When Adam Honeydew, the leader of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra, scuttled into the concert hall, the conductor’s baton was already raised. Some twinkle within the conductor’s expressionless face indicated that it had been raised for a long time. Blinking behind his thick spectacles and with his lanky limbs aflap, Adam looked like a dismayed, frightened owl. This was the final rehearsal before they were in concert that evening, and he had been caught in a queue at the nearby Starbucks. Fumbling at his violin, he nodded apologetically to the conductor and clucked apologetically at his partner Emma Seton.
For a moment the conductor’s virtually disembodied hands floated in front of the orchestra. Yet at their first stroke, Adam and Emma’s own violins crunched unmusically and slithered away, the expiring note horribly lonely against the deep silence of the strings around them. They sat up in disbelief – the conductor was beating time to a lone trumpet fanfare. They were playing the wrong music! Emma was tearing frantically through the papers in front of them, but then Adam caught her wrist and he sat back beaming with relief.
It was a joke. The orchestra was playing Mendelssohn’s Wedding March.
They tried to enjoy the music. When it was over, Adam and Emma stood up to display a sporting round of applause. The orchestra gave three cheers. Everybody was laughing. “Please don’t do that to me in the concert,” Adam gasped in owlish excitement.
Adam had proposed to Emma two nights before, and in coffee breaks and backroom briefings, the orchestra had gobbled at the news. Adam and Emma soon learned, however, that an engagement has its own honeymoon period. The first congratulatory day was like a brief pool of sunshine which would be steadily consumed by shade.
They had wanted a modest wedding, with family and old friends gossiping over a cosy supper, but unfortunately most of these friends belonged to the orchestra. Whatever configuration of friends Adam and Emma selected, they could not avoid reclassifying a great number of friends as acquaintances or as second class friends. But if the entire orchestra was invited, the wedding would end up looking like a funfair, with heaving crowds queuing at beleaguered bars and Emma lost in the roaming confusion, croaking her thanks to hundreds of strangers. Their house would be invaded by wedding presents, all of which would have to be stored and catalogued like uninteresting museum exhibits.
Adam and Emma’s disaster would be solved by a crisis. It was one of those times in life when the manipulations of some stealthy deity are almost detectable behind reality’s innocent façade.
Emma learned the news that night in concert. During a quiet moment in the Third Symphony she received a text message from the woodwind section. Plucking at her pencil, she wrote over the music:
“JUST LEARNT RONNIE GETTING MARRIED.”
At that moment they were obliged to whip up a hurricane and so it was several minutes before Adam could access his own pencil.
“EXTRAORDINARY. TO WHO?”
“TO MARCO – IN PERC.”
Marco was the Swedish dwarf who played in percussion. Everybody disapproved of this: dwarfs are always jolly and indefatigable and it seemed vulgar to have such a character so visible on the drums. Had Marco played an unassuming instrument, such as the clarinet, the orchestra might have been sympathetic. Adam had not realised that Marco was gay, but it was satisfying to be able to clap this word over him and it made the universe seem a fraction tidier. Something which had wandered at liberty was now at home in its rightful enclosure.
Everybody knew that the saxophonist Ronnie was gay; indeed many in the orchestra subconsciously applied the word “gay” to his name as an honorific. Perhaps his name was ultimately “gay,” with “Ronnie” as merely a nickname. Ronnie’s sexuality had become his whole identity. He did not read detective novels or visit country houses at the weekend or find himself subsumed in some immense battle against cancer, because none of these things would have contributed to his sense of being gay. For Ronnie, being gay did not actually involve loving another man, or even enjoying a fulfilling sexual relationship with one. It was instead rather like being a television superstar from the 1960s, and escaping a colourless world of terraced housing and factory work. Being gay was presiding over a glamorous game show and dazzling the housewife contestants. The saxophone was a valuable prop.
I bumped into Adam and Emma at some point during the exhaustive rounds of mingling after their concert. To be precise, I was bartending at the Traverse Theatre. Three years ago I had joined forces with Adam on a Youth Orchestra field trip, he as a conductor and myself as a residential assistant. When I met him again recently, he had regretfully intimated that it would not be possible to include me amongst the guests at his wedding. I had been enthusiastic and generous about his engagement, whilst making a mental note that if I ever got married, I would have to remember to cross him off the invite list.
He was buying drinks for the violinists who had stuck with him after the concert and I was lining up the pints in front of them. “It’s such unexpected news about Ronnie and Marco,” Emma was reflecting. “But so nice for them.”
“Indeed, it’s much fairer now they’ve changed the law,” Adam replied dutifully.
The word “eight” pealed in my head as I poured the eighth pint of bitter. “I think it’s a load of rubbish,” I chipped in.
Both Adam and Emma looked up at me, now alert. Adam’s eyes were deadly still behind the glass of his spectacles.
“The Prime Minister is a PR man and this is just a PR exercise. He wants to give an impression that he’s ruling on behalf of the country, rather than just the Right of the Tory party, and so he’s reached for the nearest thing that can aggravate the Right. A lot of traditionalist outrage in the Daily Mail makes the PM look statesmanlike and independent. The gays themselves have been campaigning for civil partnerships; there’s been no record of them ever lobbying for marriage. But now up and down the land, hundreds of gays are getting married solely as part of a Tory PR initiative.”
I placed down the eighth pint in front of Adam and then my head began to ring with the word “nine.” Adam looked about wildly for help, wanting to be in complete agreement with both myself and his fiancé. Still, Emma was suspicious and she wanted to test my reasoning.
“That’s very clever, but you surely don’t think that gay marriage should be banned?”
I shrugged. “I don’t think that the state should have anything to do with marriage – it shouldn’t define it, promote it, subsidise it, tax….”
“So you agree with Adam. You don’t want gay marriage to be banned.”
I placed down the ninth pint. “Ten,” I thought.
Emma found Miriam and Marco outside the toilets. Emma’s closest confidante in the orchestra would be naturally a girl, but none of the women amongst the orchestra’s leading musicians were very friendly. There were lots of cheerful, mildly monstrous girls in the lower ranks of the strings; they would turn up to Saturday morning rehearsals straight from the nightclub and wolf down black-market caffeine tablets to stay awake during the slow pieces. But the women in Emma’s own class of musicians were icily standoffish and it was seemingly impossible to get beyond exchanging bright, excruciating pleasantries with them.
Emma had formed an expedient friendship with Miriam, who sat in the first desk of the cellos. Miriam was a stout Spanish woman in her early thirties, who gave the impression that she was visiting the rarefied world of the orchestra from her native land of common sense. She and Emma could conduct rather strained conversations with each other.
Miriam slung her arm over Emma’s shoulder and Emma instinctively reeled, taking a deep breath. “Here,” Miriam laughed. “We’re all invited to Marco’s wedding.”
“Congratulations Marco,” Emma said, reaching for the dwarf’s paw.
Marco ground his teeth with pleasure. “Hey, we’ll see you at my wedding lady. We’re hiring a castle.”
“Goodness, a castle! Where?”
The details did not interest Marco. “We’re going to party all day. You, me…” and suddenly he was bounding on the spot, shaking Miriam as if he had captured her. “And Miriam too!”
Emma returned to her man in a sober mood. She found him having a lively debate with Julek, the violinist from a row back.
“Marco’s invited the entire orchestra to his wedding,” Emma reported. “It reflects very badly on us.”
“I’m sure that everybody will understand,” Adam smiled. “Our wedding is a modest family concern; theirs is more of a social event.”
Julek was amused by this. “Theirs will help yours. Like Sainsbury’s keeping the riff-raff out of Waitrose.”
Yet Emma was not reassured and when she later met Ronnie, the bottom finally dropped out of her wedding. Like everybody else in the orchestra, Emma was unsettled by Ronnie’s cold dead eyes, which glittered as alien and unreadable as those of a reptile. She had been slipping drunkenly down a corridor when Ronnie had addressed her from the shadow of an alcove, so casually that they might have been already in the middle of a conversation. He was a squat toad-like figure, dressed this evening in a blue velvet cloak. Emma’s eyes fell to Ronnie’s silver cane, which was purely decorative but seemed to give him the mysterious glamour of a blind man.
“I see that I’m not invited to your wedding, but I’m not going to make a fuss if you want to attend mine.” He beamed foully at her, his gloating face looking oddly like a mask with those dead eyes at its centre.
“Thank you,” Emma blurted out. She wanted to say something conciliatory, about the hopelessness of organising a small wedding, but he suddenly seemed to be speaking to himself. “My wedding is soon and I cannot abide waiting. We’re getting married in a castle and we’ve hired the pop band Texas to play for us. You’d think that if you invited an entire orchestra they might knock out a couple of tunes, but I’m told that it would be a faux pas to insist upon this.”
Emma did not realise that she had spoken, but her voice sounded unnervingly naked. “And when is the big day?”
“On the thirtieth,” Ronnie sang, moving off with a twirl of his cane.
She had thought so. Exactly the same date as their own wedding.
That night Emma had a terrifying dream. She and Adam had decided to outshine Ronnie’s wedding by holding their own in the air. They and all their guests, with blushing bridesmaids and proud parents, had strapped on parachutes and boarded a light aircraft. It was a fine day and from thirteen thousand feet the fields below gleamed as radiantly as the paintwork of a new car. She, Adam and the vicar were bundled out first, with the bridesmaids at their heels. Once their parachutes had opened, they all hung on the air like seeds on a summer breeze. Yet the vicar had to roar to make his voice heard over the frenzy of the wind and when the time came for Adam to slip the ring on to her finger, it jumped from his hands and they were both clawing at nothing.
Her heart fell in dismay as her body fell to Earth, but before she could retreat into private anguish, they were suddenly in trouble. The wedding had dropped directly into the path of a huge jumbo jet, and they were all being sucked into its mighty propellers. She saw her aunts and her grandmother in their finest dresses splatting against the blades like cockroaches bursting in the heat. The vicar was bleating to his Creator. And in the moment before Emma was lost in the propellers, she glimpsed the figure of Ronnie, seated in the cockpit of the aircraft in a monstrous wedding dress, nodding to himself with satisfaction.
Adam confronted Ronnie later in the week, as the orchestra were packing up their instruments. Over the last few days, he and Emma had received a string of polite messages, all declining the invitation to attend their wedding. Even worse, some of those whom they had previously considered to be intimate friends were now explaining how they hoped to attend both weddings, if this would be possible on the day. Adam and Emma’s wedding was reduced to a fragmenting band of marginalised conspirators. Their wedding was The Unfashionable Wedding; it was fated to resemble something like a colony of lepers in their Sunday best.
Adam was seldom angry and whenever he reached this state he looked unearthly, with a scarlet face and protruding eyes. This apparition now stalked towards Ronnie as he doted over his saxophone. “You’re destroying my wedding!” Adam squeaked hoarsely. “Please change the date.”
“Absolutely not,” Ronnie sniffed. “Besides the majority of my guests were never invited to your wedding in the first place. Including me.”
“Please change your wedding to another date!”
“Dear me,” Ronnie drawled. “This is tiresome! I imagine that you’re holding your wedding in a dusty little church. Afterwards all the old bats and the snotty grumpy bridesmaids will troop off to a reception at a hotel. There will be a disco, where a sweaty janitor will play “YMCA” and “Nine till Five.” Everybody’s faces will shine red with the sherry and they will all look very overwhelmed and frail. It’s like a historical re-enactment of my parents’ wedding. Will the bananas be rationed?”
Adam was on the brink of murder. “Have you no idea of the sanctity of marriage? Of what it means to give your life…”
Ronnie turned his back on Adam, his nose in the air. “I have no time for bigotry,” he informed several startled onlookers. “Is he saying that I cannot understand marriage? Because I am gay?”
“No!” Adam spluttered. “Yes!”
“You don’t understand marriage – you don’t know what it means to bring a community together. You haven’t the imagination, the ambition…”
The conductor had observed a careful neutrality throughout the war of the weddings, but in the end he would prove a Brutus rather than a Cicero. He sent the excuse that Adam and Emma’s wedding clashed with that of an old friend from university. It was a busy time for weddings; there was currently one every weekend and it was now useless trying to follow the cricket.
Late one evening Adam phoned me. He sounded massively excited and he was tittering uneasily.
“Would I like to be your best man?” I repeated, aghast. It was like being attacked by a tiger and looking around for a rudimentary means of defending yourself. Once I learned the date of the wedding, however, the crisis had passed.
“Oh dear, I’m afraid that I’ve already agreed to work on that day. Oddly enough I’m bartending at another wedding and there’s a great deal of money in it.”
I could scarcely catch the distant stupefied voice. “It’s in a castle?”
I chuckled. “Why yes, how do you know?”
On the day of his wedding, Adam completely lost heart at the sight of the top and tails laid out across the breakfast table. He dressed in the regular suit he wore for charity concerts. He munched on a bowl of cereal and then drove to the church in his own car. The building was deeply quiet and Adam walked around it, listening for any sounds issuing from within. Yet the door had been left open and inside he found half a dozen people sitting in a forlorn little knot, all of them Emma’s family. He followed the only noise in the church, that of bitter sobbing, to the vestry, where Emma was squatting on the stone floor, wrenching the fabric of her dress in her fists.
Adam’s heart gave a dire squeak and it seemed to expire. He could not see or breathe or talk or think.
“My wedding is ruined,” Emma sobbed.
Adam gazed at her helplessly.
“I thought that at least somebody would come…”
Adam was conscious of shuffling footsteps back in the nave. A door gulped and shut quietly. “Of course all the trendy people… the cool people… the modern people, went to the gay wedding. But I thought that somebody would come!”
Adam was desperate to end this awful moment. Time would resume outside the church; cars would pass and the sun would go in and come out again. “I can’t marry you,” he uttered in a shaky wooden voice, like an insecure actor who has only a single line in the entire play.
She ignored him. “When I imagined my wedding, all the times I pictured it… I could not imagine…”
They drove in silence to Ronnie’s wedding. The conductor had managed to evade security personnel and climb over railings and he was now spread-eagled below a waterfall of champagne. “How’s your big day?” he cried to Adam.
Adam’s reply was lost in the barking and spitting of fireworks.
[Tychy previously wrote about family values and Tesco Magazine. Ed.]