It was after , but her light was still on when her father peeked in to see Gloria packing a few last-hour things like hairpins and make-up and jewelry she’d forgotten and rediscovered, searching beneath her bed for her suitcases, also finding Paulo’s duffel bag. She shoved it into one of her suitcase compartments. She didn’t know why. It was something from the past, something from the girl she’d been. Everything would be different tomorrow. I guess that’s why, she mused.
“Hi,” she said to her father.
“Can I come in?”
“I have something for you.” He handed her an envelope. “It’s nothing big.”
She feathered through the envelope counting five-hundred dollars.
“This is huge!” she said, wrapping her arms around his neck, feeling for the first time a reticence about her marriage. She wouldn’t tell Jacob about the cash. She would keep it safe in case there was ever some emergency. She remembered being a little girl and her mother criticizing other women in the neighborhood, saying, “A good wife doesn’t keep secrets from her husband no matter how seemingly irrelevant.”
Already, Gloria was breaking this oft-repeated lesson.
Her father sat beside her on the bed, wearing martini-printed pajamas (a gift from Gloria) and brown leather slippers. He said, “I never say it enough, but I need to tell you…” he stammered, “I love you.” Wiping his brow, the words seemingly headache producing, he repeated, “I love you very much.”
“I love you too, Dad,” she said.
“You’ll always be my little girl.” He patted her knee and rose from the bed. “Get some sleep. Big day tomorrow.”
She felt her dad’s sincerity, and was grateful for his words, but she was angry too. Why hadn’t he told her that ‘little girl’ part before? Why did he have to save it for the night before her wedding… when she was twenty-nine? Was it too much for him to say something tender before now? Her parents, especially her mother, seemed always to endure rather than love her. After the summer with Paulo, she was strange like some exotic food no one wanted, smelling of curry and mangoes and garlic. Her parents were meat and potato people making finger crosses to keep her at bay. Even so, aside from Bink’s Department store, where she was accepted because, according to her manager, she had a “friendly disposition” and “affable smile,” this family, this mother and father, this strangeness, was what she knew. Jacob was the opposite of everything she knew. Leap forward, she thought.
Tomorrow. She fell asleep with the word unspoken on her lips, the five hundred dollars beneath her pillow.
At the last minute, Gloria pulled the pearl pins from her hair, letting it ripple past her shoulders. She stared at her reflection in the vanity while her father adjusted his tie for the fourth or fifth time and cleared his throat.
“Don’t be nervous,” Gloria said.
Turning to see her in the mirror, he said, “Your mother wants you to wear your hair up.”
“Jacob likes it down.”
“You’ll be his wife within the hour.” He cleared his throat once more. “You know what that entails? Your duties…” Gloria was clipping on her diamond earrings. They were from
“It’s all right,” she said. The light faded as a cloud passed over outside.
“I’m sure you’ve talked to your mother.”
“Please stop,” Gloria said. She wanted to get married right away just to avoid this conversation.
Her father said, “There’s that, you know, but there’s cooking and cleaning, and the other things your mother does, like cleaning and organizing. I said ‘cleaning’, didn’t I?”
“Dad, it’s okay. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“I know.” He adjusted his tie.
Her father wore a simple black suit. They stood side-by-side looking into her mother’s vanity. “It’s funny,” Gloria said, “that after tonight, I’ll be gone.”
“It’s funny,” he agreed, putting his arm around her waist. His fingertips brushing the silver charm at her wrist. “I’ve tried to be a good dad.”
She kissed his cheek.
His hand was on the doorknob when Mrs. Ricci burst into the room, jostling him backwards. “What’s taking so long?” she demanded. Like Gloria, she wore peach. If her daughter wasn’t going to wear white, they were going to match. If Gloria was wearing peach, Mrs. Ricci was wearing peach.
“We’re on our way,” Gloria said.
Reaching for a crimped strand of Gloria’s hair, her mother said, “If you were in this house one more day, you’d wake up baldheaded.” She slammed the door. Her voice carried. “You know women,” she told Jacob and the priest, “especially brides. Just two more seconds.”
Mr. Ricci put his hand on the doorknob again. “Are we ready?”
On his arm, Gloria walked down the hall, past family photos and school pictures, beginning with first grade and ending with high-school graduation, to Jacob Butterfield’s side—who squeezed her pale fingers and smiled reassuringly. Gloria looked into Jacob’s dark eyes, smoky in the foyer’s light. She was placing her trust in him—something she’d done only once before—trusting Paulo.
Gloria twitched her fingers in Jacob’s working hands, feeling a lump in her throat, dizzy, counting the syllables as the young priest unenthusiastically did his part. (The young priest didn’t like marrying couples outside mass. This was not God’s house. Never mind that the young priest had a lusting penchant for altar boys. That’s beside the point.)
While Mrs. Ricci feigned crying, dabbing her rouged cheeks with her deceased grandmother’s handkerchief, Mr. Ricci again cleared his throat. He’d lived with his wife almost forty years, but he was afraid of living here alone with her. They’d never been completely alone before… not for more than twelve hours. As far as Gloria’s marriage to Jacob Butterfield, knowing little about the young groom, Mr. Ricci still pitied him. Gloria was sweet, but she was strong-willed, sexually defiled, and strangely enough, marked by the moon. Even if Mr. Ricci didn’t believe in paranormal events, he knew what he saw, and his daughter had a funny moon-shaped mark along with a silver moon-shaped charm, both prone to change color depending on Gloria’s mood—on her right wrist. Mr. Ricci knew that his daughter was no more Satanic than the Easter Bunny. Gloria always said it simply and best: “I was marked,” mentioning a woodland woman, a Mrs. Shu or Mrs. Shuman, another of her imaginary friends. The doctors at the clinic in
I’ve been a good dad, Mr. Ricci thought. Imagination, even in teenagers, is normal, and there was the mark and the charm. No one could explain those.
Mr. Ricci, Mrs. Ricci, the itchy priest, Jacob and Gloria simultaneously thought, It’s almost over.
Gloria forgot to breathe. As the priest pronounced them husband and wife, she collapsed, Jacob catching her under the arms before her knees hit the carpet. The silver charm around her wrist was black.
Mrs. Ricci thought, Godspeed, heathen.
Eighty miles south of Ridgewood, New Jersey, the radio station fading and crackling with static, the car full of cigarette smoke, Gloria fell asleep dreaming a parade of Bink’s customers, their mouths puckered and speechless, carrying jumbled word signs: Mistake, Warning, This, a, Is. Frustrated, she pieced the message together: Warning, This Is a Mistake. She woke coughing and sweating. It was the first nightmare she remembered having.
“Is everything all right?” Jacob asked.
“Are you okay?”
“Absolutely.” She shifted in the seat. Her legs slippery, sliding in her gown. “I’m cherry.”
Food for thought
There were never two people more perfect for each other. Jacob was not capable of lies, not to say that he wasn’t prone to exaggeration or misinterpretations. For instance, as Gloria sat beside his second cousin Lucy in the fire station’s meeting hall, attending a wedding party in her and Jacob’s honor, Lucy identified Jacob’s father surveying the buffet table. Occasionally the old man devoured a ham biscuit or deviled egg without a plate or napkin, dollops of mayonnaise and paprika in his beard.
“I thought Jacob was an orphan,” Gloria said, scratching at her leg. (There was no doubt she was pregnant. Nauseous and itching from the backs of her shoulders to her ankles, her manicured nails left bright marks on her pale skin.
“That’s his mama,” Lucy said, pointing toward the corner of the hall. “She’s my mama’s cousin.”
Gloria didn’t know what to say. Jacob’s mama was heavy-set, eating from a plate in the corner, her backside swallowing the folding chair on which she sat.