By David Karp
After an hour or so of reminiscing, she followed his gaze as he looked out the window. He had a clear view of the road from the booth they were sitting in with its peeling red leather. The streetlights, shining their bloodied pink hue, led further on into the distance until there was just the darkness of a South Jersey country road. No stars. No moon. Just lines on the road until there weren’t any.
They had come to this exact diner the night before their wedding ten years ago. They were all nerves in their twenty year old bodies back then, so he had suggested they jump into his white Plymouth Fury with a dent on the side and many miles old and go for a long drive.
They drove down the turnpike in a night just as dark. They drove and they drove until they felt as if they were in another world and stumbled onto that very diner beside a country road they didn’t even know they had turned onto.
The truth is they never really wanted a wedding. It was their parents who wanted it (and hers paying for it, as his family couldn’t afford something as extravagant as her family seemed to want. And yes, this did make a riff between the families. Not as extreme as the Capulets and the Montagues, but it didn’t seem too far from their reality either.) They didn’t want the fanfare. They didn’t want the attention. They didn’t want the money and the gifts. They just wanted to be together. She had even thought of hiding the fact of their intent to get married from her parents, but he insisted over and over to be honest.
He didn’t necessarily regret it, but…
She handed him a photo. He turned it over to look at it.
“Oh, wow.” His eyes lit up. “I thought this would be ashes.”
“They found it the day after and they looked just as amazed as you do.”
He looked at her white dress, flowing on her body like ocean waves in the summertime. Her brunette hair matching her brown eyes; the eyes he so loved looking into.
“I must say, you always looked good in that suit.”
“Really?” He looked at the grey suit hugging his body in the photo, but maybe not perfectly fitted. It had been his father’s wedding suit. He remembered the black tie clenching his throat just a little too tight. But he lived to tell the tale without suffocating.
He then looked at her eyes in the photo and then his own.
“I don’t know,” he said, “we don’t exactly look like we want to be there.”
“That’s because we didn’t, stupid.”
They both laughed, with heart. And they looked into each other’s eyes with a smile.
Her eyes glanced at her silver watch and she noticed the time. Almost midnight. His laughter faded just a bit, but hers had turned into a frown.
“I kinda wish we didn’t have to be here. Like this.” she said softly and sad.
His laughter made a full stop.
“CLOSING UP IN A FEW MINUTES, KIDS” said the waitress from behind the silver counter across the room as she was polishing some of the coffee mugs until the neon lights above made the shine on them that she liked.
His eyes wandered out the window and down the road again. Darkness. That’s all.
And in the silence, as his mind started its unwanted daydreaming again of the world after this moment, she took his hands and held them. A bit surprised, he turned to her and saw both the sadness and the sympathy in her eyes, and it kept him warm, even if his heart was still shivering and his head was still lost somewhere down the road.
“I think it’s time to head out.” she said, smiling as bright as she could.
He turned his eyes once more towards the road, took a deep breath, and responded. “Alright.”
After putting enough cash to cover the meal and a generous tip, they slid out of the booths and walked towards the exit, the waitress too fixated on her task until they were too far out the door to say goodbye.
They stopped in the middle of the parking lot and stood there facing each other.
“Can I keep this?” he said, holding up the wedding photo.
He put it in his jeans jacket pocket.
“Do you think we’ll make the news?” she asked, a nervous adrenaline in her voice.
He shrugged and looked up into the dark night.
“Alright.” she said, getting her keys out of her pocket and handing them to him.
“Alright.” he replied, smiling as he took them.
And as she turned to walk away, he asked: “So this is it, huh?”
She turned back and really looked into his brown eyes. She wanted to remember them; the ones she had stared into so many times for the last decade.
For the last lifetime.
“See you on the other side.” The only words she could find. And with a smile, she turned and walked away, towards the road.
Towards the darkness.
He watched her pass under every traffic light. A gust of wind crept steadily past him, feeling colder than it really was. He heard the lock of the diner door behind him, but it felt like it was coming from miles and miles away as he retreated into his head.
She looked so beautiful in the night.
Eventually, she slipped away into the darkness.
Writing Exercise: “Wedding Pictures” by Jayne Anne Phillips