Tuesday, June 24

There Is Always Red Wine

IT WAS A SPECTACULAR hot day and I stripped off my jacket, removed my watch, rolled up my sleeves and tried to cool down in the carriage, using the wedding card as a makeshift fan. The card in the envelope was ninety-nine pence and the message inside was many years old. I had to take a cab from the station in town. I struck up a conversation with the Romanian driver and we talked of weddings and mobile phones. We passed down roads I had not ventured for years. I had travelled those roads when I was very good friends with the groom – in secondary school and sixth form, twelve years ago. Their lines up and down valleys stirred memories of mine and I marveled at how fast life goes without so much as me brushing upon it so that it becomes virginal again.
The church was old and the murals faded so that only dark brown paint still stained. The windows let in holy white light and guests were greeted. For a moment, my friend’s mother regarded me before recogising me, at which point she threw her arms open and we kissed each other on the cheek. She is a lovely lady. ‘The last time I saw you, you were only this high,’ she held her hand in midair. I said hello to my friend, the groom, and my other friend, the best man; between them thirty years of friendship. I took a seat and was jumped upon by the gentleman next to me, who had visited from his insurance post in Bangkok to attend the wedding. His girlfriend was a bridesmaid. We discussed the coup, until another of my old friends showed, then we discussed the failed marriages that had befallen many of our friends.
During the service I said nothing – though often I felt the impulse to reply ‘Amen’ as I had been raised to – and felt nothing. Weddings stir not an ounce of emotion in me; I simply stand there and perspire and think of cold beer. I was, if anything, more attached to the affections of my friend’s mother upon her husband and the way her extravagant hat irritated his ear. I admired the church and thought I might donate some money toward its upkeep. ‘Nothing in this church is central. It’s really irritating,’ my friend is an architect and was keeping his mind busy with work.
The complimentary confetti got stuck in the box and not a flake of mine ever left despite my best efforts. My gesture toward the new couple was empty, though every time I looked at the groom I was to smile, for he remains one of the more lovely people I have ever known. I noticed he was grey at the temples now.
I had known another pair of friends who had married in the same place – though not within the old church; their marriage lasted four-and-a-half months. They were both estranged by me shortly thereafter, and me from them.
In the car to the reception I looked out of the window at the passing golden brush. The sun played wonderfully. It was a fine day to be married and for the wedding car to roar through, its polished bonnet bouncing and the old rubber wheels shining. My friend lifted his hand up in the air as they drove along; the husband next to his new wife, blonde and dimple-cheeked.
‘This is like a school reunion,’ a girl said.
It was, and they were all playing catch-up as they reassured one another that the silent distance was nothing personal.
I made small-talk begrudgingly. On the other side of the field – in the middle of which was a grand marquee – stood many of my other friends from school, the cold shoulder of whom I felt all too painfully. I pined. The table allocations were hung from a board and I made a note of my place. I was sat with many of those old friends to whom I raised eyebrows and smiled, attempting to make myself known, friendly.
The girl to my left introduced herself. She irritated me immensely with her false interest. On her top lip was fine blonde down. She squirmed and squealed and spoke to everybody as though they were infants.
During the speeches I paid devout attention. Again I smiled at my friend and how lovely he was; the speech he gave to his mother tore at my heartstrings. A message was read out from his disabled brother who was grunting and shaking on a faraway table. My eyes watered! the poetry of all this! I could not think of one happiness and the absence of another. I wanted cold fruit. I plugged away at my glass of wine. There was always wine. I dried my eyes.
After dinner, I went out of the marquee for a smoke.
These people said nothing to me. In no time at all, I had become bored of them, predicted their tiresome chatter and left them be to themselves. An old acquaintance and I began a conversation, sitting down on some hay, sharing tobacco from my pouch. He too could not understand the whole occasion as it had, perhaps, been understood by all others. He frothed at the mouth as he spoke, and the fool I had remembered, was forgotten – as it had failed to do with so many other of my friends. He was now living in Oslo, supporting himself with photography and living with anarchists in a commune. He moved around without fear, sober as a judge, feckless as a child. I was deeply interested. Time had been as heavy on him as it had on me, spinning us on its wheel and rendering us unrecognisable from that of our past selves. I got up to steal bottles of wine from the table in front of us. The sun set as we talked.
Evening guests arrived, dazed by the drunkenness of those who had celebrated all day. I thought of what fools many of my old friends had become. Hours passed that I can no longer recall; I was not unhappy, but I was bumbling around without much on my mind. From the heave of the marquee spread the fields and draining out on their grass were the disco lights. Music got caught in the branches of trees where the birds tried to nest. I found my gratification in watching the dancers. I was mostly quiet, going to the bar for red wine and returning to my spot. I watched the band for they amused me with their shiny brass instruments and comical clothes. More and more of the time went by and I struggle to remember much as drunkenness took hold of me. Soon the marquee was empty. I had taken control of the stereo system. I could hardly stand but I was playing music as they all left.
Looking up, I saw that I was nearly all alone. Only my friend – the best man – remained and he was putting his tongue down the throat of a girl who also remained. The two of them danced and kissed. The drink was still left in the corner of the marquee so I finished off all of the red wine. A taxi company would send someone for me. I thanked them and waited, watching the dancing and the kissing, being ignored, and working through the red wine.
The taxi driver woke me up as we were entering my hometown. I directed him while a disgusting and heavy nausea clung at my throat. Sickness was gripping me so that to stop myself from vomiting I wound down the window and breathed deeply. The air swum into my lungs with the cold hue of four o’clock blue. He got me home and I leapt out of the cab, throwing my guts on to the pavement as if they were old baggage. I staggered and threw up again into the road. My parents’ house frowned at me. The cabbie came out and patted my back and I thanked him. I walked up the side of my house and threw up into the patch where my mother grows mint. All the mint would be ruined. The vomit was creamy red so that it was pink so that it was spilling over my lower teeth so that it was choking me. All the mint would be ruined. I saw that the sun was rising and the surrounding houses were putting holes in the sky. Birds sung little, sweet songs. I ran my mouth under the tap and then went to bed, not feeling much or maybe nothing at all, yet through the blind slats I could see the sun rising and all of the perfect stillness being perfumed by daylight once again.

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