Tonight What Faces by Rick Bailey

I’m looking in the mirror, wondering if I can be an honest best man. Outside the October air is balmy. In the distance I hear lawnmowers. I tie my tie, thinking about my remarks. The promise of your life together. A miracle you found each other.

The off-chance you stay together.

Unless I stage a pre-emptive strike in the next half hour– Odell, is this a good idea? –by the time I say anything, it will be too late.

My wife calls from downstairs. Get a move on. Her heels click to the bottom of the stairway. “He seems so sweet,” she says. “How come he never got married till now?”

He’s a sweetheart. He’s got a history. Out of jail and out of work, new to rehab. Possibly deep in debt. When we were nineteen, still very drunk one summer morning, he climbed the Indian Springs fire tower in Au Sable forest to watch the sun come up. Sixty feet up, singing “Thirty Days in the Hole” at the top of his lungs.

Third time I tie, the knot looks good. “You talk to Trish last night?”

“They want to borrow our car,” she says. “Come on, already.”

That night at their reception, I lean against the bar and watch Odell on the dance floor with Trish. The first night of the rest of their lives. Odell’s doing what he calls the “Proud Mary-Go-Round.” Trish is mostly airborne, loving it.

A man with a camera leans on the bar next to me. “There’s faces for you,” he says, nodding toward them.

I lift my glass, toasting. That’s my job.

He holds out his hand. “Dietrich.” He orders scotch, turns back to the dance floor, and starts up a wheezy laugh. He has a white schnauzer beard. I’m guessing he’s seventy.

I ask how long he’s been shooting weddings.

“Is this a wedding?” He looks at me kind of squinty-eyed, smiles, and raises his camera. “Okay I take you?”

I lift my glass. He shoots, lowers the camera, then raises it and shoots another.

Ten years, he says. “I shoot sunrises and faces,” he says. “Like this,” he snaps his fingers, “you gotta be ready.”

I tell him about me and Odell, sunrise on the fire tower, Odell singing his heart out.

Dietrich lifts his glass, clinks mine. “To the happy couple.” His whole face is smiling, like he’s in reverse gravitational pull. He jiggles the ice cubes in his drink and says, “Faces and sunrises.”

When I get to the mic an hour or so later, Odell and Trish have both taken their shoes off and are fast becoming unbuttoned. I cough the room to attention and blather them best wishes. My wife nods me okay.

We toast. Odell and Trish slobber wet kisses all over each other. Tonight, what faces they have.

Dietrich is gone.


Rick Bailey has written two collections of essays, American English, Italian Chocolate (2017) and The Enjoy Agenda (2019).  His third collection, Get Thee to a Bakery, will be published Spring 2021. All published by University of Nebraska Press. He and his wife divide their time between homes in Michigan and Italy (Republic of San Marino). 

Photograph by Nick de Partee.


The NFFR and Rick Bailey Interview

Is your MicroLife essay related to anything else you’ve written or are working on?

“Tonight What Faces” is a departure for me. One of my goals for my work over the next year or so is to go short. The essays I write tend to be short form, 1500-4000 words, often with 2-3 narrative threads and side moves into literature, history, and science. For example, in American English, Italian Chocolate, in an essay about kissing, I recall an early mouth-to-mouth experience, in eighth grade, in Frank Johnson’s garage, with my first girlfriend, shifting focus from that story to kissing in movies (first movie kiss, a Thomas Edison film in 1896), and then to the language of kissing, from Latin, to French, to the contemporary American expression “suck face.”

Apart from its brevity, how do you feel flash creative nonfiction differs from other types of essays?

Flash and micro remind me of the curious point we have arrived at in the history of literacy. These short works read like quick updates (think diary entry morphing into blog post). They function like screen captures, exploring moments with rich emotional terrain, much like I was taught to think of the lyric poem and later the prose poem.  Flash seems calibrated for the contemporary attention span conditioned by digital literacy, but in a good way.

How has this unusual year affected your writing and reading?

When I think quarantine, I think of Boccaccio and the role of narrative and storytelling, as a distraction from a dangerous world, as a review of ultimate questions, and as an act of pure pleasure. I’ve had way more time to write and read over the past unusual year. Times have felt apocalyptic. In 1974 I crossed the Irish Sea from Hollyhead to Dublin, arriving the morning after a bombing. This year has felt like that. My reading has been mostly escapist. Patrick DeDitt’s The French Exit, for example. When the smoke from the West coast fires reached the Midwest, the sun was blood red one morning. I thought about Don Delillo’s White Noise and the airborne toxic event, and re-read that novel. I’ve spent more time in digital writing communities, which has led me to flash and micro.