Hot Metal Bridge

Current Issue : Number Twenty-Five

Proof of a Wedding Photo, 1969

BY ANN CLAYCOMB

The Proof

They are leaving their wedding reception.  She is leaning on him, he is leaning on the car, both of them smiling the kinds of smiles that can’t be faked, smiles that have crinkled their faces, narrowed their eyes, exposed their teeth, revealed a tendency in him to tuck his chin into his neck, in her to tilt her head to one side.  A girlish gesture, her head inclining towards his shoulder just as the rest of her body inclines into his, a leaning that would like to be more, a melting.  She is not a girl, though, not in that suit, a fabulous suit, a Jackie Kennedy suit, ice-blue silk with silver and rhinestone buttons up the front of the fitted jacket, white fur around the portrait collar and at the ends of the sleeves.  Against the chic of that suit, she herself is an exclamation point: black-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned, lipsticked and in love.  He is her backdrop, because he wears a black suit, white shirt, unremarkable tie, square eye glasses, and because he is a less dramatic presence, a slim, handsome man who is losing his hair.  His eyes are centered within those black eyeglass frames; they are a paler blue than hers, and a bit surprised by happiness.  His smile is shy, revealing a sweetness in the shape of his mouth—there, at the corners, which turn down just a little even in the smile, unexpected flourishes at the end of a discreet signature.

His father stands on the sidewalk a few feet away; her mother appears in the background, surrounded by friends.  Both have their faces turned to the happy couple.  For composition’s sake, these figures can be cropped.

5  x 7:

They are leaving their wedding reception.  They are both tipsy and have will headaches the next morning as they prepare to leave for their honeymoon in Quebec.  For him the destination matters less than her presence beside him, on the street, at a café table, between white hotel sheets.  She would rather have had the beach but he does not like to swim.  Later she will recast Quebec, the compromise, as a giving-in on her part.

They have two children, a girl and then a boy.  They have a lovely house, two good jobs, though she gives hers up when the first baby comes along and doesn’t plan to go back to work.

She lets her black hair go gray, wears the same shade of lipstick every day (“Love That Pink”), bakes bubbling desserts he does not eat, puts on weight.  He works long hours, mows the lawn, sits in the sun during family vacations at the beach reading biographies of Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Alger Hiss.  He sunburns badly and has to wear hats on his shining bald head.  When she talks to him, her words wash over him like the tide coming in too soon.

She dreamed of leaning on him, of his arm, warm and solid, shifting audibly inside the lined fabric of the suit jacket, holding her up.

Outside the frame: For composition’s sake, her mother can be cropped.  She will be dead in two years, 1971, but in this picture she is wearing robin’s egg blue from head to toe: dress, hat and shoes.  The shoes glitter, the dress hits above the knee, the small hat trembles with blue feathers and sequins.  She should look ridiculous, but doesn’t, because her legs are the best in the crowd.  She is smiling at the happy couple, has been smiling all day, so happy to be there, at her daughter’s wedding to such a lovely man.

8 x 10:

They are leaving their wedding reception.  They are both tipsy and have will headaches the next morning as they prepare to leave for their honeymoon in Quebec, where September will already feel like fall.  She buys a heavy sweater in a shop along a cobbled street, remembering that she wanted the beach, a blazing sun, heavy, flower-scented air.  Years later, packing up the same sweater, which has a missing button and a ragged pull on one sleeve, she will claim that Quebec was a giving-in on her part.  His idea, she will say, stuffing the sweater in a box, to drag her around museums and old forts.

He only wants her beside him, doing ordinary things, turning the crooked corners of the old city.  Buying a sweater without knowing how much it cost, because neither one of them can figure out the exchange rate.

They have a miscarriage, then a girl and a boy.  They have a lovely house, two good jobs, though she gives hers up when the first baby comes along, during a hurricane—hurricane Agnes, thank God they don’t name me after the storm—and doesn’t plan to go back to work.

She lets her black hair go gray, puts on weight, loses it all one winter when her thyroid goes berserk.  He does not notice.  He works long hours.  When she talks to him—too much, too fast—her words wash over him like the tide coming in too soon.  When she comes home from the hospital, the scar like a necklace at her throat, he gives her chrysanthemums, crimson and yellow and orange, the colors of fall.

She dreamed of leaning on him, of melting into him, of marriage as a melting into each other.  When she knows for sure—she is planting tomatoes, her nose and mouth full of the metallic wet-earth smell of the plants—that this will never happen, she tells him to leave.

He goes, baffled, lives in a rented room for years instead of getting an apartment of his own.  He assumes he will come home some day.  He still loves her, he says.  He does not know what he has done wrong.

She is dead now, of cancer.  He is remarried.

Outside the frame:  Bourbon, the Catholic Church, the Pill (which is a sin), migraines, broken china (a cliché), depression like a seeping black stain, a separate bedroom at the end of the hall, telling the children, Paxil, the futile hard plastic sound of slammed telephone receivers, a mastectomy, the sliver of a cardboard-textured cracker on the tongue.

For composition’s sake, these things must be cropped.  The perfect print of this shot will be smaller, and square.  It will need a custom frame.

4 x 4:

They are leaving their wedding reception.  They are both tipsy and will have headaches the next morning as they prepare to leave for their honeymoon in Quebec.  Not her idea—she wanted the beach, a resort, white walls, white sand, pink and red hibiscus trailing over railings, drinks with paper umbrellas that she would order just for the sake of saying that she had.  But she wants even more to want what he wants.  The picture shows her in vivid color: she is in the foreground, yet she is leaning on him.

They have two children, a girl and then a boy.  They have a lovely house, two good jobs, though she gives hers up when the first baby comes along.

For composition’s sake, his father can be cropped.  He stands with his arms folded over his chest, clutching his overcoat as if more eager to leave than the newlyweds are.  He is white-haired, mustached, unsmiling, though perhaps he should not be judged for that.  He is watching the photographer who is watching his son, observing the process of the picture-taking and seemingly unaware that he is also caught in the shot.

Wallet-sized:

She is leaning on him, he is leaning on the car, both of them smiling the kinds of smiles that can’t be faked.  She wears a fabulous suit, a Jackie Kennedy suit, and against its chic, she herself is an exclamation point: black-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned, lipsticked and in love.  He is her backdrop, a slim, handsome man with a shy smile.  He looks surprised by happiness.