From “Gargoyles” (The Reverse Cowgirl)

Darla Griffith threw back her head and laughed — a shamelessthroat-baring laugh.   She laughed so hard her wine spun around in its glass and spilled all over her hand.  She laughed so hard her gown, which was red and vintage and treacherously tight, threatened to blow its seams.

She laughed because Richard Finch had told a joke. Richard, with his big brown cow eyes and chiselled jaw, had told a joke. It had something to do with the groom’s father, the way he looked in his tux when he danced. Darla wasn’t sure exactly, because it wasn’t really the joke she was laughing at. She was laughing because she was full of medication and sparkling wine and prime rib, and she was really, really happy to be alive.

She set the wineglass down, wiped her hand on the tablecloth, and reached over to touch the sleeve of Richard’s tailored grey suit.

“You’re bad,” she said.

“I am bad, it’s true,” Richard said. “I’m a bad man.”

 “Wayward and misguided.”

 “A hopeless case.”

 “Do you have a light?”

“I do.”

Richard reached for a candle in the centre of the table. Darla pulled a cigarette from her pack, leaned forward, and, with cunning strategy, placed her cleavage directly under Richard’s nose.

“Thank you very much,” she said.

 “The pleasure is mine.”

 It was a sleet-soaked Saturday evening, the middle of February. The place: the East 3 Reception Hall of the Westchester Inn, on Wellington Road. The occasion: a joyful one — the fairy-tale wedding of what’s their names, the uptight blond and the rich, affable dork. What were their names? Darla couldn’t remember. But the consensus among the guests was that it was the most beautiful wedding anyone had ever seen, the bride the most radiant, the ceremony the most touching, the reception the most jubilant. Whatever. Darla was here for the open bar.

“So how long do you give them?” Richard asked.

“Give who?”

“Tim and Tanya.”

“Tim and . . .”

“The happy couple.”

Tim and Tanya. Those were their names.

“Five years,” Darla said.

“That long? Really?”

“Why, what do you give them?”

“Two at most. Knowing Tanya, that’s being generous.”

“Why is that generous?”

“Let’s just say,” Richard cleared his throat, “she thrives on novelty.”

Darla didn’t know the bride, had never even seen the bride bfore this afternoon. She didn’t know the groom, either. Nor, for that matter, did she know or recognize any one of the three hundred guests who had attended the wedding, aside from her date — who wasn’t  really a date, just a friend she occasionally slept with who needed some arm candy — and Richard. Richard Finch, with his eyes and jaw and perfectly cut suit. She’d been sitting with him at the reception hall’s darkest, most isolated table, drinking, secretly smoking, and trashing the other revellers for the last hour and a half.

“You ever notice,” Darla said, “that brides are kind of creepy-looking?”

“Now that you mention it.”

“All the makeup and frills. They look like nineteenth-century call girls.”

“Sounds about right. Sounds like Tanya.”

Darla clawed at the air. “Meow.”

“What?”

Aren’t you a friend of hers?”

“Since college.”

“Is this the way you talk about your friends?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

Darla watched him as he spoke, watched his mouth, his hair, watched the way he pulled at his wedding band as he gazed around the reception hall. It had been eleven years since she’d set eyes on him. Eleven years since high school. She didn’t remember him being this attractive in high school, but, truth be told, she couldn’t remember much about him at all. He was a zero, a nonentity.

He wasn’t a nerd or a jock or a stoner. He was nothing, completely unremarkable. Still, when she’d seen him earlier today, in one of the church pews, she knew immediately who he was. She’d recognized him instantly, and with that recognition had come a corrosive feeling of regret: she’d never fucked him.

She’d never even thought to fuck him. And look at him now.

“So, do you mind if I ask you a stupid question?” she said.

“The stupider the better.”

“Where’s your wife?”

“My wife?”

She nodded at his ring finger. “Your wife.”

“Oh. Melissa. She’s not here.”

“So I see.”

Richard poured himself another glass of wine. “I’m appearing in pro per. She’s at home. With the kid. She had work to catch up on.”

“That’s a shame.”

 “Uh-huh.”

 “I’d like to meet Melissa. What does she do?”

“Lawyer.”

 “Ooh. A two-attorney family.”

“Aren’t we impressive?”

 “I’m totally impressed.”

 “That’s right. You could put us on a postcard.”

“And what about your daughter?” Darla said, pressing a finger into her temple. “What’s her name?”

“Emily.”

“That’s a beautiful name. A beautiful name for a . . . for a . . .”

But Darla couldn’t finish her sentence because she suddenly felt very weird; her eyes lost focus, her limbs went limp. She sagged in her chair, let the cigarette fall from her fingers.

“Darla? Are you okay?”

“A beautiful name for . . . of course I’m all right,” she said, but she wasn’t entirely sure about that. Wasn’t sure she was even saying it or whether this was just another one of her messed-up dreams.

“Darla? Can you hear me?”

“It’s the light,” she said.

“The light?”

The reception hall was full of shifting light. In the centre of the room the guests danced in a pulsing green pool of it. Over their heads, a mirror ball pelted the walls with little red and blue diamonds. On every one of the forty-odd tables, cheap scented candles flickered and guttered. What this translated into, inside Darla’s head, in the traumatized space behind her eyes, was a kaleidoscope of broken, flashing reflections.

“I’m not so good with light anymore. Since the accident.

It makes my head throb. It’ll pass in a second.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

“You could put your arm around me. Would you mind?”

“Um, no, of course.” Richard pulled his seat forward and scooped an arm around her waist. “Is that better?”

“Much,” Darla said, laying her head on his shoulder. “That’s much better.”

“Should I try to find a doctor?”

“No, no, it’s okay. It’s just a spell. It’ll pass in a second. Really.

I swear.”

Copyright © David Whitton