Jen Knox’s story After the Gazebo is interesting in that it both takes its time within scenes while seeming to not have too much fluff around the edges. She provides just enough to fill out the story and let you linger with her characters before pushing you into what happens after the gazebo. With clean language and a straight-ahead tone, this story is a fine one to read and linger on.
Originally published May, 2013 in Issue Two of ARDOR Literary Magazine (www.ardorlitmag.com):
After the Gazebo
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 if they’d have the proper amount of 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 dog ran up to the door when they arrived. A small girl with red hair wailed at her mother’s side. The girl hugged her mother’s leg, but she was holding it in an almost violent way. They assured her they would take good care of the pug, and she could visit him anytime.
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, so they had to reevaluate which year and model they’d go for. The lesser car they picked still had good reviews, and the salesman even said—when he realized they weren’t the best negotiators and had told him exactly what their real budget was—that it was probably 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, just in case. “Ocean Breathes Salty” began the soundtrack. They drove all day, speeding along the peripheral of the city, and stopped for Jamaican jerk chicken at a restaurant they decided they must return to regularly.
They took the pug to the dog park Saturday mornings. A month passed and they were still not sure about a name. He seemed only to enjoy eating and watching Animal Planet, so they babied and indulged him. They learned everything they could about the breed and how best to care for him. They decided on a name at last, after reading that the strange little forehead wrinkle that pugs share was referred to as a prince mark because it resembles the Chinese symbol for prince.
They enjoyed taking Prince on lazy walks after work. They often ate out and met up with friends on weekends. She got a corporate job that replaced her occasional gigs as a yoga instructor. She hated the work but made a lot of friends, fast, and thought it an okay trade for the time being. He too had a corporate job, but he rather enjoyed it.
She gained five pounds. He gained ten. They joined a gym a few months before the wedding. They made resolutions often. They 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 by her husband being out late.
She wanted to be closer, to be able to go over and watch bad movies and make orange cinnamon rolls with her sister. They’d all be closer soon, the couple decided. This union was an inevitable step toward their ideal future. The details would work themselves out.
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. They would have a total of eighteen family members there; two would attend via Skype and approximately twenty friends and acquaintances had RSVP’d. She would pick up her mother and sister from the hotel they insisted on staying at because the couple’s apartment was still quite small. Just fewer than forty people would surround them as they took their vows at Abaline Park at 2PM. It was the perfect wedding size, they agreed.
Prince had a habit of jumping up and down before treat time, after walk time, and this always made her giggle. Her giggling always made him want her. She laughed at his pitched pants and serious stare when she walked out of the kitchen. He didn’t laugh. Instead, with only hours remaining, he rushed her, moved his fingers along her belly beneath her shirt, lifted her sideways and took her to their bedroom where they would forget the world for almost an hour.
Last time as a single man, he said. She pushed him off and flipped him over. When they remembered the world, they freaked out and ran around the apartment frantically.
They kissed goodbye. She took the car and thought about how lucky she was. She had heard horror stories about friends’ weddings, but she knew hers would be perfect. There wasn’t a fake or a placeholder in the bunch. She was genuinely close to everyone who would be there.
Her mother, an artist, presented her with a black and white painting of Prince when she arrived at the hotel. She laughed and loved it. Her sister worked hard to laugh with them and 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, and they understood, so they clipped a bowtie on his collar. She hoped he would remember to pack the treats and the 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. They lived close by, and she would come right before the ceremony. She was a loud, beautiful woman, and 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. His cousin, who had taken on the role of wedding planner, had done everything right. Nothing was overdone. The couple didn’t see each other until the vows.
The sky was overcast but with no threat of rain. The clouds framed them in pictures. The couple kissed. Prince jumped up and down at the dance after. 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 and then football and then the quality of their cigars.
The recall notice hadn’t reached them because they’d forgotten to write the apartment number down on the paperwork and his email had filtered the e-copy to junk. This would strike the parents as ridiculous after, seeing as how all the bills had reached them just fine. The recall notice concerned hyper acceleration and asked that all owners of the make and 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 and they would become angrier that they had to become rich in this way.
His mother’s foot would heal perfectly, 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 that the city was unsure what to do with. The family would gather here on the anniversary of the couple’s wedding, and they would sob and laugh and smoke cigars.
They would talk about the circumstance of death and fate, the events that aligned for it to have happened this way. The family would eventually come to know that it was not the dealer’s or manufacturer’s fault alone. The car had surged when he hit the brakes after seeing that the driver of the SUV didn’t see them and was taking over the lane.
The family was rich, so incredibly rich, but it didn’t matter. The money did not reconcile the odd chain of events—how the SUV eventually did see them but their momentum had caused the tail end hit, that slight hit, that sent 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 family was smaller now. The sister had divorced. Her mother had fallen ill and no longer painted. The nieces and nephews were now teenagers, rendering themselves and the cousins mostly unreachable. The sister would become pregnant soon after a fling.
Prince would live with the sister and would rest his wrinkly head on her belly as he listened to her daydream about finding a love like her sister had found. He would comfort her when she came home with child and would spend hours staring at the floor, unable to sleep. He would mind the child and growl at men the sister would bring home. Until his final years, Prince would continue to comfort the sister, but he would never jump up and down for her. Instead, he would conserve his energy to his last day, spending his every night at the door, waiting, unable to believe in fate.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://minotaursspotlight.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/KabikM.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Matthew Kabik lives in Lancaster, PA where he writes reviews and short stories from the third floor of his home (and sometimes his dining room table, if the mood strikes). His work has appeared in Structo Magazine, Five Quarterly, Cease Cows, Nib Magazine and has work forthcoming in Pea River Journal and WhiskeyPaper. He also writes reviews for Necessary Fiction. Follow him on twitter @mlkabik or visit his author site/blog at www.matchstickcircus.com [/author_info] [/author]