The Question

Now I will tell you the story of a priceless marriage proposal …

Between older brother and best friend, standing across from a group of women in blue, he held left wrist in right palm, as he always did when cocksure. Beneath the bowtie his vest produced a white cone that interrupted, along with his upper teeth, the varying shades of ebon—epidermal and sartorial—that ran from soles to pate. And down the aisle, covered with a white runner decorated with arrow pierced hearts, walked two pigtailed flower girls, sisters, eldest leading the way. The straggler unloaded her basket prematurely and gathered petals from the floor to re-scatter. Then began the music. They all rose for the bride.

Bended arm interlaced in bended arm, father escorted her. From here you could easily picture the commonplace image of a white wedding gown and the blushing bride wearing it. But I would be remiss if the prerogatives of storytelling were not indulged a little more: it was snow-colored, though embrowned a shade by the chapel’s pale light, strapless, corseted beneath her shoulder blades, two sand dunes rising on a windswept desert, which from a waist-high collection of circles and semicircles, fell to the floor with the lightness of a lost wallet. Poppa handed her away, they all sat for the ceremony.

Raymond, a great-nephew of the groom, an uncle of his father, was seated one person removed from the aisle. He had wanted to skip the nuptials as an act of solidarity with his kindhearted, discarded former aunt—who had been, unbeknownst to him, barred from seeing her daughters after she threatened to commit a double murder-suicide. Because the man had become a new fiancé while being a recent divorcé, the new partner being two and one half decades younger than the former spouse, and because familial duties of grandnephew to granduncle were slight perfectly warranted his nonattendance. Nevertheless, he had been convinced, perhaps cajoled, otherwise by his girlfriend—using a series of justifications whose effect stemmed from their quantity, not cogency—the person now separating him from the aisle. This was Raymond’s first wedding (one of her rationales), and his sixth sense, the communion of all of himself with all that surrounded him, unexpectedly burst open and tingled like a reawakened limb and ached to be filled with scenes of matrimony, and he stowed all he could into that innermost time capsule set to be buried in the breach. As the bride passed, he saw her youthfulness clearly: her nape was tattooed with a miniscule Venus symbol and a tiny, silver ring ornamented her helix. Raymond snagged his cuff briefly on a jagged ridge of the pew in front of him. Husky and poised, his uncle winked at someone sitting on the groom’s side: it was odd families set separately at the joining of husband and wife. Bride reaching the altar had produced a terrifying, pervasive awe within Raymond, a complete realization of what was and what was not. Over and through assorted heads he could see them—his senior, a middle-aged uncle changing wives con brio, and his updated auntie, a contemporary. “This is beautiful but stop!” he wanted to shout, “Don’t do it! Not here, not now, not while I’m sitting here! Let me leave first!” He was parched and smacked his lips less quietly than he intended. His girl turned toward him, jokingly raised a finger to her lips, and patted his knee. There was a brownish-green splotch on her jawline, a stain-shaped birthmark that he initially believed was a rash. She was lanky, with round, protruding kneecaps, and thin face whose eyes and nose and mouth set closely together, as though her maker had begun work on a canvas that was too small. But in his mind’s eye he could see their progeny—a boy with her thinness and his floppy ears. That awe he had felt diminished and was replaced by unfathomed felicity and certitude.

The guests stood and cheered. Hand in hand, bride and bridegroom existed. Raymond kneeled, holding his girlfriend’s hand, and everybody, one by one as the news reached them, became silent, save a single person who said, “Look. Over there.” “Will you marry me,” Raymond asked. By his lapels she pulled him up, then embraced him around the neck: “I don’t want to get married,” she whispered, “We have to talk about this, I’m sorry.” The chapel erupted.

… and that was the story of a priceless marriage proposal.