“Why did we come to this wedding anyway.”
“Because it’s my family. We’d do the same for yours.”
Jose sat draped in a chair. His back curved downward so that the corners of his suit brushed the ground when he moved. He fiddled with his buttons.
Across from him Guadalupe shot a look. She reached out and grabbed his hand. Her fingers tearing his away from the buttons and locking together. She rested her free hand on his thigh.
He said, “I’m just being honest with you.”
His hand pulled away from hers in infinite small movements. Jose imagined the slow creeping of his hand back toward his chest and imagined the tightening of her grasp.
Jose felt his heart quicken. “Look Lupe there’s still time. We can still make it to that secluded spot in Maine I mentioned to you. To be alone. With each other.”
She shook her head, “Let’s dance.”
Jose sighed. He hated dancing. The dance floor made him feel like he was being watched. Members of her family observing him and noting his inability to perform certain moves. Noting his inadequacies so that later he could be told what he had done wrong. Or worse what he had failed to do right. None of that mattered anymore. He knew that no one was going to record his flailing and post it online. Caught in between a polka and a slow dance with Guadalupe he knew that no one would have ever uploaded him to YouTube anyway. That wasn’t how her family got you. Jose tripped over his left foot. The song died down and he caught himself before falling to the ground. He had been rambling to himself. Better to be dead then spend the rest of his life paranoid. Guadalupe reached her arm around his back and pulled him closer. He didn’t feel like killing himself and he wasn’t suicidal. That wasn’t why he was thinking about death. He looked at Guadalupe and promised that he wasn’t feeling suicidal without saying anything to her.
Everyone was feeling suicidal lately, he thought.
They danced like hipsters: over exaggerating their movements, generally pretending that their bodies were ironic canvassas for enjoyment, before collapsing into each other laughing. Guadalupe vamped. Jose stepped to the beat. They ran over to Guadalupe’s cousin John who was DJing. They babbled out of breath a music request. John nodded his head and then played something else instead.
Salsa came on and the older generation made their way to the dance floor. Jose suggested the open bar, but Guadalupe cupped her stomach.
“You can’t drink when you’re pregnant,” she scolded him.
“I don’t think that’s going to matter Lupe,” he said. He regretted, but hadn’t been able to keep his mouth shut lately.
“That’s not how responsibility works Jose. We got pregnant, so we’re having this baby,” she said.
“I know how responsibility works Guadalupe. I’m not suggesting we have an abortion. I’m suggesting the world is going to end before you have a chance to give birth to the baby.”
Tears were in the corners of her eyes and Jose reached inward to give her a hug. She resisted but he pulled her in and whispered in her ear, “Okay, we’re doing this.”
Then: “No one else knows you’re pregnant. If you want one drink your body can metabolize the alcohol and prevent it from affecting the fetus. You’re okay.”
Guadalupe let one gigantic sob wreck into his chest and then pulled her mouth so that it covered his. She kissed him deeply and with affection, a public kiss like their first as a married couple in St. John the Redeemer Church. The photographer had insisted they kiss repeatedly for the best shot. Guadalupe’s father had murmured while the photographer directed, trying to communicate with Guadalupe.
“Okay one passionate kiss, really lean in,” the photographer had said.
Her father had cleared his throat, “Lupe this isn’t appropriate in a church.”
People were dying. What had started out as the flu had started to grow more virulent. Over the course of a year the population of the United States had been cut in half. Most people had moved outward away from cities in an effort to be by themselves, to be away from other possible carriers. Jose had accumulated newspaper clippings from the major publications and shared them with Guadalupe. New York Times had written a long and rambling edition lamenting the end of the human race. On page 13A a small column from a lunatic scientist had declared it was safer to put distance between large cities. “Gigantic pools of incubation,” the quack had said. Jose had wanted to move away from the New York City area, farther at least than Westchester County, but Guadalupe wouldn’t leave her family.
“No one reads newspapers anymore. And this edition is clearly lunatic ravings,” Guadalupe had said.
Jose’s hand hovered over Guadalupe’s belly, but she pushed it away.
“Don’t give anyone ideas.”
Around them the family was in various states of shock. They had been a good Catholic family, but their faith had varied from fear mongering and constant prayer to outright apostasy. Tios and Tias cradled liquor bottles or children.
Guadalupe and Jose danced but felt the night turning sour. Their breaths grew hurried. Guadalupe began openly weeping on the dance floor and pushed her head into Jose’s shoulder to hide her tears.
The music was modernized, the setting was altered from royalty and the rich, to Mexican family members who had scrounged together to throw one last wedding. Streamers spilled from the rafters of the country club that they had found with a working generator, papeles picados that some Tia had hidden away from her own wedding. The papeles browned around the edges and looked worn. Children leapt and tried their best to knock them loose. People were dying.
At the door, two Tios stood with pilfered semi-automatic weapons, not using the weapons but standing in a way that showed they knew how to if anyone crashed the party. They didn’t know how to and had never fired a gun before in their lives.
A break in the music and a homemade cake was wheeled out to the center of the dance floor. Mateo in his dead father’s suit — the flu–and Pancha in her grandmother’s dress–who died in a retirement home at 95 unable to recognize her relatives when they came and visited her– stumbled out with a knife held jointly. They were drunk and giggling. Mateo stumbled for a second and Pancha caught him with a hand to his shoulder. Mateo’s eyes were red around the edges and his nose looked raw, he stifled a cough.
Jose couldn’t watch Mateo pretend he wasn’t sick. He turned to Guadalupe and grabbed her hand. “Can we go outside?”
Guadalupe nodded and he pulled her out into the brisk night. The golf course overlooked a slice of the Hudson River and the Palisades of New Jersey. Distantly from the very top of the cliffs a lone light shone fiercely.
“This wedding is just drawing attention to what some people don’t have,” Jose said.
Guadalupe squeezed his hand, “Don’t think about what’s happening anymore. That’s the point of this wedding too. I know you wanted to run. I know that I’m the only thing stopping you. Wouldn’t you rather die together?”
Jose shook his head, “Mateo is sick. Can people catch the flu if they’re in the same ballroom as someone who has it?”
Guadalupe sighed, “I don’t know. It’s complicated.”
Jose sat looking at the moon casting its bright light onto the water. He hadn’t wanted children so soon, and then hadn’t wanted to get pregnant at all after the first million people had died. There wasn’t a point at loving something that never stood a chance to live. Their child would either die along with Guadalupe or grow up even more fractured from its family than Jose was from his. Unless what it grew up with was the idea that solitude was the normal way of life.
Jose still loved Guadalupe though and it was easy to forget that the world was hard and that things were changing faster than he had time to catch up with while they were making love. She had told him that she was pregnant and they had both cried.
“Everyone in there tonight isn’t going to make it right?” Jose said mostly to himself. Guadalupe leaned her head on his shoulder.
“This baby is my hope,” she said and pulled his hand so it rested on her barely showing bump, “this baby wants to live.”
Jose shook his head and looked over at this wife. Across the water he imagined their life as it would have progressed before the epidemic, and then in his hand over her belly he imagined that same life flourishing now. His knuckles hurt from punching her brother.
“You made the right choice,” he said.
She shook her head at him.
“I wanted a chance to see everyone before…” Guadalupe stopped and started to sob. Her tears hit the back of his hand and he gasped for words. He let his head fall onto hers and forgot how to comfort her.
Inside the party erupted in good cheer as Pancha threw the bouquet and it landed on the floor. People were sitting and catching their breath, admiring the drunken show that Pancha and Mateo were making while trying to feed each other cake.