From WEDDNG DAY in Czar Nicholas, The Toad, and Duck Soup:
“Please, Lizzie, find something else to wear, anything else.” And then, “It’s freezing in here. Why didn’t you turn up the heat?”
Because I don’t know how.
“I will, Dad, I’ll find something else,” I said, but our first guests had arrived. “Let me just say hello, okay?”
He nodded and then turned up the thermostats, a simple act that hadn’t occurred to me. “As long as you change before the, uh, ceremony.”
Orlando’s friend arrived, the one I didn’t like. He was handsome and arrogant, totally full of himself. His wife was with him, as lovely and sweet as he wasn’t. She handed me a small wedding cake, the white frosting decorated with rock candy the color of jewels. She seemed wise to me, mature, though she was probably close to my age. And she seemed to know secrets. Of course, many years later, I realized she knew plenty. I wish she had shared them with me. It might have made countless nights more bearable, knowing that I wasn’t alone.
I thanked her and carried the cake to the living room, placed it on the desk. I loved that room with its comfortable furniture, white stucco walls and dark hardwood floors.
The next door neighbors arrived, startled to see my father. “Karel! You’re here!” Dorothy exclaimed.
“I’m here,” he said.
“Thanks for leaving the keys,” I said, and took their coats. A few minutes later my father took me aside and walked me through the dining room with its Stickley furniture. The large dining table was bare of plates or silver or linen, abandoned not only for the winter but because I hadn’t given a thought to the fact that people expect to be served food at weddings.
“I don’t see any food anywhere,” he said, clearly upset. “Is someone bringing it?”
Mady joined us, looking gorgeous. “What’s the matter?” she asked, noticing the shaky look on our father’s face.
“There’s no food,” he told her.
“What?” she asked, staring at me. “Nothing?”
“We forgot,” I said, and walked off. Nobody was going to make me feel guilty on my wedding day and besides, it wasn’t like anyone would actually starve to death.
This was obviously the time for me to go upstairs and find something else to wear. But before I did, I decided to have someone take a few pictures while I was still in white. That seemed important and appropriate. I was a bride, after all. Then I went upstairs and looked through the closets in the bedrooms but found nothing. I went to the attic, where there were two large bedrooms, one with a cedar-lined closet. I found a loosely fitting sleeveless black wool dress that was comfortable. It smelled a bit woodsy but it looked okay on me.
“Black!” my father said as I walked downstairs. He made an effort. “It’s much better, I guess.” Then he shrugged as if to say it’s out of my hands now.
While I didn’t think it was such a big deal that guests drove on a frigid day to celebrate my wedding in a house with no food, I became concerned that there may not be enough toilet paper. I checked the powder room near the kitchen and the three bathrooms on the second floor. To my relief there was toilet paper in every bathroom. And soap. But the towel racks were bare. The little bit of hostess that existed in me led me to the linen closet, and then I went to each of the bathrooms and placed floral towels on each rack and returned to the kitchen, feeling extremely pleased with myself.
My father was there, talking on the phone. “It’s my daughter’s wedding, you see, and she forgot to order food. I would be very grateful if you deliver as quickly as possible.” He hung up and looked at me. “Maybe it’s a good thing your mother’s not here,” he said, and gave me a hug. “Lizzie, what are we going to do with you?” he asked, and I felt that familiar wave of exasperated love from him. He had called Town Hall Delicatessen in South Orange Village and in a surprisingly short time they arrived with a large tray of smoked fish and another of cold cuts. They also brought bread, rolls, cookies, soda, champagne, paper plates and cups. Before they left they arranged everything on the dining table and sideboard.
Orlando and I were in the entry hall when more guests arrived. They looked around and then a relative, quite beautiful and also disapproving of anything I did, said, “So that’s the Puerto Rican mime. Well, Lizzie, at least he’s not black!”
The mayor arrived, followed by our final guests, including two more of Orlando’s friends. They were, as always, beautifully dressed, polite, sophisticated. They, too, had always been aloof toward me, but unlike his other friend, they were never hostile. Instead, in their presence I felt like a slightly troublesome kid sister. Someone they had to accept, who had intruded into a place where I didn’t belong. Clues number two and three. Throughout the day I wondered what these men were doing at my wedding. That day, they were the intruders. They were the early warning signs I couldn’t see.
In the absence of hors d’oeuvres our guests, who had nothing in common with each other and made little if any effort to mingle, had begun to help themselves to drinks from my father’s liquor cabinet. Yet despite several of them becoming inebriated it wasn’t enough to break the ice. No one found common ground, but at least they were polite. Polite and puzzled. It didn’t matter to me, because I was happy and Orlando seemed extremely so, at times almost overcome with emotion.
The mayor began. “May I have the license, please?” he asked us, smiling broadly.
“The license?” Orlando whispered, staring at me. “Elisabeth, give the mayor the marriage license.”
“I can’t. I don’t have it.”
“I’m sorry, we don’t have it,” Orlando said to the mayor.
“I don’t believe this,” my father said.
“I do,” someone said.
“Me too,” someone else said.
The mayor wasn’t mayor for nothing. “May I borrow your phone?” he asked my father, who mutely pointed to the one in the den. The mayor made a brief call. “Don’t worry about a thing,” he said as he hung up the phone. “Help is on the way.” We waited an awkward fifteen or so minutes as our guests stood around and stared silently at each other, and then the doorbell rang. My father opened the door to a young state trooper in full uniform who walked smartly into the living room and seemed to look directly at Orlando and me.
“Oh, my God,” Orlando whispered as he turned toward me and patted his pockets.
“You have pot on you?” I whispered back.
“Of course I do,” he whispered.
A few of our friends also seemed nervous, but the mayor seemed relaxed. “Don’t worry,” he said, after saying a few quiet words to the super cute trooper. “He’ll be back as soon as he can find his way into Town Hall and locate a copy of the license. Let’s relax and enjoy ourselves.”
“Let’s eat!” I said. “There’s plenty of food,” and I glanced at my father. I caught the twinkle in his eye as he looked at me from across the room. Because of his quick thinking and the speedy delivery by Town Hall Delicatessen we had a meal of smoked salmon, sturgeon, ham and roast beef. However, even the food didn’t do much to break the awkwardness among our guests.
While we waited for the trooper to return Orlando tried to bond with my father. He asked if he could try one of my father’s Shakespeare cigars, and the two of them lit up. Soon the den reeked of cigar smoke. And Orlando, who had never smoked a cigar before and wasn’t enjoying it but was pretending to, was having a hard time. He began to feel queasy but didn’t want to spoil the moment. “Some Scotch, Karel?” he finally suggested, knowing it was my father’s drink of choice.
“Oh, what the hell,” my father said, and they had a drink. Orlando had several more. By the time the trooper returned with the license and the mayor was able to perform the ceremony, Orlando was drunk and teary-eyed, and overcome with emotion. Later that night he was sick to his stomach.