Joanie hated weddings. All the bullshit that goes along with them, too. The cake, flowers, the very words “You may kiss the bride,” made her want to vomit all over the dance floor. So, it was to everyone’s surprise that Joanie grew up to become a wedding planner. And a damned good one, at that.
In the past year she had supervised the nuptuals of thirty-three happily wedded couples. “Happily wedded.” Another term known to tickle her gag reflex. Because there was one thing constant to all the weddings she’d overseen: certainly not happily wedded. If anything there was a vacuum of happy. Joanie could see it all over their faces. The groom with his thousand-yard stare. The bride’s smile so wide, you could park a 747 right through her teeth. The respective in-laws, wringing their hands (honey, two-thirds of all marriages end in divorce). And the guests -- weepy-eyed some of them, with their Canon Powershots at the ready -- unaware they were witness to catastrophe.
Come to think of it, there hadn’t been a single couple Joanie’d worked for that she could honestly say were “in love.” She had known love well with Brad, her boyfriend of nine months, who was killed in an unfortunate cement mixer accident. He was to propose, she found out, when the authorities discovered the engagement ring while excavating his corpse from half a ton of concrete. She retreated inward after this, and began to despise the very people she called clients. Had Brad been alive and able to pop the question, would Joanie feel any different? Perhaps. Probably.
They were Kenneth and Dana -- soon to be Mr. and Mrs. Feister-Harris. Kenneth (not Ken) was a droll, soft talker of a man who’d clearly relinquished command of the wedding to Dana, a control freak who remarked to Joanie, upon numerous occasions, that this was her “blessing wedding, and it’s going to go according to blessing plan.”
Joanie turned her pent-up hatred toward the minutiae of bridaldom. Dana’s dress was like a glove and not a strand of hair was askew. Everything would be “blessing” perfect, right on down to the flowers woven into the lattice work of the altar, where Joanie found herself directing her attention this morning.
Fernando, her flower guy, had gotten sick during prep. A nosebleed, she heard from the caterer. Joanie had to drive to the site in order to finish what he’d started, despite herthrobbing sinus infection (she was sometimes prone to these). Mouth breathing was not Joanie’s preferred method of respiration, but this morning it would have to do.
She quietly cursed to herself as she wove the stems into the cheap plywood trellis in the arrangement Dana had picked out months ago -- a gigantic heart to swallow them whole.
The flowers came from an exotic island off the coast of Borneo. When Dana insisted they be special ordered (spiking the budget of the service through the roof) all she had was a low-res picture on her iPhone, and an address with a funky name and a stretch of numbers tacked on the end. “A friend of a friend said she saw them at her cousin’s wedding and they were just stunning. Stunning, you know?” Whatever Dana wanted she’d have. This was the slavery Joanie had sold herself into.
It was only when she saw them in person that she understood what Dana’s fuss was worth. They were spectacular blossoms. Psychedelically colored, no two were exactly the same. They surely had an intoxicating aroma; if only Joanie could unstuff her nose to smell them. She reached to carefully cradle them from inside the box and noticed a residue, a sticky, pink mist, perhaps insecticide or... well, if Joanie really let her imagination run wild, the inside of those boxes were speckled with blood. A morbid thought on this, a wedding day.
- - -
And now, Pastor Mike got the part everyone was waiting for. A few more words and Joanie could get on home and shut the shades and let this throbber of a skull-cramp subside.
“...to have and to hold, from this day forward?” Pastor Mike posed the question like a pro. Dana smiled and said: “I do.”
“I now pronounce you husband and wife. Kenneth, you may ki... You may kiss... you mah-- Excuse me...”
Pastor Mike’s nose scrunched up. His left eye twitched like he was about to sneeze. And sneeze he did. Once, twice, five times in a row, and didn’t show signs of stopping. Joanie watched from the rear-most pew, tickled at the sight of an allergy-prone pastor and, especially, Dana’s bridal bitch-gaze. After at least a dozen volleys, pastor Mike, held his hand up. “It must be these derned flowersssss--”
Kaaaaachuuummm! Even from Joanie’s vantage point, she could see the red flecks of mucus splatter Dana’s pearlescent gown. Kenneth groaned, Dana gasped, and Pastor Mike wiped his nose on the back of his hand, only to see more red smeared there.
“I’m sorry about this folks,” pastor Mike said, only to launch into another fit. Joanie knew she’d catch shit for this after the fact, but if a tickle of the nose was the worst that could happen...
Slowly, like a ripple effect through the crowd, there echoed the cacophonous sound of more and more violent expulsions. Joanie’s gaze flitted to the cuppola, covered in flowers. The stations of them at the end of each row of guests. As the hankies came out, there was no two ways about it: these damned flowers were to blame. The woman next to Joanie snorted red into her cupped hands. Joanie backed away and suddenly became the world champion of mouth breathing.
Pastor Mike clearly had it the worst and blood was now trickling down his mouth and chin. He moaned something incoherent, then he lunged for Kenneth, the sudden bulge in Pastor Mike’s eyes the last detail she could make out. Dana tried to intervene, but Pastor Mike shoved her away into the lattice work. Joanie watched Pastor Mike wrap his hands around Kenneth’s bow-tied throat and begin to choke him so hard she could see the veins glisten on the minister’s arm.
By now, people on both the bride and groom’s side were having violent reactions to whatever pollen was in the air. Grandma hocked a clot-filled lugie onto Grandpa’s cumber bun before attacking him, squishing his eyeballs between her arthritic fingers. Uncle Martin was strangling his nephew Richie in the aisle. Everything was tinged red.
A scream snapped Joanie’s attention back to the altar, where Dana rose from the crushed heart of flowers like some Romero wet dream. Joanie covered her mouth when she saw Dana shove Pastor Mike from atop Kenneth, then gasped as Dana threw herself at the man who was moments away from becoming her partner, and twist his head all the way ‘round.
“I blessing luuuuuhfff you!” Dana screamed. “Luuuuuhhhhfff!” She stalked on toward the videographer (Stan, a reliable guy) and tackled him out of Joanie’s eyesight.
Grandma was chanting something similar: “My beloved, my beloved, my beluuuuuuuhved,” as Grandpa staggered around looking for his eyes. Even little Richie was getting praised by uncle Marty as he gave his neck the indian burn from hell: “You’re such a dear! You’re a sweet little dear, you are!” And Joanie couldn’t help but wonder what kind of toxins went to which part of the brain in order cause people to pummel their loved ones while at the same time professing their fondest emotions for them. It was the purest form of crazy. Joanie’s sinus infection became a pulsing thing in her skull and the need to get the fuck out of here overwhelmed her--
One of the bride’s maids sneezed a gout of pink mist onto Joanie’s leg as she crawled across the center aisle. Joanie got a look at her eyes -- bloodshot, tearing with allergic reaction -- before the woman lurched forward and asked: “Are you my sweethaaaaaaaaahhrt? Please be my sweeeettthaaaarr--”
The toe of Joanie’s pump connected with the woman’s jaw, silencing her. But the din of the rest of the guests crescendoed and Joanie realized she was going to have a tough go-round getting out of here. Fucking weddings.
And the love zombies descended upon her.