Below is a collaboration between myself and Trent Lewin, at trentlewin.the com, one of my favorite authors! He wrote sections 1,3, and 5, and I created sections 2,4 and the ending! If you go to his site, he also wrote a complete version of the story…. a must see!!!
Mark’s version is at: http://markpaxson.com/2014/06/01/the-thunder-had-gone/ . His site is kingmidgetsramblings.wordpress.com and he also joined in and wrote his own version, also doing sections 2,4, and his ending… so check out his version, too, and TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK of all three versions!!!!
Here is my complete story:
Kate swallowed the square before anyone could see her do it. She went for another one and chewed it slowly, all the while working on the one she had stuffed in her mouth.
The carpet was appalling. It was twenty years old, and hadn’t been properly steam cleaned in that time. She was bare foot. Seemed like she could feel the dirt in the fibers, lurking there waiting to offend her guests. But they, she remembered, were all wearing shoes.
“You’re Angel’s mom?” Kate nodded. The woman was fifty, maybe more, and had on a red dress that came with its own cleavage. Her heels were sticking it to the carpet, leaving little dents all over the place. She swallowed some champagne. “Tell me, why did you name her ‘Angel’? That’s a unique name.”
“It has a precedent.”
“Oh. That’s funny. When did your husband pass?”
“Oh. Well, that’s not so funny. What happened to him?”
Kate explained. Clearly, this woman wasn’t from Barrie’s side of the family. She explained in time that she was married to one of Barrie’s cousins.
“Nice house,” she said. “Won’t you come over and have a drink with us?” She was actually looking at Kate now, instead of straightening her hair or showing concern for the relative exposure of her very handsome bosom. Kate tried not to look at that bosom, and failed. She blushed. “Saw you standing alone. It’s your party, isn’t it? Why not enjoy it?”
“It’s Angel’s party. But thank you.”
The woman – Veronica – touched her hand and smiled. Then she went for another champagne.
Kate stayed in the corner, concerned for the well-being of her carpet and the lack of cleavage that she was able to expose from behind a dress that would have had nothing to do with cleavage if it had been ripped from top to bottom and made transparent. Around the great room, guests milled, and more entered all the time. Angel was at the doorway, greeting them. A few came over and said hi to Kate, but not many. These were Barrie’s relatives, and they had come here for Angel’s wedding. Still, it was funny how the spot of silence in the corner that Kate occupied managed to contract on her, the one place where light would not go and the laughter in the room had no reason to be.
She picked up another square and took it down in a single bite.
“Mom!” came Angel’s voice. “Those are bad for you.”
“Harumph,” replied Kate, chewing madly.
“Have some juice,” said Angel, handing over her glass. “Mom, this is my fiancé Mark. Mark, my mom.”
“Harumph,” said Kate, lips upturned at the taste of orange juice mixing with thick caramel. She started to choke on a nut. “I mean shit… sorry. Mark, nice to meet you. I’m Kate.” She extended a hand, and finally looked up from the carpet.
Mark, last name to be determined, was at least four inches taller than Barrie had been, and Barrie had been a tall one. He was wearing a blazer. His handshake was crushing, and his eyes petrified with the fear of meeting the mother of his future bride. As Kate talked with him, the fear faded away, as she knew it would – replaced with questions about this graying lady in the cheap blue dress and the bare feet, the one who had a smudge caramel on her nose.
Kate spun away to greet new visitors. “Call you Kate?” asked Mark.
“Mrs.. Januskiewicz might be a mouthful.”
He glanced at the room. “Your husband has a lot of family.”
“The Smithson’s are very tight-knit. You’ll figure it out. Stop being so nervous.”
“Can you introduce me to some of them?”
“No. I don’t know them well. They liked Barrie and they love Angel, but I’m a Januskiewicz, the very first of my kind in this family. You’re on your own.”
“So are you, it seems,” he replied, surveying her little corner next to the dessert table.
“Have fun,” she said, giving him a little push towards the party. At once, people pounced on him, patting him on the back as several hands tried to give him a drink at the same time.
Kate ducked back into the corner. When she was sure no one was looking, she took another square and put it in her mouth. Then she picked up a second one and started chewing on it very, very slowly.
Mark leaned against the glass of the patio door watching the circus surrounding his Bride-to-be. The conductor is clearly Angel; she introduces the clowns to her maid of honor, a few cousins wearing giant bow ties, at least 50 or 60 years old, still one squirts water from his flower pin and giggles. She turns, laughing with her teeth, not her eyes, and wipes at the water splattered onto her blouse. Introduces the juggler; he’s trying to light his cigarette while balancing his wineglass in his elbow. Angel shakes her head, then tosses her hair as the lion arrives. Clearly this was a kissing cousin, or she wouldn’t be rolling her shoulders back to expose her breasts.
He turns away, carefully balancing his plate of nachos and slips out the door completely unnoticed. He surprises Angel’s Uncle Reggie, as he’s sitting with his legs spread a bit too far apart in the lawn chair, knees moving in and out as he stares at Angel through the door glass. Mark knows that move. He swallows his disgust and turns to lean against the railing looking out at the uncut bushes trying to escape the yard.
“There you are,” Kate says. Uncle Reggie quickly grabs his empty glass and heads inside, his face an angry red. Not from being caught, but from being interrupted.
“Busted,” Mark answers. He shakes his head and notices her sparkling blue eyes. Wet from tears of boredom and repressing a yawn, still they seem bright. “You come here often?”
“Once in a while.” She grins up at him hoping to draw his attention away from the unkempt yard. “Didn’t have time to mow, they said it was gonna rain.”
“Not the weather, please,” he says.
“And which cousin are you?”
He grins but it’s only with the lower half of his face, “I’m the one the bride slept with in 9th grade.”
Kate mouths the word “oh” and places her hands on the railing nervously, surprised he figured that one out so quickly. She leans back and says quietly, “Can you see your future, with them thrown in,” she nods at the crowd inside?
“They say you can learn a lot from meeting the family,” he answers slowly.
“And what have you learned?”
“It’s like a mask has been removed. Not too sure I wanted to see that.” He crunches a chip, wipes his mouth with his other hand.
“It’s a lot of pressure, performing for the audience,” Kate says, then adds “God, it’s muggy.” She unbuttons the top button on her dress, then fans the top in and out trying to make a breeze.
Mark looks down, catches a glimpse of identical cleavage, even the same mole he’s seen before on the left side, then glances away before she looks up. She felt the look, but asks, “You need another drink! What are you slamming?”
“Anything you’ve got, Mom!” He grins down at her as she grins back, then he adds, “Mrs.. Januskiewicz just doesn’t seem right.”
“I don’t know if I can call you son just yet,” Kate turns to leave, throws over her shoulder, “but come inside before it gets dark and you can have one more sip before nigh-night time.”
Kate swallowed three of the French fries and stared at the platter. She ate three more. They were burning hot, freshly-liberated from the cooking oil that one of the guests had brought from Malaysia. The fries tasted like diesel fuel, but that didn’t stop her from eating a few more before taking the platter to the dining room.
Angel was speaking to Barrie’s three sisters, pouring them wine as she told them stories about her trip to Denmark. Uncle Reggie was sitting at the end of the table, drinking Drambuie. One after another glass-full of the stuff vanished into his throat, washed down with the occasional green bean or more often, a pat of butter that he pretended to apply to his asparagus. He smiled broadly, listening to Angel’s stories, smiling as though he knew what she was talking about, as though he had been on the same trip a long time ago and was remembering it through her. Occasionally, his eyes rested on her breasts and stayed there until they dropped a bit further and found the Drambuie again.
“Delicious,” lied Mark, eating a few of the fries.
“You look like you’re enjoying them,” lied Kate, right back. “Ready for the rehearsal tomorrow?”
“Why are so many people coming to the rehearsal? Why does it have to be so formal? Who ever heard of a formal dinner after a wedding rehearsal?”
“Drink up,” said Kate, pouring him some wine. “Welcome to clan Smithson.”
“What’s your job tomorrow?”
“Let’s see,” she said, picking at the guacamole. “Dress conservatively. Look dour. Tear up but don’t shed any liquids. Try not to yawn or soil my thong.”
“Wedding rehearsal thong?”
“Best kind. You don’t speak much.”
“Only to you, it seems. Wanted to ask you about your husband…”
“Do you ever visit him?”
Mark waited for more. Uncle Reggie was laughing hard. There was something coming out of his nose that one of the sisters pointed out.
Kate held the boy’s stare for a while, before finally saying, “She doesn’t want kids, you know. And she’s spoiled rotten. Always has been. But she’s my girl. She’s my girl.”
“We’ve had the kid talk. And we’ve had the spoiled brat talk too. I heard Barrie’s in a hospital not far from here, do you want to come with us to see him?”
“More ribs?” she smiled. But he wasn’t playing anymore; he was serious, no matter how much wine she’d fed him or how horrible the food was. “The dessert’s going to be worse,” she muttered, but he didn’t flinch. “No, I’m not going with you. Before he got sick and went all catatonic, Barrie was going to divorce me. He had some girlfriends. Rich lawyers girlies. Know the type?” She let that sink in. “The Smithson’s were high on him dumping me. But then his liver went rancid, and his brain afterwards. You can’t divorce someone when you’re a vegetable. It’s a law. I checked.”
Mark was sweating. He looked at Angel, a quick gaze that Kate supposed was meant to ask her about all the things she hadn’t told him: how she’d ended up here, a single child with a father in the hospital and a mother who blended in with flowery wallpaper she refused to give up. But to Kate, the paper on the walls smelled like Barrie, his cigars and scotches, the only memory she wanted of him, the only one that made sense to keep.
“I want kids,” he said, finally. He chugged his wine and asked for more.
“That’s a problem then. We’ll make this glass a big one, okay?”
“Yes ma’am. Join me?” he said, looking at her with wide eyes on the verge of contracting with his drunkenness. She wondered what his smell would be one day, what scent he would leave behind that her daughter would want to keep.
“Sure,” she said, and poured herself some. She chugged it down and took another as his eyebrows shot up. “I was kidding, by the way.”
“The thong. I wasn’t planning on wearing underwear tomorrow.”
For the first time all dinner, Mark smiled.
“Ok, Mark, you stand here, facing this way,” the Minister guided him to his spot, turning him to face at a slight angle to the pulpit. “Now, Georgie, turn off that CD and start the music.”
The pianist started playing ‘Here comes the bride,’ and Angel appeared at the end of the isle, wearing her bridal veil. It looked stupid with her cutoffs and tank top, but it was baking inside. Mark pulled his t-shirt up and mopped his forehead.
His friend Jay was standing behind him and muttered, “Damn dude, you change your mind, you let me know.” He chuckled, trying to lighten the mood, but Mark wasn’t biting. He was hot, bored, tired from lack of sleep after arguing with Angel all night long, and being hung over from too much wine.
The minister was hurrying towards Angel, saying, “No, no, no,” and dragging her back to the start again.
“How fucking long is this gonna take?” he muttered back.
“Chillax, dude,” Jay patted him on the shoulder, “It’s almost over.”
“This fucking rehearsal or my life?” It came out a little harsher than he’d planned, but his friend didn’t respond. The minister was coming back now.
Kate caught his eye as she slipped through the side door, smiling as she swayed a bit, clearly she’d already started numbing herself. She winked obviously at him, pulling at her waistband and he grinned, remembering her threat to come thong-less.
Jay leaned closer and asked, “Who’s that, the older sister?”
“That’s Kate, Angel’s Mom,” Mark answered.
“Whew,” Jay said softly, “did she just wink at you?”
Mark laughed softly, and said, “Inside joke.”
“Uh, huh,” Jay said, then added, “she looks hammered.”
“OK, places everyone,” the minister said loudly, “Georgie, once again…”
Two very slow hours later they were finally at the Italian restaurant, filling up the entire place. It was sweltering inside. Mark held his scotch on the rocks up to his forehead, leaning one elbow on the table, then downed it. He picked at the bread, tearing it apart, piece by piece.
“Would you at least act like you want to be here,” Angel demanded through clenched teeth, smiling at everyone else.
“That’s all we seem to be doing isn’t it, acting!” He stood up angrily, chair scraping the floor and head for the bar for a refill.
“God what a nightmare,” he told the bartender. “Another please, and another, and another…” The bartender filled his glass, leaving out the ice and adding in extra scotch and Mark smiled. “Remind me to tip you later!”
“He’d rather you did it now, while you still can,” Kate said, sliding into a seat.
“Right,” he said and dug out his wallet. He slapped a $50 on the counter and held up his glass saying, “You see this empty, you know what to do.” The bartender snagged the money, and nodded.
“You should slow down, there’s still the party later,” Kate said gently.
“I’ll be fine, dinner will soak it up,” he said.
“You and my girl doing ok,” Kate asked? He folds his arms on the bar, circling his drink and lays his head on his wrist, looking at her sideways. There’s an emptiness to her gaze, yet an intensity behind it that belies her self-worth. She cares, but doesn’t want to. She asks, but it’s not what she wants to ask.
There’s nothing for him over at the table. He hears their laughter, jokes that aren’t funny. Someone makes a toast to Angel’s happiness, not once noticing he wasn’t at the table to be part of that happiness. They’re clashing their glasses together. He hears their voices from a great distance, feels a horse beneath him as he races across time. Trying to reach them, or running for the open range. The pounding in his head matches the hoof beats drumming into the earth. He closes his eyes for a single beat. A glass crashes to the floor, an omen to the toast.
He opens his eyes and says, “Just dandy.”
“Tomorrow it will be all over, Mark,” Kate said, looking into his bloodshot future. He would become an alcoholic, smoking a Culpepper Pipe; the smells rose off him already like the mist over a pond.
“My friend said the same thing. I’ve never been good with hints,” he said.
Kate placed her hand on his arm, and said, “You’ll be fine. Life’s too short to go it alone. Look at me; I got a huge loving family, a daughter as pretty as a marble statue, and a husband just as cold. Ain’t nothing I need, except new wallpaper and clean undies.”
His faced cracked, and he whispered, “You really free-ballin’ it?”
Kate grinned and said, “Free as a breeze. I seemed to have misplaced my balls, though.”
Kate stood in the rain. There were people in her house. Three times, she’d tried to go in, but there had been people in the entranceway, pulling off their coats but not their shoes. Now they were inside her house, sloshing about the carpet.
She stood in the rain. Lightning visited, and thunder wrapped its presents. Water drizzled down her hair and crawled up her feet, soaking the bottom of her dress. She could have gone in through the back door. She could have rang the doorbell or tried the garage. She should have gone in, because the house was alive and the music was loud, and it was her house. It was her house. But no one had come to look for her, some lowly immigrant Januskiewicz who had married above her place and narrowly avoided a ruinous divorce by virtue of a couple of ill-timed over-the-counter drugs that her cheating husband had popped late one Friday night while watching horror movies. No one had come to look for her, and no one would, and no one inside would even know that she was not there, not even the daughter for whom this party had been organized.
She stayed off to the side, under a tree sure to attract the lightning. Out of the light, she stared at the windows.
“Drambuie,” came a voice. Mark skidded to a stop under the tree, bottle in hand. “Sweet mother, where have you been all my life?” he laughed. He took a long drink and handed her the bottle.
She drank. “You should go back in. You should also stop drinking. Tomorrow’s the wedding.”
“Yes it is. Yes it is,” he confirmed. He took another drink. “But I put in my time. And I kept trying to get to Angel in the center of it all, but there was some kind of force in there pushing me to the sides. Every time I tried to go in, it grabbed me and sent me to the walls. You know what I mean? Good thing I found the bar. I left an hour ago. I’ve been out back. No one noticed.”
Kate took another drink. Then another. This was a night of lightning. It would come, and she would duck as though it had targeted her. But she remained alive and whole, soaking wet under a tree in the middle of the night as the cars roared past, spraying water onto her lawn.
She found herself next to him. Pressed against him. Then she found herself in his arms. Why wouldn’t she have? Lightning came, and she kept waiting for the thunder to follow. But he held her as though he meant it. As though he wanted to keep her dry, to keep the sound of the cataclysm that was tearing the sky apart away from her. He tasted like alcohol. She didn’t care. “I’m not going back in,” he moaned, and then repeated it as she opened him up and splayed him against the tree. She inhaled him. Acids and electricity were all she could sense as she felt water on her body, every part of her, desperate fingers reaching for answers and warm things that they were not entitled to, not allowed to have under the rain or on any other day. But desperate they were, and found the way through to some spot against the roots of the tree, in the full force of the mud and the strangest sensation that they might sink, might vanish, if they kept going. Lighting came. But there was no thunder. Lighting came, without thunder. And he kept telling her that he was not going to go back in, to that light, that there was nothing there for him; and she answered him with her lips and her hands until he had nothing left to say, nothing to do except lie beneath her and see her in the flashes that continued to rip apart the heavens.
The music inside the house grew louder. She could hear voices. But he only heard hers. And for each love and grief she could conceive, she took every part of him, every thought too, including all the suggestions that said this was wrong, or that something like morality or family or anything of the kind could get in the way of a moment like this, there under the tree with the lighting splashing its own concert lights on shadows no one else could see.
She’s coming towards him, beautiful like a summer sunrise. One step, pause, one step, pause. She doesn’t want children, but I love her. This will never last, but I love her. It’s too late now, pause. We’ll be divorced by fall, pause. Just keep smiling, pause. I do love her, pause.
He tunes out the minister as he reads his lines; bless this holy union… is there anyone here who thinks these two should not get married, that would be me. Everyone looks out at the guests, waiting for someone to speak up, he sees her in the front row. Silent tears running down her face; happiness or despair? Her blue eyes full of storms, or was that last night? Lightning sparking off her hair, turning it into spun gold. God, how could I have done that, he berates himself.
I do love her… pause.