THE DATE WAS TUESDAY, June 4, 1968. This particular Tuesday in June held little significance for the people of Windsor, Ontario. It would be a day that Brian Bradley would remember for the remainder of his long life. It would not be remembered for any of the sensible reasons that you might come to expect for a young man's wedding day. Certainly, the fact that it was his wedding day would have been an excellent reason for Brian to recollect for no better reason than to save himself years of misery. He would soon discover with the passing of time that there is nothing more infuriating to the wife than a husband who is unable to remember the date they were welded into marriage. Yes, that is definitely an excellent reason for this date to be permanently etched into memory.
Unfortunately, the words 'excellent' and 'reason' were not destined to be associated at all with this day nor with the hideous memories of coming events that would be forever dredged up. You see, Brian knew deep down in his soul that he was about to do something terribly wrong. Something that was to be remembered as the most horrible thing he could possibly have done on this usually joyous occasion.
Now, for Brian the most frustrating aspect of this predicament was the fact that he had absolutely no idea what this 'bad thing' was. He only knew that it was going to occur shortly with all the horrid repercussions placed accurately upon him. Had you immediately taken him aside and questioned him there would only be a simple answer. He had no idea where this unpleasant knowledge originated from but its truth was as apparent as the carpeted floor he stood on. He just knew.
There were so many dreadful possibilities quickly flashing through his mind that his head began to throb. His pants could fall off. They might accidentally drop right down to the floor, here in front of everyone. Maybe there was a hole in them that he couldn't see. No, wait -- maybe his fly was down.
That was just stupid. If his fly was down, it would only be funny. Even he would have had a good laugh at that. No, what was sitting there in the shadows waiting to pounce would not be funny. It wouldn't be stupid and awful. It would be horrid and he would never be able to live it down or forget it. Anything that he could imagine simply paled in comparison to the actual 'bad thing' that he was about to do because he knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that if he could even think of a bad thing to use in comparison, then it was simply not bad enough.
"Oh god, why me?" He wondered aloud.
"I beg your pardon?" Whispered the priest.
Brian mumbled a short apology and directed his gaze toward a small commotion toward the end of the centre aisle. In the small chamber near the front door of the chapel, people were moving about, arranging themselves into some semblance of order. The low chatter of the crowd suddenly dropped to a stifling silence as all eyes turned to see. He saw Susan clutching at her father's arm as if she needed support in this final moment before pledging her heart and soul to her betrothed. Brian wasn't fooled. He knew that the reverse was probably true.
This was her show and her father knew quite well that even though he was footing the bill for this whole production, his purpose here amounted to nothing more than window dressing. He was 'eye candy' for the rest of this family gathering and especially for Susan's friends. Like the bundles of expensive flowers they held or the horrid greenish silky dresses that they all wore, he was just another prop. He would rather have gone golfing but Susan was his little baby girl, suddenly all grown up and she wanted him here so here is where he was. He would stay right until the end and then he would go golfing.
That put a smile on his face and once it was there, he froze all the muscles that were responsible for creating it. It wasn't perfect but it served to fool most of the guests. It didn't fool Brian. He knew that glassy facial clench intimately. Many of Susan's relatives seemed to have mastered it for some reason. Not Susan. Not Susan and not her mother. He had never seen that look on either of their faces. Wasn't that odd?
"Don't go there Brian; not today anyway," said his brain.
The little voice in his head made him jump. He had been hearing it every so often over the past months always catching him off guard. It was like listening to himself speaking but the things it said were not what he would have said aloud. In fact, the things spoken would have put him into a very precarious position should anyone had overheard. Both a blessing and a curse. Usually caustic observations about Brian's life always put things into sharp perspective without the disadvantage of getting him into too much trouble. No one could blame him for any of these remarks if no one but him ever heard them. No volatile opinions were ever voiced aloud.
The observations that his brain made were usually accurate and they mostly helped to get him out of sticky situations. Today, it was only this simple warning to stay away from these dangerous thoughts at a time like this.
Sure, that tight, porcelain-faced death grin that everyone in Susan's family had mastered was something that obviously needed to be picked apart carefully but for now he filed it away under "Mysteries That Must Be Solved". In retrospect, he would clearly see this sort of mystery was something that should have been looked at carefully, a long time ago. Now, whatever the reason for the members of Susan's family developing such a strange survival tactic, he would not be able to verify until it was far too late to matter.
Brian's right leg suddenly began to twitch ever so gently. It was almost indiscernible even to him but it had a disturbingly regular rhythm.
"What's that?" Asked his brain, "Are you doing that? Stop it! You look stupid!"
In fact, he didn't really look stupid. The movement wasn't actually noticeable to anyone but him for now. It did feel as if it was slowly getting worse though. Within a few minutes people whispered and pointed at him. Was that it? Was this the 'Bad Thing' that he had been waiting for? This wasn't so bad. Sure, it was strange and it held the potential to become a genuine embarrassment if it became much worse but it wasn't that bad. And that's what stopped him short. He suddenly knew that in the final analysis, this shaking of legs was not even related to the horrible event he'd been anticipating. It wasn't difficult to see that this was only destined to be a little icing on the cake of his eventual Ultimate Failure and Utter Humiliation.
"It all began when his leg started to twitch," they would later recall when telling each other the story for the hundredth time. Some would nod in agreement as others would register their feigned surprise and disdain toward Brian the Madman, whom they had befriended until this day.
He tried to formulate excuses and run them over in his mind for use in his defence when this was all over. Naturally, without any idea of what exactly he might be apologizing for, this proved rather difficult to do. It's not an easy task to make an excuse for something you haven't done yet for a reason that is unclear at best. He tried out a few generic statements to see how they sounded.
"I didn't know. Of course I didn't really mean it. What would you have done if it was you?"
No, they all sounded hollow and stupid and none of them would ever be believed by anyone. None of them would ever turn the hideous finger of blame, even a single degree away from his slack-jawed, guilt-ridden face.
The organist was a tiny, old lady wearing half-glasses like an accountant from a Dickenson novel. She played a few tentative notes to warm up the crowd. Brian's brain tried to tell him that he was certain he would recognize the Death Knell, skilfully wound into her repertoire of popular tunes but Brian wisely rejected this omen of doom as being just too silly to be accurate.
Someone signalled her from the back of the church and she suddenly played the Wedding March. Every eye turned to watch Susan's approach. Brian could see her approaching from the far end of the aisle, his vision now distorted with fear. It was as if he were watching through a wide-angle camera lens. This 'fish-eye' perspective fooled him into thinking that it would probably take her a long time to walk all that way and so he foolishly relaxed, knowing that he had some time to work on his excuse. He went back to trying out some generic lines but just as he began, his vision cleared and life seemed to enter a momentary fast-forward. Before he could object she was standing beside him at the altar.
The priest spoke now with the practiced fluidity of a man reciting an often told, old story. Brian's ears considered it all gibberish. His heart thumped in his chest with such force that he would surely die. The phrase 'Myocardial Infarction' kept running through his mind. The term always looked like a spelling mistake to him. Surely, they must have meant 'Infraction' but tried to cover up the error in all the printed medical books. Nobody would be willing to admit that they were responsible for that bit of spelling stupidity so it just stayed that way forever.
Infarction, infraction; whichever spelling might be correct, Brian was sure he was having one of them right now. His chest pounded so fiercely that he couldn't understand anything the priest was saying.
When his preamble finished he turned and asked Susan something. She smiled and replied but Brian could hear neither the question nor her response to it over the horrid buzzing noise in his ears. It was as if some phantom metal worker had begun grinding a chunk of cast iron just out of sight behind him. The priest turned to him now and smiled a genuine, confident smile just as the grinding ended.
"And do you, Brian Bradley, take Susan MacKay to be your lawfully wedded wife?"
Oh god, there was a formula; a required answer to that question, he was sure. Alarm bells were sounding off inside his head. There was a specific answer that he was supposed to recite now and everyone knew but him. Every eye in the church was focused expectantly on him. Time passed.
He was aware that a few feet away his mother and father were sadly watching his demise unable to help. His mother encouragingly tried mouthing the words for him to see. It didn't help. She looked as if she was speaking undiscernibly about Haiku and it only served to confuse him even more. What on earth could Japanese poetry have to do with anything at all? Could she not see that he needed her help?
More time passed. The smile on the priest's face slowly transformed itself into a tooth clenching death mask similar to the one Susan's father was now wearing. He asked the question a second time with a hint of more urgency.
"And do you, Brian Bradley, take Susan MacKay to be your lawfully wedded wife?"
It was a waking nightmare. He noticed more of the attendees had also begun to silently mouth the words to try to fill the void to which he was to respond. Why could he not recite the answer? It was a simple enough question. His eyes hastily darted around, looking for an avenue of escape as if he were a trapped ferret. He saw a door just beyond where his best friend John stood and he began evaluating the successfulness of running at top speed in that direction. Could he make it? What would happen if he did? What on earth was John doing here looking ridiculous in that cheap tuxedo? The legs were far too short, exposing a flash of mismatched socks. The jacket was too wide for him across the chest as if it had been custom tailored for a gorilla. Susan's father must have ordered it for him from some discount rental shop or possibly a circus supply store, in what was obviously another of his futile and misguided attempts to save money.
Brian smiled nervously at John but his brain was screaming, "Help me! Help me!"
And then in a flash it all came back to him and he knew in that brief, beautiful moment of enlightenment and re-discovery that he was going to be alright. The answer came to him like candlelight in the darkness. Of course, he was supposed to simply respond, "I do." He almost laughed, knowing that his friends would make fun of his terrifying delay for a long time to come. He would laugh with the guests and tell them that it looked as if they were mouthing the words "A-Choo!" or "eye two" in their attempts to help him. The correct answer to the simple question was simply, "I do". He felt like an idiot for forgetting it.
Brian turned to the priest and speaking as clearly and confidently as possible, replied,
"I do not."
There was an odd hiss that he would later be able to identify as the same sound that people in a stadium of the losing team would express. Two hundred people in unison hissing like snakes. Brian foolishly attempted to explain.
"I mean, I can't. I couldn't. I would if I could but I can't so I won't. I don't"
All of these words were the incorrect answer to the question that the priest had asked him and he was about to elaborate even further when something hit him hard on the jaw and he slumped almost mercifully into unconsciousness onto the carpeted floor. It was the strangest event he could ever recall. Instead of Brian falling over, it was as if the floor had suddenly risen up sideways and smashed into his face. The lights dimmed and all sound receded into the distance as he went to some other realm that he had never imagined was there. It was strange and wonderful and not the least bit disturbing, albeit for the pain.
It took more than an hour to escape from the strange dream-like room that he seemed to be locked in. He sat, happily eating delicious pieces from the wedding cake but they all felt as if they were exploding violently whenever he bit into them. It was starting to annoy him. There would be definite legal repercussions against this caterer. He was absolutely sure that he had not ordered 'Cake with Bombs' and they were going to be in a lot of legal trouble when he found his way out of this place. In the end, he finally decided to leave it in the hands of a lawyer and stopped trying to find a piece without a bomb but Susan was there with him and she kept forcing large handfuls into his face. Whenever he opened his mouth to tell her to stop it, she would force another one in. This of course was immediately followed by yet another painful explosion. He grabbed her around her soft throat and tried his best to throttle her when John came in and gently slapped his cheek. This went on for just a bit too long, getting more forceful with each slap until it actually began to sting.
"Brian? Brian? Wake up!" He shouted but the voice was all wrong.
Brian slowly opened his eyes. They hurt. In fact, everything hurt. His face hurt where his mother had been slapping him. The oversized diamond on her engagement ring had slipped around on her finger so that it had made a visible indentation and a circular red rash on his cheek. If he didn't know better he would almost have thought that she had meant to cause him pain. His brain quickly explained that girls will tend to stick together in such a heinous situation, claiming some weird shared hatred of all things male. He was surprised that this would even surpass a mother's love for her own son but the evidence was insurmountable. That knowledge hurt Brian terribly but even worse than that was the unbearable pain in his jaw where Susan had slugged him.
"We have to go and speak to the McKay's. Someone has to try to smooth things over but you and I will talk about this tomorrow. Do not stay out late, Brian. I mean it!" Hissed his mother and hurried off without looking him in the eye.
She had an excellent way of screaming at you in a crowded area that required almost no volume at all. The only person capable of knowing she was screaming at all would be that single unfortunate person at whom her venom was directed. She could even smile at you while doing this. It was rather strange and horrifying.