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Authors: Jill McCorkle

Final Vinyl Days

BOOK: Final Vinyl Days
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FINAL
VINYL DAYS

and Other Stories
by JILL McCORKLE

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

For Shannon Ravenel
with great respect and thankfulness

And for Dan, Claudia, and Rob
with love

How many hearts have felt their world stand still?

Marvin Gaye,
“If I Should Die Tonight”

CONTENTS

PART I

Paradise

Last Request

Life Prerecorded

PART II

Final Vinyl Days

Dysfunction 101

A Blinking, Spinning, Breathtaking World

PART III

Your Husband Is Cheating on Us

It's a Funeral! RSVP

The Anatomy of Man

PART I
Paradise

When Adam met Eve they were standing in the champagne line at Missy Malcolm's wedding in Southern Pines. Eve, who had worn her thick black hair in a blunt Cleopatra cut since moving to Atlanta, had grown up with Missy in a small town just twelve miles away. In Atlanta she was Evelyn, an aspiring fashion designer and buyer for Macy's. But here she was Eve: Eve Lyn Wallace, a name selected by her paternal grandmother, who had once seen the name Evelyn in print and proceeded to spell and pronounce it in her own way. Here people voiced shock at how dark her hair had gotten since she moved to
the city
. Dark and straight. The woman in the pink knit dress who slipped a business card into the
palm of any hand she shook—Gretchel Suzanne Brown, owner and head stylist of Shear Pleasure—stopped and fingered Eve's hair, saying over and over like a mantra, “I don't remember this hair.”

Eve finally, in embarrassment, turned and explained all of this to Adam; she explained that when she was in high school she had a perm that made her hair lighter and quite frizzy. “Nobody around here gives a decent perm,” she said, traces of the region's accent lingering on the syllables she attempted to clip. “And especially not her.” She nodded toward Ms. Gretchel Suzanne Brown, who was working her way down the line to where the bride and groom stood.

Eve's eyes were catlike, almost amber colored in the bright banquet room. It could have been any country club anywhere, any random wedding, and Adam was struck by how alike they all were, the tables and flowers and fountains, the little bite-size pieces of food that after a while began to taste the same, the common ingredients being wooden toothpicks and miniature puff pastry shells. The mothers and grandmothers and aunts all decked out in pastel dinner-mint shades of chiffon. Eve was in bridesmaid's garb, a layered gossamer pink number that was identical to those of the other seven attendants, all of them wearing the little pearl earrings that Missy had given
them at her bridesmaids' luncheon two days before, hosted by wives of the local dermatologists. Adam heard all of this while seated in the church waiting for the service to begin. The women (who were seated on the left, the
groom's side
, only because they ran out of
good
seats on the right) exchanged rave reviews of the scrumptious little delicacies served at the party: cucumber sandwiches, petit fours, and melon balls. They were shocked at how those young women spoke so openly about sexual matters, and wasn't it
clever
of the hostesses to give out those little samples of Retin-A for party favors. “If those girls are smart,” one whispered—Adam leaned forward a little to hear her better—“they'll use the stuff right now before it's too late. Skin goes fast. Lord, how it goes.” Then this same woman changed the subject to how she had not been awarded Yard of the Month because her neighbor had five dead cars up on blocks in his side yard. Adam sat back and flipped through the songbook in front of him until the organ swelled and announced that it was time for the show.

The procession was a lengthy one, a great-grandmother with a walker, a great-aunt in a wheelchair, the back of which was decorated with ribbons and flowers, parents, ten groomsmen, ten bridesmaids, a best man (father of the groom), a maid of honor, a matron of honor (pregnant, and thought by the women seated in front of Adam to be
way out of line for having participated, even if she was the bride's sister). There was a short shiny-faced kid wearing a mini-suit and carrying a satin pillow and there was a curly-haired little girl strewing flowers onto the green-carpeted aisle. Then here came the bride, her spike heels piercing petals all along the way. The children's fakey smiles made them look moronic. The women in front whispered that they were
deliciously adorable, precious, precious things
. They said it was so very
special
that the bride and groom made children a part of the day. No children in the oven, thank you; only fully baked ones, please.

“I'm Adam,” he said finally, as the hair stylist floated to the end of the champagne line, stopping once to lift and test a strand of the maternal grandmother's hair. “You're Eve?” Several people standing in line snickered.

“Evelyn,” she said. “I go by Evelyn, now.”

“But she'll always be Eve to me.” The woman behind them—a woman with her pelvis thrust forward and big white pumps turned outward—stuck her head up close. “I taught little Eve piano for years and years.”

The Minnie Mouse woman disappeared momentarily only to pop out again to recall how Eve, at age five, had had a little accident just before playing “Get Aboard the Big Airliner” at the big recital down at the Junior High
School Auditorium. “Wet herself a teensy bit,” the woman whispered to Adam, her breath laden with denture adhesive. She leaned closer and stared at him. “You don't look or sound like you're from around here. You must be one of the groom's guests.”

Of all the people in that lengthy procession to the front of the church, Eve was the first that Adam noticed. In the first twenty-six years of his life, he never set foot in a church, and now he had done it for the fifth time in two years. This was, however, his first time in a Baptist church, and he was surprised by the stately room, the plush carpeting, and mahogany molding, the red velvet chairs like thrones. He had envisioned snakes slithering up and down rock-hard pews and signs saying
This way to eternal damnation
and
This way to everlasting life
in the same sloppy style he had encountered on the roadside:
WATERMELLUNS, CANTELOPE, HUNNYDO.

Adam and John Jeffers had been fraternity brothers at the University of Maryland. The high point of their relationship had been the annual Burnout bash their fraternity held to commemorate a famous frat house fire. For four years the two of them worked on planning the event: bands, kegs, T-shirts. For four years they blasted their stereos and played pinball in the dank, beer-soaked
bar near their frat house. For four years John was a part of Adam's life, his face a daily sighting. Now he was marrying a complete stranger, this woman with short blond hair and a church full of relatives. Marriage plans were incongruous with the postcollegiate lives his fraternity brothers
reported
they were living. And yet the invitations kept coming. He had been in two of the five weddings.

In Adam's world, weddings were held either in a temple or some nice gilded hotel banquet room, where women turned out in black sequined cocktail dresses that showed cleavage. At his first big Southern church wedding, he'd learned that a female guest who wore black to a wedding was absolutely tasteless. Wearing a black dress was almost as bad as wearing a white one, unless you were the bride. There's only one virgin on that day. At another of the weddings, a man had stepped out in a powder-blue dinner jacket with tails and sung “We've Only Just Begun.” Adam thought he could just as easily have been in Las Vegas or on
Star Search
. So as not to start laughing he spent that whole service (all written by the bride and the groom with a little help from Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Kahlil Gibran) memorizing pieces from the program he'd been handed at the door. He could now quote from Corinthians and the Book of Ruth.

It was hard to concentrate during this prayer, a very
long prayer. Glancing around the packed room, he kept coming back to Eve (at that point she was still
the one with the thick black hair
). He was thinking about the grooms who had gone before John Jeffers, all seated here now, looking somehow old and washed out, wimped out. They seemed subdued, professional, lobotomized. Their wives looked fixed and powerful with their tailored linen dresses and little clutch bags. These marriages were walking advertisements for Talbots and Brooks Brothers. They talked about the mortgage and the dining-room chairs that were ordered. If they weren't trying to have babies right that minute, they were buying AKC puppies. It was like all these guys had hopped on a ferry and left Adam there at the landing. With each wedding the gap widened.

The preacher's prayer was well into its second minute when the groomsman standing by Eve—John's cousin—began looking a little questionable: pale, shaky, damp. And with no further ado, the cousin passed out cold. He fell face forward, pulling Eve and a small candelabra entwined with gardenias and ivy with him. A roomful of people (hundreds of people) heads bowed, eyes closed, missed this scene of a lifetime. She fell forward as gracefully as possible, her pink skirt momentarily hiding all but a slender white leg. The preacher was talking about trust and loyalty, the everlasting gift of faithfulness. Adam
raised up out of his seat to get a better view. He watched her emerge from the folds of pink fabric, gracefully ease out from under the dead weight of the groomsman's arm, mouth what looked like “shit,” and then stand up, perfectly still and by herself, staring straight ahead as if she didn't notice this postadolescent lunk sprawled in front of her. The preacher talked a bit more about the state of the world today and how important it was to have a partner, but by then the whispering had begun and people were peeping, one eye, both, until the final amen. Eve stood, shoulders back and eyebrows raised, daring anyone to link her in any way to the body at her feet, his face gray and slack against the carpet. During the vows someone from the congregation tiptoed up and, as inconspicuously as possible, checked his pulse and then rolled him under the front pew where his head rested next to great-grandmother's walker.

Now the groomsman cousin was standing in the champagne line with a can of beer.
Hair of the dog
, people were saying. Men in Lilly Pulitzer suits nodded to the nauseated-looking fellow with great respect and recalled the wild nights
they
had known at bachelors' parties. Adam's friends from college winked and grinned, elbowed him and others knowingly. Their well-rehearsed marriages seemed to force further exaggeration of male bonding,
boys' nights out. Their women smirked with what was supposed to be great wisdom about these “boys will be boys” moments. It was as if these women had opened the cage doors and
allowed
their guys a little recess. Adam imagined the charges they would submit to their husbands: a diamond tennis bracelet, a trip to Barbados, a summer home, four babies. The price of freedom was exorbitant these days. So why was everybody biting the hook? Why were these reasonably intelligent, likeable guys
choosing
to acquiesce, their suppressed desires left to blow up at some occasional wedding party.

Adam thanked God he had not been a part of the fiasco known as the bachelor's party—men too drunk to stand peeing in a downtown parking lot, shaving John Jeffer's pubic region, writing
Help Me
on the soles of his shoes (which was visible to all when he knelt during the last prayer). “Those boys, those boys,” John's mother murmured several times.

The bride and her maids were no better it seemed. Rumors circulated (and were later confirmed by Eve) that the bride had been stamped in butcher's ink with “Prime Cut” and “Choice Meat.”

“Sally Snow's dad works at Winn-Dixie,” Eve told Adam when he asked how they had gotten the ink. It was
chitchat, small talk, right in there with the insufferable North Carolina June weather, his completion of Duke Law School and recent move to Washington, her aspirations of getting in the fashion world. “As a designer of course,” she said. “I'm much too short for anything else.” She laughed and handed him a glass. Adam was five nine and she easily was eight inches shorter, her hand half the size of his as they both leaned against the stone swan fountain that spit forth pink champagne.

BOOK: Final Vinyl Days
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