His mother didn’t show up for the wedding because she was going nuts in her room upstairs on the 15th floor of the beach-front hotel. Jack kept telling me he couldn’t care less because she’d be drunk again, make a scene and ruin the entire show for everyone anyway, especially the South Carolina King of Air Conditioning and his red-headed princess. So when it happened like Jack said all he could do was laugh and smoke his camel filter on the edge of the ballroom dancefloor.
“Told ya, K. Bunch of rednecks.” He said, smiling and then turned his head to the dark space in the back of the room where something should have been or used to be. “My family is bat-shit,” he said. “Wouldn’t mind losing all that.”
The Myrtle Beach wedding was planned shortly after Jack told us he got the redhead pregnant. They’d met working at a Cracker Barrel outside of Hickory, NC— a romance triggered by a mutual love of stolen biscuits, cornbread and big transparent bags of OJ. He called her “the redhead” because he said it made her more interesting. He explained the pregnancy was just the thing because he needed to chill the fuck out and raise a rugrat, kick the soul-sucking habits and this was probably the ticket.
A month later we’re in Myrtle Beach, lined up in the Grande Ballroom of The Ocean Reef Resort with its pale-white light washing the cavernous room, the gold trim of the sprawling carpet shimmering. It reminded me of a casino floor and I thought of Atlantic City. The state would never allow it, but casinos would hit the spot here. Same demographic. Same vibe. Strip-lovers in need of glow-in-the-dark cocktails and plastic pearls. Cargo-shorts for miles.
The groom’s side included our gang of seven, having carpooled down from Boone, and Jack’s father, perspiring and tipsy but smiling happily at his only son. There was no sign of Jack’s mom who had been upstairs bawling through a bottle of Smirnoff to the chagrin of the bridal party and the hotel staff. She was known as a difficult woman and was against the union for various reasons which included a series of condescending remarks made by the bride’s father, The AC King, during the rehearsal dinner. Jack wouldn’t say much except that she was “stubborn as hell” and just plain nasty about him marrying “some South Carolina girl he’d met at a Cracker Barrel.”
The other half of the ballroom was filled with the bride’s family and friends, none of whom seemed to like Jack or us. It wasn’t surprising. We’d called it on the drive down. It was all too quick, and Jack didn’t do much to help. He was a good old fashioned smart ass. Wore a blood-red shirt under a black jacket, black tie and tight slacks pulled up to the navel. To them and others Jack was a rogue. A swashbuckler. A sort of smile that made you think of a slippery villain you loved to hate. Action Jackson. Arms in constant motion as if to summon cthulhu, or some shit he made up himself. He was a questionable mystic. A self-murdering antihero. Fast and loose. He was probably just some guy. It didn’t really matter because there was a gravity to his bullshit.
It was one of those weddings where nobody wants the wedding to happen but nothing is said. At least not in the open. You’d catch tired phrases like “I give em a year,” and notice shitty looks. It was all low stakes on our end anyway. Their future pleasure (or pain) is not yours, I thought, so sip your drink and clap when appropriate. Offer up good vibrations.
We were arranged for wedding photos next to the redhead and her Summerville sisters: tallish women with bleached hair, freshly-plucked eyebrows and cagey looking faces painted the color of orange suntans. The resort photographer took his shots and yelled flamboyantly over the music “Let’s do it, folks!” and “Show me some teeth!”
The seven of us from the old gang stood with hands in pockets. Arms around necks. Two or three hidden middle fingers directed towards the camera. One of those photos would hang on my fridge for years, eventually acquiring a fingerprint of dried mustard at the bottom, just covering the pant leg of my favorite brown slacks. Five dollars at the Ram’s Rack thrift shop. King’s street. Boone, NC. 2004.
Jack held onto his bride and grinned for the audience, his small teeth crooked in good ways. She pushed her tiara back across her hair and scratched her pale cheek. Red nails drew thin red lines connecting ginger freckles, and then faded. So much red. Even the ballroom itself, red and gold, booked till midnight on a windy September evening. All you can drink box-wine, plastic half-gallons of Old Crow, Smirnoff, canned Miller Light and bottled Yuengling. I poured another cup of wine and winked at Jack.
We danced quickly to Prince and slowly to K-Ci & JoJo. The SC girls swarmed after hearing SexyBack and Nelly Furtado. The DJ noticed and kept it up for our benefit. The girls moved more and drank more and became less dull the more lousy music was played.
The guests formed a circle around the bride and her Jack, his eyes heavily glazed. The opening french horn of Can You Feel The Love Tonight played from the speakers near the DJ table. The couple joined. They danced and it was good, and the crowd sighed audibly. Flashes popped from tiny disposable cameras which had been left out on the tables among scattered piles of fake flower petals and pastel mints.
A mysterious blue vapor crept over the floor. The smoke formed several swirling cocoons, trapping the flashing light in jagged sheets as the bride and groom moved together, their shadows falling. Suddenly we could all feel the love tonight.
I pictured the lioness Nala. I was oddly attracted to her as a child. Nala was a babe. A soft seductress. Even the word lioness was tempting. Lioness. Temptress. Seductress. The obvious feminine quality in the suffix. The redhead was no Nala. She demanded things, gripped Jack’s side firmly as they danced.
The song reached its apex while the couple kissed and then the unmistakable screech of shattering glass. Jack’s mother stood a few feet from the bride and groom, tears and stereotypical dark lines of mascara across her face. The crowd did not move. She, the spectacle, held her green shoes which matched her green dress. Jack watched, blank-faced, and held his bride in silence. Jack’s father pushed through the wall of onlookers and gently took his wife’s forearm. She went quietly, biting her bottom lip. I watched his parents argue from a distance. It looked like they were singing the closing lyrics of the the song. While insulting the moral fiber of the redhead’s family, Jack’s mother appeared to sing that this was all enough to make kings and vagabonds and that Jack’s father should believe the very best.
The nonsense ended with the song and Jack’s parents exited through the large double doors. The bride was at the cake table talking to her father. Red in the face, he tucked locks of hair behind her ear.
“Seems plenty goin on now, K,” Jack said. “You ought to put some pick-up in your step.”
“Sure,” I said. “What about your mom? Is she ok?”
“She’s fine. Fuck her.”
“I mean, don’t really fuck her.”
“I won’t,” I said.
“Thanks. Good man. Have another drink.”
The toilet stalls were wallpapered to look like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. On the outside of the stall the half-serpent half-man was coiled around the tree of knowledge as Adam reached for the fruit and Eve cowered below him. The image had been stretched to fit the width of the stalls which caused the figures to look bloated and dead. On the interior Adam and Eve were shunned by a red angel at sword-point. Why was Eve drawn to look so muscular? Her thighs were sturdy like a pro-wrestler’s. I thought of Chyna, the first woman to ever compete in a Royal Rumble. The ninth wonder of the world.
The door flew open and the refrain of Gold Digger filled the room briefly. Through the crack in the stall-door I could see The AC King. The heat and humidity fucked and gave the southeast its subtropical climate. People oozed and required respite from the heat. The King provided this service in the largest network of air-conditioning installation and repair in the Carolinas.
The King was a tall, fat man with sloping shoulders. He grunted and turned to a urinal, relieved himself, hopped up and down on the balls of his feet and dropped his kilt. Of course he wore a kilt. I approached the sinks. He rubbed his hands under the water. He did not use soap. The automatic faucet wouldn’t turn on as I waved my hands beneath the sensor repeatedly. I felt small standing beside him. The large, angry scotsman from South Carolina. I thought of chief engineer Mr. Scott. Not even actually Scottish. Doubt this guy is either. Beam me out of this fucking bathroom. This fucking wedding. I had to lighten up. Gotta be an adult and say something polite.
“Congratulations on the whole thing,” I mumbled. I sounded scared. What whole thing? Marrying off his oldest daughter to Jack at Myrtle Beach? He probably wanted to strangle me with, what I imagined to be, a large uncircumcised penis.
“Thanks very much, son. It’s a fine thing.” He did not look at me.
“Alright. Enjoy the reception, sir.” I pressed the automatic dryer button, cutting off any further shit that might slip from my mouth. Beautiful white noise. My phone buzzed in my jacket pocket.
MIKEY: HAVE YOU SEEN JACK? I THINK HE SPLIT.
LOST AT SEA
It was cool outside and the smell and sound of the sea revived my senses and washed the oil of the evening from my face. I wanted to sprint to the water. I did not and walked holding a plastic bottle of garbage whiskey down to the boardwalk. There were many people out, and I walked to be alone. Nobody saw me leave. Maybe Mikey, but he was already smashed out his mind.
Stumbling, I reached the sand where the light from the boardwalk faded. I saw a figure walking ahead and thought it could have been K. The sky was a dark shade of blue, and the ocean a black void. Endless, it roared and hummed to me and I walked, gaining on him, the bourbon spilling across my wrist. Sounds from between the black lips of Poseidon in the dark. Growling at me. Bastard.
“K!” I hollered, but the crashing swallowed my voice. I ran to him and yelled his name again. He didn’t move and I could tell it was not K because of his posture and wider shoulders beneath the man’s jacket. Quickly, I walked past him looking down at the sand.
The beach became empty. It was warm and cold at the same time. I passed a few people but then I was alone. It felt nice to be away from all the piss-yellow eyes. The wedding. What a joke. I laughed. Fucking Cracker Barrel. Hickory-smoked country ham. Add two sides: hashbrown casserole and turnip greens. 6.99. Sweet or unsweet?
I saw in the distance a great object on the sand. As large as a house. Its tips flapped violently in the strong wind. Thinking it a hallucination in the dark, I jogged towards the blocky structure. Beach chairs were piled atop one another and covered by brown tarps, tied off with bungee-cords. A great mountain of plastic and nylon reaching towards the moon. I could not see the moon. There were many stars.
“Perfect,” I said.
“What’s perfect?” I asked.
“This is my castle. My beach-front home. No stilts.”
“This is your castle,” I repeated.
I stepped back and framed the pile of beach chairs with my index fingers and thumbs.
“I’ll sleep here tonight, in the sand.”
“And the redhead?”
“Got no choice. Neither does she. I’m going to sleep in a hole tonight and be alone in the cool sand one more time.”
“You’re goin back to the hotel or everyone is gonna lose it and you’ll never see your redhead again and the AC king will have your scalp.”
“Horse shit!” I said, and sat under the castle and looked out over the water. Shapes moved in the distance or in my eyes. I could not tell which.
I got on all fours and scooped my hands into the cool beach, flinging it through my legs like a dog. I dug until the ditch was nearly the size of a man. I looked down through its shallow, long darkness.
“I’m going to sleep here,” I said and removed my jacket and then my pants, underwear and all the rest. I sat quietly and sipped the whiskey. Battery acid. I could taste sand and it crunched between my teeth. The white of my own skin become smaller as I moved towards the water, watching myself from the castle-grave. I felt my own eyes on my naked back.
“It’s terrible!” I yelled.
I could not hear him.
“It’s te…” The whiteness shrunk into the dark water and disappeared. Sinking.
The blue-green Nokia light blinked in the sand. I picked up my phone and read a new message.
K: Where the hell did you go? Already escape?
ME: Jack is nightswimming. Tell Red I’m bringing him back.
Just needed a dip.
K: Everyone has separated. Terror abound!
The water did not feel warm on my feet. I walked along the edge of the tide which seemed very low. I saw its shifting line stretch towards a long pier in the dark. My body floated over the tiny waves, in and out of sight. Doomed, I thought. I am doomed and these are my thoughts. Let him have it. Lost at sea. It never stops. For you and me.
I paddled to the beach. Walking towards me, and then running past to the castle, I dropped into the hole.
“It’s cool,” I said, walking towards me.
“The temperature, that is.”
I looked down as I looked up. My head blocking out the stars. My head in the cold, dark sand.