The Disappearing Bride and Other Stories
Today being married to you makes my heart feel like a cucumber, long and cold and awkwardly shaped for the cavity in which it belongs. The new brides are not interested in my advice. They tell me to buzz off. Their nails are encrusted with diamonds that will be thrown away at the end of the day. If I knew where they’d be washing their hands, I’d follow them and gather those diamonds. They’re tiny, indeed, and yellowish in color, but nonetheless.
Because I am so difficult, we go to a motel. In the motel, there you feel free. Yet I and my cucumber fail you again. We leave at 5:17 am after a few hours of terrifying sleep, during which your limbs strewn over me felt like a hot, fleshy web. (In the past, your arms and legs always served as a shield of blood and bone, defending me from nightmares.) I gasped, got thirsty. My eyes so dry they felt like knives.
The streets are murky. You could have picked a different bride. Yet here we are, burdened with luggage, limping, and I am insisting that I need a notebook, a pencil, a table, in order to record phrases such as: “Today being married to you makes my heart feel like X.”
At sunup, we find ourselves alongside a wide black river where a boat bearing a bridal party moves eastward, gleaming. You take me to an old library with a heavy wooden desk. The ghost of our future daughter runs naughtily down the stone hallway. You chase her, feeding her bits of banana. I try to write: “during which your limbs strewn over me felt like X X, X X.” But I cannot recall! “My X so X they felt like X.” I’d had something to say about the sound of many doors slamming. I’d wanted to attack you with sharp questions. I’d wanted to know precisely why you hadn’t selected one of the other, better brides. Our nonexistent daughter! She’s so noisy, playing hide-and-go-seek with you.
A cupcake and a bottle of scotch stood on a subway platform. In the fluorescence, the scotch lacked its rich amber glow. It looked orange and muted, teetering dangerously on the platform’s edge. The cupcake pushed the bottle of scotch back to safety, smudging its lavender frosting in the process. To everyone else, the bottle of scotch looked like a drunk young man with bloodshot eyes and a wrinkled shirt; the cupcake looked like a tired young woman with bloodshot eyes and a tense neck. But the bottle of scotch and the cupcake knew they were a bottle of scotch and cupcake. Embarrassed, the cupcake inched away from the bottle of scotch and stared wistfully at a normal couple. “A cupcake and a bottle of scotch stood on a subway platform. That sounds like the beginning of a bad joke,” the cupcake said. “Or a great joke,” slurred her companion. “Don’t fall, idiot!” the cupcake muttered. “Love me!” the bottle of scotch implored.
A man in a suit and a naked woman stood on a subway platform. In the fluorescence, her limbs looked thick and awkward, but under milder light, she’d be lovely. They embraced. “Goodbye.” “Goodbye.” “I’ll never see you again, will I?” To everyone else, the man in the suit looked like a man in a suit and the naked woman looked like a woman in a dress. But the man in the suit and the naked woman knew he wore a suit while she wore nothing. “Are you cold?” Down the tunnel, the train’s howling white eyes appeared.
Long after midnight, I am awoken by the sound of your shivering body. Yes, it makes an actual sound. I can hear the racket of your bones. Why didn’t you get under the covers, idiot? Your body is too drunk to realize how cold it is, so I must realize it. Come here, idiot, get in, crawl in, I’ll hold you until your blood turns from scotch back into blood, until your bones turn from icicles back into bones.
Once there was a person whose sadness was so enormous she knew it would kill her if she didn’t squeeze it into a cube one centimeter by one centimeter by one centimeter. Diligently, she set about this task. Alone in her room, she grappled with her sadness. It was quite a beast, alternately foggy and slippery; by the time she managed to grip it, her skin was sleek with sweat, soaked with tears. (The sounds coming from her apartment worried the neighbors. What was that shy little woman up to?) She twisted her sadness like a dishrag. It strained against her, tugged, pulled. She sat on her sadness to shrink it down the way old-fashioned ladies sat on their snakeskin suitcases.
Then, finally, there it was: a small white cube.
She slipped it into her pocket, went outside, noticed orange lichen growing on tenements, ordered lemonade in a café. The black-and-white checkered floors nearly blinded her—they looked exactly like joy, and she almost covered her eyes. But instead, she fingered the thing in her pocket. Her eyes became bright prisms; they made her irresistible, and soon she had a friend. One day, passing some kids in the street who had just lost a die down the sewer, she discovered a die in her pocket. “Wow, lady,” they said. “Where’dya get a blank die?”
“Gosh,” she said, “I really can’t remember.” And she couldn’t.
You know that book where they went all over the world and took pictures of families in front of their homes along with everything they owned? A hut in Kenya, a suburban house in Texas, a Tokyo apartment? I always loved to see the precious and unprecious items, the woven blankets and the TVs, the families standing nervously alongside. Sometimes I look around our home and imagine everything out on the street. But I hope that someday, when they come to take our picture with everything we own, it will just be us, standing before a building, your arm around me, a blank die in my palm.
He slams her face into a maple tree until the bark is imprinted in her skin. She becomes a maple tree. He taps her for syrup. She poisons her sap. He falls beside a stream. She becomes the stream. He vomits in the stream. She slaps his face. He feels rejuvenated by the water and goes to punish the tree. She becomes a honeybee and stings him. He yanks her wings off.
She robs a bank and brings the money home. He buys champagne and calls the police. She escapes from prison, finds a glass bottle, and searches for him. He gets a job as a clown. She can’t smash him with the bottle while he’s surrounded by children. He juggles swords and glares at her. She goes home and crawls into bed.
He sits on her and sings songs with hateful lyrics. She pours boiling water over his sleeping body. He becomes a poisonous teabag in her teacup. She drinks tea and falls into a dead sleep. He drags her to the bathtub and drops the hairdryer in. She gets electrocuted and becomes a terrible fire. He flees the bathroom. She devours the towels, then pursues him. He becomes a drip on the leaky ceiling. She approaches, radiant flames howling up the walls. He evaporates. She explodes out the front door. He becomes a rainstorm.
She races down the block, burning desperately. He mists. She rages through intersections, searching. He drizzles. She sees some litter and, suspecting it’s him, burns it. He rains and rains. She realizes the rain is him. He pours down. She leaps up. He smokes and steams. She sputters and gasps.
Two marble statues appear in someone’s yard. A man and a woman. They’re splendid. A miracle of the Lord. Many poor, sad people come to place marigolds and copper coins at their feet. The marble man and woman gaze at each other with a look that cannot be mistaken. That look—it helps people. Their hearts become strong, and marigolds pile up in the yard.
In this version of the story, the bride wishes to disappear into the faux groves at the plant nursery. Someone has had the idea of placing two slender white-barked trees on either side of the altar so it will look as though the ceremony is taking place in a delicate forest. Perhaps it was her idea. But now, hearing the others discuss it with the plant nursery employee, she finds it offensively stupid. The bride walks away, toward the trees with their roots aboveground and wrapped in white plastic; white fabric will swath her head twenty-four hours from now. She strolls among the rows. Her heart cries out like a drowning fish. She hears them yelling in the distance, but chooses to attribute the mournful repetitions of her name to the trees themselves.
The rows end at the beach. She steps out onto gray sand where gray waves hit again and again. A chubby mermaid sits on the beach, her tail as pungent as fish skin in a trashcan. Her hair is the color of pennies and she uses a rock to draw cryptic symbols in the sand, diamonds inside circles … Getting weak coffee in a fishy little seaside café this morning with her parents and future in-laws, everyone talking, making plans, the bride noticed on the wall above them a bad painting of a mermaid drawing cryptic symbols in the sand, the mermaid’s arms thick and awkward … The bride discovers that the mermaid has vanished from the beach, along with the cryptic symbols. Her heart cries out like a drowning fish.
There are whales in these waters, whales with hearts the size of cars and heartbeats loud enough to be heard two miles away. Naked in the gray water, the bride goes under and listens for whale heartbeats. They find her there. They give her tea, put her to bed, swath her in white, place lilies in her hand, and send her down the aisle toward an altar framed by two slender white-barked trees.
I decide that I should like to be married in a straw hat, a straw hat so huge it verges on the ridiculous, and a long red dress with scenes of Japanese tea gardens printed all over it in white, and a pair of large green hoop earrings, and a pair of rhinestone shoes bought on the beach in Los Angeles, and enormous sunglasses with rims the color of Coca-Cola.
I am sorry, but this is simply what I want to wear when I am married. I refuse to wear anything else. So: I must go out and find these items. But not a single store in New York City has a straw hat as huge as the straw hat in my imagination. Why, why, why, does this always happen? Reality lags so very far behind everything else.
A long red dress with scenes of Japanese tea gardens printed all over it in white? No such luck. There aren’t any hoop earrings in the particular grassy shade of green I envision. I live 2,793 miles away from the beach in Los Angeles where they sell rhinestone shoes. And, of course, no sunglasses are as much like Coca-Cola as the sunglasses I desire.
Exhausted from marching around in the obscene murky heat of June, from visiting every single store in New York City, from the music these stores play to manipulate the unmanipulatable imaginations of patrons such as myself, I walk back to the cottage where he and I live. The rooms smell of rosemary cooking in olive oil. He is nowhere to be seen. Laid out on the bed is a straw hat; a long red dress; a pair of hoop earrings; a pair of rhinestone shoes; a pair of sunglasses. A confession: none of these objects is quite perfect, none of them aligns flawlessly with the picture in my head—yet suddenly my imagination reshapes itself around these new objects, the objects he has gathered, and now these objects are precisely what I have been thinking of all along.
Because of everything that’s happened, they’re forced to settle in a small square suburban house. Adam, driven by natural instinct, tends the lawn. He even figures out the lawnmower. Eve, however, almost burns the house down when she attempts to use the stove. She declares she won’t eat anything until she can eat fruit right off trees in their own yard. There are no trees at all in their yard, much less any fruit trees. Quickly, they learn the difference between making love and fucking. Afterward, Eve cries. She walks through the rooms, recalling the clean golden light of the other place. Here, the air is velvety with car exhaust.
Much to their surprise, Eve has a baby. They didn’t know anything about anything. They’d assumed she was getting fat from all the potato chips he bought at the gas station since she refused to cook. But then one day she starts to feel large, dangerous things happening in her gut. Adam is still a slow and nervous driver; by the time they get to the hospital, the upholstery is soaked with Eve’s blood.
They do the things they’re supposed to do. They send their sons to school. Eve learns how to cook, and how to operate the dishwasher. She buys makeup. Adam works as a landscaper. He wears a baseball cap. They have their neighbors over for barbeques. They take photographs of their sons on prom night. Eve develops heavy jowls and sharply plucked eyebrows. She dyes her hair dark brown, almost black. She learns how to laugh heartily, and prefers jellied fruit to raw.
One evening, the sunset in the suburbs is uncharacteristically golden.
“Hey,” Adam says when Eve hands him a beer, “does this remind you of anything?”
“Honey,” she says, “that goddamn dryer isn’t—”
“Doesn’t this remind you of anything?”
“Sure, baby,” she says, “it reminds me of a nice sunset.” There’s nothing else it could remind her of, because she was born and raised in the suburbs, and this is all she’s ever known.
Once you’ve been dead for a period of time, you know how true it is that we each die alone; and indeed Snow White remained vaguely cognizant of this truth even after her life had revived and resolved itself in joyous ways …
She and Prince X were a happy couple. (In fact, everyone found them infuriatingly darling, and whenever they were paraded through the streets the roses tossed upon them contained, tucked among their petals, small cryptic curses—“Sixteen onions in a barrel of brine, You may be hers but she is mine!” Obviously the royal couple never saw these; only the hunchbacked, dwarfish street sweepers read them, giggling strangely.) They were happy … but Prince X was a dreamy fellow and sometimes vanished into his imagination, leaving her alone with her knowledge that we each die alone. She searched for him in dusty abandoned towers. Speculating that perhaps he had been magically shrunken, she hunted for him in the sugar-bowl.
By the time he reappeared, barging through the bronze doors and proposing a picnic on the parapet, she’d already become lost in solitude. She wondered if the huntsman had removed her heart and replaced it with a clump of frozen dirt. What else could explain this terrible coldness in her, this immunity to his eager eyes? How she wished she could coo back at him! But we each die alone! “Polgi nitsway,” she said apologetically. “Ogblitefa?”
“What a joker you are!” he exclaimed, embracing her.
“Ikne faldig ti!” She squirmed away and ran to the mirror. She was herself—black hair! pure skin! red lips!—and yet she was not. “Folea badong, u lemrig!” It was no joke—this had become the only language she knew. Her solitude swelled and completed itself. For days she’d live lonesomely at his side, her heart like a tin can and her mouth producing only unrecognizable words. Eventually, her mind would wrap itself around his language again.