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Twenty-Nine | 2009 | The Road to Hull

12.23.09 11:21 p.m.

The sheen of my sandals is dulled by the dust of cloves. My wings are waxed with nectar. My eyes are diamonds in whose facets red gold is mirrored. My face is a mask of ivory: Love me. Listen to my promises.  

-John Updike


To Love and Honor

Arthur and Hannah  
"Do you take this Navy assassin to be your lawfully wedded wife?"

I arrive just as they are entering the courthouse. I do not know most of the people surrounding them and am far from close enough to Arthur to recognize him from afar, but Hannah's close-cropped hair triggers something deep within me. It has been half a year since last I had seen her.

I rush in, past the twenty or so gathered around, and stand next to Hannah, uncertain of how to ridge the gap six months has introduced. I settle on tapping her and, when she turns around and is apprised of me, pulling her into a hug. She has spent this time in the Navy, after all. One can't be too certain she won't regard my physical proximity as an enemy attack and neutralize me.

It is hard to read Hannah in the best of circumstances. I assume that physical affection was rare for her growing up and she possesses an inward focus that is easy to mistake for diffidence. Were I not the type to love on sight before discovering why, I could see how she would seem off-putting. But I do love her as I have loved few women, as though we were separated siblings who rediscovered the other in adulthood, and instead grin a smile composed of two parts.

The first is, as stated, that I am with my stoical sister again and that the Navy didn't break her down to rebuilt her in its image. She wears a dress uniform in place of a wedding dress, which is almost better for me as I couldn't imagine what she would wear to her own wedding. I am satisfied that the military can make this choice for her. The uniform is crisp and proper. Generic, but somehow suited to her. There are instant and obvious new qualities to her and I am not certain to what I should attribute the profundity of her quietude, but she is still my Hannah and I adore her.
The blushing groom

The second is that she is getting married. This rushed wedding had become something of a half-joke among those who also knew her. It was so sudden, so seemingly rash, so informal that it could simple be a momentary lark that could cease to be. But standing here, it is Arthur who convinces me of the truth of what is about to happen. I have had few significant interactions with him and have, for the large part of the part year, assumed he did not like me. And I wouldn't have blamed him. He presumed that my involvement with an ex of him was anything more than a hug ever and then, when he began dating Hannah, I stuck my nose where it did not belong and informed Hannah what she knew, that they were not exclusive yet. Aside from bringing him with us to Jacki's New Year's Eve party last year, I had not seen or spoken to him since. I knew that Hannah and Arthur went on occasional trips, but didn't grasp the tenor of their relationship until I was asked months ago to be a witness to this wedding. But, still, I like to think I gathered that he was something more from the beginning, even if my greatest evidence is that he always has a name when all the other men Hannah encountered were titled things like "The Republican" and "The Social Phobic".

Any skepticism I might have harbored was obliterated upon seeing Arthur smile at Hannah. I know what love look like when contrasted with infatuation. Infatuation might get you to the altar, but it doesn't keep you there. He looks at Hannah and sees her, flaws and all. He loves her truly and deeply and I want to shout how much I approve, how I wish to rescind my doubts and apologize for having wasted a neurochemical on them. Even as I am positive that both of them have had Long Dark Nights of the Soul in the last year, I cannot for a moment think that Arthur is anything less than blissful that he is going to be Hannah's husband in a few short minutes.
Arthur and Hannah  
"No, seriously, she might break you if you don't say yes."

Love is never easy. It almost can't be if it is to be true and lasting because it needs a crucible to be tempered. There must be tearful partings if there is to be the reassurance of reunions. They both know the deck stacked against them, the distance that will soon part them again. Arthur will not be a live-in spouse until Hannah's next move (though that will be to Japan, Hawaii, Virginia Beach; all huge steps up from the Finger Lakes in winter).

Arthur comments how strange it is to have me there in this capacity owing to our history and I tell him that I am just grateful that this is how things ended up.

The mayor - a small man with a balding crown - arrives to conduct the ceremony. I stand back until he asks Hannah, "And who will be your maid of honor?"

Hannah motions to me and, as I stand next to her (grateful that I have somewhat dressed up for this occasion), she taunts, "Because you are my little lady-friend."

I do not think propriety allows me to stick out my tongue and I am honored (if not a maid). I am, in fact, the only one who is on her side of the wedding, though later the beaming mayor asks if I am Arthur's brother owing to a resemblance. Both Arthur and Hannah agreed to a "no exes" policy at their nuptials, which is a brilliant idea at general but eliminated every other male in the area that Hannah knows.
You may not realize this, but that look on her face most closely correlates to ecstasy.

The wedding itself is brief, as town hall weddings are wont to be. Arthur's voice cracks as he recites his vows, so overcome by emotion is he. The mayor gets his name wrong once, calling him Richard and pausing because Hannah purses her lips to figure out how to correct him. Then the mayor says Arthur may kiss the bride and flashbulbs flare. They are a unit now in a way I was uncertain I would ever believe Hannah capable of being. Even when she commingled with men, she seemed to do it as an independent observer. Now, she has pledged to share her life with Arthur.

The attendees halve in number by the reception to the couple's evident surprise. As I was not clear that I would not be the only attendee until I arrived at the wedding, I was pleased to have the company. I sit beside Hannah, who is across from Arthur so he can coddle his painfully cute niece, and neither of us speak much for a while. I try to imagine what she is going through, if this all feels like a peculiar dream brought on by the harshness of boot camp.

"Does being married feel any different?" I ask. When I attended Keilaina's and Dan's wedding years ago, I asked him this question. He had replied that everything felt different, to my surprise.

"Not at all," she says. "Nothing has changed."

Arthur passes around a scrapbook he made of their relationship, ticket stubs, pictures of trips, a nail that he had to pull out of Hannah's foot when they were trespassing at an abandoned school. Aside from a couple of faked stubs, he kept fastidious record of their romance, including photos of the Chinese restaurant and coffeehouse that were the settings of their first dates. While I am inclined to write up my public moments with Melanie, I have nothing like this level of paper trail and am envious. I realize in retrospect that I have learned about the intensity and details of their love through Hannah, who is naturally disinclined to have been as effusive as was necessary for accuracy.
Arthur and Hannah  

I flip through the book when it is my turn, asking Hannah to identify that locale or provide the story for that bit of memorabilia. What I can't help but note is how superb each picture of Hannah is. I grant that Arthur wouldn't memorialize the pictures where Hannah has just taken a bite of food or is squinting from the spray coming off of Niagara Falls, but these are the best pictures of Hannah I have ever seen and are far better than any I had ever taken of her. Only when I am analyzing this do I realize that the quality of the photo is directly proportional to how happy and at ease Hannah is in them. I believe, to so consistently bring out the best in your subject, you have to love them.

Melanie calls and I dart outside to convey all this to her.

"He loves her?" she asks, a touch incredulously. She has had even less exposure to Arthur and Hannah together, relying on my third hand recollections to form her opinion of him.

"He did just marry her, love."

"Yes but... he loves her?"

"So much, there is no question. I don't think he has stopped smiling all night. Even when talking about how they aren't going to be able to sleep tonight because they have to be on a plane to Key West for their honeymoon at five in the morning."

"You'll have to give me a moment to process this," she says. "I'm not used to you acting like other couples can be as happy as we are."

"Take all the time you need."

"Is she drugging him with secret military serums?" Melanie asks.

"Not that I've seen. She is mostly watching him watch her. She might be a little stunned."

I return and given Hannah a hug, assuring her that is it from Melanie. The reception fades by ten o'clock, as the bride and groom have a long night ahead of them before they can fly to somewhere warm and accommodating. I don't know if they have a hotel for this first night of marriage or if they need one. I don't know when I will see them again, though it won't be soon enough.

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job, parties.

last watched: Howl's Movie Castle
reading: The Subtle Knife
listening: Ingrid Michaelson

Twenty-Nine | 2009 | The Road to Hull

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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