“Remy, honey,” she said suddenly, and I jerked up, realizing I’d almost fallen asleep. “Can you come do my clasp?”
I stood up and walked over to where she was sitting, taking the necklace she handed to me. “You look beautiful,” I told her. It was true. Tonight, she was wearing a long red dress with a drop neckline, amethyst earrings, and the big diamond ring Don had given her. She smelled like L’Air du Temps, which, when I was little, I thought was the most wonderful scent in the world. The whole house reeked of it: it clung to the drapes and rugs the way cigarette smoke does, stubbornly and forever.
“Thank you, sweetheart,” she said as I did the clasp. Looking at us reflected in the mirror I was struck again by how little we resembled each other: me blond and thin, her darker and more voluptuous. I didn’t look like my father, either. I didn’t have many early pictures of him, but in the ones I had seen he always looked grizzled, in that 1960s rock kind of way, with a beard and long hair. He also looked permanently stoned, which my mother never disputed when I pointed it out. Oh, but he had such a beautiful voice, she’d say, now that he was gone. One song, and I was a goner.
Now, she turned around and took my hands in hers. “Oh, Remy,” she said, smiling, “can you believe this? We’re going to be so happy. ”
“I mean,” she said, turning around, “it’s not like this is my first time going down the aisle.”
“Nope,” I agreed, smoothing her hair down where it was poking up slightly in the back.
“But it just feels real this time. Permanent. Don’t you think?”
I knew what she wanted me to say, but still I hesitated. It seemed like a bad movie, this ritual we’d gone through twice already that I could remember. At this point, the other bridesmaids and myself considered the ceremonies more like class reunions, where we stood off to the side and discussed who had gotten fat or gone bald since my mother’s last wedding. I had no illusions about love anymore. It came, it went, it left casualties or it didn’t. People weren’t meant to be together forever, regardless of what the songs say. I would have been doing her a favor dragging forth the other wedding albums she kept stacked under her bed and pointing at the pictures, forcing her to take in the same things, the same people, the same cake/champagne toast/first dance poses we’d be seeing again in the next forty-eight hours. Maybe she could forget, push those husbands and memories out of sight and out of mind. But I couldn’t.
She was still smiling at me in the mirror. Sometimes I thought if she could read my mind it would kill her. Or both of us.
“Different,” she said, convincing herself. “It’s different this time.”
“Sure, Mom,” I said, putting my hands on her shoulders. They felt small to me, somehow, from where I stood. “Sure it is.”
On my way down to my room, Chris jumped out at me.
“Remy! You’ve got to see this.”
I glanced at my watch-five-thirty-and then followed him into the lizard room. It was cramped, and he had to keep it hot all the time, which made being in there feel like a really long elevator ride to nowhere.
“Look,” he said, grabbing my hand and yanking me down beside him, next to the incubator. The top was off and inside there was a small Tupperware container, filled with what looked like moss. On top of it were three little eggs. One was broken open, one kind of mushed, and the other had a little hole in the top.
“Check it out,” Chris whispered, and pointed at the one with the hole.
“Chris,” I said, looking at my watch again. “I haven’t even taken a shower yet.”
“Just wait,” he told me, poking at the egg again. “This is worth it.”
We crouched there, together. My head was starting to hurt from the heat. And then, just as I was about to get up, the egg stirred. It wobbled a bit, and then something poked out of the hole. A tiny little head, and as the egg tore, it was followed by a body. It was slippery and slimy and so small it could have fit on the tip of my finger.
“Varanus tristis orientalis,” Chris said, as if he was casting a spell. “Freckled monitor. He’s the only one that survived.”
The little lizard still seemed a bit dazed, blinking its eyes and moving in a stuttered kind of way, jerkily. Chris was beaming, as if he’d just single-handedly created the universe.
“Pretty cool, huh?” he said as the lizard moved again on his tiny webbed feet. “We’re the first thing he’s ever seen.”
The lizard stared up at us, and we stared back, taking each other in. He was little and defenseless, I felt sorry for him already. This was a screwed-up place he’d just come into. But he didn’t have to know that. Not yet, anyway. There in that room, where it was hot and cramped, the world probably still seemed small enough to manage.
“And finally, please lift your glasses and toast Barbara’s daughter, Remy, who planned and organized this entire event. We couldn’t have done it without her. To Remy!”
“To Remy!” everyone echoed, glancing at me before sucking down more champagne.
“And now,” my mother said, smiling at Don, who hadn’t stopped grinning since the organist had started the “Prelude” for the ceremony two hours earlier, “please, enjoy yourselves!”
The string quartet began playing, my mother and Don kissed, and finally I let out a breath. The salads had been served, everyone seated. Cake: check. Table centerpieces: check. Bartender and liquor: check. This and a million other details completed meant that now, after six months, two days, and approximately four hours, I could relax. At least for a few minutes.
“Okay,” I said to Chloe, “ now I will have some champagne.”
“Finally!” she said, pushing a glass at me. She and Lissa were past tipsy, red faced and giggly enough to have attracted attention to our table more than once already. Jennifer Anne, who was sitting on my left with Chris, was drinking seltzer water and watching us, a pinched look on her face.
“Great job, Remy,” Chris said, spearing a tomato from his salad and stuffing it in his mouth. “You really made this a good day for Mom.”
“After this,” I told him, “she’s on her own. Next time, she can go to Vegas and get married by an Elvis impersonator. I’m out.”
Jennifer Anne let her mouth drop open. “Next time?” she said, shocked. Then she looked over at my mother and Don, who were now at the head table, managing to eat and hold hands concurrently. “Remy, this is marriage. In front of God. It’s forever.”