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My (Almost) First Wife

I thought long and hard about it, and I eventually concluded that yes, it was time to start those bells a-ringing again. No, not those bells, not the kind I told you about recently whose harsh atonal clanging heralds a flood of phenethylamine into the brain subsequent to the introduction of large amounts of a particular crystalline hydrochloride preparation whose widespread recreational use is, in Mendocino County and elsewhere, creating a sizable population subset of hopelessly amoral nocturnal vermin. Not those. I'm talking about the melodious tones of matrimonial bells.

I hadn't been in a condition of matrimony for quite some time, not since an acrimonious split left me broker than a two-part stick and full of bitterness and rancor for the entire race of women from Eve up to the last female born, even Harriet Tubman and Eleanor Roosevelt. Even, in keeping with modern acceptance of fluid gender identity, transgender women. That's right, new ladies. You take on their baggage, too. I'd have turned gay if I could have mustered the necessary inclination, but no soap. I remain, for better or worse, enslaved to the charms of the fairer sex.

I realize this is an unfair and indefensible position to take, allowing the actions of one woman to color my opinion of billions of blameless people, but I had since softened my stance on the gender and was rested and ready for further punishment.

The focus of my desire to pair-bond with the express approval of God and the State of California was the lovely Christine, who regular readers of mine will recall is slightly less not insane than the average sane person. She is a product of the Redwood Valley, which may go some way toward explaining her skewed perspective.

Now. I'm not saying everybody in Redwood Valley is crazy, and I'm not saying they're not. I am saying that when I was employed in preparing breakfasts for the locals at the Redwood Valley Diner, they frequently requested omelet fillings from classes of foods not normally associated with breakfast — things they would sometimes have to bring in themselves in little baggies and if that's not a good general indicator of the mental health (or lack of) of a region then I don't know what is. I could've been drummed out of the Brotherhood of Ethical Cookery.

I'm not sure what it was that prompted my desire to set those wedding bells tolling, perhaps a need for security, perhaps a brain chemically altered enough to ignore both the perils of marriage and the danger of marriage to a certifiable bedlamite, but I scheduled my proposal for one Friday night following a romantic dinner of roast capon arid Malibu cocktails, Christine's favorite.

She had, at the time, a dog, a large brain-dead Labrador named Mudge who did nothing but eat and hurl himself onto the carpet with a heavy sigh like a farmhand tossing a croker sack full of turnips, as if bemoaning the rigors of a life spent eating and sleeping, who I decided to enlist as an accomplice in my plan.

I purchased a ring which, though neither flashy nor extravagant, did cost two months salary (of a juvenile Victorian textile worker but still) and would suffice to lock in and advertise our betrothal.

Should I be accepted.

I rigged up an elastic band to the ring box and slipped it over Mudge's head so that the box rested on top of his extremely thick skull. I slipped a small square of pasteboard on which I'd calligraphically rendered "Will You Marry Me?" under the box and bade Mudge lay down there in the bedroom until summoned, a command I felt certain he'd have no problem obeying.

Back-at the table, our dinner was winding down and we were filling in the corners and on our fourth Malibu and Coke. I was about ready to call in the dog when Christine said, "I'm going to give Mudge a piece of turkey. Here, Mudgie! Com’on, boy!"

From the bedroom came the sound of Mudge laboriously getting to his feet and plodding, oxen-like. down the hall.

Looking fairly ridiculous with the ring box strapped to his melon, he approached the table and laid his head in Christine's lap. "What's this boy? Whatcha got?" She pulled out the note.

"Will you marry me? Oh, Mudgie honey! I love you. I really do but I don't know if I'd be allowed to marry you! There might be a law against it."

I thought it might be time to intervene and said, "Um, honey? It's me. I want to marry you.”

"You want to marry me?"

I nodded.

"Well the dog did ask me first. I couldn't very well say no to him and then yes to you right after, could I? That wouldn’t be very nice."

"No, sweetie, I mean it was me-all along. That's my note, and my ring in that box. I just thought it would be cute for him to deliver the proposal, like in a commercial or something."

"So Mudge doesn't want to get married?"

"No. I mean. I don't think so. I don’t pretend to know the heart of a dog, maybe he does, but he hasn't signaled to me any matrimonial intentions, not in any language the two of us share. I, however, bought you a ring, contrived this scenario, and even now wait patiently to know if you're going to make me the happiest and slightly less confused man on earth."

I dropped to one knee, extracted the ring from its box, and gazed up at my intended intended. "What do you say babe? I know I'm no Labrador, but will you marry me?"

She pulled me up to her level, looked deeply into my eyes, said, "Yes," and in that moment conveyed to me a message of pure love, untinged by any neurosis or psychopathology that frankly shook me a little.

Most of my interaction with Christine was conducted in a fairly blithe and unguarded manner, given her oblique perspective and unpredictable responses which lent an air of screwball comedy to our lives, but I'd penetrated somehow to some unassailable core and it was a powerfully moving moment.

"Excellent," I said. "Now we need to tell your parents.”

I was acquainted with them and they didn't seem to think much of me, though they really didn't seem to think too much of Christine either. Typical dug-in Redwood Valley rednecks, they rarely ventured off the property except for brief excursions to the casino. Christine called and invited them to come over for dinner a few days hence without telling them why, and after some whining and cajoling and promising to pay for the fuel expenditure, secured an acceptance.

The appointed day arrived and Leland and Theresa Devereaux waddled into our Dora Street apartment, grumbling in a nonspecific way about the various trials they'd already endured in traveling the 11 miles to Ukiah and hoping it'd be worth it.

"What's for dinner?" Leland asked after casting his substantial bulk onto the sofa.

"Pork chops, twice-baked potatoes, and sweet corn,” I said, having chosen a menu I thought might appeal to a couple of rural heavyweights. "Cherry cobbler and ice cream for dessert."

Leland grunted in a manner I chose to interpret as approval and Theresa said, "They ain't no lychee nuts in it, is there? I'm allergic to lychee nuts."

"No, I don't put lychee nuts in my pork chops, whatever they are. Anyone want a beer?"

"Bout damn time," Leland said.

"Long as it's 'Mexican," Theresa chimed in.

Christine and her folks settled down in the living room with their drinks as I attended to dinner in the kitchen. Leland held forth volubly on the various ailments of the dogs, the effrontery of the neighbors, the unsuitability of the weather, and those damn thieving Indians down at the casino.

"Ding-dong?" I said, once the potatoes had acquired a perfect golden crust. "Come 'n' get it."

We dug in and after ripping through his first chop and stabbing another, Leland said, "So, you asked us here for some damn reason, what is it?"

Christine hoisted her glass high in the air and said triumphantly. "We're getting married!”

"Oh, hell no," said Theresa, dropping her fork onto her plate.

"You're even crazier'n she is,” Leland said, looking at me. "What in the hell do you want to do that for?"

Okay. So I wasn't going to be nestled into the welcoming bosom of the Devereaux family.

"Uh. I love her? Want to spend the rest of my life with her? The usual reasons."

"In case you haven't noticed, she's nuttier than a fuckin' fruitcake.” Theresa said.

“That's a very sensitive and well-considered diagnosis, but I believe that Christine and I understand each other. Right, honey?" I said, patting her on the leg.

"I have to go to the bathroom,” she said, not moving.

"These are damn good chops," Leland said. He'd abandoned cutlery and held his third chop by its narrow end in his left hand and a potato half in his right.

“Well, y'all do whatever you want to, but do us a favor and don't send us an invitation,” Theresa said.

"So, we have your blessing'?" I said.

"What're you, some kinda smartass?" Theresa said.

"How’s that cobbler coming?" Leland asked.

"I think I'll go ahead and marry the dog,” Christine said.

This comment didn't appear to faze either of them, who continued eating and occasionally looking up and shaking their heads at us.

At least the meal was a success. All the chops and potatoes were dispatched, and when I brought out the warm, crisp cobbler served with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, both parental units gave out with a "Da-a-a-mn."

"Cook like this, I'll divorce this fat fuck and marry you myself." Theresa said.

"You're welcome to her." Leland.said.

"Aw. shucks," I said.

Meal concluded, the senior Devereaux stood to go and I gave them ten bucks gas money. "Thanks for coming, and we'll let you know once we get the wedding plans firmed up,” I said.

"Long as you understand we won't be contributing," Theresa said. "Maybe we'll come if it ain't too far away. Whyncha get hitched at the casino?"

"I'll look into it," I said.

Christine and I never did get that knot tied, though we did choose a quaint little spot in Lakeport for the nuptials. As far as I know, were still engaged and I may just attempt to exercise the rights of the betrothed once I hit the bricks, if she's amenable. We haven't spoken for five and a half years but I have a way of lingering in the subconscious like a traumatic event, so when I show back up all the feelings are likely to come flooding back. Ding, dong!

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