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Ceremony or No

Get married in a museum they said. It would be perfect they said. How romantic! How unique! How unconventional!

I had once thought so, too. I can barely remember its name at present, but it is, without a doubt, a very well-stocked museum, full of paintings from what seems to be the Impressionism period downwards. They even procured a few tapestries, looking to be from the 1400s, which really piqued my interest the first time we came inquiring about a venue space.

It surprised me they accommodated our ambitious plans. I am sure my fiancée’s background in the art history world helped a bit. But then again, he also had the most horrid glare when he was annoyed. The docent trying to assist us was certainly annoying. I wish that had deterred us. I wish that obstacles of money or square footage had sent us back home, back to the desperate, endless scrolling through websites and blog posts to find some place suiting our arrangement of grandeur.

It was not every day that a professor married royalty.

Therefore, the occasion required opulence of the tangible kind. Not that I wanted the whole “royal treatment”. It brought bile to my throat, remembering the term being used by one of my fiancée’s colleagues, but I learned it was wise not to correct. Everyone and their twice removed uncle had an opinion about what was good and proper. They would think me rude if I excused myself from such conversations.

Temples! Estates! Castles!

I had lived in a fair-sized castle all my life and was quite bored with it, but I had forgotten that others could only dream of that existence. So, I let them have their princess fantasies for their own sakes. I paid them no mind. But it did bother my soon-to-be husband. I assumed it was the pressures of academia and tried to persuade him to ignore the clucking hens of the literati, pecking away at the silver bands of our engagement rings. I could almost physically feel the metaphorical dents in the precious metal as I toyed with it, looking at Richard with the biggest, saddest eyes I could muster. “They are driving you insane. Driving you away from the real reason we are doing any of this!”

I told him I would have preferred a nice, tranquil garden. Perhaps an enchanting private villa? Or a wide open plain, with mountains on the horizon, and cottages on said mountains! Somewhere, our essences were not masked by the ceremony, but enhanced. I reminded him we were doing this for love, not for appearances.

His brows folded like a fragile piece of muslin fabric, and I began to doubt if that was true. But a gradual light behind his darkened pupils eased the inner tugging of my heart. He suddenly exclaimed, “Why don’t we go where you can have all the places you long for and more?”

The paintings could take me anywhere I wanted to go he said. Their gold encased frames would then satisfy the wondering eyes of the guests. Marriage in a museum he said. It would be perfect he said.

As long as it was at night.

At first, the thought of a night wedding was odd to me, yet then I realized how romantic that truly was. And he was always a fan of the romantics and their paintings. We could have peach and cinnamon scented candles everywhere and watch the moonlight drip over the well-manicured lawns and into the windows, onto the oils and pigments of the art! It sounded so beautiful, so fitting for our rather mismatched yet perfect love.

But as I walked down the winding hallways, to the altar and the rest of my life, white gown and all, a swarm of frenzied bridesmaids bombarded me. They were buzzing around me like a swarm of locusts, their lime green dresses mimicking neatly creased, flapping wings. Their shrieking was horrible. “Wait! Oh, God! Don’t go! There’s been a mistake!”

Slender, gloved hands gripped my waist and shoved me to the floor of the nearest gallery. I was lucky my skirt was full enough to cushion me away from the impact. It still felt like the wind knocked out of my lungs, however. The doors swiftly closed on me before I could wrestle myself into a sitting position. Then there was silence.

And now here I sit, on a polished marble floor that has me slipping and sliding in the attempt to stand. I feel like a snowball trying to roll itself into an upright snowman. After my third tumble, I decide to slide my way towards the door, much like a penguin on his belly, gliding on ice crystals. But instead of feathers, yards of tool, lace, and pearl beads scrape against my stomach.

I reach for the handle and find it locked. Outrageous. No one gave the bridesmaids extra keys. The door must lock automatically from the inside.

With no other stimulation but my own thoughts, I panic. What did they mean by a mistake?

What could have happened? The caterers had arrived on time, and the dress fit perfectly—thank God—when I slipped it on this morning. I even wrote a quaint note to Richard and slipped it into his dress shoes when he looked in the mirror and occupied himself with his tie. It read: Do not forget in all this commotion that I love you. Ceremony or no.

I thought it was sweet.

Then I thought that his reflection in the mirror was strange. I could barely see him, just the tie in the mirror. The sun was rather harsh though, and he was in the shadows of the room. It must have been a trick of the light.

If I had known that was the last time Richard and I would be in the same room before they locked me away in here, I would have run up and kissed him. Bad luck before a wedding, I know. But everything had gone seemingly without a hitch. Why did everyone wait until now to make a fuss? That was downright irritating. And I have tried my hardest not to be one of those “bridezillas,” or so the States call them.

Maybe it is better that I am locked in a room now. I can have my little tantrum all by myself in here, and no one would be the wiser. Yes, that is what I shall do. I shall scream, and cry and yell now, and then be the picture of perfection when they come back to fetch me.

Things really do work out for the best sometimes, do they not?

Just as I turn and lean my back against the door, ready to let out one of the biggest, most frustrated screams of my life, I see a little podium with a gold placard on top standing in the middle of the room. I probably failed to see it during my descent to the floor, but it is as clear as day now.

A distraction, I think. I brace myself against the door and start walking myself up into a standing position. There are fewer slips and stumbles now, but with the sheer length of my dress, a few still happen regardless. I finally feel my heels clack against the marble ground, and I welcome the sudden stability. The urge to scream has almost vanished with it.

I hobble towards the podium, my ankles rolling slightly in my haste. Alright, so maybe not as stable as a thought. But I can still walk. Good. This is good. Everything is fine.

I grip onto the podium for dear life and see that golden placard engraved with something. A small, poorly written poem. I try to read it, but the clamoring thoughts in my head seem to block out the words. I read it again aloud to try and counteract the annoying buzz.

“Look into their faces, if you must

Traces of life frame their eyes

Be careful of which ones you trust

All are capable of telling lies”

Huh. Strange.

And with that thought, three overhead lights flicker to life, one for each of the three walls before me. Perhaps I triggered a motion sensor. There is a painting under each light, all depicting portraits of the most unusual characters I have ever seen. Not much in my taste. I have never been one for portraits. But there is something striking about them. Each pair of eyes seem to gleam, as if they were moist with fluid. I cannot tell what art movement they are from. They are so drastically different from the others I had seen on my tour of this place.

The one to my left is of a woman not much older than me, but with the smallest, reddest lips a face could possibly have. They are not unlike a tight, puckered cherry. She wears a shoulder piece of pure white fur. Her auburn curls drape over it elegantly. A large sunhat provides her ample shade from whatever light source is shining down upon her. I can’t tell what that might be, though. The background is a collage of fruits. Oranges, lemons, apples, limes.

To my right, I spy another woman, but impossibly aged. Cheerful pink blush and purple eyeshadow decorates her face. Pearls are ringed around her neck, bands stacked one atop of another. She has gray curls heaped on top of her head. She looks as if she is about to offer me tea with that shining silver teapot in her hands. Flowers swirl behind her, paper thin, like wallpaper.

The portrait in front of me depicts a man. Stately in nature, with a black bowtie at his throat, and slicked back hair. A raven sits on top of his right shoulder, the shine of its eyes ridiculously green. He snarls, revealing three missing teeth. Behind him, billows of sickly grey smoke rise from the bottom of the painting to the top.

They make an odd-looking family.

Before I can take a step closer to examine any of them, the man in the portrait breathes and speaks. “An abandoned bride I see?” The crow beside him squawks, laughing in agreement.

The young woman suddenly shifts her head and shouts at the man, “Don’t be daft, father. Of course it’s a bride. Just look at her dress!” She turns her eyes towards me. “Very flattering on you, my dear. I must say.”

“The question is, why is she here? Shouldn’t she be with the groom?” This new, matronly voice came from the elder woman’s portrait.

At this point, even though I wish to express how shocked and upset I am by their powers of speech, I cannot get a word in edgewise. Their banter continues without my voice and carries on fruitfully.

“I know!” The cherry-lipped woman says. “Let’s guess as to why she’s here! Won’t that be fun, mama?”

“Of course, darling,” the elder woman bubbles, nodding her head vigorously to show her enthusiasm. “Who shall go first?”

“Perhaps the one who thought of the idea should provide an example,” the man says.

The woman smacks her lips in thought, then her eyes brighten as if she has found a treasure chest full of gold. Her wide eyes look me up and down as she exclaims, “As beautiful as you are, that can hardly keep a man entertained for long. Perhaps he has gotten bored with you and run off with a new woman?”

My anger overcomes my shock, and my voice leaps out of me in a rage. “Excuse me?”

She continues as if my rage delights her. “Well, do you know how to use those looks of yours? Or have you both waited until your wedding day? A woman of experience could teach him a thing or two. You know, bachelor party nightmares and what have you.”

I can feel my manicured nails digging into the palm of my hand, sharp enough to draw blood. How the hell did she know we waited?

“Now hold on. I think it may be a misunderstanding. Those happen all the time at weddings, yes?” The cheerful lady gesticulates with her teapot, spilling a few amber drops. “I bet you seven of the pearls around my neck that they have lost the ring! It is such an inconsequential little thing, and it’s not hard to misplace it.”

Those words inspire some hope in my breast. Of course. That could explain some things. I know my bridesmaids would do anything to make this day perfect for me. Even throw me into a locked room before I found out something had gone wrong. This was a little extreme for a ring, though, right?

“Mama, that’s so boring.” The young woman pouts.

The elder woman’s eyes turn sharply towards the girl who could only be her daughter. Their pouts are similar. “I lost your father’s ring plenty of times to know it can happen. And it is certainly not boring in the least! One time I smashed several vases trying to find it, and I was just an absolute puddle of tears by the time your father got home. It was a night of pure agony. Don’t you remember, my love?”

The man rolls his shoulders back and curls his upper lip dismissively. “Yes, yes, my life. I remember how distraught you were.” He seems to shiver at the thought. “But I believe both of you are missing something of importance.”

“Oh? Do tell.” The young woman clasps her soft hands together and rests her chin on them excitedly.

The man examines my dress with a pointed sneer. The raven leans forward, also searching for whatever the man intends to find. It is hard not to shrink away from their stares. I want to hide, shroud myself in the shadows of the room. The stark brilliance of my dress, though, would stick out like an icicle in June, no matter where I went.

He addresses me with the utmost precision of his tongue. “Seeing as how intricately detailed and well-tailored your dress is, young bride, there is no doubt that your betrothed is marrying you for your riches.”

I defend my fiancée instantly. It is an argument I’ve heard before. “No! Richard does not care about money—”

“Men, as I can attest to, care for very little in this world. Power is the chief possession they desire, and money is one way to attain it. Actually, it is the easiest. He wouldn’t happen to be a lazy fellow, would he?”

“No! In fact—”

“Well, that might not matter. If he works hard, he might want to stop.”

My heel clad foot stamps on the ground. I can feel that bridezilla inside me rampaging around. How dare this facsimile of a man speak on behalf of all men! The arrogance radiates off him like the smoke that covers the rest of his canvas. He hasn’t even met Richard! None of them have!

Still, there is a slight possibility in all that they say, no matter how absurd I think it is. No one has told me what’s really going on, so what evidence do I have to prove them wrong? My face flushes because the man smirks, as if he has won.

A bang on the door stops my urge to unleash the seven horrors of Woman’s Scorn onto the painting before me. I hear a faint, pleading voice. “Mimi? Are you in there?”

That is the voice I was thinking I’d never hear again. Richard.

The paintings whisper to each other.

“The soon-to-be husband?”

“I believe it is. See the look on her face?”

“Hush! Let us see how this plays out.”

“Then, we’ll know for sure who was right!”

I sob, and I yell at the door, “Yes! Please! Oh Lord, please get me out of here!”

The door nearly comes off its hinges. I can only assume he is throwing his whole body against it, the way it shakes. He collapses onto the floor as it caves in. I rush to his side, dramatically weeping and snuffling, as I’m known to do when I cry. He pushes himself up onto his forearms, gazing up at me pitifully. “Mimi…”

He looks as if he has done something very bad. And all those ideas the paintings gave me come back into my mind. He is cheating on me. He has lost the ring. He is just after my money. Yet, no matter what catastrophe I think of, I still do not find myself loving him any less. That thought terrifies me most.

But then I see the blood trailing from the corners of his mouth. He is bleeding.

“Richard! What on earth happened? Are you alright?” I ask. I try to run my fingers over the bloodstains to clean them off, but he only pushes me away.

His voice waivers in a way I have never heard before. “Please don’t.”

His teeth glint when he speaks. They seem to sparkle.

“How did you find me?” I ask.

He chokes on his words. “You’re bleeding.”

I look down at my hand, and sure enough, my nails actually drew blood when I clenched them. I knew I should have asked for square tips instead of these small, dagger-like points. But then I am suddenly aware of what Richard has just said, and it was curious to me. “How did that help you?”

“Mimi, please, I can’t…” He stutters and squeezes his eyes shut as if each word pains him. I watch his teeth again and see that two of them, on either side, are dipped in blood. Then I realize, he is not bleeding. It is the blood of another.

Then the details rush to my mind. His late hours. His skin condition that made it impossible to go outside into the sun. His unbearably small portions during mealtime. His request that our wedding be at night. His reflection in the mirror.

He must see the realization in my eyes because he quickly attempts to explain, “The presider we hired. He had this scab on his finger. He wouldn’t stop picking at it! And I haven’t fed in days because I’ve been so nervous. So, when he finally got it open…” He trails off, obviously sickened by the memory of what I am sure he had done. It was surely not as bad as all the other possibilities those nasty portraits had conjured up.

“You’re a vampire, Richard?” I ask.

He nods, sadly.

After a moment’s silence, he picks himself up and sits upright on the marble floor. He looks as if he’s about to say something, but I cannot stand to hear him say something more. I have already made my choice.

I embrace him around the shoulders. “That’s all?” I say. “Oh, Thank God!”

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