Saudade by Lesley Heiser

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sun shining through clouds over catalina mountains

She loved the big palms with skirts of bleached-out dead foliage around their trunks and the tall, conical, dark green Italian cypresses that bordered the garden. She loved the massive willow behind her and James as they waited to be married on the brick platform. She loved the nameless, pale-barked tree dropping lacy fronds around them like dark touches of an Eastern painting.

It was September 25, her big day, circa the 21st century. The moon had bumped up infinitesimally at 5:02, and it had been six sharp when they ascended the platform, she in a $50 dress that she’d spotted in a hotel gift shop, of all places, on her way to a work dinner.

The dress was dusty pink and peach and off-white. The fabric was cheap, but the colors… And while it was somewhat ill-fitting around the ribcage, it had a wild, uneven hemline that perhaps… So getting it could have been an act that was totally confused. Or it could have been the most romantic gesture she’d ever summoned from herself?

And now in that dress, on the platform, she felt determined not to cry, determined to keep her shoulders back, and somewhat hopeful she’d look beautiful for James and her mother and her brothers and the other guests and the camera.

And then her mother seated among the guests threw her head back, taking the bride out of herself, and the mother looked up at the sky, and tears spilled down her face. And the bride wanted to reach out and touch her mother because, a few days before, the mother had not been bothered, it had seemed to her. She’d been writing her book. A hurricane had coursed up the Florida coast toward her. Yet she’d remained insouciant. She had not bought a dress. She’d not heard of a dress.

Yet now the mother was here, sleeveless in a black top and slim skirt and bold necklace, crying and thanking God because her daughter had found a good person. And the photographer took the mother’s picture as she cried, and the daughter has that picture still. And the brother cried a tear, too, the remote brother, the aloof one, the one who typically ignored her, who was sitting alone in his row, one of the people she cared for most.

Fortunately, all day, the warm younger brother had hugged everyone. The godfather who was really just an uncle arrived and told a lot of jokes. The college roommate and her husband showed up and the fellow Himalayan hiker and her husband. When the bride and the other hiker had climbed in Nepal, they reached 13,000 feet; they slept in Tibetan villages; they crossed dangerous escarpments at an angle. Yet on this night, 15 years later, they were still alive and once again in the same place, once again together.

Yet, the truth was that some of the white wooden fold-up chairs were unfolded. The air was thick with the losses of the past. The globular white paper lanterns that hung from the branches of the trees were identical to the lanterns that had hung in the paneled room where she had learned to play the piano when she was a child. And now that she and James were standing in front of everyone, she felt so vulnerable—like an orphan. She felt so vulnerable marrying an orphan. She had to give so much love just to stand there. She had to give herself so much love.

And then the ceremony commenced. The minister, Kathryn, spoke in words that were beautiful, but barely audible to her. So she tried to listen, and she held James’s hand, and she looked at James, his brown eyes, his face, and she looked out at her friends and family, and she looked out at the Catalina Mountains, the English poet’s blue-remembered hills right here in Tucson.

And the ceremony whooshed past. Soon her mother was leaning forward and laughing, her white orchid wrist corsage pretty on her flowered lap. It was when the bride had had trouble sliding James’s ring over his knuckle. Because people get older, and their knuckles keep on. Their knuckles can grow from one moment to the next.

Yet, despite all the laughter, a saudade persisted. By its nature. The saudade, the love that remains for someone or something that is missing.

Now, ten years later, James still has his. She is with him when he misses his parents. She bears witness. When he cries, she can’t make up for it.

And she has her own.

But, as consolation, ten years later, her body has started to give her the gift of her wedding as if she could receive it all over again. She doesn’t need photos. She can almost feel the fear that James would bolt, the fear that James would not bolt as they walked up the grass amidst the folded and unfolded chairs, as they passed the guitarist who insisted on playing Pachelbel. She can almost feel James choking up, James not backing out in front of people he didn’t know. She can feel their big kiss on stage, their warmth that no one could touch.

Also, the miles they traveled as they turned their eyes back to meet the eyes of all the others. The miles she traveled as she turned back to her yearning for everyone, for her mother—which was a yearning that may or may not have been abated by the kiss she and James had shared.

“There is no one I would rather see happy than my beautiful niece,” the godfather who was really an uncle said after the ceremony. He had come from a dude ranch. At the party, he would dance like a cowboy. All the guests would give her and James a gift book with sayings in their own writing, but she wouldn’t believe the sayings. It was only now, only ten years later.

How wounded she had been back then, holding the gift book. More real, much more real to her, that night, was the first instant after the wedding, that second of dying to pitch herself forward from the back of the crowd and take all the people she loved and James loved in her arms.

And, yet, something was there at each uncomfortable, incomplete moment. It was there for all of them. The moon was almost full. None of it was spent, none replete, none receding. It was just the moon rising above the trees and over the Catalina Mountains. It was just the wind picking up. It was just the evening ushering itself in. It was the moon as a planet in its greatest expression of promise.

It was the moon as the future.

And, yet, the bouquet and what to do with it after. The wedding cake and how to eat it or stop eating it. That big hug from the warm brother and not wanting to let go. And that which was missed. Did she bring the picture of James’s parents standing by the lake, the picture James took before they died, one after the other? It’s in their living room now. She just touched it. She’s touching it right now. She thought she brought it. She knows she thought about bringing it.

Her own father couldn’t be there because he was angry with everyone. He shouldn’t have been there. Or he should have. Or he was because she brought something of him.

Meanwhile, the moon rose. The wind blew. Meanwhile, everyone laughed and ate cake and drank. A little later, people danced on her and James’s patio overlooking the lawns, and she looked at James, his brown eyes, his face, and she knew James felt lonely not having his family there, and, as she danced to the music, for the first time in her life, she did not think of her own loneliness.

And so, now, ten years later, she decides to go back. She decides to visit the place of her wedding. And it is as she thought. That is, the most beautiful place on earth.

Not just the garden in which she was married but also the lawns. The single fountain surrounded by snapdragons. The old-fashioned swimming pool trellised with jasmine in which she now has time and space to swim. The pool is pure old Hollywood.

She dives in.

And as she glides through the water, she is standing with James on the brick platform. Tottering on her gold shoes. Smiling. Bursting into laughter. Trying not to cry. Being as present as she could for James, more present than she’d ever been in her life. And she hopes she still is.

The magical evening. The magical air. The magical night. The magical lighting. The magical moon. The moon ascending as if on a rope. The blue-remembered hills. The air picking up hard and fast into itself. James and her in dark brushstrokes.

     The moments that were there for all of them.

The planet that was there and still is.

lesley-heiserLesley Heiser is a Maine writer who has published in The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Ms. Magazine, Maryland Poetry Review, Puerto del Sol, and elsewhere. In 2012, she won the Maine Literary Award in Short Fiction.




STORY IMAGE: Flickr Creative Commons/Michael Ruiz

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