I married my wife last Thursday. I’m a postman; she’s a six-foot fly. Diane and I had lived together before the wedding, but we had never discussed marriage. We don’t talk much.
The wedding took place in my backyard. To make space, I deflated the blue pool and moved the grill inside. We invited a couple of people to our wedding: Dr. Yoko, an adjunct entomology professor at the University, and a friend of Diane’s, and our neighbor Mr. Cross. Mr. Cross had spent his twenties in a seminary, so I asked him to stop by and officiate. He agreed, came an hour late and stood there, checking his watch.
“Vows?” he asked.
I hadn’t prepared any vows. The wedding had been set on Diane’s whim Wednesday night. She had whims like that. She’d decided the topic of her Ph.D. dissertation in anthropology based on a dream she’d had one night. I had understood little of that dissertation, but I told her I’d gotten all of it. I attended her final presentation at the University and took her out to dinner afterwards. I listened to her talk about all the things I didn’t understand. I thought of that as I stood in the yard, the sunlight brushing my forearms.
“Aren’t you supposed to say a few words first?” I said to Mr. Cross.
He blinked at me.
I turned to Diane to see if she had anything to say.
“I’m glad,” she said, “glad we’ll have each other.”
I grinned and her folded wings moved up and out.
Dr. Yoko wrote frantic notes during all this.
“Okay,” Mr. Cross said, sighing, “ we can cut this short: you both down for this marriage thing?”
Diane nodded first, then I did.
“Okay, I guess,” he said, “you’re a couple now. You may kiss the bride.”
Diane and I weren’t big kissers; we hugged instead. Then all of us sat for lunch at the picnic table. I served turkey sandwiches and a pitcher of lemonade. Dr. Yoko gifted us four miniature bottles of champagne he’d bought at the corner store. They made the faintest pop when opened.
Mr. Cross stole uneasy glances at Diane and managed a pursed smile whenever their eyes met. I thought he was being rude. I didn’t choose to be a postman, Mr. Cross didn’t choose to be so oily and obese, so why would he judge Diane for being who she was? I cleared my throat and he stopped staring. A few minutes later Diane left to use the restroom.
“Mitch,” Mr. Cross said, leaning against me, “Are you sure this is a good idea?”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t you think Diane being, well, Diane, could come in the way?”
“Come in what way?”
“You’re both very different.”
“Mr. Cross,” I said, “we’ve been living together for two years — ”
“Two months,” he said, “you’ve been together two months.”
“That’s not right.”
“Well, it’s true. She moved in after I got my appendectomy and I got my appendectomy two months ago. So, two months.”
Dr. Yoko looked up from his notebook, half-moon spectacles hinging on the bridge of his nose. “You’re on fly time,” he said, grinning. “Things stretch.”
I didn’t know what to make of that; it was strange how the months had crawled like that. It made me think of the only part of Diane’s dissertation that I got: a chapter about the members of a Sub-Saharan tribe who never talked. They used twigs to draw elaborate pictures for each other in the sand; their language detached from time. The picture representing ‘water’ looked like the sun and the picture representing ‘the sun’ looked like a bearded old man. They labored over sequences of drawings that stretched for yards across the windswept dunes but communicated only the simplest things. I wondered, as I poured some champagne into my lemonade, what picture they had for ‘talking.’
Diane headed back to her seat. She looked uncomfortable, her body forced to bend so she could tuck three legs under the table. Her translucent wings parted behind her and turned silver in the sunlight. Before the wedding, I had helped her fix a small plastic rose to her right wing with a bit of Scotch tape. She kept rubbing her two sparsely haired middle legs together.
“Is everything okay?” I whispered to her.
“What do you mean?” she whispered back, tilting her head. I could never tell what Diane meant; her face was mostly eyes.
“How does all of this feel, Diane?” Dr. Yoko said, flipping his notebook to an empty page.
She didn’t respond right away but turned to me. Her antennae floated involuntarily and formed the outline of a heart.
“It feels,” she started, “like warmth in my chest, this day.”
Diane reached out a middle leg for me to hold. For a second, I only looked at it. I had seen it so many times, but it looked different now, scalier and wetter.
“Is everything okay?” she said.
I couldn’t sleep that night; I wanted to talk things out. “Diane,” I said. She was sleeping. I poked her again and she awoke, turning to me. I saw my face a hundred times in her eyes. She pointed at the alarm clock on the nightstand with her top right leg. It read 3 A.M. Then she went back to sleep.
I stood and observed her for a minute. She slept on her side, flaccid wings folded behind her. They looked like dead leaves now, brittle and yellowed, more an expected part of the bed than anything else. I felt a lump in my throat.
I walked to the kitchen, poured some milk, and sat in the living room. I watched the deformed reflection of my face on the television screen. My head was stretched and grey across the glass.
The next morning, Diane toasted my toast and served it to me. Diane ate her breakfast standing — it was more comfortable — and she stood next to the sugar jar by the window. She dipped her top right leg in the jar then licked the leg’s tip. She was blocking my view of the street.
“Could you move?” I said.
Her antennae curled into a question mark.
“The window,” I said. “You’re blocking it.”
But Diane didn’t move. She didn’t even speak.
She stood, leg still dipped in the sugar jar, as if forcing me to stare at her. I tried to eat, but I couldn’t stop looking at that question mark. When I didn’t feel like looking anymore, I put on my cap and went to work.
That morning, I delivered mail to old ladies in an assisted-living facility called Paradise on the edge of town. I drove to Paradise every Friday morning. I liked going in and handing out everyone’s deliveries; the women there loved their mail. They all knew my name.
They smelled their envelopes first, inhaling the crisp scent of paper. Then, once they’d read the letters, they put the pages in an old shoebox or tucked them under a pillow. Others hung the letters over their beds with sticky tape, the thousand words and prayers of their children, their long-lost lovers, their remaining friends, gazing down at them like tired stars.
There was one resident, Greta, who was pen-pals with a twelve-year-old cricket from Japan named Togo. She was my favorite of Paradise’s residents. When I entered the common area, there were two women braiding each other’s hair next to the television and Greta, eating bright red Jell-O with a plastic spoon. She sat on the couch, wearing her thick glasses and a white nightgown with a pattern of roses.
“Any letters for me, Mitch?” she said, her face lighting up.
“Not today Greta,” I said and she turned her eyes back to the television where an episode of Tom and Jerry was starting.
“It’s been awhile since his last one. How long would you say it has been?”
“I’m not sure I’m the best person to answer that,” I said, taking a seat next to her. “What do you two talk about anyway?”
“I’m telling him my life story,” she said, smiling to herself. “And he is sewing the letters together on a giant piece of fabric, making a sail.”
“For his fishing boat. Isn’t that something?”
Tom chased Jerry down some hallway with red walls, the colors danced on Greta’s glassy eyes.
“I always like seeing you, Mitch. How’ve you been?”
For a moment, I pictured the question mark forming on top of Diane’s head.
“I’ve been okay, Greta,” I said. “I got married yesterday.”
“Well, congratulations, honey,” she said, never glancing away from the cartoon. We sat there for a while, Greta watching and me picturing her letters steering a fishing boat on the Pacific.
Then I thought of something. “Hey, Greta,” I started. “I was reading about this tribe that never talks. They draw pictures for each other in the sand.”
“Yeah,” I said, “like art. What do you make of that?”
Greta grunted. She was frowning in concentration as she watched Tom get his face flattened by a pan.
She turned to me again, with curious eyes. “I always like seeing you, Mitch. How’ve you been?”
Her spacing out caught me by surprise. I leaned in and embraced her. I had never done that before, and I didn’t know why I was doing it now. I smelled the stuffy smell of her thin hair, felt her tender bones under my fingertips. When I pulled back, she held my hand and brushed a finger across my palm as if recognizing something in it that she had never seen before.
“I’ve been okay, Greta,” I said, starting to laugh. “I got married yesterday.”
HAMDY ELGAMMAL is a software engineer and writer based in Berkeley, CA. In the evenings he studies writing at the UC Berkeley Extension and adjusts a nonexistent beret while discussing writing and art in local writing groups.