The Wedding Scene
The banquet hall had seen better days. Its marble floors were fogged over, and its high ceilings were decorated with sagging cobwebs. They caught the light streaming in through the stained glass ceiling. Very little light still came through in those days. It was the last stream of light that would ever shine through those windows.
The grand staircase in the back of the candlelit hall was flanked by statues of angels. They casted menacing shadows on the walls.
The wood trim of the grand room, once an impossible red, had aged and greyed seemingly overnight. And the square pillars circling the room felt unsure of themselves.
The hall was owned by a man who had abandoned it a year earlier. He left the doors open, but no one dared enter until now, for a wedding, conceived, planned, and performed in less than a day.
Shadows leered heavily over the small circle of light in the middle of the hall. Within the circle, painted in the blues, whites, and reds of the stained glass, was a small wedding party.
A handful of round tables were scattered about the light. They were filled with people too old to go to war. The ones that were too young were hiding under the tables, or being scolded for playing too close to the candles. Their laughter and cackles made music with the hushed and respectful tones of the adults.
In the backs of everyone’s mind they feared this might be the last time they’d all be together again, so they lingered, soaking up every moment they could retain. They slowly slid the party through the day from one end of the hall to the other, following the circle of sunlight as it moved across the floor.
The party stayed into the night, familiar faces coming through the red-yellow dim of candle light. The newlyweds, Jacob and Marla, sat alone at the head table, slightly elevated from the rest. Their table had the whitest cloth, and was bordered by pink and white flowers.
There was no entertainment, except when Cousin Peter periodically played his accordion for a glass of wine. All the music of Paris was drowned out by the rolling thunder in the east
Marla and Jacob appeared nervous. They smiled back at the faces below them, but the corners of their mouths trembled slightly. No one could predict what was waiting for them. They knew they were going to have to feel their way through the dark, and it terrified them.
They had been in love for four years, but a wedding never seemed likely, since Jacob was Jewish and Marla was raised Catholic.
Marla had run away to Paris five years earlier. Her grandmother did the best she could, but she couldn’t stop Marla from leaving. She knew one morning she’d look up from her coffee and biscuits and her granddaughter, full of angst, would be gone. She knew before she even learned Marla’s name.
Marla never went back either. She would send her grandmother letters when she remembered, but the very thought of that village nauseated her. She hated all of it, its streets, its houses, its people, all of them so sad as they slowly died of mediocrity.
The day after Marla got word of her grandmother’s death, she converted to Judaism to marry Jacob.
Jacob had a robust family, full of conversational memories, and the infinite faces of love. It was a family that protected its own, but recently had begun measuring its losses in lives.
Jacob’s brother Frank was killed a week earlier, and David had not been heard from since they received a letter reporting he had been taken prisoner by the Germans.
The youngest son, Jacob, spent two months in the hospital, recovering after a blast from a Nazi mortar. He came home partially blind, but with renewed health, and ready to marry Marla. Two days later, they sat in a darkened hall, surrounded by the kind of fear that only comes from love.
Will we have trouble leaving the city this late?
No, my father made sure we’d be okay.
I still wish we could stay. Isn’t there any way we could?
We won’t be safe here. It’s better this way.
What about your parents?
They’re too old to run away, but don’t worry they’ll be fine.
Marla could see the fear in her husband’s eyes. It comforted her knowing she wasn’t alone.
I want to marry you again when this is all over. I don’t want anyone to be there though, just you and me. Are you listening Jacob?
Yes, of course, just you and me.
A rickety old man stood up and raised his glass for a toast. He smiled at the young couple and began to speak in Yiddish.
Jacob leaned over, and whispered the translation in Marla’s ear.
…in the end all we have are the people we give ourselves too, and the reasons we give ourselves to them.
continued in part 2…