There, in the rose garden, they took Marina’s money. Seven dollars. And her jewelry, including the aquamarine ring her grandmother gave to her.
The thug with the straight razor kept swiping it through the air, calling her names and threatening to cut her face.
“The ring isn’t worth anything,” she said. “Except to me.” She glanced at the guy with the pistol, hoping for mercy.
The gunman pressed the business end of the pistol against the nape of her neck, forcing her head forward.
“Why are you looking at me? Get on your knees. Now!”
Marina complied and stared at the ground. Rose petals lay everywhere. At her knees, a patch of clover had pushed through the asphalt. Would clover be the last thing she saw?
Pistolman told Razorman, “Pick up her trash. She ain’t got nothin’.” They booked, leaving her to stare at the ground. They didn’t hurt her but they sure left an impression. Marina didn’t cry.
The flowers were gone.
Marina awoke with a start. That same damn dream. It’s been years.
She wished she could forget that day. It keeps coming back when her guard is down.
Marina read once about a culture that taught its children to defeat whatever dream demon was pursuing them. Marina wished she knew how to defeat someone holding a pistol to her head.
She rolled out of bed and prepared for the wedding. She showered as hot as she could stand. Soon the dark fog receded and only dark outlines remained on the clouds of steam. By the time Marina put on her make-up, she felt almost herself again.
The phone rang. It was Marina’s best friend from work, Annabelle.
“Where are you, Blondie? I need you here.” Annabelle was Marina’s supervisor at work. But today was a Saturday. And it was Annabelle’s wedding day.
“I’ll be there. It doesn’t start ’til eleven.”
“But you need to be my Maid of Honor. Carla canceled about five minutes ago. Can you believe her?”
Marina sat. “No, Bellie, I told you. I can’t do that. I’m just a guest. I don’t do all the parading around.”
“You just have to stand up there and look pretty, Blondie. Would it kill you to do that for once in your life?”
“Bellie, don’t be a dog of a manager. I’ll only do it because it’s your wedding. But I don’t have a dress!”
“Don’t worry about that. Just try to look pretty.”
“I always look pretty, Bellie. That’s not the problem.”
Marina hung up the phone and put her hands up to her face. “No…no. Not today… Why today?”
There was an apology text from Jack. Marina wasn’t in the mood and deleted it without reading it. She got dressed and grabbed her gift bag, checked the apartment and left. The black fog followed at a distance.
Marina and Annabelle headed a team of nurses at a hospital ER. They all hung out together on weekends. It was a good team.
Everyone had a nickname and hazed each other mercilessly, establishing camaraderie in the high stress environment. Everyone had each other’s back. No one knew what would come through those ER doors.
Marina could take the joking. And hand it out too. She felt accepted. It felt like home. Not everyone made the cut.
She was known for her nonsensical sayings, which somehow, also seemed to make sense. Her philosophical, “It’s a doggie-dog world” was everyone’s favorite quote.
As Marina drove to the church, she thought about her last conversation with Carla.
Carla didn’t “Bird around the bushes,” as Marina would say. How could she let Annabelle down? She must be quitting.
“You should transfer, Blondie. ER is too crazy for you. Go to someplace calm, like Oncology.”
“It all happened so long ago,” Marina said. “It’s just a dream. I know it’s a dream when it’s happening. It was like a dream when it first happened. I just push through it.”
“Don’t get me wrong. We don’t want you to leave. But that dream can’t be good. Over and over?”
“It doesn’t really happen that often. Not like before.”
The ER couldn’t refuse service so it seemed some people lived there with no place else to go. And when flu season hit, every chair was occupied.
The hours were long. They couldn’t always save the worst cases. But they sure tried.
She half expected Razorman or Pistolman to ride into the ER on a gurney. But they never showed. Though not traditionally religious, Marina sometimes included them in her prayers. Sometimes not. Then it would get so busy, Marina would forget about those two. For a while.
Every day at the ER was different. Shootings and car accidents were the main events and thankfully, rare. But they were real.
Marina was good at handling real. She was efficient and compassionate. She could tend to business while stitching some kid up. Her funny little songs always helped the children calm down and laugh, even when things were scary.
Marina wondered how to get someone to sing for her when it got scary. Like now.
Marina didn’t want to do this wedding thing. Why couldn’t she just be a guest? She was happy just sitting at the back of the church and observing. She enjoyed watching the pomp and ritual of joining two people in matrimony.
She discovered people act differently at weddings than in ‘real life.’ It was entertaining to see past the bells and whistles to track all the pinballs.
Annabelle was ‘Nurse Central’ as far as who made the inner circle, or not. It seemed everything revolved around her.
Except for Marina, Annabelle was the last nurse on the floor to get married. Someone joked Marina was the Susan Lucci of the nurses.
Marina countered that “Susan Lucci isn’t blonde, or a nurse.” She added when she did get married, she “will repent in Leisure. I understand they have a spa there.”
Others said Marina couldn’t get a date for the wedding. But Marina always had a date. Except for the wedding.
Her latest boyfriend, Jack, said he didn’t want to go, “because women at weddings always get ideas.”
Marina simply said, “There’s no fool like a stupid fool.”
Marina sat idling at a long light. Normally she would be impatient but this felt like a reprieve.
At Annabelle’s wedding shower, in the theme of Beauty and the Beast, they had a great time. There was lots of catered food and everyone brought presents. It was a big deal.
Annabelle always called her fiancé ‘my Beast.’ She was crazy about him.
Carla came late and brought an inflatable sex doll as her ‘date’. They played a bunch of risqué games and took turns dancing with the inflatable doll. It was hilarious.
Marina pulled into the parking lot at the church and texted Annabelle. She couldn’t believe she had no date and now was suddenly part of the wedding!
She hadn’t gone to the rehearsal. She felt bleak. Luckily, all she needed was to look pretty. That was easy. She could do that in her sleep.
This church was new to her. Everything had a halo around it. She thought, “Is this what a migraine feels like?”
Annabelle met Marina at the Rectory door, took her by the hand and dragged her down a hallway.
“I’ll give you to Kat, the Pastor’s wife. She’s great. She’ll fill you in. I can’t believe how much there still is to do!”
Annabelle suddenly turned to Marina and hugged her. Then she took her by the shoulders. “I can’t thank you enough for this. I’m going to kill Carla.”
Marina just said, “Happy to help. But wait ’til you get back from your honeymoon”
Annabelle shook her head. “Right!” Annabelle pulled her into the church office and introduced her to Kat.
“Nice meeting you Marina. Have you done this before?”
“I’ve seen about a thousand weddings, but never been in one.”
“I tell you what, just watch me. I’ll sit in the front. I’ll signal you if you need it.”
“Thanks, Kat. I’ll get through it. At least I don’t have to kiss the Beast.”
Marina paused. She pointed at Kat’s flowered headpiece. “I love your tiara. I’ve never seen one of clover.”
Kat laughed, “These aren’t clover, honey. These are baby roses.”
Kat reflexively touched her tiara and Marina saw a flash of blue on her hand. Marina took Kat’s hand and looked at her ring. It was her Grandmother’s aquamarine ring.
“What a beautiful ring.”
“Well, thank you, Marina. Sam gave it to me.”
Kat looked up and Marina followed her gaze to see Pastor Sam smiling at them. He offered his hand as Kat introduced him. Marina knew him and he knew her.
Time and space evaporated and Marina stood again in that long past rose garden, face to face with the gunman.
Marina took his hand and beheld him. She couldn’t breathe. He hesitated and stopped smiling. Marina teared up.
“You are forgiven,” she said hoarsely.
The tension was broken. Sam smiled gently and gave Marina’s hand a slight squeeze. Then he let go.
Kat broke the spell. “Forgiven? What for? Do you know each other?”
Marina shook her head. “He was in a dream.”
Kat laughed. “That must have been some dream.” Everyone laughed but Marina and Sam.
They continued looking at each other. The room went silent. Marina turned to Kat.
“Your ring was there too.”
Kat shook her head. “You dreamed of my ring? What are you talking about?”
Then Sam spoke, very quietly, “Forgiveness is the only door through which we can find true, and divine love.”
Kat laughed. “Amen! Baby! You’re on fire today!” She started clapping and everyone joined in.
Sam continued smiling and spread his arms to include everyone in the room. “Aren’t we all forgiven? It seems impossible, such a miracle.”
Marina laughed and nodded and burst into tears. “Yes! It’s true.”
Marina always said Annabelle’s was the most beautiful wedding she ever saw. It was there she defeated her dreams.