Isn’t guilt just a debased form of arrogance?
I first saw the woman who was to become my only wife on the day of her sister’s wedding. Sunny was walking alone in a rose garden, a golden and pensive woman aglow within her willow-green bridesmaid’s sheath and surrounded by lavish masses of Floribundas, some with their stems held erect in the Long Island afternoon and some drooping under the weight of their blossoms.
Sunny would have heard the crunch of my heels on the gravel of the garden path. She might have intuited the weight of my hands riding harmlessly in the pockets of my slacks, and perhaps recorded my attitude of nonchalance at the unexpected nature of our encounter even though I had been navigating through the lush chaos of roses for just such an eventuality. I slowed my advance as I drew nearer. Summer dust scented the air. Our own marriage would be celebrated in Manhattan.
I told her I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to sit.
We’d actually decided against assigned seating.
Occasional cries of merriment erupted from the poolside patio as wedding guests arranged themselves around festive tables. The groom’s parents’ house occupied the edge of a tricky par five, and the rose garden ended in a tall net screen that had been erected to deflect errant golf balls.
Sandra Joule, Sunny said. And you must be John Strongbow.
I held out my hand. People call me Jack.
Sunny’s grip was firm. Same as Jack Shott, she said.
Yes. I had joined the woman who would become my wife beside an arbor of shell-pink and yellow climbers that were entwined in riotous display, the canes studded with fat thorns like dusty ruby wedges tipped with brass. The lucky groom.
Sunny smiled again, less spontaneously this time, her gaze like that of an experienced wilderness traveller who was aware that when things go wrong, it can happen very quickly. Did you come out just for the wedding?
I had been her younger sister’s thesis adviser at UCLA; and after Jane had defended her dissertation on the unintended consequences inherent in the ambiguous nature of carnal desire in the “new” male beset by the fluidity of gender-identity configurations in post-modern society—a position that, while not revolutionary, had nevertheless been insightful and vivid—our friendship had flowered briefly but intensely.
I told Sunny I had flown back to New York on other matters then decided to extend my trip for the wedding. It’s too bad about the bridegroom’s hands, I said.
Yes. Sunny’s gaze was unwavering. It is, isn’t it.
I was watching him. He never flinched.
In the reception line, you mean?
No. Jack wouldn’t.
He seems very—
Yes. He is. Very.
We stood together listening to the unwholesome and hollow music made by metal woods on tees and fairways, with the muffled passage of cars on Montauk Highway forming a low drone note in the background. It seemed that Jack Shott had broken bones in both hands the night before, and the damage was so extensive that he had even required help dressing himself for the wedding.