By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: I decided to use a letter from an advice column as a writing prompt today. The letter came from a woman who received an invitation to a wedding but had no obvious connections to the people getting married. She and her partner wanted to know whether they should attend. Here’s my answer.
Buying the gift was easy. The wedding industry in America produced enough generic wine glasses and salad bowls to make picking one out a fairly painless process. Shalini scored a respectable looking vase in Macy’s on clearance. She asked the person at the register to scrape off the red and white tag before wrapping it in paper and placing it in the bag.
The only box the cashier had outsized the vase, but Shalini didn’t have time to find something bigger. The wedding was only three days away, and her deadlines at work had taken a murderous turn. She had to choose between the oversized, plain white box from Macy’s and the beat up box in the garage that used to hold a trash can and now contained a variety of tools neither she nor Sagar used often enough to justify a new organization system.
Choosing what to wear required a little more thought. As always, Shalini dithered over whether to go Indian, American, or fusion. The invitation said “semi-formal.”
“Does it even matter?” Sagar said that night as they washed the dishes together. “I mean, I still don’t understand why we’re going to this thing in the first place.”
“People don’t send out wedding invitations for no reason,” she answered. “They cost money, and the postage—oh my god, the amount Mom and Dad spent for our wedding was unreal.”
“But we don’t know these people, Shalini,” Sagar said for the tenth time since getting the embossed card in the mail the week before. “Like, literally. Who sends out invitations with only first names on them? And what about their families? Where are the parents’ names?”
Shalini shrugged with the shoulder that had the towel thrown over it. “You know Americans do things differently. Maybe they had a fight with their parents, or they’re paying for it themselves.”
“That still doesn’t answer why we have to go. I mean, did you remember anything else about Max? Or Jenny?”
Rinsing her hands one last time, Shalini turned off the kitchen tap and tugged the towel from her shoulder. “I told you before, I know we were all in college together. They were kind of a part of our friend group, kind of in their own. I know we’ve met them before.”
Sagar shook his head and scoffed. “And you just can’t hurt anyone’s feelings, can you? Even if you barely remember them from fifteen years ago.”
She sighed. They’d gone around and around on this for the last ten days. The whole conversation just made her tired now.
“You didn’t answer my original question,” she said.
“Do I wear the pink lehenga or that little blue strapless dress? Or maybe that gown I got from India last time with the chunni? That way I’ve got both cultures covered.”
Sagar scrubbed the back of his neck and let his head drop back for a second. He stared at the ceiling, but Shalini could tell he wasn’t overly annoyed. Just thinking.
“The lehenga,” he said finally. “I love the way it looks on you.”
She grinned, her cheeks getting warm. They’d dated for two years and been married two more, but compliments from Sagar still made her blush. When he came closer for a kiss, the temperature of her whole body rose.
That Saturday, as the invitation requested, they arrived at the church across town and watched the bride—Jenny—walk down the aisle. Shalini and Sagar held hands throughout the ceremony, exchanging warm looks with one another as Jenny and Max, her groom, said their vows. They shuffled down the aisle afterward, nodding politely at other attendees and chatting about the ceremony in the car as they drove to the reception three miles down the road.
The reception took place in the smaller room at the country club. They arrived just as cocktail hour started and made their way through the drink line before walking, still hand in hand, to a corner of the room. They didn’t stand too close to the wall so the waiters with the best hors d’oeuvres could find them, and twice as other people at the wedding approached Shalini and Sagar tag-teamed to keep the conversation firmly in the realm of small talk.
As they looked for their places for dinner, Sagar leaned toward Shalini.
“Anything coming back about these two?” he said in a low voice close to her ear.
Several people began tapping their champagne glasses, silly smiles on their faces. She watched Max lean toward Jenny and kiss her, them sharing a private smile before and after. A long time ago, in a tiny apartment on the edge of campus, Max had smiled at her the same way.
She remembered, of course; she remembered everything from those days.
She had no trouble whatsoever recalling the first time Max came up to her in the student union, asking for directions to the nearest coffee shop. She could visualize the way he looked on their first date together, the first time he leaned in to tell her he loved her, the only time he told her they had to break up.
She could bring back, with visceral clarity, how her heart broke and what it meant to see him with Jenny mere days after.
“Just some vague stuff,” she said now to Sagar. “Look, there’s our table.”