Frozen in time

Published May 22, 2005

Pauline and George chose to get married in one of those big, faceless banquet halls - you know, where they hold weddings, bar mitzvahs and a 50th birthday bash all at once, separated by sliding walls. I was worried. They were both close friends. I had introduced them. So I got to the place early, to check it out.

"I'm the best man," I explained to Vi, the banquet manager.

"Didn't know there were any good ones," she said, tying a white-crepe wedding bell to a chair. Yet she herself wore a masculine outfit, with black bow tie and cummerbund matched by her dark, cropped hair and startling nails. They were coated with ebony, curling under from sheer weight. We could have used them to cut the cake. Guess she knew her business, or Pauline and George wouldn't have hired her.

Still, what if they had a bad wedding and ended up hating each other? The blood would be on my hands. I kept a close watch on Vi's preparations.

Finally, the bride and groom arrived. I shook George's hand.

"You've been holding an icy drink, right?" I asked.

"No," he said, "but I could use one."

Again I circled the room, making sure all was in order. Muffled music crept in from an adjoining room.

"They're almost ready," I reported to Vi.

"Ah, yes," she nodded sagely. "For the death march."

"I don't think it'll be all that fatal," I said, envisioning what my Linda will look like, dressed all in white.

But Vi had razor-sharp statistics at her fingertips. She looked me in the eye and zipped past one-marriage-fails-out-of-two into median demographic adultery figures, adjusted only minimally for nonreported trysts. She implicated my neighborhood, asked how many happy, faithful couples there were. She cited studies proving monogamy was alien to man, and woman, and heading the way of the dodo. She explained away my personal bliss by saying Linda and I hadn't tripped down the aisle yet.

"By the way," she asked, not looking at me, "what was wrong with all the women you had before this one?"

"Finding a lifelong partner takes time."

"Sure does," she said, and went off to attend to the bride.

Soon Pauline began her stately walk, escorted by Vi to the altar where George waited. Beyond the bride's bare shoulders I saw Vi skip away, dancing and flapping her arms in mock celebration. One marriage fails out of two, flip a coin. I had a quarter I was about to toss, in front of the white-robed harpist and everybody, when the DJ in the room next door cranked up a Snoop Dogg CD. The floor rumbled beneath us. I dropped that quarter back in my pants.

Pauline held her head high, through a tooth-rattling rap song, and smiled at the man she wanted for better or worse. When she felt the chill in his hand, slipping on the ring, she gently rubbed him.

And it was a warm handshake I received from my friend the married man. "Now we get to party the day away, then head over to Crystal River," George said. "We're going cave diving on our honeymoon," he explained to Vi, hovering behind us, urging them to eat their glazed chicken.

"You mean George is," Pauline said, smiling at me. "I never go past any signs with skulls and crossbones on them."

Vi appeared not to hear this. She directed us to take care of the champagne toast and the cake.

As the guests grew quiet and I was opening my mouth, our neighboring DJ blared The Hokey Pokey. So I did as the song suggested and put my foot in.

"If you get divorced," I said to my friends, glass raised, "I'll kill you."

"Here, here!" George said. Pauline downed her champagne with narrowed eyes. Vi winked at me and told them to cut the cake.

"Don't worry about smashing each other," she said. "We have towels."

No need. The cake was cut, the bride immaculately fed. Pauline approached me out of the dancing throng.

"What exactly did you mean by that toast?"

"It was a brief meditation on love and death," I said.

"I missed that. But my parents thought it was a riot."

The last time I saw Vi was by the remains of the cake. I was wrapping up a big slice when she charged over, her eyes a living complaint.

"You can't take that piece of cake," she said.

"I'm going to keep it for them in my freezer."

"That's their job," she said. "Mine is to account for every last slice."

"Whatever they pay you here," I said, "comes out of the pockets of people in love. Don't you ever feel bad about that?"

"I do," she said, clicking those nails, not looking at me. "I surely do."

I smuggled out a piece of cake anyway, in one of those napkins embroidered with bells, and the names and the date. And every now and then I open the freezer door and look in. Linda, too, seems to think that's not my job. But if I don't watch it, who will?

- Ran Henry is a writer in Miami.