Wedding on the Hudson
“Why did we come to this wedding.”
“It’s my family. We’d do the same for yours.”
Jose sat draped in a chair. The back of his head touched the top of the chair and he carefully tried to hide the rest of his body in the overly fancy English wing chair. He fiddled with his buttons.
Across from him Guadalupe shot a look. She reached out and grabbed his hand. Her fingers tearing his away from the buttons and locking together. She rested her free hand on his thigh.
He said, “I’m just being honest with you.”
His hand pulled away from hers in infinite small movements. Jose imagined the slow creeping of his hand back toward his chest and imagined the tightening of her grasp.
Jose felt his heart quicken. “Look Lupe, there’s still time. We can still make it to that secluded spot in Maine I mentioned to you. To be alone. With each other.”
She shook her head, “Let’s dance.”
Jose sighed. He hated dancing. The dance floor made him feel like he was being watched. Members of her family observing him and noting his inability to perform certain moves. Noting his inadequacies, so that later he could be told what he had done wrong. Or worse, what he had failed to do right. None of that mattered anymore. He knew that no one was going to record his flailing and post it online. Caught in between a polka and a slow dance with Guadalupe, he knew that no one would have ever uploaded him to YouTube anyway. That wasn’t how her family got you. Jose tripped over his left foot. The song died down and he caught himself before falling to the ground. He had been rambling to himself. Better to be dead than spend the rest of his life paranoid.
Guadalupe reached her arm around his back and pulled him closer. She whispered into his ear, “Are you okay?” He didn’t feel like killing himself. That wasn’t why he was thinking about death. He looked at Guadalupe and because of a long history of big displays of emotion and even bigger proclamations, tried to reassure her that he was not feeling suicidal with just his eyes.
Everyone was feeling suicidal lately, he thought.
They danced like hipsters: over exaggerating their movements, generally pretending that their bodies were ironic canvasses for enjoyment, before collapsing into each other laughing. Guadalupe vamped. Jose stepped to the beat. They ran over to Guadalupe’s cousin John who was DJing. They babbled out of breath a music request. John nodded his head and then played something else instead.
Salsa came on and the older generation made their way to the dance floor. Jose suggested the open bar, but Guadalupe cupped her stomach.
“You can’t drink when you’re pregnant,” she scolded him.
“I don’t think that’s going to matter Lupe,” he said. He regretted speaking, but hadn’t been able to keep his mouth shut lately.
“That’s not how responsibility works Jose. We got pregnant, so we’re having this baby. That’s how sex works,” she said.
“I know how responsibility works, Guadalupe. I’m not suggesting we have an abortion. I’m suggesting the world is going to end before you have a chance to give birth to the baby. I’m suggesting that maybe the world doesn’t care if you really want this baby, and no one in your family is going to break from their self involvement long enough to give you any support.”
Tears were in the corners of her eyes and Jose reached inward to give her a hug. She resisted but he pulled her in and whispered in her ear, “Okay, we’re doing this.”
Then: “No one else knows you’re pregnant. If you want one drink your body can metabolize the alcohol and prevent it from affecting the fetus. You’re okay.”
Guadalupe let one gigantic sob wreck into his chest and then pulled her mouth so that it covered his. She kissed him deeply and with affection, a public kiss like their first as a married couple in St. John the Redeemer Church. The photographer had insisted they kiss repeatedly for the best shot. Guadalupe’s father had murmured while the photographer directed, trying to communicate with Guadalupe.
“Okay one passionate kiss, really lean in,” the photographer had said.
Her father had cleared his throat, “Lupe this isn’t appropriate in a church.”
“I can’t drink, but you should,” she said.
“There’s no fun in that,” he said, “I don’t like drinking.”
“Go get loopy,” she said.
The open bar was unstaffed. Guests were meant to reach over and pour themselves drinks. Jose saw Lupe’s brother sitting on the bar and cradling a liter of vodka. He nodded at Jose, “Anything I can get you?”
Lupe’s brother, Francisco, reached behind the bar. While his arms flung to reach for a bottle of tequila, his lower body slipped forward and he fell. His shoulder caught the barstool and he winced. Francisco pulled the glass bottle to his lips and drank.
“That was fucking close. Hey Jose, did you see me almost fall. Jose, that was close,” Francisco said.
Francisco’s voice had grown boisterous throughout the night. A large brown stain spilled over his white tuxedo shirt and the lapels pulled out of his pants. His tie hung around his neck like a ready noose.
“Take it easy,” Jose said.
Francisco glared at Jose. He took a step forward and nearly fell again. With his free hand he jabbed in the general direction of Jose.
Jose wanted to drink, to put some distance between himself and the Lopez family. He didn’t want to lose any time with Guadalupe, and he couldn’t stand to communicate with her relatives anymore. He missed his own family. He missed the hostile arguments that his parents would have every night. His mother shouting and his father trying to calm her down. He missed the communication.
He didn’t want to drink just to forget that the Lopez family treated him as an unmotivated dead beat. There was so little time for memories to be made with Lupe and he didn’t want it to be ruined because of a drunken stupor. A selfish drunken stupor.
“Hey,” Francisco screamed, “there’s no point anymore. You know that. People are dying Jose, and you’re telling me to take it easy with the one thing that’s keeping me going. The one thing that makes it all feel right.”
Francisco laughed and then pulled a red styrofoam ball from his pocket, “Want to see a magic trick?”
People were dying. What had started out as the flu had started to grow more virulent. Over the course of a year the population of the United States had been cut in half. Most people had moved outward away from cities in an effort to be by themselves, to be away from other possible carriers. Jose had accumulated newspaper clippings from the major publications and shared them with Guadalupe. New York Times had written a long and rambling edition lamenting the end of the human race. On page 13A a small column from a lunatic scientist had declared it was safer to put distance between large cities. “Gigantic pools of incubation,” the quack had said. Jose had wanted to move away from the New York City area, farther at least than Westchester County, but Guadalupe wouldn’t leave her family.
“No one reads newspapers anymore. And this edition is clearly lunatic ravings,” Guadalupe had said.
Family was priority to Guadalupe, Jose thought as he watched Francisco unbutton his shirt. Francisco’s large brown belly seeming to pulse with an electrical consistency. Francisco burped.
“That was spicy,” he said and then laughed again. “Why are you being so uptight, Josey.”
Jose shrugged. Guadalupe was watching them. She flicked her hand at him trying to invoke him to come back to her.
“My sister wants you, Josey,” Francisco said. He spread Josey out across his lips and then sputtered a stream of saliva. He laughed, “my sister wants to spend time with this asshole who isn’t even part of our family. What’s it been Josey? Just a year? You probably don’t even know everything about my sister yet do you? I know you don’t even know all the Tio’s and Tia’s names. I bet you would run if you could, just leave her and go find something fun or irresponsible to do before you die.”
Francisco lurched again with his finger gesturing in Jose’s direction.
“Not everyone has to die,” Jose said. He coughed into the back of his hand and started to walk away. Francisco caught him by his shirt sleeve and pulled him close to his face. Jose could feel the sweat breath of alcohol pouring from his skin.
Francisco shook his head, “We are all going to die Josey. No one can escape the flu. It’s right there in the air we breathe.”
“Why don’t you leave,” Jose whispered.
Francisco looked shocked and then his lips curled into a smile. “You don’t leave family. You don’t understand that though.”
Jose shook himself free. He started walking toward Guadalupe.
“Nobody wants you in this family, Josey!”
Jose wasn’t violent, but he was at the limit of his caring. He punched Francisco just above the chin, splitting his lip open. Jose’s knuckles stained with the first drops of blood.
Jose had wanted to punch Francisco since he had started insisting upon attending all of their parties. Ever the introvert, Jose would invite only a handful of people. Two or three of his friends would show up to complement the larger circle that Guadalupe had. At each event, Francisco would show up with a bottle of tequila, an inch from the top already gone. He would set up in a corner and start doing magic tricks to hit on Guadalupe’s friends.
Nobody rushed to Francisco’s side and Jose heard Tio Beto whisper, “Looks like Frankie had a little too much.” His words were slurred so it came out “Loosh like Frankie had a lilll too musssh.”
Guadalupe grabbed his hand from him and folded her fingers through his. “You didn’t have to punch him,” she said.
“He was drunk, it barely hurt him.”
“He didn’t know what he was saying,” she pursed her lips and then delicately placed a kiss on his cheek. “You’re the part of the family that matters.”
Jose’s hand hovered over Guadalupe’s belly, but she pushed it away.
“Don’t give anyone ideas.”
Around them the family was in various states of shock. They had been a good Catholic family, but their faith had varied from fear mongering and constant prayer, to outright apostasy. Tios and Tias cradled liquor bottles or children.
Guadalupe and Jose danced but felt the night turning sour. Their breaths grew hurried. Guadalupe began openly weeping on the dance floor and pushed her head into Jose’s shoulder to hide her tears.
The music was modernized, the setting was altered from royalty and the rich, to Mexican family members who had scrounged together to throw one last wedding. Streamers spilled from the rafters of the country club that they had found with a working generator, papeles picados that some Tia had hidden away from her own wedding. The papeles were browned around the edges and looked worn. Children leapt and tried their best to knock them loose.
At the door, two Tios stood with pilfered semi-automatic weapons, standing in a way that showed they knew how to if anyone crashed the party.
A break in the music and a homemade cake was wheeled out to the center of the dance floor. Mateo, in his dead father’s suit—the flu—and Pancha in her grandmother’s dress—who died in a retirement home at 95, unable to recognize her relatives when they came to visit her—stumbled out with a knife held jointly. They were drunk and giggling. Mateo stumbled for a second and Pancha caught him with a hand to his shoulder. Mateo’s eyes were red around the edges and his nose looked raw, he stifled a cough.
Jose couldn’t watch Mateo pretend he wasn’t sick. He turned to Guadalupe and grabbed her hand. “Can we go outside?”
Guadalupe nodded and he pulled her out into the brisk night. The golf course overlooked a slice of the Hudson River and the Palisades of New Jersey. Distantly from the very top of the cliffs a lone light shone fiercely.
“This wedding is just drawing attention to what some people don’t have,” Jose said.
Guadalupe squeezed his hand, “Don’t think about what’s happening anymore. That’s the point of this wedding too. I know you wanted to run. I know that I’m the only thing stopping you. Wouldn’t you rather die together?”
Jose shook his head, “Mateo is sick. Can people catch the flu if they’re in the same ballroom as someone who has it?”
Guadalupe sighed, “I don’t know. It’s complicated.”
Jose sat looking at the moon casting its bright light onto the water. He hadn’t wanted children so soon, and then hadn’t wanted to get pregnant at all after the first million people had died. There wasn’t a point at loving something that never stood a chance to live. Their child would either die along with Guadalupe or grow up even more fractured from its family than Jose was from his. Unless what it grew up with was the idea that solitude was the normal way of life.
Jose still loved Guadalupe though and it was easy to forget that the world was hard and that things were changing faster than he had time to catch up with while they were making love. She had told him that she was pregnant and they had both cried.
“Everyone in there tonight isn’t going to make it, right?” Jose said mostly to himself. Guadalupe leaned her head on his shoulder.
“This baby is my hope,” she said and pulled his hand so it rested on her barely showing bump, “this baby wants to live.”
Jose shook his head and looked over at this wife. Across the water he imagined their life as it would have progressed before the epidemic, and then in his hand over her belly he imagined that same life flourishing now. His knuckles hurt from punching her brother.
“You made the right choice,” he said.
She shook her head at him.
“I wanted a chance to see everyone before…” Guadalupe stopped and started to sob. Her tears hit the back of his hand and he gasped for words. He let his head fall onto hers and forgot how to comfort her.
Inside the party erupted in good cheer as Pancha threw the bouquet and it landed on the floor. People were sitting and catching their breath, admiring the drunken show that Pancha and Mateo were making while trying to feed each other cake.
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Samuel Hernandez is a New York City based writer. His work has appeared in Quip Magazine, The Houston Literary Review, and Long Story Short. More of his work can be found at samuelahernandez.com.