocket of his suit. Then raising the bottle, he began slowly to dance.
Later, when Eliot walked back through the door, the shadows had spread, the room had become darker, the white fairy lights spent, and the tables stripped. The music was hard and red strobe lights flickered on the sweaty faces of people moving, packed together, as if coiled about some unknown centre. There was no sign of the bride and the groom; neither his cousin Jane nor his uncle Charles. His parents, too, must have gone to bed. Eliot remembered then. He would have to dance with his mother some other time, at some other wedding.