Susannah Luthi

For Pat

Late on the night before her wed­ding Carrie was drunk and had three cig­a­rettes left. She slipped one of these from the pack. Since the rehearsal din­ner, she and Alison—long leaned-on, long necessary—had been hav­ing drinks. But most of their group had left, and out­side the wood­en bar they could cool off. Carrie jabbed the fil­tered end against her tongue, hav­ing some trou­ble light­ing it in the wind.

She told Alison she wouldn’t mind if it stormed the next day when she would mar­ry Drew. The fore­cast was for rain.

It’ll be sil­very in the rain,” she said. “I can pic­ture it.”

Tonight the wind bent the moon and seemed to ter­ri­fy the palms. It pushed the water high on the tide, and Carrie watched the white beach get­ting pulled into the black Gulf.

Don’t think in terms of pic­tures,” Alison said. “Pictures are for look­ing back.”

The guy in the pic­tures would be Cass,” Carrie said. “If I was look­ing back.”

Yeah?” Alison said, want­i­ng a cig­a­rette. She snapped her fin­gers for the pack and stuck one cig­a­rette between her lips and the oth­er behind her ear.

So we’re talk­ing about Cass,” Alison said. She lit her cig­a­rette and took a big exag­ger­at­ed draw.

Not for five years,” Carrie said. She had spent her twen­ties hap­py, fuck­ing, and cry­ing. She stared at Alison’s deep-sock­et­ed face.

Alison pulled up her dress and tucked the hem into her under­wear so the skirt bil­lowed like a cush­ion. She bunched it and sat on the ban­is­ter, wav­ing her legs in front of her, her feet near Carrie’s face.

I’m say­ing this because I’m drunk,” Alison said. “I wish you and Drew fucked more often.”

I can see that,” Carrie said. “I can see why you think that….” She felt ten­der and pro­tec­tive of him. “You have to con­sid­er all sides,” Carrie said.

Beth, Drew’s sis­ter who lived in Boston, swung through the screened door. She’d been danc­ing around the juke­box. She had a plas­tic flower droop­ing behind her ear, and her dress was almost slip­ping off her cute, flat chest. Drew pre­tend­ed he was from Chicago, Beth pre­tend­ed she was from Boston. Like Carrie and Alison, they were from Grand Rapids. Beth had been mar­ried a lit­tle over a year to a man she had been with since col­lege.

Today’s your day,” Beth said.

It must be mid­night, Carrie thought. Or past that.

Beth put one foot behind the oth­er, extend­ed her right leg, and lift­ed her­self up on the toes of her left. Carrie and Alison watched. Beth was thin and strong and bal­anced on smooth calves. Alison looked out toward the water.

Beth sat down and asked for a cig­a­rette. Alison plucked the one behind her ear and lit it for her.

I didn’t know you smoked,” Carrie said.

Beth smiled at Alison. “Socially. Sometimes.”

Carrie want­ed to stretch out on the pave­ment but knew it was the wrong thing to do. She was afraid of Beth, who was always gen­er­ous with gifts and thought­ful words. Something behind Beth’s eyes closed off when they talked.

We grew up two miles from each oth­er,” Beth said to Alison. “And now we meet.”

Two miles is some­thing,” Alison said.

Carrie sensed Alison turn­ing dis­tant. Lately Alison looked at Carrie like she was a stranger. They had known each oth­er since they were five and almost split up in high school. Carrie had been tall, blond, and busy, while Alison was small, thin, and, for a long time, too poet­ic and sour.

You’re in Seattle now,” Beth said to Alison.

Yeah,” Alison said, killing her cig­a­rette.

Alison had a small tat­too on her left calf, a black sketch of a thin man cast­ing a line. Carrie had always liked tat­toos on men. Drew didn’t have any. He wasn’t the type. He’d told her once how all his high school friends had decid­ed to com­mem­o­rate a bud­dy who died with iden­ti­cal tat­toos of his ini­tials, and how he hadn’t done it with them. She had liked that. She had liked that Drew said, why get a tat­too for some­thing that hap­pened in high school when it would last his whole life. Carrie didn’t like tat­toos on women. Alison had got­ten this one when she was twen­ty-one, nam­ing it “Big Two-Hearted River.” She no longer called it that. Recently, Carrie noticed, she’d got­ten a Maori sym­bol inked in green on the nape of her neck.

I can’t remember—are you with any­one now?” said Beth to Alison. “I mean dat­ing.”

Actually I’ve been with some­one for a while now,” Alison said. “But I didn’t bring her to the wed­ding. I’m with a woman, actu­al­ly.”

Carrie felt very dark and leaned clos­er to Alison. She dropped into a quick, strange soli­tude. Alison seemed removed. Carrie heard Alison tell Beth that she had ini­tial­ly thought she’d be sor­ry about the sit­u­a­tion, know­ing after her first time sleep­ing with this par­tic­u­lar girl that she might not get a real penis into her mouth again, at least for the time being. “Believe it or not, I thought I’d miss that,” she said.

So, you just came out,” Beth said. She looked at Carrie. Carrie didn’t want to look at her.

Not nec­es­sar­i­ly,” Alison said. “I’m not say­ing I’m out. But I’m with a woman now. It hasn’t been that long,” she said to Carrie. “Anyway, I’m drunk.”

How long?” Carrie said, hear­ing anger in her voice. “Is it like this?” she said. She felt dim and kissed Alison’s lips. Alison kept her mouth closed. Carrie want­ed to cry. Alison could still hurt her. She knew Alison had nev­er real­ly under­stood that.

Alison pushed her off. “You’re drunk,” she said.

Beth stood and said she would get cups of water for all of them. She opened the door and let it slam and rat­tle behind her. The music inside sound­ed tin­ny and far away. Beyond the rim of lamp­light, the ocean seemed to be heav­ing itself up the sand. The waves sound­ed close.

We should go swim,” Carrie said.

You OK?” Alison said.

I don’t know,” Carrie said. She was half sick sit­ting here with Alison on the stoop.

Remember Homeless Guy?” she said.

Yeah,” Alison said. “I’ve told that sto­ry myself.”

It’s my sto­ry,” Carrie said. “If you tell it to peo­ple they won’t know the right one.”

It’s a good sto­ry,” Alison said, and Carrie said Maybe, and laid her head on Alison’s shoul­der and her hands on Alison’s crossed, fuzzy wrists. What she saw in her drunk­est secrets was vision­ary about love. But she hadn’t told Alison the whole sto­ry, at least not the worst part of it. There she was in Key West one win­ter with her grand­par­ents, tak­ing care of her grand­moth­er who was sick, get­ting phoned every cou­ple of days by her aunt warn­ing her not to spend too much of their mon­ey. And she had a few cock­tail hours with the two gay men next door—good friends with each oth­er, not lovers. They were maybe 50, both bronzed and tough-skinned with big, dry pores, com­ing down through Florida every win­ter from South Carolina. One of them was tawny and ten­dony, and the oth­er fat. Carrie took Ecstasy with them a few times. The men invit­ed Homeless Guy after meet­ing him in Old Town since they both liked him, straight as he was. He was young and not hope­less­ly home­less, just dirty and find­ing new places to get on his mind, he told Carrie. When she was trip­ping she float­ed around the room, touch­ing all their faces, and let Homeless Guy fuck her against the house when they went out­side for air. What she hadn’t told Alison was that she was mad about it the next day and had to go to the doc­tor to check on whether his semen had done any dam­age inside. That was the most real part of the sto­ry, too, and she told it now to Alison; and Alison smacked Carrie’s head off her shoul­der so she stopped talk­ing. Carrie grew to real­ize this was because Beth was stand­ing behind them. Beth and Alison made her drink water.

 

The rest of the night had a blink­ing rhythm of sleep, wake­ful­ness, and dreams.

Carrie couldn’t recall much of the walk home from the bar, except she said some­thing about her grand­moth­er that maybe she shouldn’t have, that her grand­moth­er might have been gay, as she pet­ted Alison’s hair. But she couldn’t remem­ber whether she did this while they were walk­ing or just stand­ing around out­side the con­do com­plex. She didn’t know when she fell asleep. She first woke up when it was still dark and began going in and out of sleep with the air con­di­tion­er.

She felt she had known for some time that it was light out­side when she jerked her­self awake. She sat up, believ­ing it was so late that she was miss­ing her wed­ding prepa­ra­tions, and that no one would notice she wasn’t there until it was all over. The clock beside her bed said eight-fif­teen, and so she lay back in the pil­lows. Her dress from last night was fold­ed on the edge of the bed. She was sweat­ing in her blue silk slip.

Alison knocked on the door and came in, bra­less in a big t-shirt and glass­es. She jumped on the bed and lay snug against Carrie, her friend­ly hands on Carrie’s stom­ach.

It’s not going to rain,” she said. “I’ll get you a Bloody Mary. If I have to raise heav­en and earth.”

Carrie left her and went to the bath­room to vom­it.

Hair of the dog and a swim in the ocean,” Alison said.

No,” Carrie said.

 

She felt bet­ter after the drink. Alison mixed it from the best man’s wet bar. They walked down to the beach togeth­er and said noth­ing. The sky was so bright, Carrie knew it wouldn’t rain. She knew Florida well. Years ago, she had lived here unem­ployed with her grand­par­ents all through the time her grand­moth­er was sick. She’d helped her grand­moth­er into a foie gras habit and her grand­moth­er had paid for her weed.

She and Alison were both polite to each oth­er with a strange, qui­et feel­ing between them. After the swim, she washed the salt out of her hair before the styl­ist arrived at her room, and then her moth­er and Beth came over to get dressed. Her moth­er had diet­ed for six months before the wed­ding and Carrie thought she looked young. Her moth­er made sly, proud remarks about her loose clothes. Alison said she would style her own hair and worked a long time with the curl­ing iron. She wore it down in the back, cov­er­ing her new tat­too. Carrie didn’t expect it to look good, and it didn’t; she didn’t say any­thing about that when Beth kept star­ing at Alison with hard and hint­ing eyes.

 

The pho­tog­ra­ph­er said they were lucky with the weath­er. She took pic­tures of Carrie in her tank top, as her hair got pinned. She took pic­tures of them paint­ing on eye­lin­er. Carrie said she want­ed every­thing in pic­tures. The pho­tog­ra­ph­er called Drew’s con­do and said it was time for the reveal. She led Carrie out alone to the veran­dah, around the Adirondack chairs, where they met Drew. His eyes drooped at the cor­ners. When he had his first vir­gin bride sight, he said he’d hoped she would look this good. They kissed.

I’m sor­ry about the lip­stick,” she said.

It stuck on his mouth and he wiped it off with her fin­gers. The pho­tog­ra­ph­er snapped all of this up.

 

They drove to the coun­try club in a big van with their atten­dants and the wed­ding coör­di­na­tor, Carrie care­ful and erect with Drew’s friends bet­ting him to crum­ple her dress and him laugh­ing and get­ting a bright expres­sion like he did want to dig into her. Alison smiled, qui­et in the cor­ner with Beth as Carrie watched them. At the club, the coör­di­na­tor locked the bridal par­ty into the sec­ond-floor dress­ing room walled with mir­rors. They all bun­dled in on one anoth­er in these mir­rors, bunched faces and col­ors, with Carrie being the big white fig­ure reflect­ing more than the rest. Carrie said she felt she was clos­ing in on her­self.

 

Eight min­utes before five, she descend­ed the grand stair­case with Beth and Alison and the coör­di­na­tor, all of them qui­et and pri­vate, Carrie thought. Joining them there was her father. He looked her up and down and raised both arms to fake a pre-game stretch. He was a big man still from his long-ago days as an ath­lete, and he liked to make every­thing an ath­let­ic event.

You’re look­ing good,” Carrie told him.

He liked that so much his eyes lit up. They fol­lowed Beth and Alison along the thread­bare Persian rug past big lily vas­es. The queued music start­ed from the string quar­tet behind all the white chairs. Together, Carrie and her father watched the oth­er two head down the bright green grass to the arch where the Lutheran min­is­ter stood with Drew and the men.

 

The vows were com­fort­able to say. They had prac­ticed them, and the words came out like any oth­er words. Carrie found Drew’s voice hoarse, as if he would cry about her or maybe the two of them. His voice was often like this. When the min­is­ter turned them in the vio­let light to face the hun­dred-and-fifty guests, Carrie’s eyes set­tled right on her grand­fa­ther. He sat beside her aunt in his old tux, dusty in the fad­ing sun, the man who had once called his wife a dyke. He tilt­ed his head up and was look­ing at the sky instead of the wed­ding par­ty, scratch­ing his sleeve with his soft, spot­ted hands.

 

Double fist­ing,” Alison said to her at the recep­tion. Carrie held cham­pagne in one hand and a Screwdriver in the oth­er and swayed by her­self on the par­quet floor under­neath strings of Japanese lanterns. For a few sec­onds, Carrie hadn’t had to talk to any­one. Drew had kissed her all through din­ner. Now he was tip­sy and mak­ing his friends laugh in the cor­ner.

Champion,” Alison said.

I am,” Carrie said.

Alison raised her glass and drank. She said they would have a real chat, not about wed­ding things.

We don’t leave until Monday,” Carrie said.

 

Almost every­one was danc­ing except her grand­fa­ther. The sky was much clos­er to black now—still not ful­ly black—and the stars scat­tered around the thin moon. The lawn seemed to shrink in the warm, close night. Breezes bounced off the Japanese lanterns, just light­ly. Drew danced with Carrie’s aunt, and he and his fra­ter­ni­ty broth­ers and their women joined the cir­cle of Carrie’s girl­friends and their men. The dancers broke into cou­ples. Carrie saw Alison lurch­ing by her­self. Drew’s best man left his fiancée to part­ner with her.

Carrie fell back a step and her grand­fa­ther touched her elbow from behind. She turned to dance with him, a lit­tle mourn­ful and drunk. The music changed to tenor sax­o­phone blues they could swing to. Her grand­fa­ther shuf­fled into a two-step.

Carrie’s grand­fa­ther put one arm across her back and pressed her chin into his thin shaky chest so she could look out over every­one from the edge of the dark. She was tired and stared at her tiny sec­ond cousins, her aunts and fat uncles, Beth with her tall thin hus­band, Drew’s springy head, Alison’s lit­tle shoul­ders and shiny, wet-look­ing eyes. Carrie rest­ed her cheek on her grandfather’s shoul­ders and smelled his sour neck. Alison had pulled her hair up and, when she turned on the dance floor, showed off her new tat­too. Carrie’s grand­fa­ther had whiskey breath, which used to make her ner­vous when he was younger and loud. Carrie remem­bered him one time star­ing off their weedy porch into the Gulf and say­ing his wife was a les­bian while she napped inside. That was how Carrie learned part of her grandmother’s sto­ry. She also remem­bered an old­er woman they’d all called Aunt Blanche even though she wasn’t relat­ed. Blanche came to birth­days and Christmases up in Michigan and gave Carrie’s grand­moth­er spe­cial presents. They used to take long walks. When Blanche died, Carrie’s grand­moth­er was upset for a long time and lost weight, then put too much on.

Carrie caught Alison’s eye once or twice from behind the best man’s shoul­der. Carrie didn’t know if she had lost Alison or if she had anoth­er chance, or how many chances she had. She stayed danc­ing with her grand­pa until the song end­ed, and as it start­ed to die, and before the next one could change the whole feel­ing, she guid­ed his arm to swing her into the cor­ner where Drew stood with Beth and some oth­ers. Her grand­fa­ther released her and she pulled Drew’s hand. The breeze picked up again, lift­ing the lanterns. It had brought with it thin sil­ver clouds to streak the sky.

When Drew pushed her into the dance floor she said: “You have to fuck me.”

She said it again in his ear because she liked how he touched her after the first time. He moved her to the edge of the par­quet, to the spot where she’d two-stepped with her grand­pa. Drew faced her away from the oth­er dancers, so that pressed up against him she could look across the lawn. The club grounds seemed to grow lighter in all the soft wet haze. Carrie had the lone­ly feel­ing that, like her, Drew would lose many parts of his life; that he would for­get all about them. Their new shared light on things would focus dif­fer­ent­ly and obscure their pasts until they them­selves looked altered. Carrie knew he would for­sake his old parts and that she would for­sake hers. Many things would recede and it seemed to her that the dark was open­ing for them.

~

Susannah Luthi grew up on California’s Central Coast and tries her best to make a liv­ing with words—through stints in jour­nal­ism, free­lanc­ing, and mar­ket­ing and pub­lic rela­tions for arts non­prof­its. She stud­ied Classics at Hillsdale College in Michigan and lived briefly in Egypt and Cambodia before mov­ing to Colorado for the moun­tains and San Francisco for the dra­ma. She is com­plet­ing her master’s in writ­ing at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where she serves as co-edi­tor of the Southern California Review. Along with a part­ner, she is prepar­ing to launch Connu, a twist-on-tra­di­tion­al dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing plat­form to engage a broad audi­ence with the best emerg­ing con­tem­po­rary fic­tion in the hopes of help­ing young writ­ers gain indie musi­cian sta­tus at least. She has just fin­ished her first nov­el.