In the distance a man in a brightly flowing gown descended a side staircase into the half-pipe and gazed upon their advent. He was a Father of the Church garbed in an individuating robe. By tradition the lower fathers weaved colorful patterned gowns symbolizing their personal relationship with God and the cosmos, often with the help of their flock at weave gatherings, such events being a source of endless merriment. The more striking and colorful the robe the better, for they were designed to transport the viewer into an alternative universe in which color and pattern reigned, much as the faithful conceived of heaven. The father had seen this odd couple descending the half-pipe from the Edge, their bodies oriented at right angles, heads nearly touching in the confines of the scoop, hands spanning the gap between their waists. Ivy realized what he must be thinking. Surely they could not be the first couple to wander out of the wilderness into the Notches. She pulled Mutt forward energetically by the hand and approached the holy man, her face radiant.
“Father, we have come to consummate our love.”
The father was surprised at her directness, Mutt even more so.
“Under the auspices of the Church,” she continued.
Ivy rested her head tenderly on Mutt’s shoulder and swung his hand, her smile suffused with hints of rapture. Mutt thought maybe she really was his intended.
The father eyed her quizzically. “Are your papers in order?”
She dropped her eyes demurely then leveled them at the robed man.
“Father, you may surmise our circumstances. We have no warrant. Do you wish that we live in sin?”
The father sized up the situation and turned to Mutt.
“Young man, you have a lovely bride. May you live well and prosper with your better half. And what, pray tell, is your name?”
Mutt paused, figuring Ivy would answer for him.
“Tom,” she said. “It is such a pretty name. And I am Cerise.” She curtsied.
Mutt had never before heard the name Tom. It was an odd selection and reminded him of a slang word, tomaly, meaning dumbass. Ivy herself was surprised at the choice of names. She seemed to have summoned them from somewhere deep in her past.
“Tom and Cerise, I see,” said the father, not believing a word of it. “Well, we cannot have two lovebirds living in the Notches without the protection of the Church.”
His irony was lost on the couple who did not know how loose a place this was. It was the only location on the planet where a man could live with a man, or a woman with a woman, or an unmarried couple with each other without drawing the attention of the state. Marriage was not the most respected of sacraments although the father was always glad to sanctify a union for the greater glory of God. To Ivy, the prospect of emerging from the wilderness with a man not her husband would label her a whore. She could not enter this new land with her virtue under a cloud. She had always been taught that a woman could not return from that path, that her options were purity until marriage or harlotry. Even the Oopsah, the good parts, said so. Mutt did not understand that Ivy was proposing that the father marry them right now. She seemed so certain in her acting he assumed she had a workable plan and he would be wise to play along.
“Where will you be staying?” the father asked.
“Father, we have no means,” Ivy replied.
“How have you come so unprepared?”
“We were given a choice, our love and want, or no love and riches. We chose love.”
“Well, we do have a free angle house by the cloister. You may occupy it until a rounder opens up. It is the duty of the Church to aid those in need. Our vow is to ask nothing in return save that you give freely of yourselves to others when so able.”
The father stepped forward and embraced them awkwardly, his figure bisecting the angle of their bodies, his kaleidoscopic robe raining into the interstice uniting them in a splendor of color.
“Come,” he said. “Let us rejoice!”
They followed him up the angled edges of the side staircase to a smaller half-pipe leading to the church. Mutt stopped awestruck at the towering spires of the structure. It was a smallish building but so unlike the church in Shivaree, constructed of various orientations of matter to defy gravity. The pyramidal base containing the nave tapered upward to a narrow isthmus that unfolded like a six-fingered hand beckoning heavenward above a wrist. The fingers of this hand, those magnificent spires, soared upwards brightly painted in the pastel paisley patterns favored in depictions of heaven. Mutt thought these fingers might close on the fabled Angels of God and for a brief moment and bring to the material world creatures of the divine. The pyramid had six uneven facets not counting the base and the isthmus was a hexagonal column thereby combining with the spires to form a holy trinity of sixes, a number of great significance in the Church and among numerologists. The half-pipe approach to the church was a smaller depression more difficult to navigate with their misaligned gravity. The couple struggled to maintain balance on what to them was a slope, Ivy refusing to let go Mutt’s hand even when equilibrium required it. Eventually they reached the side door of the church which the father pulled open by a hexagonal brass knob, a favored shape in the higher planes. Ivy continued to paw Mutt apparently delighted at the prospect of their nuptials. He finally figured out they were headed to an altar and was not happy about it. In his mind he was on a conveyor belt leading to a trash compactor and for some reason, perhaps the binds of fate, he could not escape. He assumed she was just acting, but was she?
The church was not configured for a transverse wedding and the father had work to do. The hallway behind the door was naturally aligned with the plane of the Notches but was forty-five degrees to the gravity of the couple, too steep for them to navigate. The father motioned them to wait while he turned a crank that swung a panel from the wall outward into the corridor to achieve a flat surface for the gravity of Skava. He did the same on the opposite side of the hallway to accommodate the gravity of Arland. These panels could be rotated by cranks every few feet and in this manner the couple slowly approached their date at the altar. Tucked inside the central column of the main nave was a bizarre spiral staircase on which people with the gravity of both great nations could ascend, the step for one being the riser for the other, to a small chapel in the wrist of the spires. Here the father energetically pulled right triangular blocks from a closet and placed them before the altar so the couple could stand upright with their natural gravity to exchange vows. Stained skylights ringed the hexagonal ceiling letting sunlight shine through on its permanent angle, the direct rays passing through an image of the sacred Oopsah as it descended from heaven to the transfixed eyes of goatherds. The father turned on a phonograph of gurgling baby sounds and lit an incense stick smelling of ox dung. He had no easy way to get the couple to their platforms before the altar and elected to physically support them by the shoulder as they navigated traction studs on the floor. Set upon their platforms, standing at right angles to one another and forty-five degrees to the floor of the chapel, Mutt glared at Ivy angry at the swiftness of the ceremony. Their heads were within inches of one another, their feet separated by more than a body length, and Ivy’s hand clutched Mutt’s so tightly in the space between he could not withdraw it.
“Witnesses,” the father declared, shuffling toward a side staircase. “We need witnesses.”
He returned with two men who sat in the front pew holding hands affectionately. Mutt was appalled. He had never before seen unrepentant sodomites and could not believe he was to be wed to a total stranger wanted for murder on a block of wood in an angled chapel listening to babies coo in the pungent odor of ox dung before the devil’s chosen. Ivy was bewildered by the pace of the father’s actions yet looked upon the witnesses with a profound sense of liberation. No one in Harmour loved anyone and was it not an increase in the sum total of the planet’s happiness that these two found bliss in one another’s arms? She wanted to kiss them and thank them for the example of their love and encourage Mutt to do the same. But the father was standing before them delivering his preamble and her attention was diverted to her intended and the holy man who would sanctify their union. Mutt felt pulled into his block like a puppet operated by strings drawn taut by an invisible hand below. Should the hand move he would merely relax and act out jerky motions but escape was not possible without scissors. He did not understand what was passing through Ivy’s head. She did not for a second believe she was marrying this man. She hardly knew him. As much as she fantasized of salvation, as much as she had dreamed that he would be her chosen, such things took time. She merely wanted the legitimacy of a husband upon her entrance to the Notches. Did he not understand this? In fact he did not know what she was thinking and resented how suddenly he had been corralled into this farce. But it was too late for feelings. The father was speaking.
“As permanent as the sun in the sky is the love from which all life springs forth. What we see as a cycle of love and procreation is to the eyes of our Heavenly Father the steady state of his creation. What to you today is a momentous occasion is to Him an ordained event independent of time, for what is will always be and was always meant to be. So it is with great joy that I stand before you in service to the higher planes to unite these two young people, and such beautiful people you are, in the joy you will find in sharing your love, your companionship, your bodies, the fruit of your bodies. There may come a day when you question your vows before this holy altar. But you shall no more question your sacred love than you shall question your soul. You can no more sever this bind than remove your heart from your chest. For from this day forward the two shall be one, and neither exist without the other. Please, Tom,” the father paused. “Do you have a last name?”
“It’s just Tom,” Ivy interjected. “We have no need of surnames.”
“Tom it is!” exclaimed the father. “And a lovely name it is. Tom, gaze into the eyes of your beloved and tell this father, are you prepared to merge into one?”
Mutt stood dumbstruck. Was he supposed to say something?
“Yes.” He glowered at Ivy, the strings drawing taut.
“And to you, my young lady, Cerise with no surname, can you gaze upon this man and confirm to this father that the two shall become one?”
Ivy looked lovingly into Mutt’s brooding eyes.
“Yes, father, I can confirm.”
“Then let us pronounce. We are not beings designed for solitude. We are born a half and through marriage made whole. What today is brought together in holy union, let only death rip apart. Henceforward think not of yourself, but of yourselves. Henceforward you are the greatest of God’s creations, a union of flesh with four arms, and four legs, and two heads, and one heart.”
The father turned to Mutt.
“Do you, Tom, take Cerise to be your lawful wedded wife, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, for better or for worse, till death do you part?”
Mutt had never heard the vows expressed this way and indeed neither had the father. He was channeling from a different place. It was a point of pride among the lower fathers to extemporize at solemn occasions as a sign of possession by a guiding spirit. While sameness tended to pervade their pronouncements, the father today was in a mood to rewrite all scripts such had the spirit moved him. Mutt glanced at Ivy, flustered by the rush of the ceremony. They had no wedding raiment and wore only the plain clothes they had last washed in the Edge pools. She stood beside him at a right angle, her head cocked upwards to gaze upon him with a smile as unrestrained as the little girl on the seesaw. He remembered his Hutwoman bride seated arms akimbo and legs dangling on the side of a sycamore trunk and decided they were both living out a fantasy. This was not real, they were not marrying in substance, she wanted this for legitimacy, he did not want it at all, yet he could not imagine a more alluring woman, and if he had one faculty unmatched on the planet it was the ability to imagine alluring women. She was blushing and Mutt hoped maybe she would stay in character just a few more hours for the honeymoon. He grinned broadly at the prospect.
The father repeated the words for Ivy who cried with happiness uttering her vows. It was not a real wedding but even she was surprised by the conviction of her affirmation. This was what she wanted, a marriage based on love and affection, something she could never have in Harmour, and even if it was not real, that this man would play along was a token of love, a willingness of another to sacrifice for her well-being. What favors could she offer to repay his kindness? One was off the list for she would give herself to a man for nothing less than a lifelong commitment. Indeed she had little to offer openly beyond the potential of a deepening relationship, and that would have to suffice. For she could not tell him what she had already done to save his life, and the lives of his family, and the lives of all people on the planet. She had repaid his kindness in advance but he could never be told.
“Then by the power invested in me by the Church and the Father, I now pronounce you,” the father paused, “one.”
“Young man, could you have before you a more beautiful bride? Come, kiss your new wife, and commit.” The wedding would not be complete until the symbolic consummation of a kiss.
“Father, please turn off that phonograph.” The cooing and crying of babies was really disturbing him.
The father looked nonplussed. No one had ever made this request before but he dutifully obliged.
“And could you please snuff the incense?”
The father was even more astounded. It was their wedding and these accents were his own creation to be altered at will. But truly no one had ever complained.
“Do you have any trape?”
Mutt was longing to mask the odor of dung with a more fragrant scent. As soon as he asked he realized the replacement would likely be worse. He turned to Ivy and decided he should at least get a good kiss from this sham. Their lips had not met since the Edge pool and he was longing for further exploration. He turned so that their heads were directly facing one another without need of craning their necks. They tilted their faces sideways so they more closely aligned, offset just enough to kiss as lovers might with the same orientation. He placed his hand behind her head and kissed her tenderly, then deeply and prolonged, so much that the witnesses clapped at the display of affection, one of them even hooting. Mutt looked at the hooter from the corner of an eye and managed a smile while kissing. This was truly a surreal occasion, his taking pride at the urging of sodomites for his conquest of a woman. Ivy thought their clapping was only fair for she would celebrate their love in return. Eventually the father stepped forward and separated the two, eager to conclude and return to his other duties.
“Let me surmise, you have no rings.”
“No father, we are destitute.”
He dug around in the closet and produced two spools of yarn, one pastel yellow, one pastel green, and a pair of scissors. Mutt wished he had had the scissors earlier so he could cut his puppet strings. The father snipped a segment from each spool and handed the yellow piece to Ivy. Mutt extended his hand and she held his fingers.
“Yellow, for the sun,” she offered, tying the yarn around his ring finger in a loopy bow. Mutt thought it looked fruity.
He took the green strip from the father and held Ivy’s hand.
“Green, for the grass.”
He tied a bow on her finger and gave her one last kiss.
“May the sun give light to the grass, and the grass give life to the sun,” the father proclaimed, the witnesses clapping politely from the pew. The ceremony was officially over. On his way out of the chapel Mutt dropped his only bill in the offering box.
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