In the kitchen of the house where Shayna grew up, Mother waves a lipstick tube at Shayna’s mouth. “Make an O.”
Shayna shuts her eyes and puckers. In that dark hangs a negative of Mother’s face, closing over Shayna like a lid: vertical wrinkle between the brows, faint beginning of a second chin.
“Tighten your lips up like that and there’ll be cracks. You want cracks on your wedding day?”
Shayna takes a deep breath, relaxes her lips, folds her hands in the lap of her white dress.
“That’s a girl,” Mother says, and applies pressure.
Shayna slips away to the public garden alone. She is early for photographs. She senses Vic will find her there. Tells herself she wishes he wouldn’t. He is not the groom. But here he is on the bench, waiting for her. “It isn’t bad luck for me to see you,” he says.
He is also not a guest. “You shouldn’t have come,” says Shayna. “My bridesmaids will be here any minute.”
“One last look. All right?” Vic stands. Smiles. “That kosher?”
“Ha ha,” says Shayna.
He touches her arm.
She doesn’t smile. She wants to lean her cheek on his collarbone. There are little holes in his T-shirt. She stares down at her shoes, shiny white straps crisscrossing, binding her toes. “In a year, you won’t remember me,” she says.
“That’s not fair”
“Six months, I’ll bet.” She wants to touch his T-shirt. She loves the holes.
“There’s still time,” he whispers. “We could still…” She shakes her head, squeezes his fingers. She’s not sure whose heartbeat she feels. Or whose hand it’s in.
Now Shayna sits on that bench in the garden. Nearby, three bridesmaids wear yellow. Heat bears down on the bushes and grass. Shayna hikes her skirts to her thighs and wishes for a breeze. “It hasn’t rained in weeks,” she says.
“What do you want with rain?”
Shayna sees the men coming, filing over the footbridge like soldiers in black and white uniforms, Isaac in the front; she can see his scar, the neat pink curve from chin to cheek, a souvenir from some childhood accident, from back before he could make safe decisions. She used to trace that scar with her finger. It used to feel like a roadmap home. Shayna pushes her skirts back down. Crinoline drops over her legs like a stage curtain.
Eighteen months ago, one month after Isaac proposed and Shayna said yes, she met Vic at the aquarium.
He was the new shark-feeder. Shayna sold tickets from a booth. A right-after-college job. Nothing that ever felt permanent.
One evening at closing time, he stood on the other side of her glass window. Pressed his fingertips to it. Asked, “Can you come out?”
“Maybe,” Shayna said into her microphone.
He came around the side to her little door and opened it, grabbed her wrist and pulled her right into the lobby. “It’s worth your while,” he said. He took her upstairs to the top of a huge tank. All blue water and no fish. They looked down on it.
He wove his fingers through hers. “Hop in,” he said, and they jumped.
“A little to the left…that’s it. Now just the groom’s family…Just the bride’s family. That’s perfect. Perfect.”
The flashbulb explodes and recovers, explodes and recovers. Isaac smiles. The scar smiles, too. Like a back-up smile. A just-in-case. He’s smiling for both of us, thinks Shayna.
At the doorway of her apartment, weeks after that first swim with Vic, Shayna said, “Like this. Then kiss your fingers.”
“Kiss my fingers?” Vic squinted his blue eyes at the mezuzah. “I’ll just kiss vow,” he said. “All right?” Vic gathered her hair in his fist.
She rested her forehead on his shoulder. He smelled like peppermint.
“All right, Shayna?”
Shayna says now, “Something isn’t right.” She is on that bench again, her face in her hands.
“Cold feet,” says Mother “But they’ll warm right up. Think. You’ll make a nice Jewish home. So beautiful. And Isaac from such a nice family. Think of it.” She fastens a pearl choker at Shayna’s nape. It pinches the fine hairs there.
“Ow!” Shayna lifts her head.
“Stay still!” Mother unfastens. Re-fastens. Squeezes Shayna’s shoulders, then goes to sit beside her.
Shayna squints in the sunlight.
“I’m sorry. Baby.” Mother touches Shayna’s cheek with the backs of her fingers.
Shayna wishes she were sick in bed and seven years old. Wishes her cheeks were burning up from fever. She leans into Mother. “It was my fault,” she says. “I shouldn’t have moved.”
One day, the aquarium closed because of a blizzard and Shayna didn’t call Isaac to tell him.
“I love hiking,” she told Vic, strapping herself into snowshoes. She thought. Maybe I will love hiking. She remembers now that endless stretch of snow, the way her calves ached. Remembers watching Vic’s backpack move ahead of her, his green wool hat, his face, pink, now and then glancing over his shoulder
“You’re not fading on me, are you?”
You love this, you love this, because he loves this, Shayna told herself. She followed the green wool. “I’m one hundred percent right with you,” she said. She held her breath so she wouldn’t pant.
She shook her head. She wanted so much to impress him. When he stopped suddenly, cutting oiT the steady crunch of boots to snow, and held up a gloved finger, Shayna stopped, too.
Behind a skeletal tree, a deer paused, its muscles strong beneath its brown coat, its eyes dark and wary. And watching. For no clear reason, Shayna thought of her parents. She took a step forward. The deer flipped its white tail up and ran.
“Did I do that?” Shayna asked.
Vic shrugged his shoulders. “Probably thought you were a bear,” he said. He yanked Shayna’s hat down over her eyes. Shayna readjusted the hat. “I didn’t mean to…” “She was just being cautious. She might have babies nearby. Didn’t want us getting too close.” Vic touched her face. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “Why are you crying?” Rabbi lifts Shayna’s veil. “Is this your bride?”
“Who else’s would it be?”
The veil lowers.
Shayna liked watching Vic swim with sharks. He wore an air tank strapped to his back and breathed bubbles. Shayna watched for the bubbles. Breathed when he breathed. And when he was finished, when he climbed out of the water and the sharks were alone, Shayna every time had to remind herself to exhale.
It was silly, really. She’d breathed on her own for so many years.
Father hooks Shayna to his arm. “Ready?” He squeezes her hand.
Shayna doesn’t answer. She is sweating, but everything is white. She is bathed in white. The white gardenias smell so strong, they make her dizzy.
The chuppah is white satin, draped over bamboo poles. The white grows clearer and larger as Shayna approaches. Father lets go. The garden is hushed, pulsing with heat. But the satin looks like snow, looks white enough to melt a fever.
After Shayna told Vic, “It’s because of religion, Vic. My parents. My family. I’m engaged. We just can’t,” she still liked to watch him feed sharks.
He said, “You’ve never taken a risk in your whole life.”
“You’re not hearing me,” she said. “This isn’t about risk.”
“You don’t always get hurt,” he told her, “taking risks.”
When she watched him then, from the dry side of the glass, as he swam weightlessly, his body draped in chain mail like something off-limits, she silently begged the sharks, attack him, bite him, make him see.
“I might be sick,” Shayna whispers.
“I don’t know if i can.”
“Of course you can.” Isaac and his scar smile uneasily. “Since when are there things you can’t do?”
The sensation of spiraling. Gaining speed. One bridesmaid holds Shayna’s train. Four Five, Six. Seven rings around Isaac. Rabbi cloaks Bride and Groom in a tallit, Isaac’s shoulder against hers feels like something from a dream. She feels like a mummy. Pictures herself unwinding, away from Isaac, away from Rabbi, spinning and spinning down the grass aisle and out of the garden, like an ace bandage, unraveling.
Rabbi wraps a wine glass in linen, Shayna irrelevantly thinks of a guillotine, a hovering blade. The thought and the heat make her stomach lurch. Rabbi says, “Even in our joy, we remember destruction.”
Shayna hears the shattering, the uproar: Mazal Tov! She is racing down the aisle, Isaac at her side, leaving behind a napkin full of shards.
Shayna knows this: if she still spent her days in that little booth at the aquarium, if she hadn’t quit three months ago because of jealousy—she’d grown jealous of the sharks who circled Vic, who depended on Vic, who accepted Vic as though he, too, were a shark—she would still, after all this time, look for Vic’s fingerprints from that day he tried to touch her through the glass.
“Your parents have made a good match,” a face tells Shayna.
Another face says, “May you both live to a hundred and twenty.”
There is dancing: concentric circles cluster and widen, widen and cluster. From her chair above the crowd, Shayna hears her mother: “I’m so happy. I’m so happy.”
Shayna, bouncing, smiles despite things. Smiles because of things. Isaac tries to reach her with a handkerchief. She leans toward him and takes it.
Later, Shayna wanders over the footbridge. She feels like she just came through something. Like a warrior, she thinks. She feels very, very brave. Below her, the creek runs and doesn’t look back. She thinks of jumping in, of letting it pull her away in her wedding dress, but even from above, she can see the sharp rocks.
Diana Spechler’s fiction has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Greensboro Review, Jewish Currents, Women in Judaism and the McSweeney’s website. She is at work on her first novel.