It was Benjamin Howard’s wedding day, the second of his life and, he hoped, the last. Annette, the bride-to-be, was asleep in the bed he had just left; her two daughters were in the kitchen, quarreling amiably over the last blueberry muffin. The orange cat dozed on the picnic table outside the sliding door of the bedroom, mandarin-like, forepaws folded under. Above and beyond the cat, the family mockingbird—he considered it a part of the house rental—was singing from a braided-wire cable that cut the backyard diagonally in half. The cable, coated with a patina of light rust, was a dog-run; the leash was still in place although the dog had died long ago, and every morning around six the mockingbird alighted and began its repertoire. The repertoire was considerable and impressive, and it had grown wider in recent days. This was late May, and Ben imagined the bird’s singing had gained new breadth from its recent mating. Over a period of three weeks there had been a flurry of contention between two of the neighborhood’s several mockingbirds, and now the fighting had ceased. The world’s in love, Ben thought.
He padded down the long hall in his bare feet and poked his head into the kitchen.
“I’m taking a shower,” he said. “Nobody run water.” Not that women ever listened to him, no matter their ages. By the time he finished his shower, the water pressure had dropped off on three occasions, and each time the temperature had wavered between scalding and freezing.
Toweling off, shivering, in the middle of the bathroom, Ben heard the mockingbird going strong: trills, chirps, warbles, riffs that broke off just before they became melodies, successions of joined notes that sounded like the double- and triple-tonguing he had learned when he played trumpet in the high school band. He marveled at the bird’s skill, and thought he understood its impatience, its refusal to stick to one song.
In the bedroom, Annette was still asleep—or feigning. She had waked him at three in the morning for love; now she had gone back to pursue her postponed dreams.
He pulled on his underpants. “Anthrax,” he said. “Up and at ’em.”
“Mmph,” she said, motionless and out of sight.
“Come on,” he said. “Today’s the day we make each other honest.” He sat beside the covers where she was buried, leaned over and kissed a barely-exposed ear. She smelled of warmth and of sex that crept out from under the sheets like a fog, and he remembered the a.m. perfume of their lovemaking peeling off him and swirling down the shower drain.
“Go away,” she said. “Today’s my wedding day.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“You’d better put your clothes on,” she said. “God knows what the groom-to-be will do if he finds you hanging around.”
He slid his arms under the bedclothes and caressed her in vulnerable places. “Something like this?”
“Oh, God,” Annette said, opening to him. “Be sure the door’s closed.”
The daughters’ voices were far away and sounded like the language of a different country. Coming back to the bed he heard the mockingbird singing on and on and on, trying out everything.