I have, without exaggeration, officiated at more than 200 weddings. It is is something I enjoy, an opportunity to bless a couple at a transformative moment in their lives. The profound reality of being the wedding minister is that I get to speak things into being. I get to confirm what already exists in formation while at the same time affirming something new in the universe. The great fun of weddings, in my mind, is that they are sealed with a kiss. I have witnessed anxious kisses, awkward kisses, unsure kisses, eager kisses, shy kisses, get-it-over-with kisses, kisses too long for propriety, and kisses that would make the gods blush. Sealed with a kiss.
I am reading John Crowley’s 1980s fantasy classic, Little, Big. It is a difficult book to read, drawing from the traditions of George MacDonald and Lewis Carroll, but shifting perspectives constantly.
In the scene I capture below, Smoky and Daily Alice are getting married. For Daily Alice, this is the culmination of a faërie prophecy from childhood, though she is not certain if she is rejecting the prophecy by marrying Smoky, or fulfilling it. For Smoky, he is just amazed that he was even noticed, let alone loved. Smoky’s perspective is humorous as they exit the swan boats–their version of the aisle–and as the minister stumbles along in the shadow of the Impressive Clergyman of The Princess Bride. Alice’s perspective is quite charming, capturing the image of two noses beginning apart from a great distance and rushing “together to collide soundlessly.”
There was a game she had played with Sophie in the long hallways of Edgewood, where she and Sophie would stand as far apart as was possible to get and still see each other. Then they would walk slowly together, slowly and deliberately, looking always each at the other’s face. They kept on, at the same pace, not laughing or trying not to, till their noses touched. It was like that with Smoky, though he had started far off, too far to be seen, coming from the City—no farther, out there where she had never been, far away, walking towards her. When the swan boat picked him up, she could easily cover him with her thumbnail if she chose to; then the boat drew closer, Phil Flowers hauling on the oars, and she could see his face, see that it was indeed he. At the water’s edge he was lost for a moment; then there was a murmur of expectation and appreciation around her and he reappeared, led by Cloud, much larger now, the new wrinkles visible at his knees, his strong veined hands she loved. Larger. There were violets in his buttonhole. She saw his throat move, and at that moment came Music. When he had come to the stairs of the pavilion she could no longer take in his feet if she looked resolutely at his face, and she did—for a moment everything around his face darkened and swam, his face orbited towards her like a pale smiling moon. He mounted the steps. He stood beside her.
No touching noses. That would come. It might she thought take years; maybe they never would—their marriage was after all a Convenience, though she had never, would never, need not now ever explain that to him because, just as the cards had promised, she knew now she would choose him over anybody else, whether the cards chose him or not, or whether they who had promised someone like him to her thought he was unnecessary now or even wrong. She would defy them to have him. And it was they who had first seen fit to send her out to find him! She wanted with all her being to continue to find him now, to put her arms around him and search; but the stupid minister began to mutter—she felt anger at her parents who had thought him necessary, for Smoky’s sake they said, but she already knew Smoky better than that. She tried to listen to the man, thinking how much better it would be to marry touching noses: to proceed from great distances together till it was as in the old halls when the walls and pictures glided by changefully on the edge of vision but Sophie’s face kept constant, growing, the eyes widening, freckles expanding, a planet, then a moon, then a sun, then nothing at all visible except the onrushing map of it, the great eyes starting to cross at the last moment before their two noses rushed vastly headlong together to collide soundlessly.
They were greeted and handed out of the leaking swan by many hands. Around the island people were sitting together, opening picnic baskets, placating shouting children; few of them seemed to notice Smoky’s arrival. “Look who we’ve got here, Cloud,” said a slim chinless man who made Smoky think of the poets the guidebook had disliked so much. “We’ve got Dr. Word. Where is he now? Doctor! Got some more champagne?”Doctor Word in a tight black suit had a look of unreasoning terror on his badly shaven face; his golden glassful trembled and bubbles rose. “Nice to see you, Doctor,” Cloud said. “I think we can promise no wonders. Oh, settle down, man!” Dr. Word had tried to speak, choked, spluttered. “Pound his back, someone. He’s not our minister,” Cloud said confidentially to Smoky. “They come from the outside, and tend to get very nervous. A wonder any of us is married or buried at all. Here’s Sarah Pink, and the little Pinks. How do you do. Ready?”
She took Smoky’s arm, and as they went up the flagged path toward the gazebo a harmonium began to play, like a tiny weeping voice, music he didn’t know but that seemed to score him with sudden longing. At its sound the wedding-guests gathered, talking in low voices; when Smoky reached the low worn steps of the gazebo, Doctor Word had arrived there too, glancing around, fishing a book from his pocket; Smoky saw Mother, and Doctor Drinkwater, and Sophie with her flowers behind Daily Alice with hers; Daily Alice watched him unsmiling and calm, as though he were someone she didn’t know. They stood him beside her; he began to put his hands in his pockets, stopped, clasped them behind his back, then in front of him. Doctor Word fluttered the pages of his book and began to speak quickly, his words shot through with champagne and tremblings and the harmonium’s unceasing melody; it sounded like “Do you Barble take this Daily Alice to be your awful wedded life for bed or for worse insidious in stealth for which or for poor or to have unto whole until death you do part?” And he looked up inquiringly.
“I do,” Smoky said.
“I do too,” Daily Alice said.
“Wring,” Doctor Word said. “And now you pounce you, man on wife.”
Aaaah, said all the wedding guests, who then began to drift away, talking in low voices.