by RK Taylor

Both your hands rest on her hips. You sway to a soulful, saccharine melody by a long-dead crooner. Her family cheers. You distinctly hear someone belt out, “Kiss her!” You can’t place the voice, but still pucker up and lean in. Weddings require a kind of compulsory intimacy. No one cares how you feel about kissing Sydney. They’ve flown from Memphis and Austin and Seattle. They have right to demand a simple kiss, even when you’re thinking of your first wife, Bev, your late wife, your wife whose cremains have been sitting on your dresser for only seven months.

You pull out of the kiss, and her face is all teeth. Sydney couldn’t smile bigger if she tried. If each tooth had a set of teeth, all those miniature teeth would be smiling, and the whole room would be suffused in a pleasant, pearlescent glow, because Sydney’s teeth are so damn perfectly white and straight and lovely. You wonder, “How hasn’t she been married before? How has no man swept this woman off her feet, carried her beyond the threshold of their shared front door, made love to her on the couch, on the table, on fresh sheets from the Target wedding registry? How could this all be a new experience for this incredible catch?”

As you wonder, you stare and smile straight back at her. You smile imagining the little teeth inside your teeth smiling back at her mini teeth. As the light catches the face of her canines, you picture little enamel hands of your two sets of teeth waving at one another. Who decided to call them canines anyway? A woman this gorgeous resembles nothing of a dog, a dog that only lives, what, twelve years? Sydney will live eight times that, and her ears aren’t clipped, and she has no tail. Couldn’t they give those teeth another doggone name, something less beastly and mortal?

Does it seem like your guests are more somber than Sydney’s family and friends? They ought to be. Surely, they are all still mourning Bev. How unnerving the thought that even one of your loved ones isn’t awash with ambivalence. At the same time, you’re repulsed by the thought that anyone would come bearing grief on Sydney’s special day… your special day, too, sure, but really is any event so spectacular and romantic as one’s first marriage? The ceremony, the pomp, the cloying idealism. How momentous the rituals the first time around: kissing at the altar, slow dancing with your mother, cringing as your best friend overshares into the microphone after two too many drinks at cocktail hour.

The second wedding is, by its very nature, contrived and redundant. What’s worse, it’s a reminder to all who attended your first wedding that your past marriage was a failure even if you weren’t to blame for the failing. In theory, the second marriage attests to your optimism and perseverance; in practice, it is an open acknowledgement of your life’s tragedy.

Do people think you cheated on Bev with Sydney? Are you unwittingly surrounded by rumors? Many know you never would’ve betrayed Bev during her lifetime, but what about the distant cousins and niblings who’re less familiar with your character? They don’t know you remained steadfast in your nuptial commitments through each phase of treatment. They never observed your compassion and tenderness as Bev degenerated into those forms. With each stage she looked less like herself than the last. How dismal the descent of disease. A hooded cloak and sharpened scythe would have been a vaguer harbinger of death than her body’s actual decay, all of which you watched in real time. Her eyes became sunken as dank, unexplored caves. Once-radiant complexion transmogrified into something gray and spotted in mere weeks. Her skin so suddenly lost all elasticity as if she traveled at the speed of light, experiencing time faster than you, aging decades in mere moments.

Truth is, there was no time to cheat. You were with her every moment in all those sterile-smelling places, sleeping on an uneven cot in hospice, etc.

As the song crescendos into the bridge, you realize you’re likely being crucified behind closed doors. Others accusing you of moving on too quickly—cheater or not—from the wife who loved you so wholly.

But to those who mark you a cheater, you wish you could explain that you didn’t even meet Sydney until after Bev’s death. You met Sydney at a grief group. The way you both described the pains of your losses tethered you two together. She understood, evinced by her innumerable insightful questions. She helped you process your loss, provided you with strategies that have yielded moments of clarity and peace.

Did she ever express to anyone, even as a joke, that the best thing that happened to her was Bev’s cancer? Oh, how it makes you sick to think that she feels your first wife’s death is a victory of sorts. But you’ll never know if she feels this way. Some things are too odious to share with those you love. You would never express, for instance, how you feel grateful for her sister’s death, as it has endowed her with a kind of contagious serenity that has served as a remedy for your very affliction.

“Dip me,” she whispers, so you do. A successful dip. The finesse. Everyone claps—her family, your family, even, in your mind, her teeth are clapping their teeny calcium hands. Tears stand on your lower eyelid like a man ready to jump from a skyscraper’s roof. You try to remain a smiling statue, something self-possessed. You thought you could prevent them from falling, but the bulbous droplets succumb to their weight. Suddenly and at once, gravity yanks two tears downward. Whenever your tears come, they fall swiftly. You don’t stop swaying or smiling, you let the tears drop, let them water your corsage like a thing that still has potential to bloom.

Image via Pexels by Heiner