by Michael Chin
Caroline recognized marriage for what it was. A marriage was a financial arrangement that would save her money through cohabitation and on her taxes. It was a tool by which to placate her mother’s concerns that she would die an old maid and, provided she never checked her math too carefully, that would convince her mother Caroline hadn’t conceived a child out of wedlock.
Caroline recognized rain on a wedding day for its true meaning as well. The rain was no ominous portent. The rain didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits in a tangible way. It only meant the photographs that wound up on her mother’s mantel would show up dimmer and harder to distinguish in the years ahead.
Sam hummed along with the radio as he navigated his car downtown. Caroline turned the knob to transition them away from whatever sentimental tripe he subjected them to. She stopped for a second on the opening guitar riff of “Highway to Hell,” but thought better of it with her mother in the backseat. She changed the station a few more times before settling on “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” a suitably upbeat song for the occasion.
A bright yellow two-pocket folder rested on Sam’s lap. He had reminded her time and again not to forget her birth certificate and identification. He made a point of laying out what he had brought with him at the hotel the night before.
Caroline and Sam indulged in a hotel room because Sam insisted on spending the night before their wedding together, and she knew he hated staying at home. They bought a bottle of red wine, bread, cheese, and lunchmeat for a makeshift picnic atop the bedspread.
Sam had hunched his shoulders, inspecting those documents on the hotel bureau. Caroline had stepped out of her dress and hugged him from behind. He didn’t seem to recognize her nakedness until he looked up and saw her in the big mirror on the wall.
He put a hand to her stomach. “Are you sure we should do this?”
“What? Are you worried you’re going to give me twins?”
They peeled back the bedspread to rid themselves of crumbs and he laid her down on the cool cotton sheets. Sam was thin and strong, a comfortable lover. Sex was a multipurpose tool—procreation, it’s utility; pleasure, it’s more immediate appeal.
Caroline stood outside City Hall and watched Sam review his documents again, while her mother seemed to count the bricks on the wall and Jacob stood in the rain to smoke.
Three years earlier, her little brother had eloped with a girl he met at art school. Their mother was furious when he finally told her what he later called “the triple whammy”—that he wouldn’t return to school in the fall, that he was moving out of her apartment, and that he had already tied the knot with Delilah.
Six months later, he moved back in at home. Their mother told Caroline about it when she came home for Christmas that year. “He didn’t have any of his old paintings with him, and when I asked what happened to them, he said he had burned them. Can you believe that? He burned them. That’s not why paid for him to go to art school.”
Jacob never did seem to understand the point of things.
Sam’s family showed up about twenty minutes behind them. His portly brother wore a suit jacket that was far too small. His father offered his mother his arm as they ascended the stairs. She nearly beheaded him with the enormous brim of her absurd Chinese hat.
Caroline’s mother shook hands with Sam’s family members one by one, introducing herself in loud, slow English. “After the ceremony, I’d like to take everyone out to lunch.” She patted a hand to her chest. “My treat.”
Caroline didn’t know if there would be any sort of ceremony inside, or if they would sign a series of papers and be on their way. In either case, it seemed silly to have invited all of these people to City Hall with them. They had decided to get married months before. That trip to City Hall was little more than the actualization of the inevitable. Still, Caroline had come to recognize the sentimentality some people associated with such events. It was impossible to truly pinpoint the moment when a girl became a woman, or when two people decided to permanently intertwine their lives—much less to put such moments on display for the family. Weddings commemorated what had already happened, so people could celebrate what they had missed.
Sam opened the door and held it. One by one their mothers and brothers, and Sam’s father filed past until only the young lovers remained outside. Sam smiled. “Ready, Freddie?”
Caroline kissed him on the cheek and stepped inside.