By Joshua Bohnsack
Benjamin pulled into the farm he had visited only a month prior. He parked his Civic in the pasture alongside a Dodge pickup and walked up the hill. His suit had already started chafing his stout legs and he was sure he had sweated through his undershirt. It was only a matter of time before the perspiration soaked through to his blue, collared button up. He removed the RSVP from his jacket pocket, addressed to Charles Hyatt, followed by a checked box before the words “plus one,” and placed the card on the passenger’s seat.
Charles’ father, Randy, greeted him with a firm handshake, “we’re so glad you could make it, Ben.”
“I wouldn’t miss this day for anything.” Benjamin smiled back, pushing his glasses further up his nose. “How are the bride and groom?”
Randy glanced around as if he were searching for Mike, but Benjamin couldn’t help but feel Randy was simply avoiding eye contact with him. “They’re around here somewhere. Julie is in the house. Mike’s probably making sure the barn is set for the reception. He put in all that work cleaning up around here, I’m sure he doesn’t want anything to get messed up.”
“I heard you poured new concrete and everything. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to help with preparations.”
“Come on now. We don’t expect you to do anything like that. Linda and I are just happy you came.”
The two men looked at each other, sincere in the mutual loss of Charles, whose funeral preceded the wedding by just thirty-seven days. Randy patted Benjamin’s shoulder, “Take a seat in the front row. Linda will be out shortly. She reserved the front for immediate family.”
Benjamin nodded and turned toward the makeshift backyard chapel. Bales of straw became pews, a relative had crafted a plywood altar, and the lawn was mowed like a putting green to form an aisle for the bridal party.
Charles suffered a brain aneurysm a week after his twenty-ninth birthday. The funeral was held in his parents’ Methodist church and the wake was hosted at the farmhouse. Fortunately, it landed on a weekday and the would-be protestors were busy with work.
They had been together since college. They lived in Chicago, where Charles taught music at an elementary school and Benjamin worked for a logistics firm called Wolfe Logistics. He hated his company. It reminded him of high school, the way cliques formed and rumors traveled faster than the semis they were in charge of navigating. With days spent mapping truck routes and avoiding the harassment of his co-workers, it was a relief to come home to Charles, the fun-loving band teacher. Since his death, Benjamin had moved out of the apartment, unable to afford the suite on his own salary. He doubted he could stay, anyway, with the constant reminders that Charles was gone.
Guests were starting to fill in. Benjamin recognized some of the faces as Mike’s friends, and he already knew most of Charles’ family. Mike and Linda appeared from the house, arm-in-arm, the son walking his mother to her own straw bale, where she sat down next to Benjamin.
“Take good care of her, Ben,” Mike requested with a wink, giving him a half-hug. He had shaved his beard, revealing a jawline that Benjamin noticed was reminiscent of Charles’.
Linda leaned over to him, “It’s so good to see you here, Benjamin.”
“We weren’t sure when we didn’t get your RSVP back. Good thing we saved you a seat, huh?”
Benjamin nodded and his gaze shifted to his shoes. They were dress shoes Charles helped him pick out for his interview. Charles had insisted he get brown leather, when Benjamin had chosen black wingtips. “Brown means business. This way, they’ll know you’re serious.”
Fanfare began to play through the speaker system, and Benjamin felt his chest tightened as he watched Mike follow the path to the altar.
The bridal party came next, each pair stepping slightly out of sync, before separating on their respective sides of the groom.
The track switched over to “Here Comes the Bride,” and the guests’ heads turned in Julie’s direction. The couple was usually graced in band t-shirts and jeans, and Benjamin was in disbelief at how well they cleaned up when Mike wasn’t working on an organic garden and Julie wasn’t baking vegan pastries.
As the ceremony began, Benjamin found it difficult to breathe, though he typically wasn’t one to become emotional in public.
“Let us take a moment of silence to recognize Charles Hyatt, who could not be with us today.”
Everyone bowed their heads in prayer. Linda put her left hand atop Benjamin’s knee, making him feel even more uneasy. His breath became shallower.
He whispered to Linda, “I have to leave.”
Benjamin stood up and, despite Linda’s objections, walked around to the front of the house. As he left he could feel the sting of each set of eyes on the back of his neck. It was the same radiating heat he felt as a child when he broke a ten-point buck head in his father’s den. He stopped to sit on the front porch, put his face into his hands, and released the sobs he had held onto so tightly.
Joshua Bohnsack is a musician, printmaker and prose writer. Bohnsack is the founding editor of Long Day Press, a hand bound literary publication and co-operates an ice cream shop in rural Illinois with his family.
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