wrong would be an upbeat way to describe the situation. Crappy, awful, disastrousâall of these are better words. I decide to speak slowly, like I have everything under control.
âMaurice would like you to meet him at a local store to select some dressesâjust in case we get in a jam with, well, you know.â
âAunt Gretchen will have the dresses ready,â Carolina shrieks. âIâm tired of everyone questioning my judgment on this! Why canât I have a few people who believe in me?â A few sobs come through the line, and Maurice hears them clearly since he is standing next to me. He whips out his cell, punching buttons furiously.
âHold on, Macie. Iâm getting another call.â Carolina says.
I hang up and step back. Maurice looks ticked.
âCarolina, dear, Maurice on the line.â Maurice is all smoothness, although I can see the bulging vein on his forehead. Itâs beastly hot today, even in the shade of Aunt Gretchenâs sad front porch. I glance back to the front room. Sheâs still sleeping. A third cat arrives on the scene.
âDarling, youâre going to have to meet us at the OâDellâs shop out near Perimeter Mall. Iâm sorry, but thatâs just the way itâs going to have to be. Really. Thatâs right. No, I donât believe so.â Maurice nods and shakes his head in a regretful manner that I wish Carolina could see. He is the picture of sincerity.
I cast a tired eye around the porch, wishing for something on which to sit. My legs hurt a bit, either from cramming myself into Mauriceâs sports car or from walking around tense all week with this wedding on my mind. Finally, I plop down on the low stone wall on one end of the porch. I try to imagine fixing this house up a bit. Maybe scrape off the old paint, tear off the rusted awnings, plant some flowers. Back in Cutter, my dad always took care of our brick ranch on Tupelo Street. The yard was small, but it was trimmed with a white fence covered in climbing roses.
A man on a bicycle glides by in the street. He wears a fast-food uniform and carries a bag of groceries under one arm. He eyes Mauriceâs sports car and gives me a nod as he passes.
âWell, Carolina, if you must know, I think your aunt has had one too many,â Maurice says, his voice rising.
This gets my attention. It takes a lot to get him riled up on the outside.
âHow do I know? Because Iâm standing on her front porch and I have an armchair view of Auntie sleeping in her armchair. From the look of things, nothing has been sewn in this house for twenty years!â
I think that Maurice is going for bridal shock value. Instead of shielding Carolina from the worst of it, heâs embracing the debacle and trying to force the bride to act. Itâs risky; Iâve never seen it work.
Carolina must be giving it to him. Maurice closes his mouth, nods repeatedly, and brushes a piece of lint off of his pants. Finally, he stands up straight and starts walking toward the car. I follow him.
âNow, get your mother and meet us at OâDellâs. We are going to pull this thing together, darling. I mean it. Iâll see you in an hour.â Mauriceâs face is tense.
âWhat did you say? What did she say? Sheâs coming?â I ask Maurice in the car as we speed away.
âIt seems that Carolina knew all along Aunt Gretchen wouldnât be able to finish the job. In fact, everyone did except Gretchen. Her battle with the bottle has made her a bit, shall we say, overconfident. Carolina just got more and more desperate and started inventing fittings that didnât take place, just to protect her aunt. Itâs the most bizarre thing.â
âI guess she really loves her,â I say.
âIâd say,â Maurice nods, turning onto the expressway. âNow, are you ready to find this bride some dresses?â
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Douglas Hofstadter, Emmanuel Sander