Trudy Schwartzstein had planned her second and final wedding to be perfect: idyllic beside a shimmering blue pond, almost Gatsbyesque, reminiscent of another, more hopeful era, far enough from the gauzy late summer stink of Manhattan, but not so far away that her 240 guests (excluding a ten-piece soul band, and a surly French chef) would feel obligated to spend their entire Labor Day weekend in the wilderness beyond the Five Boroughs. Trudy had her friend Tammy’s forty acre property at her disposal. She had hand-picked variegated seasonal hydrangeas and dahlias on each of the 24 tables, name cards written in simple, unadorned calligraphy marking the guest’s seats beneath the high vault of the white party tent. She had ordered a dozen cases of Croze Hermitage, bottled by Chapoutier, and a dozen cases of Montlouis from the Loire Valley to complement the three-course meal, and an apricot marzipan wedding cake for dessert.
Trudy even had a rabbi who had agreed not to mention God. “Jesus,” Trudy thought “that’s not even my coup de grace.”
No, the true victory on that day would be the end of Trudy Schwartzstein, the end of that unwieldy last name forever; no more stuttered missteps and tongue-tied tautologies, and no awkward post-feminist hyphens either. Hello world, meet Trudy Sherwood.
It was the hottest day of the year. 102 degrees with 90 percent humidity beneath the burning August sun. The inside of the tent felt like a greenhouse, even with a dozen circular fans stirring the air uselessly. A distant radio played Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, while the catering staff, clad in formal black and white set up tables with the slow somnolence of lambent sleepwalkers.
Trudy sat in her wedding dress, deflated before a mirror, only an hour before the high noon wedding.
"I've got an Afro," she said. "I've got a goddamned Afro!"
Her hairdresser, Miri, an Israeli in New York on an expired visa smiled, "More hairspray?"
"Get out," Trudy shouted, thinking: any more hairspray and I’m going to combust.
This is humiliating, Trudy thought, an Afro on my wedding day; a day she had dreamt about since her divorce, almost ten years earlier. She sat with her head in her hands and consoled herself: Tomorrow, Michael and I will be in Venice.
"Sweetheart," Esther Schwartzstein called entering the bridal tent.
"What is it, Mom?" Trudy said, not looking up.
"The guests are arriving," Esther said stopping short, "Oh, Bunnyrabbit. Is that the way they’re wearing their hair in the City now?"
"Don't kvetch to me now, okay? I'm a nervous wreck."
"I'm not kvetching, I'm kvelling. At least you didn't plan some sort of nose-in-the-air art gallery opening with your caviar eggs and squid ink."
Trudy spun on her low stool to face her mother, “You're wearing white!"
"So are you," Esther Schwartzstein shot back.
"Mom, I'm the bride. I can’t believe you’re doing this on my wedding day."
“Your father and I were married on a Labor Day Weekend,” Esther sighed, oblivious.
“You and dad are divorced.”
“Thank God for that,” Esther said. “And I’d divorce him again if I had the chance.”
“Wearing white at my wedding is . . .” Trudy was interrupted before she could say “unconscionable.”
"I can wear white if I want to. It's before Labor Day," Esther said smiling broadly at her witticism.
"Why are you torturing me?"
Esther pleaded ignorance.
She looked almost sweet in white and younger than her 63 years; still thin as the D.P. she once was, but toned from practicing Ayurvedic yoga, the skin on her face pulled back tightly like cling wrap over a half-eaten Thanksgiving turkey, her dyed blond hair [somehow!], an immaculate, shining helmet. The dress was understated, even tasteful--and that was what bothered Trudy so much. Her mother's wearing white was an act of aggression of which only Trudy would be cognizant. Her mother was sly and this was payback for Trudy picking out her dress without first consulting her mother.
"You should see what Bobbie is wearing," Esther added referring to Trudy's future mother-in-law. "She looks presentable, except her outfit clashes with her bouquet."
"Bouquet?" Trudy said, "What bouquet?"
"Bobbie's bouquet. The one she's going to carry down the aisle."
Trudy stood up, teetering precariously on one heel, "Bobbie's not walking down the aisle. There's no procession. It's just me and Michael. That’s it. Me and Michael forever. We're adults for fucks sake."
"Do you want me to take care of it?" Esther said.
"Sweetheart," Esther said softly. "My only daughter is getting married—again. I’ll do anything I can to make this the most special day of your life. I love you so much. You’re my baby.” And here, Esther paused and cleared her throat. “Who’s the best mother?”
Esther smiled, flashing her porcelain capped teeth, “I’ll boot the bitch.”
The first guests to arrive were the elderly, conveyed from the distant parking area on balloon-adorned golf carts. Aunt Rennie from Boca Raton, oblivious to the smothering humidity, dressed in a royal blue suede suit waved at Trudy, calling out, "Hey, gorgeous," as her fourth husband Burt mopped his forehead with a polka dotted handkerchief. Grandma Dot with her gleaming Trinidadian caregiver arrived wondering when the tournament would begin. Uncle Israel – Izzy Sherwood – Michael's father's only brother, the putative family patriarch, who hadn't spoken to half his family in half a lifetime – including his three sons – arrived alone, resplendent in a blue double-breasted suit. With his signature red carnation hanging limply from his lapel he announced, "Here's Izzy!" and then under his breath muttered "It's as hot as a frying pan," as he lit one of his famous cigars. More family arrived; cousins, uncles, stepchildren--an adopted Asian nephew from Trudy's father's wife's family – all of them slouching towards the shade of the ivory-colored big top.
And then, at the last moment – when it seemed it would be only a family affair – they appeared out of the shimmering haze almost magically, materializing in the far reaches of Westchester County as if they had all caught the same 10:55 train from Grand Central Station--Trudy and Michael's friends had arrived.
Gary and Lennon, both chorus dancers on Broadway, arrived wearing matching tails and top hats. Michael’s boyhood friend Simon huffed and puffed up the slope of the grassy hill carrying an outsized gift on his narrow shoulders. Their non-profit friends came laughing up the hill in vintage clothing, cuffs and sleeves rolled to the knees and elbows, mocking the train conductor’s pronunciation of “Scawsdale.” They dumped bottles of Pellegrino water on their heads as they reached the crest of the hill and the gray shade of the tent. Michael’s ABD friends from Columbia arrived open-shirted and pale, bewildered by the sun that seemed to be stewing their brains in their shells. Jefferies, the painter, wore shorts and a baseball cap, his jacket coolly slung over his shoulder. Marcus and his Deadhead girlfriend sang “Ob-la-di-ob-la-da,” and squirted each other with green neon water guns. Steve, Trudy’s former crush from college, arrived last, just in time to see Trudy skipping down the back of the hill with her shoes in her hands and her dress hiked up to her still-beautiful knees.
Standing beneath the failing shade of an ancient willow tree on the far side of the pond, Trudy felt her butterflies disappear – after all, there was her man. Michael wearing his third suit of the day, stood with his family, Bobbie and Max, his father, his two sisters, and his oldest friend Simon Levy. Uncle Izzy placed a hand on Michael’s shoulder and seemed to be giving him a private pep talk before the signing of the marriage contract.
My man, she thought, smiling.
“Trudy, take off your sunglasses,” It was Esther.
Michael drifted over and kissed Trudy on the lips. She noticed that he had a small cut on his cheek, and a dilution of pink blood was running down his neck.
“Mom, the sun is in my eyes.”
“Fine. Spoil the photos,” Esther said, turning to her ex-husband.
Michael leaned close to Trudy and whispered slowly in her ear, “Tomorrow we’ll be in Venice.”
“Yes,” she said, taking off her glasses and laughing. “Yes!”