Authors: Abigail Graham
by Abigail Graham
Cover Art by Kevin McGrath
Edited by Faith Van Horne
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Time to crash a wedding.
I don’t have an invitation. Good luck to the guy trying to keep me out. Feels like I’ve been awake for a week, I badly need a cigarette, it’s dark, and I’m wearing sunglasses. I tighten my grip on the wheel.
After almost eight years it feels like driving on another planet, but eerily familiar at the same time. Interstate 95 snakes along the river on my right, Philly on my left as I head north. It’s freezing outside but I roll down the window anyway and let the chill wake me up. It’s like a punch in the face.
The chill and the smell. It smells like shit, but, baby, that’s home. Horns honk in the distance, poking out of the constant background groan of the city. I take the exit and roll from red light to red light on Market Street, the temptation to burn some rubber catching in my throat like a scream when one of Philly’s finest pulls up next to me.
He looks over and types on his computer one handed. Probably running my plate. He glances back, makes himself comfortable in his seat, and thumbs his radio mike. When the light changes I very lightly accelerate to a gentle thirty-two miles an hour.
Of course the cop starts dogging me.
The cruiser swings behind my bumper, so close I can’t see his headlamps. I drive like the devil is behind me, my Camaro’s big motor rumbling in defiance. I put on my blinker, wait two seconds, and swing over to the right lane. Officer Friendly does the same, keeping it so tight it’s a wonder the bull bumper on his cruiser doesn’t scrape my ass end. He’s still chatting up somebody on the other side of the radio.
The next light turns yellow just as I cross into the intersection. The cop follows me and trips his lights, gives me a
, and with a haggard sigh I pull off and double park.
I keep my hands on the wheel and watch him closely. He stands with ponderous intensity, adjusts his belt, and unsnaps his holster. When I see him pop the retention snap off his piece, I tense. Completely unnecessarily he draws the bulky flashlight from his belt and flicks it on, holding it in the ready position to bring the long, heavy barrel down on my head.
He stops a good foot back from the door, aiming the flashlight at my hands.
“Step out of the car. Keep your hands where I can see them.”
Not going to give him an excuse. I reach over the door and pop the handle from the outside, nudge it open with my leg and stand up, keeping my hands in clear view, alongside my head.
His badge says Taylor.
Taylor shines the flashlight in my face and I wince but don’t turn away. A purple circle flashes in my vision even when I close my eyes.
“License and registration. Slow.”
I keep the car’s papers in a pocket on the door. I’m extra slow pulling them out, and even slower when I lift my wallet daintily from my coat pocket, opening it wide so he can see there’s nothing underneath.
“Nice tux. Where’d you come from?”
“Planes are black tie now?”
“Have anything to drink on the plane? Something to make the flight go a little easier?”
“Nope. Fuckin’ Coke is four dollars, officer.”
“Language. Have you had anything to drink today?”
“I’m going to give you a field sobriety test.”
I glance at my watch. “I’m kind of in a hurry, officer. I’m on my way to a wedding.”
“Should have caught an earlier flight. Say the alphabet backward.”
“What? Nobody can really do that.”
“I can take you into the station to blow a Breathalyzer.”
“Fine,” I sigh, and slowly rattle off the letters. I should have fucking memorized it. I should have known.
He makes me go through a whole routine, touching my nose and walking in a straight line. Since I’m as sober as I’m ever going to get, it’s just a tedious waste of time. When it’s over I look at him, silently saying,
Taylor swings his light around inside my car.
“Carrying any contraband? Weapons, drugs, anything you’re not supposed to have?”
“Mind if I have a look?”
“I’m in a hurry.”
He stands up to his full height and flashes the light at me. “It’ll be easier if you just let me have a look. Otherwise I’ll have to call a K-9 unit out.”
“Is that how it is?”
“That’s how it is.”
“I’m asserting my fourth-amendment rights and refuse to consent to any search.”
He makes an exasperated sound.
“Call the goddamn dogs, there’s nothing here. We both know why you’re doing this.”
“Face the car and put your hands behind your back. Slowly.”
As the cuffs close on my wrists, I sigh.
Well, I can probably still make the reception.
Once I’m cuffed, he picks through my pockets. Nothing in there but a cell phone and my wallet, which he lays on the roof of the car before dragging me over to sit on the curb. He talks into the mike on his shoulder and stands there in silence for a good minute with his hand on his piece before a second roller shows up, lights on.
The second cop is a woman. She stands over me, glaring and holding her hand on her sidearm while the first cop opens the trunk lid and doors and begins going through the car. He pulls up the carpeting in the trunk, gets on his knees to look under the seats, shoves his hand between them, throws the contents of the glove box on the ground, and even pulls on the fucking sun visors.
There’s nothing to find, but he makes sure.
When the K-9 unit shows up I get nervous and keep an eye on the handler. He could make the dog give a false indication, I’m sure of it. The big German Shepard circles the car and looks at me once, big tongue lolling out of his mouth in a sloppy doggy grin, like he’s saying,
Sorry bro, just doing my job.
By the time half an hour of this fucking farce is over, my shoulders are starting to ache from being cuffed behind my back. I look up at the lady cop.
“You know, usually I make a woman buy me dinner before I let her cuff me.”
“Shut up,” she replies.
It must be forty-five minutes since I was pulled over by the time I finally get back on my feet and the cuffs come off.
The first cop, Taylor, hands back my license and registration. I slip them in my pocket and rub my wrists.
All three cops sit there with their lights spinning while Taylor writes my ticket. As long as he’s taking, you’d think he was cutting down the trees and making the wood pulp to make the paper it’s printed on. I remain very still and keep my hands out, just in case. At least one of these creeps is carrying a drop gun, I can feel it.
Finally Taylor steps out and hands me two tickets.
“I’m citing you for failure to obey a traffic control and failure to wear a seat belt. Have a nice night.”
“You too,” I say as cheerily as I can.
Once he’s out of earshot I mutter,
under my breath. If this were any other day I’d tell it to his face, but I’m on a time frame here.
After carefully scooping up the manual and papers from the glove box to make sure they don’t pull me over and do the whole thing again and use littering as an excuse, I make sure I buckle up before I start the car and slowly pull off.
They did their job. That little shit show cost me an hour. I let the chill October air wash over me and rein in my impatience every time a light has the audacity to turn yellow in front of me. The same cop pulls up next to me at the light.
I put my blinker on and he slows down to match me then speeds up when I do. Fucker keeps glancing over at me. Finally I take a right and circle around, and he doesn’t follow. It takes an extra five minutes to get back on to Market, then I turn toward the hotel.
The Marshall Plaza. Funny how it has my name on it in twenty-foot-tall red letters. That’s a branding thing. They’re always red. If every building my father owned in this town actually had the red letters on top, the whole city would glow with them, or near enough.
They stop me when I drive into the garage.
A heavyset, powerfully built man a sharp suit walks down the ramp toward me. His arms are so thick they make me think his sleeves are about to split like sausages left on the griddle too long, as much as his belly jiggles under a perpetually askew tie.
“Sir, you’re going to have to turn around. The hotel is booked, private party.”
I lean out the window. “For fuck’s sake, Frank.”
His eyes bulge and he flinches like he’s been hit.
“Jack? Jesus Christ, what the fuck are you doing here? Are you crazy?”
“I’m certified. You going to let me in or not?”
“You’re not on the guest list.”
“I’m the groom’s son. There’s got to be a rule somewhere. I wore a tux.”
Big Frank combs his fingers through his hair. It was gray and thin the last time I saw him. Now it’s more of both and there are deeper lines on his face, and his jowls sag. He still wears a wedding ring.
“Maybe I should let your dad handle this.”
“Yeah, maybe you should.”
I wait and let him think. Frank isn’t a dumb guybefore I left we used to play chess and I never came close to beating him. He’s a thoughtful man and with his size, people are quick to think he’s slow. Underestimating someone like Frank can be dangerous. He furrows his brows.
“Yeah. You’ll make a scene if I don’t take you up, yeah?”
“You gonna be quiet? Behave yourself?”
“Yeah, Frank. Come on, it’s me.”
For a bare second he gives me a kind of aw-shucks look, like,
I know you, kid,
but then it’s gone and his face goes neutral.
“Yeah. I’ll take you up. Don’t make a mess of this. Here, pull around and park in the valet section.”
I nod, slowly swing the car around under the gate and park. When I step out I’m a little surprised by how big Frank is. I thought, you know, I remembered him towering over me because I was a half-grown kid the last time I saw him. No, he’s still enormous, and the open jacket he wears over a waistcoat only accentuates his width. Guy is as big across as two people, yet he moves with an alarming grace, with surprising subtlety for such a bulky man.
I’ve seen him spar. Big doesn’t equal slow.
When we step into the elevator and the doors close, he sighs. I catch a twitching glance toward the sign on the elevator wall, warning us that the elevator is monitored by listening devices.
“How long has it been?” he says cordially.
“Ten years. Two years of boarding school, four years of university, four years in the Army.”
He lowers his voice. “You hear anything from her?”
“Damn. You ever try sending something to her?”
My eyes sink to the floor.
Frank sort of…rumbles, and those huge shoulders shrug. “Top floor. Menswear.”
I smirk a little, but that’s all I can manage. The doors open and I ask him.
“Is she even here?”
“Yeah,” he says, a little sadly. “She’s here.”
There is a bridal party, but I’m not with them. I sit alone in my suite, brushing my hair, finely working it with just enough gel to keep it thick and heavy. First I comb it all over to one side of my head.
I have to put on my eye patch.
After the enucleationthere’s a word you never want to learn in contextI took to wearing a blank glass eye with a patch over it. I tried wearing an actual false eye, but every time I caught a glimpse of my reflection, it was my eye that bothered me the most. Mom paid top dollar for it and it matched my real eye perfectly but it didn’t move, it just sat there, or worse. It would start drooping.
The doctors say if I don’t wear one at all the tissues around my eye socket will collapse. So I keep a blank one in there and put the patch over it. It’s a padded medical patch, with four fine strings that keep it in place, not like a cheap Halloween costume.
My bridesmaid’s dress hangs in a garment bag beside the vanity. The other members of the bridal party will wear peach-colored strapless dresses and faux-mink stoles when we have to go outside. Mine is the same color, but has full sleeves and a high collar of lace that looks sheer but isn’t.
The scars start above my left eye and go down my neck, shoulder, and arm. There are both burns and lacerations. My face has the worst scars. From just beneath my left eye to my jaw is one big burn, and the grafted skin is warped and puckered. The way it healed pulls my mouth into a perpetual sneer, one corner always tilted up. My left ear is little more than a hole.