“Two Nerf guns,” Brad said. He tried to hide his disappointment—this was not the most exceptional wedding present he could imagine, and while the gift is certainly supposed to be secondary in importance, well, a wedding is a big enough deal to want even the secondary things to impress.
Janel simply smiled. It was a smile that said, “Your friend is an imbecile, my love, and for the sake of peace, I’m not saying it out loud. Today.”
Chuck, who was the giver of this gift, felt the need to defend himself. “It’s not quite what you think,” he announced. “It’s more of a metaphor.”
Brad and Janel looked at him; Brad expectantly, and Janel with a smile that seethed hate as it grew more fixed. Chuck continued.
“It’s a symbol of marriage. See, you’re in love. And you’re closer to each other than you’ve ever been to anyone in your lives, right?”
“Of course,” Brad declared, and he gave his new bride a playful squeeze. Janel did not return this gesture, or change her expression at all, believing Chuck incapable of delivering sentiment unless it happened to be on the way to someplace horrible and demented.
“Well,” Chuck continued, “That closeness means that you also have everything you need to utterly destroy the other person, whether by betrayal or crushing their spirit or just changing them into something they’re not.”
Janel’s little sister Robin approached this discussion with a video camera. With a tiny flick of her left eye, Janel warned the girl of terrible consequences if she came any closer. While she was capable of bratty disobedience, on this occasion Robin recognized the signal and the threat behind it. She spun around on one foot, almost gracefully, and filmed some adorable young cousins playing instead.
“I think you two are really great together,” Chuck declared, “and I want to avoid either one of you being destroyed. I thought the best way to do that was to make sure you were both aware of the potential so you could avoid it. And also to point out that you both have this power, so neither one of you can use it!”
Chuck said this last bit awfully brightly. Brad didn’t look at Janel, but he was surprised that her gaze wasn’t drawing Chuck’s blood.
“It’s like Janel is Russia and you’re the United States.”
“Or the other way around,” Brad said pointedly. He was eager not to get Chuck started on the topic of Russian women, because several years prior, Chuck had traveled to Russia with the intent of acquiring a bride. He failed in this endeavor, not because of a lack of candidates but because of an overabundance. Chuck quickly discovered that he preferred sleeping with several dozen Russian women than just one. He continued to make wife-finding trips twice a year, although his friends had stopped referring to them as such and had taken to calling them “intercontinental prostitution benders.”
Chuck smirked at Brad’s statement. Janel’s smile hardened even further at this, and was now nearly in danger of being claimed and mined by De Beers.
“Whatever,” Chuck dismissed. “The point is, a marriage needs to be built on the threat of mutually assured destruction. That way, when the hot-and-heavy quote-unquote love fades, and you for some reason decide to have kids that make you miserable, neither one of you succumbs to any temptation to actually hurt the other, and instead you’ll be forced to work with each other for the common good!”
Chuck was a naturally exuberant person, and quite without realizing it his voice had steadily gained volume throughout this speech so that by the end it was ringing through the subdued day-after-reception shindig. Around the fourth clause, the party’s collective intelligence realized that if it didn’t give this noise its attention, it would just keep growing. So everyone in attendance ceased their conversation and turned toward Chuck’s diatribe. Even Janel’s schipperke Nate.
Chuck finally felt these eyes on him, and slowly turned to face thirty or so faces of abject horror. “Which I’m sure that they will,” he said slowly, and only barely betraying the intimidation he felt.
It was good enough for the party. The guests turned back to their conversations, each with a unique variation of the disbelieving head-shake or the righteously shocked “Well, I never!”
Chuck turned back to Janel and Brad. Brad wore an amused smirk. “You dumbass,” was in there, as well as “What color is the sky in your world?” and “Where am I going to get these stories when I can never see you again?” Chuck didn’t look at Janel, because he wasn’t a complete idiot.
“I’m sure you’ll do great,” he said, clasping Brad on the shoulder. “I should go. There’s also a certificate for a spa weekend underneath. Enjoy!”
He was on his way out before finishing the sentence.
Brad felt Janel’s gaze lock in on him. “This’ll be nice,” he whimpered, fumbling through the toy guns to find the gift certificate. “Black Rock Spa, you’ve always wanted to go there.”
“I’ll forgive you this time,” Janel croaked. In her mouth, the words were a threat worthy of Khruschev.
Chuck dashed to the door, head to the floor and only missing people by sheer luck. He had grabbed the handle when he felt a tap on his shoulder. Steeling himself for a punch, he turned around to face a schlubby man, mid-thirties and with an air of intense weight surrounding him.
“Thank you,” the man whispered. “I never realized I could hurt her back.”
I’m posting this story now because tomorrow I travel to Virginia for my former roommate’s wedding. I actually considered giving a pair of mini Nerf guns in addition to a real present, but I decided against it. (The bride and groom both get my sense of humor, but there’s a decent chance they wouldn’t be thrilled with it at their wedding…)
So I guess Chuck is pretty much my surrogate in this story. I’m not actually against marriage—if you think it’s for you, go for it—it’s more that I mistrust all interpersonal relationships, having been on the losing end of so many where I didn’t realize there could be a losing end. (I also never did the intercontinental prostitution bender, although that is based on an acquaintance who did…)
This one isn’t planned for any specific writing project yet. It maybe should get converted to a sketch; I’m not sure where this would fit into a longer story. It’s in my miscellaneous pile for now, though.