It was a huge house—and decorated extravagantly, with calla lilies garnishing the grand staircase and tulips flowing from the crystal chandelier. The innate, dimmed lighting and the elegantly dressed service staff, moving swiftly in and out of the intimate clusters of people, made perfectly for a wedding reception. As champagne overflowed from glasses, and tears overflowed from glowing eyes, the groom’s mother made her way from the dining area into the kitchen to steal a minute to herself, quietly escaping an obnoxious conversation with the bride’s uncle. I hope his kids don’t take after her side too much, she thought to herself. She climbed the stair leading to the kitchen and quickly made her way to the counter, where a box of tissues sat, as if waiting for her. She softly pulled a tissue from the box and wiped the corners of her eyes, slowly glancing around the room. Everyone is here, she thought, except for two.
She turned around to see her son make his way towards her, a glass of scotch in hand and a new ring around his finger. He was strapping and handsome, her young boy who transformed into a grown man in what seemed like a blink of an eye. His tux sparkled against the light as he glided across the kitchen towards his mother, as did his smile. At 25, and with each passing year, he seemed to look more and more like her father, especially in his face. Today he looked suave, in a classic Italian Mob way, with his olive skin and dark features—his black hair gelled just the right way so to hide the premature balding spots, which no one could notice, but perhaps himself.
“Mom, I’ve been looking for you,” he said. He put his hands against her shoulders.
She looked up with tears in her eyes.
“Mom, don’t cry.” Towering over his mother, he looked down and placed his hand softly against her cheek. “Why are you crying?” Today she looked more beautiful than ever, he noticed. She was strikingly gorgeous, exotic even, with black hair and olive skin, dark brown eyes and a piercing smile. He always thought she looked beautiful, especially for a woman who just turned 50, which no one could notice, but which she greatly worried about.
“I’m sorry, Vinnie,” she said. “You know how I get emotional on days like this. I’m so happy for you. I’m so proud of the man you have become. I just wanted to tell you that.” She placed her hand against his cheek. “It’s just going to be hard for me to let you go, you know. You’ll always be my little boy.”
“I know, Mom, and I’ll never forget that, I promise.” He smiled at her. “I think you and Dad did a pretty good job raising me, if I do say so myself. I hope you guys feel the same way.”
“Of course we do.”
“Are you having a good time?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Just came to get a refill on my champagne.” Her smile wasn’t forced, but seemed tainted.
“Just making sure,” he said. “I’m going to go find my bride.” He kissed her on the cheek and turned his back from her, walking away. “Hey, Mom, I wish they were here too, you know, Mommom and Poppop. I haven’t forgotten about them,” he said with a turn of his shoulder and a charming smile. And with that, he mysteriously disappeared into the crowd.
Me too, she said silently to herself. With a quick pouring of the champagne bottle and a regrouping of her emotions, she turned from the counter and prepared to make her second set of rounds with her guests. She stopped abruptly in her tracks when she saw him from across the room, leaning against the luxurious, white brick fireplace. He leaned there by himself, away from the crowd, but nobody seemed to notice him anyway.
She had last seen him years ago, back when she was just a senior in high school, but he looked all the same. He hadn’t aged a bit, except for a more defining bald patch on the top of his head, which she knew he was worried about—he was always self-conscious about it. His dark, olive skin hid the wrinkles that grew at the corners of his eyes over time. His brown eyes masked the pain he once experienced as if in a previous lifetime, for today he was just happy to be with his family. He wasn’t dressed for a wedding, she noticed, but she didn’t care—she was just happy that he came. His tan and brown flannel shirt hung loosely on his small frame, falling slightly too low over his black slacks. His shoes, she noticed, were the way she remembered them—black, shiny and spotless. She noticed the small glass of scotch in his right hand, prepared neatly, as he preferred, and his wedding ring on his left hand, which he still proudly wore after all these years.
“What are you doing here?” she said as she strongly embraced him, as if never wanting to let go.
He held her in his arms. “I told you I would never miss a day like this,” he said.
“I’m really happy to see you, I am,” she said. “I just wasn’t expecting to see you. I haven’t seen you in forever.”
“I’ve just been a little busy is all,” he said. “How is my little girl?”
“No you’re not.” He let her go and gently grabbed her hands, bringing them up to his face and placing a kiss on them. “You’re just as I knew you would be. You’re doing great.”
“You can’t be here,” she said. “I mean, you can’t really be here.”
“Because!” Her voice grew louder now, her cheeks flushed and her eyes glimmering. “Dad…you’re dead.”
“No I’m not.”
“Dad, yes you are,” she said.
“No I’m not, Maria.”
“Dad, I watched you…I saw you…we sat there, we sat there with Mom.”
“Have I ever lied to you?”
“You’re mother is fine. We’re both fine.” He took a sip of his scotch and set it down on the mantle. “We’re happy.”
“You know, I could never miss a day like this.”
“I want you to know that if I was alive, I would have been at every kid’s boxing match, no matter where it was.”
“Dad, none of my kids do boxing.”
“Well, you know what I mean—baseball, basketball, swimming, dancing. I would have been at every game, every match, every recital. I want you to know that.”
“Seeing my grandkids brings such joy to my eyes—watching them laugh…grow, find their ways through life.” He put his hands around her shoulders. “You’ve done a wonderful job, Maria, not just with raising your kids, but with life. You’ve led a great life.” he pulled her closer and looked deeply into her eyes. “I want you to know that I’m so proud of you.”
She looked back at him intensely, but failed to find words to say to him. Seconds seemed to pass by like hours.
He leaned in and placed a soft kiss on her cheek. Picking up his glass from the mantle, he brought it closer to his chest. “Will you help me out and get me a refill on this scotch? Neat, please,” he said, winking.
“Sure, Dad.” She took the glass from his hand and turned from him, making her way back through the crowd. Halfway through the dining room, she stopped and glanced over her right shoulder. As the crowd slowly parted ways, she noticed the spot by the fireplace was empty—he was gone. The glass slid from her fingers and hit the floor, shattering into tiny pieces.
“Mom, are you okay?” Her son rushed over to her and held her, as if to keep her from falling. “Mom, you look like you’ve just seen a ghost. Mom, can you hear me?”
The voices circling around her joined together in a muffled symphony. She opened her eyes and saw assortments of shoes circling her own—one pair standing out in particular—one pair black, shiny and spotless.
“I’m fine,” she said, regaining strength and standing tall. “It must be the champagne.” She smiled at everyone—a smile that, for the first time that day, was complete. She apologized for her clumsiness. “I believe it’s time for the toasts.”