Note: The following story is reprinted from Brides and Sinners in El Chuco: Short Stories (University of Arizona Press) Copyright 2006 by Christine Granados. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
When the month of June rolls around, I have to buy the five-pound bride magazine off the rack at the grocery store. The photographs of white dresses, articles with to-do lists, and advertisements for wedding planners remind me of my older sister Rochelle’s wedding. She had been planning for her special day as far back as I can remember. Every year when she was a child, Rochelle dressed as a beautiful, blushing bride for Halloween. She sauntered her way down the hot, dusty streets of El Paso, accepting candy from our neighbors in her drawstring handbag. The white satin against Rochelle’s olive skin made her look so pretty that I didn’t mind the fact that we had to stop every three houses so she could empty the candy from her dainty bag into the ripped brown paper sack that I used for the journey. She had to drag me along with her—a reluctant Casper—because Mom made her, and because I could hold all her candy. Her thick black hair was braided, and she wore the trenzas in an Eva Peron-style moño. She spent hours in the bathroom, with her friend Prissy fixing her hair just right, only to cover her head with a white tulle veil.
As Rochelle did this, Mom would prepare my costume. Spent and uninspired after a long day at work, Mom would drape a sheet over me and cut out holes for eyes. It happened every year without fail. The fact that I couldn’t make up my mind what I wanted to be for Halloween exasperated my already exhausted mother even more. In a matter of minutes, I would list the Bionic Woman, a wrestler, a linebacker, a fat man, all as potential getups before it was time to trick-or-treat.
Ro, on the other hand, had her bridal dress finished days in advance, and she’d wear it to school to show it off. When people opened their doors to us, they would say, “Ay, qué bonita la novia, and your little brother un fantasma tan scary.” I’d have to clear things up at every house with, “I’m not a boy.” They would laugh and ask Rochelle if she had a husband. She would giggle and give them a name.
When she got too old for Halloween, she started getting serious about planning her own wedding. She bought bridal magazines and drew up plans, leaving absolutely no detail unattended. When it finally did happen, it was nothing like she had expected.
Rochelle was obsessed. Because all those ridiculous magazines never listed mariachis or dollar dances, she decided her wedding was going to have a string quartet, no bajo, horns, or anything, no dollar dance, and it was going to be in October. It was going to be a bland affair, outside in a tent, like the weddings up North in the “elegance of autumn” that she read about in the thick glossy pages of the magazines. I wasn’t going to tell her there is no “elegance” to autumn in El Paso. Autumn is either “scramble a huevo on the hood of your car hot,” or wind so strong the sand it blows stings your face and arms.
In the magazine pictures, all the people were white, skinny, and rich. All the women wore linen or silk slips that draped over their skeletal frames, and the men wore tuxedos or black suits and ties. She didn’t take into account that in those pages, there was no tía Trini, who we called Teeny because, at five-foot-two, she weighed at least three hundred pounds. The slip dress Rochelle wanted everyone to wear would be swallowed in Teeny’s cavernous flesh. And I never saw anyone resembling tío Lacho, who wore the burgundy tuxedo he got married in, two sizes too small, to every family wedding. The guests in the magazine weddings were polite and refined, with their long-stemmed wineglasses half full. No one ever got falling-down drunk and picked a fight, like Pilar. He would get so worked up someone would have to knock him out with a bottle of El Presidente. He was proud of the scars on his head, too, showing them off just before the big fight started.
Rochelle wanted tall white boys with jawbones that looked like they had been chiseled from stone to be her groomsmen; never mind the fact that we knew only one white boy, and he had acne so bad his face was blue. She also wanted her maid of honor to be pencil thin, although she would never admit it. Still, she was always dropping hints, telling her best friend, Prissy, that by the time they were twenty all their baby fat would be gone, and they would both look fabulous in their silk gowns. Never mind the fact that I, two years younger than Rochelle, could encircle my sister’s bicep between my middle finger and thumb, and that Prissy rested her Tab colas on her huge stomach when she sat. My sister was in denial. And it wasn’t just about her obese friend but about her entire life. She thought that if she planned every last detail of her wedding on paper, she could change who she was, who we were. Her lists drove me crazy.
She kept a running tally of the songs to be played by the band, adding and deleting as her musical tastes changed through the years. She carefully selected the food to be served to her guests. She resolutely decided what everyone in the family would be wearing. She even painstakingly chose what her dress would look like, down to the last sequin. But in order to marry, she needed a groom. And she was just as diligent about finding one as she was about the rest of the affair.
Every night before going to bed, she would pull out her pink wedding notebook and scratch a boy’s name off her list of potential husbands. She went through two notebooks in one year. She was always on the lookout for husbands. One time, Rochelle and I spent an entire Saturday morning typing up fake raffle tickets to sell to Mike, who lived two blocks over. Ro had never met Mike, but she liked his broad shoulders—thought they’d look good in a tuxedo. So she made up a story that she was helping me sell raffle tickets for my softball team. Ro didn’t let little things, like the truth, get in the way of her future. All the money raised would go into the team’s travel budget. She even made up first-, second-, and third-place prizes. First place would be a color TV, second place, a dinner for two at Fortis Mexican Food Restaurant, and third, two tickets to the movies. She said Mike was going to win third place, and when she delivered his prize, she was going to suggest he take her to the movies since she was the one who sold him the winning ticket. I thought my sister was a genius, until we got to the door and knocked. When Mike answered, Ro delivered her lines like she had been selling raffle tickets all day long. When he told us he had no money, we were shocked. Ro didn’t have a Plan B. Then, when his older brother came to the door and offered to buy all ten of the raffle tickets, we were speechless. All we could do was take his money, give him his stubs, and wish him luck. Ro was so upset her plan was a failure that she let me keep the ten dollars. Needless to say, Mike got scratched off her list.
Her blue notebook was where she compiled her guest list and either added or deleted a name depending on what had happened in school that day. I got scratched out six times in one month: for using all her sanitary napkins as elbow and knee pads while skating; for wearing her real silver concho belt and losing it at school; for telling Mom that Rochelle was giving herself hickeys on her arms; for peeking in her diary; for feeding her goldfish, Hughie, so much that he died; and especially, for telling her the truth about the food she planned to serve at her wedding. That final act kept me off the list for two months straight. She wanted finger foods like in Anglo weddings—sandwiches with the crusts cut off.
“Those cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches aren’t going to cut it, Ro,” I said through the cotton shirt I was taking off.
“My wedding is going to be classy,” she yelled at me from across the room, where she was sitting on top of her bed, smoothing lotion on her arms. “If you don’t want to eat my food, then you just won’t be invited.”
I laughed. Her nostrils were flaring pretty steady, and she was winding her middle finger around her ponytail. Then she reached under the mattress for her notebook, and my name, Lily, was off the list, just like that.
“I wouldn’t want to go spend hours at some dumb wedding when I was half starving anyway. Everybody’s going to faint before the dollar dance starts.”
She stopped writing, “There isn’t going to be a dollar dance.” Then she wrinkled her wide nose, “Too gauche.”
When I came back into the room after I had looked up the word, I told her, “I’m telling Mom you think she’s tacky. You’re carrying your gringa kick too far.” Before shutting the bedroom door, I poked my head in and yelled, “I’m glad I’m not invited. I don’t want to go to no white wedding.”
Later, I asked her how she expected to go on her Hawaii honeymoon without a dollar dance. “You plan on selling the cucumber sandwiches at the wedding?”
She wiped the sarcastic smile off my face when she said, “No. I’m going to have a money tree.” I told her that she was ridiculous and that she was going to be a laughingstock, not knowing how close my words were to the truth.
She didn’t care what anyone though. She said her wedding was hers, and it was one thing no one could ruin.
She kept up her lists as usual, but stopped physically adding to them in tenth grade- dropped and discarded as “too childish.” By then, the lists were committed to memory, and I knew that she mentally scratched ex-friends and ex-boyfriends off of it. Lance, Ruben, Abraham, Artie, Oscar, Henry, Joel, and who knows who else had all been potential grooms.
It turned out to be Angel. He was beautiful too- the Mexican version of the blond grooms in her magazines, right down to the cleft in his chin. He was perfect as l ong as he didn’t smile, because when he smiled, his chipped, discolored front tooth showed. Rochelle worried about it all the time. She’d pull out photographs they had taken together, and the ones he had given her, to study them, trying to figure out the right camera angle that would hide his flaw. Anytime she mentioned getting it capped, he would roll his large almond-shaped eyes and smile. They would kiss and that would be the end of the discussion.
I knew this because Rochelle always had to drag me along on her dates. It was the only way our mother would allow her out of the house with a boy. I was a walking-and-talking birth control device. When we got home, I would replay the night’s events for my mother. Funny, Ro relished the details of her wedding, but she never could stand for my instant replay of her dates. She would storm out of the living room when I would begin and slam the door to our bedroom. I usually had to sleep on the couch after our dates.
On prom night, Rochelle was allowed to go out with Angel alone, and she was so excited that she let me watch her dress for the big event. Tia Trini came over and roller her hair. Prissy was there with her Tab in hand for moral support, and Mom was making last minute alterations to her gown. It was a salmon-colored version of her wedding dress. After she was teased, tweezed, and tucked, she looked like a stick of cotton candy from the top of her glittered hair down to her pink sling-back heels. When Angel saw her, he licked his lips like he was going to devour her.
Because I, her birth control device, wasn’t in place during this date, the two got married when she was only a junior in high school, and she was four months pregnant. Rochelle and Angel drove thirty minutes to Las Cruces to be married by the justice of peace, with Mom in the back seat bawling. Even though Rochelle didn’t get her elegant autumn wedding, she stood before Judge Grijalva in her off-white linen pantsuit, which was damp on the shoulder and smeared with Mom’s mascara, erect and with as much dignity as if she were under a tent at the Chamizal. It didn’t matter to her that the groom wore his blue Dickie work pants with matching shirt that had his name stitched in yellow onto the pocket. She looked at him like they were the only two people inside the closet-sized courtroom.
She didn’t even blink when a baby began to wail in her ear during “Do you take this man…”
And she never took her eyes off Angel when the woman next in line to get married, who was dressed in a skin-tight, leopard-print outfit, said, “Let’s get this show on the road already. Kiss her, kiss her already.”
And it didn’t bother Rochelle that after Angel kissed her, he looked at his watch and said, “Vámonos. I need to get back to work,” because he needed to get back to Sears before the evening rush.
Christine Granados (See “Texas Writers Observed,” July 22, 2005) grew up in El Paso and now lives in Rockdale, Texas.