My Best Man by John Mancini
I had the ring. All I had to do was stand there and put it on Deb’s finger. But when the day finally came, I knew I wasn’t ready. The anticipation of actually getting married was frying my nerves—which is why my brother Eddie and I were sitting at the bar drinking Heineken before the coordinator came to tell me it was time to go.
Eddie was already married, and he said it was going to be easy. Then he tried to say something about how happy he was, but he choked up and couldn’t get through half of it. Eddie was always crying about something he was actually supposed to be happy about. I told him it was better he cried now rather than later when he had to give his speech. I hugged him, told him I understood, and thanked him for being the best man at my wedding. Then he gave me the pills, and I washed them down with a swig of beer.
Two hours later, I was standing on the altar, but I might as well have been standing on the moon. The priest asked me if I had the ring, and I thought he meant something else entirely. The ring was a concept with which I was unfamiliar. Then I saw my nephew, Arnold, dressed in the tiniest tuxedo I’d ever seen in my life, and he was holding a little silk pillow, and I knew then what the priest had meant. I could see the diamond winking at me as Arnold meandered up the aisle. Somewhere about halfway up, he looked at me and froze. It was almost as if he didn’t know who I was or whether or not he should trust me. Then he kind of veered off to the side like he was looking for the exit.
Eddie jumped down off the altar and started chasing Arnold down the aisle trying to get the ring from off the little pillow. Then Arnold thought it was a game they were playing and he wouldn’t let Eddie catch him, and everybody was laughing at their routine, but I was still standing up there with Deb, sweating my ass off in my rented tux.
Finally, Eddie snatched the ring off the pillow and held it out for me to take, but when I stepped over the long train on Deb’s bridal gown, I felt as if I were trying to step over a waterfall that spilled down the steps and into the aisle. It looked like a river flowing down a mountainside. It had these shiny parts that caught the light and made it seem like it was moving. I tried not to look. I reached for the ring and closed my fist around it, but when I spun back around I sort of lost sense of where I was. I had one leg up in the air, and for a second I thought I’d make it if I could just figure out where to put my foot down. I was kind of hovering there with these rapids rushing under me—or what I thought were rapids—feeling the spray off them, wobbling on one leg with one polished shoe poised mid-air, just looking for a place to stick my landing. I noticed then there was a silence in the room as if somebody had suddenly turned off the air conditioning—only there was no air conditioning and everybody in the church was sitting perfectly still, stuffed into their seats, holding their breath and watching me, waiting to see what I was going to do next.
What I did was fall—missed the top step, stumbled down the other two and landed on my back. The crowd erupted in a fit of laughter. Even the priest was laughing. I could feel the rented tux sticking to my skin. I looked up at Deb and saw her shaking her head at me as if she knew I was “on something.” I wanted to smile at her, but I was mesmerized by those high walls and that tall ceiling above her, all that stained glass and those holy faces up there.
Then I laughed too, but not because I thought it was funny or because I felt embarrassed. I laughed because the devil was on the ceiling eating people with his hands and feet, and snakes were coming out of his ears. He stood in a pit of people who couldn’t seem to pull each other out of the fiery sea fast enough. The water was red and it rippled down the walls of the church and ran right into that carpet, which rushed across the altar and came together with Deb’s gown and tugged at me like a cross current trying to rip me away from there. One naked man, I noticed, was being roasted while other people pointed their fingers and gestured obscenely or turned away in disgust and ran as fast as they could from the horrible scene. Somehow, I knew it would last forever, just like marriage itself, and I wanted to hide my face, but the walls seemed to lean toward me, and all those saints were peering down on me too, and they all looked just like my brother. And like him, they were all crying. And just as those angels were about to fly in with the crown and the chalice and what I guess would have been the light of the lord, one of those poor weeping saints held out a merciful hand, and I reached up and grabbed on so I wouldn’t wind up like all those other suckers boiling away in that fiery sea.
Of course, it turned out not to be the hand of a saint at all—or of God or the devil. It was just my brother Eddie, my best man, smiling from one side of his face to the other. “Don’t try,” he said.
John Mancini’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in New World Writing, SmokeLong Quarterly, McSweeney’s online, Akashic Books online, Pindeldyboz, and elsewhere. His debut novel was chosen as a semi-finalist in North American Review’s Gas Station Pulp contest, and he won the San Francisco Browning Society’s Dramatic Monologue contest. He received an MFA from SF State, an MA from the University of Southern Mississippi, and a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design.