Chapter 1: Unholy Matrimony

Wedding bands Marie sat sighing periodically as she stared into the long wooden table. It was so glazed that she could see her own reflection in it. She drew on it with her fingers watching the smudges her natural clamminess created on the polish. She and the other flower girl were the only ones bored and the only ones sitting. Marie’s mother, Yvonne, Yvonne’s older sister Madeline, and several other women from the church were all rushing around trying to get Yvonne ready in her white dress that she had purchased a month prior from the local thrift shop. Yvonne had a seamstress friend of hers add about a foot of lace to the bottom so that her ankles wouldn’t show. Marie especially liked the veil that dragged the floor behind Yvonne. It looked a lot better now that the holes in it had been patched up with white flowers. Marie had never seen her mother look more beautiful.

Marie had been all dolled up in her little white dress with frilly white socks and matching shoes with her first pair of wedged heels for at least two hours. Her hair hung in loose curls down her back. She and the other flower girl were the only ones besides her mother allowed to wear their hair down.

“It’s time!” Sis. Paula, Pastor Hartford’s secretary, announced as she hurried into the conference room, “Deacon White is waiting right outside.”

Fathers are usually the ones to walk their daughters down the aisle Marie had been told, but she had never seen her mother’s father before, and that day was no exception.

The rushing around was kicked into overdrive as boxes and bags and bits of material were tossed around on the already cluttered table and Sis. Natalie put a final curl in Yvonne’s flipped bangs before misting her down in hairspray for what must have been the hundredth time.

Sis. Paula took Marie and the other flower girl—whose name Marie could never remember—by the hand and led them out into the foyer. Keri, Yvonne’s best friend, and two other ladies Marie didn’t know were already lined up in matching purple dresses arm-in-arm with three men in white suits. Uncle Jake, Mr. Robert’s brother was the only one that Marie recognized. There was also a tall boy standing directly in front of Marie holding a white pillow with two gold rings tied to it with ribbon.

Madeline or Auntie Maddie as Marie called her, rushed out after them ripping open a bag of red and pink rose petals and pouring them into a white wicker basket.

“Now remember what we talked about in rehearsal,” she said positioning Marie and the other girl’s hands on the long handle of the basket, “Just walk down the aisle and throw all the flowers on it as you go, and when you get to the altar, go stand by Keri. Okay?”

She simply nodded as the other girl squealed and giggled, “I’m so nervous! I think I’m going to faint!”

She was annoyingly dramatic for a seven year old, but Marie remained focused on the mission—toss all the flowers on the floor and go stand by Keri. Got it.

Marie heard the music begin to play in the sanctuary. It was muffled by the closed double doors, but she knew the song well. It was supposed to be like the sound of angels singing and all they said over and over again was “Holy, holy. Thou art holy.” That was the cue for everyone to start walking. The double doors opened and the music rang loud and clear making Marie feel slightly nervous for the first time during that otherwise boring evening.

The first couple began their march down the aisle, followed by the second and the third. Marie could hear her mother and Deacon White lining up behind her but she kept her eyes on Sis. Paula so she wouldn’t miss her turn when Sis. Paula waved for her and the other flower girl to go.

“Stay together and don’t walk too fast,” Sis. Paula whispered to them as she gave Marie’s back a little push.

Marie started her way down the aisle trying not to look at anyone, but instead focused on the flower petals and not walking faster than the other girl. It was easier than she thought it would be—just grab and toss. She was barely aware of all the hundreds of eyes that must have been on her. Most of them belonging to people that she didn’t know. Most of them in jean dresses and t-shirts. They had come prepared for a regular Bible study not knowing that a wedding was to follow. Marie’s family knew just the opposite. Yvonne had been quite proud to have tricked her family into coming to church by telling them that the service started at seven. A service did start at seven so she wasn’t technically lying, but it just wasn’t the service they were expecting. She had warned Marie not to mention anything to the family about her plan, because she thought it was a clever way to do her Christian duty by making as many of her family members as she could attend at least one Bible study. She had been inviting all of them to come for years and this was the first time most of them actually did.

When Marie got down towards the front of the aisle, she looked up to see her family to her left all dressed up—her aunt Mercier most of all, wearing a big pink dress with a pink rose pinned to the top of it and her favorite fire engine red lipstick, but for once she wasn’t smiling. On the right was Mr. Robert’s family. They were a group of strangers to Marie except for Robert’s mother, Gloria—a fat little woman with white hair that always wore oversized moo moos covered in flowers like the one she was wearing that night. Whenever Yvonne took Marie and her little brother, Jason, to see Gloria and Mr. Robert, Gloria would kiss both of them, though Marie secretly wished she wouldn’t. Gloria always smelled like sweaty cheese.

Marie and the other flower girl reached the altar, and they started up the stairs to Keri who was smiling her warm, toothy smile at both of them. But Marie looked down into their basket and saw that there was still a ton of petals left. Auntie Maddie said to throw them all. So to insure that her mission was accomplished, Marie turned the basket upside down at the foot of the pulpit giving it a little shake to get every petal out. Then, ignoring all the laughter that had erupted behind them, Marie marched up to Keri tugging the other girl, who still had a firm grip on the basket handle, along with her.

Marie turned and looked at the back of the church where she could see something large and white adjusting itself behind the glass windows of the double doors. Then the “Holy, Holy” music stopped abruptly and a grating version of “Here Comes the Bride” replaced it. The deacons in the black suits with white gloves opened the double doors again to reveal Yvonne arm-in-arm with Deacon White. Everyone in the pews stood up quietly and watched them walk down the aisle. When they made it to the altar, Mr. Robert came down and took Yvonne from Deacon White, and walked her under the rickety floral arch where Pastor Hartford stood in a white robe with a gold sash.

Marie fidgeted with the frills on her dress as all the vows were said and candles lit and other such traditions performed that Marie found too uninteresting to watch. She would occasionally look down at Auntie Maddie who was now sitting in the front row with Jason. She waved and smiled at Marie every time Marie looked at her—when she wasn’t busy restraining Jason that is. Being only four years old, Jason was a year and a half younger than Marie, and Yvonne had decided that he wasn’t mature enough to carry the pillow of rings down the aisle. At the moment, he was squirming in his seat and tugging at his shoelaces. His hair was a wild bush of curls instead of the slicked down, side-parted style that it had been when Marie had seen him earlier that afternoon. Marie easily understood why Jason wasn’t in the wedding, but she didn’t understand why Auntie Maddie wasn’t.

“Why aren’t you one of Mommy’s bride’s ladies anymore,” Marie had asked Maddie during one of the rehearsals when Yvonne and Robert were out of earshot. Maddie wouldn’t tell her, of course. How could she tell Marie that she had gone to the Pastor’s wife pleading with her to stop Pastor Hartford from marrying Yvonne and Robert? How could she tell Marie that neither her mother nor Robert—whom Yvonne had only known for all of six months—had a job to support a family? Well Robert did clean the church for a salary but it was nowhere near enough to feed four people and still keep the lights on. However, Pastor Hartford knew that it was better to marry than to burn, and he felt in his spirit that Yvonne and Robert’s union was ordained by God. It also could have been that the deposit Yvonne paid to rent the church that evening was nonrefundable. But whatever the reason, not only had Pastor Hartford refuse to put a stop to the wedding, he had warned Yvonne and Robert that Maddie was trying to thwart their plans. Madeline just had to be jealous because Yvonne was on her second marriage and Maddie had never been married. Yvonne and Robert agreed and Maddie was no longer the maid of honor.

Marie liked Mr. Robert. There was no way she could have understood what Auntie Maddie was so afraid of. Living with her mother at Mercier’s—Yvonne’s aunt—house, Marie had never known what it was to go without. Yvonne’s mother, whom they called Granny, lived there too and she made sure that Marie and Jason always had everything they ever wanted for and then some. Marie had no idea how this holy wedding day would change the rest of her life and shape it into the nightmare that it was going to become. All she knew was that Robert was funny. He let her and Jason play in his hair—clipping in bows and all—when he came to Mercier’s house to take Yvonne out on dates. He gave them candy and toys whenever Yvonne took them to visit him. Marie couldn’t even remember a time that Robert had ever been angry with her. She and Jason couldn’t fault the man, but they didn’t know much better. Auntie Maddie would end up telling Marie years later that both Marie and Jason when asked by Yvonne what they thought of Robert had told Yvonne that it was ok to date him, but they didn’t want her to marry him. Marie didn’t remember having that conversation with her mother, but if in fact she did, she would soon come to wish her mother would have listened.

After the ceremony was over, the wedding party stayed at the church for at least another hour taking pictures. Mercier stood in for Granny when it came time to take pictures with the mothers of the bride and groom. She didn’t smile in a single one, but at least she was there. When Marie had asked Granny why she wasn’t coming, Granny had no problem telling her.

“I already watched your mother marry one dummy. I didn’t need to see her do that twice.”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t just the spitefulness of an overly picky mother-in-law. Yvonne’s first husband and father to both of her children, was in fact a dummy. But that was by no fault of his own. He was only seventeen at the time, and Yvonne was twenty-four. She claimed to have fallen in love with him shortly after she was first drawn to him by his striking resemblance to a marionette puppet in her favorite TV series. They got married as soon as he graduated high school—and turned the legal age of eighteen. Being that he had no place of his own largely because he was unemployed, he valiantly carried Yvonne over the threshold of her mother’s house where the two of them ended up living for the next seven years. But two children and many fights later, she left him. Yvonne would go on for years blaming him for all his immaturity, drug use, infidelity, misplaced priorities, and so on. Although, Marie would someday come to question whether Granny had labeled the wrong person the dummy.

The reception took place at Robert’s mother’s house. It was so noisy and crowded with all the adults talking and laughing, Marie decided instead to give Mercier a private tour of where they would be living. Jason tagged along too. They each took Mercier by a hand and tugged her excitedly towards the condemned shack parallel to the garage behind the main house. Yes Robert still technically lived with his mother—at forty-one years old.

Mercier followed them silently to the house—if you could even call it that. They walked around the small porch that was nearly hidden by all the different sized planters in front, behind, and on top of it. Marie steered Mercier as far away from the plants as possible knowing that they were laced with cobwebs occupied by black widows and their equally frightening cousins—wolf spiders. The screen door creaked as Marie opened it and the corner of it scraped and stuck on the sidewalk. Yvonne had told Marie that Robert and his three brothers built that house when they were younger, only they forgot to build the foundation resulting in everything leaning a bit off center. Marie pushed open the large wooden door and turned on the main light in the living room. Mercier jumped back a little as something black scurried across the floor and out of sight underneath the futon couch.

“Don’t be scared, Sear,” Jason said pronouncing her name the only way he could, “It’s just a water bug, they don’t bite.

Still Mercier kept her eyes on the floor in front of her with every step she took as they showed her the rest of the house. There wasn’t much more to see though. To the left was the kitchen, straight ahead was the only bedroom, and down a narrow hallway was the only bathroom.

Jason pulled her over to a coffee table against the living room wall that was already lined with framed pictures of their family.

“This is where we eat,” he told her kneeling down to demonstrate. “Mr. Robert says we can’t watch TV when we eat cuz we might spill. But look it!” Jason said pointing at the photo album with the glass front with a picture of a mouse sitting on a crescent moon. “Mommy says if we look there we can see TV anyway.”

It was true. The television was reflected perfectly in the frame. Yvonne had taught them several ways to get around Robert’s strict rules in the few times they had come to visit.

“Where do you sleep?” Mercier asked peeping her head into the two doorless closets as if she was hoping to find a secret passageway that might lead to the rest of the house.

“On the couch,” Marie told her, “Mommy said it can turn into a bed at night.”

“Do you like our house, Sear?” Jason asked her waving his arms in every direction like he was proudly showing off the glamour of a palace.

It was almost comical to Marie later in life to think how much they didn’t realize the depravity of the situation…but less comical that her mother didn’t seem to either. Yvonne had talked so enthusiastically about moving in with Robert and having a real family. She made everything sound so perfect and to two preschoolers things may as well have been. Yvonne didn’t even seem to notice that the neighborhood was infested with drug dealers and drunks or that the schools were plagued with violence or that her children would no longer have beds to sleep in. Nor did she seem to care that the man she was marrying hadn’t seen his own child, though he always knew exactly where she was, since she was a baby after his first wife took the baby and left him—but not before she took out his four front teeth with a skillet. Yvonne had claimed that she was in love with him in spite of his circumstances and checkered past. When he got saved, all of that was washed away. Yvonne had thanked God for sending her a man that was willing to love her even though she came with the baggage of not one but two kids. And she had faith in Robert’s promise that they would build a better life together and move out of the hood soon. To her, it was just as Pastor Hartford had said, they were meant to be together and God was going to bless them.

Mercier just stared slack-jawed at the little imps looking up at her—their eyes sparkling with the simple thrill of being able to show off something new. Mercier never answered Jason’s question about liking the house. She just ushered the two of them back out of the house slamming the wooden door much harder than Mr. Robert ever allowed them to do. She gave no mind to the screen that was still wedged crookedly against the cement.

That night Marie and Jason went back home with Mercier so the newlyweds could have their honeymoon in the house all by themselves. Mercier never came back to visit their little shack. Maybe she was afraid of the water bugs or the bullet holes in the ceiling from Mr. Richard shooting at the rats in the rafters or the whole place in general. Marie didn’t know. But in two weeks Marie and Jason came to live there, and they soon found out what there really was to be afraid of—or whom rather.