There are dating websites where big and beautiful women can go to find men. That’s where my cousin Alex met the new wife. Beauty is subjective, certainly, but the new wife is undeniably big. She had every right to be on that website.
It’s a sweltering catering hall that’s set up to look like a chapel. When we’re done with the ceremony, everyone is expected to pitch in and move the folding chairs out of the way while tables are set up for the reception. I hope they didn’t pay a lot for this place. It’s been very do-it-yourself. And it’s so fucking hot.
I watch the new wife slowly stroll down what passes for an aisle. She seems unaware of her looks, or she just doesn’t care, and I have to give her credit for that. She’s round and squat and for some reason wearing a white sleeveless gown. This wouldn’t normally be anything of note. Alex isn’t much to look at himself, so I didn’t expect his new wife would be a supermodel. His first wife, however, was really great. She was smart and cute and had a sophistication that is altogether lacking in this rental hall. I can’t wrap my head around how one goes from the first wife to – well, this. It provokes me.
It’s not a charitable thought and I do a bit of penance in my head. Everyone says this new wife is a sweet girl. Sweet is important. It can make up for rolls of flesh and too-short hair that’s an awkward shade of red (purple?) and pinched-shut eyes and acne.
I scold myself for such shallow judgments.
It’s just that I really liked the first wife. She was so cool and quirky and creative. She lived in Paris for awhile before she met my cousin and painted pictures of vaginas which really upset some of my aunts. She listened to NPR. She was too good for Alex, everyone knew that, but it was nice to have her in the family. I felt like she elevated us a bit. Gave us something to aspire to.
“You know they’re still fucking,” my sister tells me later, after we have folded up the chairs and brought out the tables and then re-arranged the chairs.
“Shut up,” I say. “Scandalous!”
My sister lives up north, in Baltimore, but she knows everything going on in the family. Always. Before I do.
“It’s true,” she tells me. “I guess the new Mrs. Langley found a naughty text message from the old Mrs. Langley. There was a fight. She threatened to call off the wedding. But didn’t. Obviously.”
I fan myself with a napkin. “Well, Alex isn’t the sharpest. If it’s happening, he’s probably not hiding it well. What happened with them anyway? I really liked her. And if they’re still close enough that they’re sexting, why not just stay together?”
My sister shrugs. “Nothing dramatic. From what I understand there wasn’t any cheating or beating. It just didn’t work. They were only married for what, like two years?”
Alex and the new wife arrive at our table with smiles. I hug my cousin and congratulate them both. I feel like the new wife is avoiding me, but maybe I’m just paranoid. She speaks directly to my sister, though, without looking at me. So I turn my attention to Alex, who is pulsing and red and sweating through his white shirt.
“Florida in June and the blasted air conditioning goes out,” he says, wiping a hand across his wet, clammy forehead. I watch the sweat slide from his head to his hand and then jump. It’s airborne for a moment and I don’t see where it lands.
“Hey,” I say, and then stop myself, mortified. I almost asked about Stacey, his first wife. That’s what was on my tongue, at that very moment: ‘how’s Stacey?’ I shut my mouth, pressing my lips together. How dumb can I be? I blame the humidity hanging in the air and saturating my brain.
“Yeah?” he’s wiping his damp head again.
“Nothing. Are you guys honeymooning?”
“Oh. That’s fun.”
“Yeah.” He shrugs. “Her uncle has a timeshare we can use.”
“Neat.” His first honeymoon was in Venice and Rome. I remember this because no one from our family had ever been to Europe before. None of us had ever needed a passport or sent a postcard from overseas. It was very exotic and some of my aunts whispered that it was pretentious and expensive. Of course that wedding was also in a real church with a bishop instead of a notary. No one had to move any furniture. We did not wilt from heat.
They move on, the new wife positively waddling beneath her gown.
“Am I crazy, or was she avoiding me?”
“She was,” my sister tells me.
“Why on earth?”
“She heard what you said at the shower.”
I look at my sister blankly, trying to remember the bridal shower from a month ago.
“You said it was tacky to have a shower when it’s a second wedding for both,” she reminds me.
“Well, it is. But she heard? How could she have heard that?”
My sister shrugs. “She heard or someone told her.”
“Did you tell her?”
“No,” she laughs. “Why do you care?”
And I don’t know. I don’t know why I care. But I know I have to leave the wedding. I have to get out of the stuffy reception hall before the music starts and people are expected to dance and food is served. There are relatives from her side unwrapping large bowls in the kitchen. Aluminum foil is getting folded and saran wrap peeled back from salads and casseroles and Jell-O. Dear God, they brought their own food. I feel like I could actually pass out, so I slip into the mosquito-rich air of Dade City, Florida.
This is better. I can sit on a rock near the parked cars and think about my own escape. To Europe, maybe, or anywhere I don’t have to be friendly to people who bother me for inexplicable reasons.
Cari Oleskewicz is a writer based in Tampa. Her fiction, essays, and poems have been published in a number of online and print journals, including Literary Orphans, Blotterature Literary Magazine, The Found Poetry Review, Sandhill Review, Lightning Key Review, PITH Journal, The Collapsar, and JAB Magazine. She is currently at work on a collection of travel essays.