Gaudy, fluorescent lights flood the room and occasionally beam onto my face before swanning after its next target. I neck down the last drink on the table, whether it was mine or not was irrelevant – no one else was touching it. I can always regret it later. The drone of cheesy 90s pop music blasts across the dancefloor as the bride drunkenly sways around her friends. Beyond familial connections, the two of us have never really been close, and the groom is a stranger to me.
After getting up from my seat, strategically placed in the far-left corner of the room, strewn with confetti and half-finished meals, I drag my body over towards the bar. It’s packed—an array of brazen grandmas and teenagers all ordering overpriced drinks off a man in a black T-shirt that’s just too tight. He’s too occupied to serve me, so after a few moments of waiting impatiently, I walk away. It’s been hours since someone asked me a question, and as I ponder this, I wander towards the silence of the car park.
The hotel reception is mostly empty bar the receptionist, the reverberations of the music, and a stray couple fumbling around together. Not wanting to appear like a voyeur, I opt to leave and move towards the car parking lot. Outside, a chill hangs in the air causing me to yank at the edges of my pale H&M cardigan, dragging them across my chest in a futile but vaguely noble attempt to conserve the suffocating heat from inside. I pull a cigarette out of my purse and light it, longing for the tobacco to rush towards my lungs. At that moment, smoke encases me, and all the voices fade away.
“Can I have one?”
The voice emerged from an outline of a man standing nearby on my right. He’s too enshrouded by the darkness to make out any feasible details but soon after introducing himself, I was bombarded by the pungent smell of his cologne causing me to cough as I responded curtly.
“I said can I have a cigarette? I normally have my own, but it seemed crass to bring them to an event like this. So are going to give me one or not?”
I glare at him before reaching into my purse and retrieving a cigarette, leaving three in my packet. After he snatches the lighter from my hand, he proceeds to take it with deftness between his fingers. As he lights it and inhales, I drink in the features of him that I can pierce through the dark: the bend in his arm and how he stands.
“So… bride or groom?”
“Cool. I’m here for the groom – went to school together but we haven’t really seen each other for years. Was almost hoping he wouldn’t invite me. Personally, I can’t stand weddings. There’s this sense that the future of this couple leers at them and all of us are forced to watch them sign it away. It’s like we’re being made complicit – if they end up unhappy or dead or despondent then we were witnesses to it, we let them sign off on it and didn’t object.”
Is it socially acceptable to ask this guy if he’s on drugs? It’s probably the most logical reason why he’s babbling at me like he’s just discovered that the concept of marriage is bad and that it is of the utmost importance to tell some random person about this revelation. But I let him keep waxing on in some faux intellectual manner about this. These thoughts snag in my mind and keep running over and over. Like scratched vinyl, the same small scales and chords are blasted again and again to the point of torment. A single tear escapes my eye, lands on my cigarette, and creates a small hissing sound.
I realise that I hadn’t been paying attention to him for a while, so he had probably moved on to rambling about something else – the Syrian Civil War or postmodern philosophy or something else. To convince him I was still paying attention it would probably be wise to utter a response.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Uh, …I always cry at weddings.”
He takes his final drag and drops the cigarette before stomping it out under his business shoes which I think cost more than everything I’m wearing.
“Well thanks for the smoke, and the delightful conversation. But I must head back inside – care to join me?”
“No” “Are you sure?”
I hesitate for a moment. His insufferable nature aside, the offer of an acquaintance is tempting but ultimately futile and crushed before it begins to infect me.
“Yeah I am. Probably going to head home anyway.” “Fine by me. Bye then.”
He turns on his heels and leaves causing me to return to my former state. I stand still for a while, taking in the previous conversation before beginning to walk through the car park. The rattle of my breath is the only thing that breaks the silence – quietly gaining momentum as I fixate on the middle distance. Tears bubble up, blurring the dark cars and occasional yew tree that lies ahead. Then there arises a faint rustling on the ground causing me to briefly snap out of my daze and notice it in the weak moonlight. A wedding balloon, half-deflated and dirty.