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  • Writer's pictureSylvia Schwartz

Half-Windsor Knot

I, Herman, do take into account that some have called me a hypochondriac or to a lesser degree neurotic, which is why my 75-year-old Jewish mother is quite happy that today I am marrying a doctor. And that now Suzanne will be the woman I seek for appeasement to my troublesome ailments—which are quite real. Granted, I haven’t always found a suitable solution, and I must admit when I ate nothing but papaya seeds for days, having read online that parasites don’t like papaya seeds, I hadn’t realized the cure would feel like a wire bristle brush scrapping out my intestines.

I untie the Half-Windsor Knot for the third time, while knowing my mother is already seated in the first row in the garden, and glare at the knot in the hotel bathroom mirror. Now the knot is off kilter, like my undulating stomach. Could I have eaten something bad at the rehearsal dinner? I move within an inch of the mirror to examine my complexion, which is definitely paler than usual.

It could be just nerves. After all, Suzanne is, well, Suzanne—thirty-two and stunningly beautiful, while I am a nebbishy, never married, forty-five-year-old with the paltry salary of a historical researcher. Yet I have lived alongside the words of dead poets—and wooed her in a way deemed utterly unimaginable today. I sent her bouquets that symbolized her inner beauty, such as jasmine for grace and larkspur for laughter, accompanied by handwritten love letters brimming with waves of passion. Of course, that is, when I wasn’t feeling ill, stomach churning, cramping, as if standing on a ship’s bridge, realizing the steady shore I have clung to—my solitary, yet comfortable, world of unequivocal historical facts and already determined fates—is slipping away, sending me adrift into the deepest waters of uncertainty.

Now the knot is so tight it’s practically choking me. I rip off the tie and stare at the two ends hanging down as if they have been conspiring against me. I bring my palm to my forehead. It’s warm, just as I suspected. My fingers touch the glands of my throat. The right one is larger, swollen. My palms sweaty. Yes, I am definitely coming down with something, but what? What if it’s something in the air like French Legionnaires’ disease? Almost two thousand people a year die of this. Suddenly I can’t breath. My head hurts.

I frantically pat my breast pockets, the coat’s front pockets, my pant pockets. Then, I suddenly remember Suzanne made me give her my phone; said she didn’t want it going off during the ceremony. But now I know it’s because she didn’t want me searching the Internet for cures—like I should be doing right now—realizing everyone in this hotel is coming down with Legionnaires’ disease, and we need to get out before it’s too late.

With my head pounding, I barely hear a soft knock on the door.

They’ve come to evacuate! I run to the door and am just about to open it when I hear Suzanne’s soothing voice.

“Honey, are you okay?”

How can she be asking this so calmly? Maybe there’s no air conditioning to transmit the disease in the room where she dressed. Maybe Suzanne’s been spared!

“Darling, the Xanax?”

I pat all my pockets again and tucked inside the tiny watch pocket, I find the small pill container where she told me it would be. I try to speak but can’t.

“It’s okay, honey, take your time.”

I hear the ruffling and swoosh of her trailing wedding dress as she turns to leave. I swallow the pill without water. Seeing myself in the mirror, I wonder why she is marrying this rumpled man. I smooth my sparse hair into place, tuck in my shirt tighter, shake my pant legs away from clinging socks, and dab my forehead with the handkerchief we found in a vintage shop. The shop where I discovered a dandelion encased in a heart-shaped glass locket now hidden inside her bridal purse. Everlasting wishes. After a deep breath, a wave of calmness carries me farther and farther away until I am once again standing on the bridge of that ship looking out now not into the blue of nothingness, but into Suzanne’s steady and gentle blue eyes.

I, Herman, do solemnly swear to take the two ends of this black tie and commit them—for the final time—to be tied together as one.

Originally published in The Vignette Review

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