You find yourself cramped into a window seat, staring out the dark portal as you scream nightward over gargantuan snow-covered spiders lying collapsed over the land:
“How did I get here?” You wonder. “How is this happening?” The past month has been a clench of anxiety and uncertainty. Important commitments made on a gamble that magically panned out. But now you’re here, flying over a frozen world sliced by a tiny line that leads to three bacterial lights flickering so far below and it finally, finally hits you.
It’s happening. For reals.
Gratitude suddenly fills you in a way it hasn’t filled you for as long as you can remember. For a little while now, you’re free of history everywhere you step. It’s a selfish thought, but it passes through you anyway: funny, what wonderfully beautiful things have blossomed from Bee Jones.
“So tell me a little more about Bee,” you ask Hannah. It’s more disconcerting than you expected, sitting in the passenger seat of an English vehicle. Normally, this would be the driver’s seat, but it’s not the lack of a steering wheel that’s bugging you: it’s the angle of the rear-view mirror. It’s taking rather a lot of willpower to resist fixing it.
Hannah glances over at you sideways, pinches her cigarette, and pokes it back into the box. English cigarettes are especially violent, as cigarette companies are required by law to freak people out as much as possible and therefore all packaging is just scenes lifted from medical horror plastered to the sides of the carton and the brand tattooed on the top of the box in small, white font. The tobacco companies seem fine with this.
“How do you mean?” She asks.
“Well, I mean, what is she like? How would you describe her?”
Hannah looks thoughtful for a moment, an expression that sits comfortably on the strong cheekbones poking just above a pile of scarves. She’s wearing three of them: a flat black one, a navy blue with lime green squares in a grid, and a beige one with colored blobs. All of them are sort of squashed into her black pleather jacket, which perfectly balances the way her dark wavy hair is sort of squashed up behind her head. It’s not that she’s messy, it’s that she’s the sort of gardener that can go anywhere in the world without ever quite leaving the earth. She dresses like a dryad would, if you tried to force it into clothing.
“Bee is magic,” she says, “she has this amazing ability to tell you off without you ever quite noticing she’s doing it and making you feel better about yourself afterwards.”
It’s true. Now that you think of it, she’s done it to you and you hadn’t realized it until Hannah pointed it out. This is Bee to a tee- if you’re wrong about something she’ll make sure you know it, and she’ll phrase it in a way that makes you happy to have been wrong. It’s a sneaky, valuable talent.
It’s difficult to find the hotel. You and Hannah both are starting to stress- only an hour to prep for the wedding, and the building the SatNav brought you to doesn’t look like a hotel. More like a museum, or a restaurant. It takes arriving, leaving, and re-arriving before you notice the tiny metal letters scrolled across the top of a gery building that manages to look squat even though it has an obvious second story. Hannah has an AirBnB elsewhere, so she drops everything but your guitar and heads out in a hurry. You’ll retrieve the guitar between the ceremony and the reception, so that you can play a song for the couple.
Lugging your unreasonably heavy suitcase into the lobby (boy, do you ever have things to learn about travel), you check in to your room and flop on the bed for a moment before forcing yourself up and into the shower. Another difference between the UK and US: in the US, the shower curtains slide quite sensibly all the way across the tub. In the UK, someone must have actually measured just how far the shower was actually likely to splash and cut the width of the curtain at the exact minimum. It’s functional and very efficient. It also leaves you with the feeling that there is going to be a puddle when you finish. There never is.
By the time the shower is over you’re starting to feel a bit tired, but you locate a hair dryer in a bottom drawer somewhere in the room, blow your hair in lots of satisfying directions, drape yourself in the green dress you brought for the occasion, and fix your face. Then you stuff your alternates in a bag, don your coat, steel your nerve, and step out of the room.
A wave of panic lazily cycles through you as you wonder how the receptionists will handle you being in a dress. You wrap your gaudy coat around tight and hope they don’t notice you. A worse problem- how on earth are you going to locate the wedding?
“Are you here for the wedding?” asks one of them before you’ve managed to reach the ground floor.
“Yeah”, you say, relieved that someone knows things. England is magical in lots of ways, apparently. “Do you know how to get there?”
“No, but someone else just left. If you hurry you can catch her!”
You hurry. Out the doors and across the parking lot, you spy a path that cuts through the grass and heads towards Crosby central. Stepping onto that path is a woman with short-cropped red hair and a flower-print dress. Feeling a bit awkward and stalkerish, you hurry after her. At first, you are too shy to make contact. But just as you’re about to reach the end of the path, you call out to her.
“Excuse me, I’m sorry, are you by any chance going to Bee’s wedding?”
“Yes!” She says, and happily waits for you to catch up. “I’m Sara”.
“Hi Sara! I’m Asha. Do you know where it is?”
“It’s right there, just straight ahead. Do you see that man standing on the steps of the Town Hall? That’s Lee. And the man standing next to him is his oldest son, Harley.”
You hadn’t seen them until she pointed them out, but sure enough, there they are, sexy, straight-backed, and smiling as they shake hands with someone walking up the steps of the Town Hall. Something about Lee seems different than you expected- maybe he’s shorter than you thought, revealing an expectation you weren’t aware of. On further examination, you realized that he's not actually short, and the problem is that some part of you expected him to be wearing a literal suit of armor, and perhaps be perched atop a gallant steed who would only accept people into the wedding if they brought him a nice carrot. That explains a lot.
You should have brought your coconuts.
You and Sara are among the first ones to arrive, so you take a strategic seat, sitting far off to the side where things are easy to see and where you won’t stick out too far over other people, and ideally, won’t be noticed too often. You are soon joined by a woman who says her name is Emma, who might be the first person you’ve ever met who is capable of dressing in shades of pink from head to toe and still seeming as though she’s the one in charge of her outfit. Most people you’ve met wearing that much pink look as though their clothes are wearing them. Not so for Emma. Clearly, she must be a witch- no one else could have that kind of power over pink.
English town halls are designed to be exceptionally comfortable for people whose dispositions are more wooden than the pews. Calling them pews is perhaps inaccurate, however, since each sitting space has its own faded navy blue upholstery riveted to the wood and a small fitted slice of carved wood between. This is clearly to make certain that the wooden people who normally sit here do not accidentally sit too close to each other, or too far apart, lest they bump each other or become lonely. All in all, a quite modern and zesty design if you were born a century or two ago. You deeply approve, though your lower back does not.
The Town Hall itself is a place so crammed with history that the echoes of the past displace imagination. Everywhere you look you seem to see whatever the opposite of hustle and bustle is, as if the place is crammed with the ghosts of stuffy men with recessive chins and fanciful wigs to match. All of them there to determine how best to stuff their notions down everyone else’s ego. It’s quite a charming place for a wedding of this sort, because it fits the rebellious theme of the event perfectly.
And truly, this wedding is nothing if not rebellious on every level.
When Bee and Lee decided to get married about a month ago, it was going to be a very small event with only a few local witnesses.
You met Bee on Twitter sometime near the end of 2018. At first she seemed nothing more than a beautifully painted avatar in a sea of anime avatars, tiny photos of bearded wokebros, random symbols, animal faces, and dramatically-posed gender critical feminists. Probably, you met her before you noticed her, but what made you notice her was her attitude towards death.
Namely, that she obviously thought her own impending courtship with the credits was a good subject to laugh about.
Most people are afraid of dying, but whether Bee was or not, she most certainly wasn’t afraid to talk or make jokes about it. She was kind, funny, courageous, and genuinely inspiring. At some point, the two of you began talking in Twitter DMs and making jokes that would probably turn a lot of people sheet-white if they didn’t outright turn them into ghosts. And it was clear from the start that thing she was worried about most wasn’t her own pain, or even of dying itself. What worried her was whether or not the people she loved and cherished would be okay once she was gone.
With only six months to live, she didn’t have long. The doctors gave her an option: chemo. It would extend her lifespan to about a year, they said.
“I want to come” you say to Bee, after she tells you about the wedding. It’s only a month out; she lives in England and you live in the US; also you’re chronically broke, but you still want to go. There’s something special about this wedding.
You’re not the only person who feels it, either. The news of Bee and Lee’s wedding spreads like pollen in an allergens-anonymous meeting (It was the Bee’s Lee’s, after all). What was originally intended to be a tiny affair evolves into a tiny affair, but now with a band. Then it has food, and people start booking AirBnBs from all over England.
Later, you'll discover that the event has drawn people from all over the world. Aside from yourself, a friend of Bees who lives in Indonesia will fly in as a surprise; another from Ireland, and a third from Belgium. Her cousin's wife will fly in from Australia to personally represent that side of her family. Lee's son Harvey will fly in from Dubai to be his best man. Including you and the attending people that live in the United Kingdom already, this "tiny" event involves representatives from seven countries. Usually, seven is seen as a lucky number, but in the case of this international event: you can't help but feel there's a bit more than luck involved. This is a family whose existing has meant something profoundly positive to people all over the world.
“I wish you could come too!” Says Bee, “it’s too bad you’re over in America”.
“I guess I could try and crowdfund it”, you point out. The moment you say it, your stomach lurches. Would this even be moral? Wouldn’t it be prohibitively expensive? “Would you... would it be okay if I try?”
“OMG I would LOVE it if you could really come!” She gushes back.
“Should I use your name? Do you think it would be kind of weird for people?”
“Yeah, I’d rather you didn’t use my name. But go for it. You might as well try it and see what happens.”
So you look up plane tickets, scope out food costs and domestic maintenance. And then you realize that if you’re going over there anyhow, you might as well make a trip of it. Assuming you’ll be able to find places to stay among your Twitter friends, you estimate a minimum of about $2500, all told. You set that as the base, spend a couple of days making the fund, run the text by Bee for her seal of approval, and launch just before bed in a fit of anxiety. It probably won’t work. You have one month to make more money than you make in three at your job. No way it’ll happen.
When you wake up the next morning, there’s $490. By the end of the first week, you have just enough to buy your plane tickets and you do, terrified of what happens if the campaign stalls. But it doesn’t stall.
And thus, one cold twelfth of March, you find yourself forty thousand feet above the sea, awakened during the flight just in time to see the Aurora Borealis whipping colored ribbons through the sky in Bee’s honor.
People begin to trickle into the Town Hall and soon the ghosts of old men are replaced by breathing human beings. The room begins to warm with anticipation, and if the chandelier isn’t swinging with excitement, well, that’s because its just a glorified lamppost and doesn’t know any better. This isn’t Narnia, after all, though for you it may as well be. Soon the not-pews are almost filled, and two women stride in with purpose and a large book each.
The raised platforms that indicate the person who sits there is allowed to make decisions that affect everyone else’s reality are situated in front of the South wall. The thrones are taken up by the two women, both of whom flop open their tomes with a puff of dust and blow on them in unison. The front row sufficiently dusted, the judge is ready and the music begins to play.
Okay, so maybe it didn’t happen quite like that. But it may as well have, and anyway this is how you’ll always remember it and who’s counting, anyway? Lee stands to attention, with Harvey next to him as his best man.
Lee Jones is a devilishly handsome man with a subtle presence. He smiles often and speaks little, and yet it is hard to look at anyone else in the room. He simultaneously reminds you of a Count and an artisan. He looks as if he’d be quite natural striding to the bank with a cloak and a cane. And then, when he returns home, he would cast off those silly, overly lavish garments and transform into an artist with a loose, color-splotched frock as he attacks a canvas. One thing you know about Lee: his artwork is phenomenal. And also, his portraits of Bee capture something more than just a pretty face: streaks of ocher and violets and blues and reds slip in and out of each other and weave love letters in dripping paint.
The only thing more lovely than Lee’s portraits of Bee is Bee herself.
Later, as you go to set down this story, you won’t be able to recall what her dress looked like. You'll remember the cut, and the fact that it didn’t touch the ground, but you had to refer to photos to recall the dress itself. You'll remember that it is Bee's oldest daughter, Abby, who gives her away, and that this is because Bee's father had died only three days prior, and that she would later tell you she'd wrapped his lucky tie around the bouquet. But you won't remember the dress. For a memory of a wedding, the dress seems an odd detail to omit. Yet, today, the dress is the least important detail about the bride.
Sometimes when you look at people they phase out, and what you see instead is something ethereal, something deeper. It doesn’t happen with everyone, but when it does happen, you can see things about the person. This is what happens with Bee as she walks down the aisle and takes her stand next to the man whose time as her fiancé is nearly complete.
This is the first moment you’ve seen her in person.
The first thing you see is her face, which is kindly and wise, with a tinge of exhaustion. She looks like the sort of person you’d wish to see if you were waking up from a coma.
Beneath this, there are layers and layers of swirling emotions and vague, reaching curiosities. She’s pushing her concerns, worries, and pain to the back of her mind. This is her wedding day, and she is clearly refusing to bothered about it. There’s time enough for pain and anxiety in the future. But not now. Lesser women might allow them to be creeping through, but Bee is not, and the sheer power of her will to exist completely in the moment seems to drape her in an ornate gown of sheer tenacity. Bee is a proper Liverpool lass. Also:
Bee is a queen.
It's especially interesting how different Bee and Hannah are to each other. Hannah is so real and raw she's unforgettable, while Bee is so ethereal that it has the same effect. They make a good pair of friends, you feel: they balance each other quite well.
The ceremony continues in true wedding fashion, though it's also somehow a bit unusually tame. Something about the way the judge is reading the script just seems... well, she's happy, and clearly enjoying herself, but you can tell she's not presided over tons of weddings.
Still, things proceed, rings are exchanged, and the kiss is timeless. Interspersed between sections of the ceremony, two different women read two selected passages that are really incredibly beautiful. Your favorite is from the "The Amber Spyglass" by Phillip Pullman. Aspects of it might seem a bit dry to an American like you, but exactly zero people seem bored or fidgety. Exactly everyone is glowing. Bottom jaws all over the room are threatening to come unhinged from the ear-to-ear grins.
And then it's over, and Bee and Lee are married.
Everyone gathers outside for the photography, and someone throws red and white heart-shaped confetti. All in all, it's been a beautiful event.
Now for the PARTY.
You get into a car with Hannah and her friend Cassie, and Cassie's mother Jenny, and head to their AirBnB where your guitar is kept and where changes of clothing are located. Once there, someone makes tea and then everyone changes and Hannah does her makeup. The fact that she is doing her makeup after the wedding, rather than before, is because the two of you had arrived so late she hadn't had time beforehand. Even so, it just seems very Hannah and somehow amplifies your growing fondness for her person. Eventually everyone is changed and ready, a taxi is called, goodbyes are said to Jenny, who is heading to a concert, and off you go to the reception in your horseless carriage.
The reception is being held in a pub, and it's already quite lively by the time the three of you arrive. The pub itself is shaped like a squarish boot lying on it's side, with the door located in the sole, right near the toe. It's crowded and already quite lively inside, the party in full swing. You find an out of the way corner where you can stash your guitar, give it a nice lecture about staying safe and refusing to hop into cars with strangers offering it new strings, and then slide away to mingle.
It is loud, painfully so, and what this means for you is that you won't have as much time as you'd like before your ability to process it gives out and it's too much. Therefore, you'd better make it count. Remembering the image of Bee refusing to give into pain, you adopt a similar attitude and decide to go for the gold.
You head towards the heel of the boot, and then turn the corner to discover Hannah on your right, buying a drink. She offers you one, and you politely decline, instead heading off towards the top of the boot, where the band has been stashed. The band is a four-piece that sometimes plays music and sometimes covers songs, and they're surprisingly good. There's a singer/guitarist, a trumpet player, a drummer, and a keyboardist. You recall then that Bee and Lee and had not booked a band, and that their presence here, tonight, is Emma's wedding gift. Emma, it seems, is more powerful than anyone had imagined. Not only can she wear full body pink and pull it off, but she has the power to tell the difference between a good band and a bad one. And the result of this is that Bee, across the room, is dancing like she's sixteen. It looks magnetically fun, and your legs start heading over to join them while your brain is busy yelling some drivel about how you can't dance. Momentarily paralyzed at the edge of the dance floor, Bee grabs your arm and pulls you into the flitting patterns of colored dots, zipping jagged lines in the air like industrialized fireflies mating frantically in rhythm. This band, you realize, is an expression of Emma's love for Bee just as Bee's dancing is an expression of love for her life, her friends, and for this moment. This moment, in which she has painted her heart in every shade of gratitude.
Of course, you are a nervous wreck of a dancer. Your tall, willowy figure feels floppulous, like a gumby, and memories of mocking laughter arise (you dance like a girl!) Time to risk some liquid courage.
As always, even the smallest amount of alcohol is a risk, and there will be consequences. But not enjoying this dance would be far worse. So you scan for Hannah, march up to her, and rudely ask her if you can please mooch a few sips from her drink. She offers to buy you your own again, but you decline knowing that it would be a waste. Giving you a look that seems to wonder at your uncouth barbarism, Hannah graciously allows you to sip from her drink. Three are more than enough: one of the positives of being you is that it takes almost nothing for you to experience being buzzed. Properly micro-schlocked, you rejoin the dance and do your best to lose yourself.
For a person who supposedly has terminal cancer, Bee has seemingly unlimited energy. You hit exhaustion quite rapidly and take your leave for a moment to sit down.
"Are you the one who came from America?" Asks a woman who is sitting next to another woman whose black, fur fringed coat you desperately envy. It's just the right level of artistic punk, and you're wondering what the chances are that she'd swap you jackets when the voice comes over. You glance over at the speaker, who is dressed like a person who went to a wedding, but whose attitude is decidedly punk. You decide that you like her immediately.
"Yeah, that's me" you answer.
"Nice," she says, "I'm Sam. I follow you on Twitter."
Suddenly you feel oddly exposed, and simultaneously relieved as the conversation turns to something you're familiar with. For a short while, you enjoy a new status as a part of a momentary clique. It isn't long before the group escapes the pub in order to ignore the horrific warnings on their cigarette boxes, and the fresh air is a relief. Jet lag and the sense of an impending crash are making themselves known within you. If it comes, it comes, you think. It's brilliant I've lasted as long as I have. Still, it does mean you will need to play the song soon if you want to be able to play it at all.
You split off from the group and re-enter the pub. Asking an employee where the banquet is to be held, you follow their pointed finger upstairs and around to your right.
The room is mostly empty, with a small witches-hut shaped bar against the East wall, and an opening where the right wall should have been that leads to what is clearly a fairy feast that is still covered over with plastic and tin foil and packaging as it waits patiently for it's time to shine. Rows of sushi slumber in lines, dreaming of happy guests with chopsticks. Snug wraps snuggle tightly for warmth, basking in happy anticipation. Vegetable skewers sleep in a vegatative state while mysteries covered in tin foil plan how best to foil everyone's hunger. It is, by all counts, a feast waiting to happen.
It's not over. There is also the dessert table, covered in rolly bonbons and soft elcaírs and of course, The Cake. The knowledge that this, too, was not planned by the couple, but is a gift of deeply held affection elevates the entire thing to a status of deserved pride: the sort of pride that arises naturally from a guiltless feat of love. False humility has no business in a place like this, and yet there is a touch of home, too, in the folding tables and in the history wafting around the room.
There are five people here: three women bustling about in preparation, a miniature human in a portable pram, and the baby's mother, who seems exhausted and glowy all at once.
You ask the women if you can help with anything, and because they have it mostly under control, you shift gears and set out to get to know them a bit. The three women turn out to be sisters, and the fairy feast, along with it's preparation, is their gift. Bev and Alex are twins, and their accent is so thick that at first you can't understand Bev's name- It sounds like she's saying "deaf", which is obviously only true of you in this moment. Dee is Lee's ex, which at first is hard to believe because it sounds like it ought to be the name of a sitcom: Bee, Dee, and Lee in a Tree.
This is surprising because you sensed nothing that felt negative between any of them. Usually, complex relationships like this are full of subtext. But here? Just a trio of fine Liverpool ladies and a proper gentleman coming together for a moment none of us will ever forget.
It's four months after the trip to England, and you lounge in your room, trying once again to remember the rest of the story. At some point during the unforgettable moment, your spoons ran out and the rest of the evening is difficult to recall. There are moments, some painful, others beautiful, but the rest of the evening is blurred into a kind of lovely, colorful dream. You remember desperately not wanting to leave, and staying as long as possible. You remember being unable to play the song for the couple. You remember dragging yourself back to the hotel, and then nothing until the next morning. Because of this, it's left you with the feeling that there was never an end to that evening at all. That part of you is still there, eyes still brimming at the sheer romance of the event.
Who needs an end, anyway? Life happens during the journey. And endings are never truly the end. All things that have ever been are what they are because they are built on what came before. It's true, you realize: the universe can only exist as it does because a simple English wedding took place one afternoon in Liverpool.