Woodland Wedding

Carla was the one who put them up to it. She found the old wedding dress in the bottom of her mother’s trunk, and made Beth hold still while she pinned it in the back. She picked the white flower for Ronny’s buttonhole and used a wet comb to flatten down his hair. I just carried Beth’s train as we walked into the woods.

We were seven years old that spring. Carla was nine. Her eyes were two different colors; we would do anything for her.

That day she led us to the most beautiful place in the forest, a clearing at the edge of the gorge where the maple branches curved to form a bower. The morning rain still glittered on the leaves; the grass was new, and fine as hair. Carla set the couple up against the backdrop of the gorge. She told me I was the photographer. She told me to make my hands into a lens.

Next Beth and Ronny had to say the vows. They were to love, cherish, and obey one another till death did them part. They repeated the words shyly, halting, and Carla made them do it again until they could speak unblushing into each other’s faces. Then she told them to kiss and they did so, once, with a little clicking sound. I pressed an invisible shutter button and felt real pride at having gotten a good shot.

Then she told them to step back. Ronny looked at Beth, and he looked over his shoulder, but they didn’t move.

“You have to,” said Carla, “or you aren’t really married.”

Beth began to cry, but she didn’t run, and she didn’t drop Ronny’s hand. I took a picture as the tears rolled down her cheeks.

“What are you afraid of?” Carla asked. “You can’t get hurt on your wedding day.”

It came to me that she was wrong. I was old enough to know what would happen if they stepped back into the gorge. I thought of running to them and pulling them away. But I had to hold the camera. So I stood where I was, and they stepped back, and I snapped a picture of the bare air where they had been.

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