Gary, his fingers like melted candle stubs, holds up a candy wrapped in gold cellophane: a small sun rendered in butterscotch. Once molten, now mottled, his skin looks like putty, but it’s stiff and winces against his broad knuckles. He pulls the ends of the wrapper, challenging the simple twists that bind the sweet. I wish the cellophane would squeal or growl to match his effort, but it only crackles a bit, which is cruel.
This morning, at The Chapel of Eternal Love, our vows completed, we were showered with handfuls of these candies. They grazed our heads and shoulders. We flinched. The cherub-faced chapel hostess then stooped and gingerly weeded the barrage of candies from the frayed blades of green shag, placing each in a purple velvet bag festooned with a firmament of rhinestones. She whispered the candy tally to Elvis, who officiated.
With a wry grin, The King pressed the bag into Gary’s and my hands, intoning in a warm baritone, “Thirty-two.”
“Thirty-two years we’ll be married?” I asked, gripping the celestial candy bag to my chest, confident it was a boon imbued with a cosmic affirmation of our union.
“No, thirty-two times you’ll do it on your honeymoon,” the angelic chapel hostess proclaimed, tenderly poking my belly.
This afternoon, at Hoover Dam, all Gary said was damn—as in damn it’s big. Over and over the wiseass said damn. He’d look up at the dam—daaamn! For about two minutes, this way and that, he pointed in amazement at the concrete monolith—daaamn! I giggled; most stared.
Then with his maimed hands he mimed buttressing the dam, shoring the sky, balancing the sun: he was a god.
Gary winked at me as he savored the comical moment. He craves them; they slice through the prosaic haze of the pills.
Now, tonight, after months of physical and psychological counseling at the VA hospital, buoyed by a cocktail of painkillers and antidepressants, he’s dogged. The wrapper yields within seconds, not minutes. The candy falls into my trembling hand and clinks against my wedding band. He clumsily nudges the candy, rolling it across my warm palm. A golden sheen ignites within the sweet and flits over its smooth, golden surface. “Hunka, hunka, burning love,” he moans in my ear. He places the candy on my tongue; the sweet melts, tasting of clover honey mulled in butter.
Gary moves across me like the horizon: blackened skin on red, swollen fingers, layers of worthless flesh, exfoliating baths, grafts, pills, tantrums, tears, and brutal nightmares stumble and wane in the corners.
My tongue tugs on the candy, forcing it against the ridges of my palate. The sun shatters in my mouth. Thirty-one remain.
“I live in central Maine with my husband and two daughters.” E-mail: becca67[at]verizon.net