After the Gazebo by Jen Knox
She felt it in her toes that morning, dread that she would shove into ivory heels and dance on beneath heavy clouds. He felt a surge of adrenaline that he thought must accompany every man on his wedding day.
Everything had been set in motion four months ago, when they adopted a pug that had been abandoned in a nearby apartment complex. They were unsure they’d have the time to devote to the puppy, but the pug’s bunched face and little square body seemed perfect. It would be a responsibility test, a sort of trial run before they had children.
The pug had dermatitis between his folds, which cost money to correct, as did his shots and medications. It was enough to tear a small hole in their new car fund; they had to reevaluate the year and model. The lesser car they picked had good reviews, and the salesman—when he realized they weren’t the best negotiators and had told him exactly what their real budget was—said it was more durable than a lot of the newer ones. The couple’s fate was sealed when she drove the car off the lot, when he inserted the CD he’d brought along. “Ocean Breathes Salty” began the soundtrack.
They decided on a name for their puppy after reading that the strange little forehead wrinkle pugs share is referred to as a prince mark because it resembles the Chinese symbol for prince. They took Prince on lazy walks after work, allowed him to watch Animal Planet, and each snuck him treats when the other was not watching.
They made resolutions often. Both wanted to be somewhere else, but were unsure exactly where. They lived near his family but far from hers, so they often spoke of moving somewhere in the middle. Her sister would call late at night, upset about her husband being out late. She longed to be there to comfort, to watch bad movies, make orange cinnamon rolls and tell her sister she deserved better.
The day of the wedding, they awoke five hours and twenty minutes before they had to be at the meeting center by the gazebo. Their wedding would be outside, in a park where they first met. Both had been joggers.
It would be a small ceremony. She would wear her mother’s ivory dress, still a touch tight around the hips. He would wear his OSU pin on his slant-striped gray tie. She would pick up her mother and sister from the hotel. Just fewer than forty people would surround them as they took their vows at Abaline Park at 2PM.
Prince had a habit of jumping up and down before treat time, after walk time, and this always made her giggle; her giggling made her fiancé want her. It was wedding day morning. She laughed at his pitched pants and serious stare when she walked out of the kitchen. With only hours remaining, he rushed her, he moved his fingers along her belly beneath her shirt, he led her to their bedroom where they would forget the world for almost an hour.
When they remembered the world, they became frantic. They rushed around, kissed goodbye. She took the car. Her mother, an artist, presented her with a black and white painting of Prince. She laughed, loved it. Her sister worked hard to laugh with then explained her husband couldn’t attend due to work. It had been last minute. The sisters embraced.
Prince refused to wear the doggie tux, so she clipped the bow-tie to his collar. She hoped that he remembered to pack the treats and collapsible water dish. His father was picking him up. His mother was in a wheel chair after having reconstructive foot surgery a few weeks back. She was a loud, beautiful woman. Her three grown children, husband-to-be included, had blinged out her chair while she was in surgery, so that she now called it her throne.
The gazebo was perfect. Nothing was overdone. The couple didn’t see each other until vows. The sky was overcast but with no threat of rain. Clouds framed them in pictures.
The couple kissed. Prince jumped up and down at the dance. His mother danced in her chair. Her mother sketched the children’s faces. Her father smoked cigars with his father as they talked about drone strikes then football then cigars.
The recall notice hadn’t reached them because they’d forgotten to write the apartment number on the paperwork; his email had filtered the e-copy to junk. The recall notice concerned hyper acceleration and asked that all owners of the make/model and year bring the car in for a free check. The parents would become angry and file a lawsuit. It would be a large suit, and they would become quite rich.
His mother’s foot would heal, and she would walk with only a slight limp to the two graves that sat alongside the back of the yard by an old, abandoned house. The families would gather here on the anniversary of the couple’s wedding, and they would sob and laugh and smoke cigars.
They would discuss the circumstance of death and fate, everything that had to line up. The family was rich, so incredibly rich, but it didn’t matter. The money did not reconcile how the SUV had swerved and their breaks had given way, sending their small car spinning into the median strip.
It was instantaneous for him. It was drawn out for her. She had that brief window, a chance to say goodbye. She’d told her sister that she knew, somehow, that she had thought it was just cold feet.
The sister divorced, became pregnant after a fling. Prince would live with her and rest his wrinkly head on her belly as he listened to her daydream about finding love. He would comfort her when she came home with child and was unable to sleep.
Prince would mind the child and growl at men the sister would bring home. Until his final years, Prince would be there for her, but he would never jump up and down. Instead, he would spend his every night at the door, waiting, unable to believe in fate.
“After the Gazebo” was originally published in ARDOR.