As our wedding day approached, I became increasingly unsure about the idea of spending the rest of my life with my fiancée. I started to think quite seriously about calling everything off. As I was explaining this to my friend Demetrio, news came through that she had been horribly mauled by an escaped tiger. I rushed to the hospital and found her lying there, eyes peeping through a gap in her bandages. I knew then that I had to tell her about my misgiving.
She accused me of jilting her because she had lost her looks. Luckily, I had foreseen this possibility, and brought Demetrio along to back me up. His English isn't great, but with a few disjointed phrases and an elaborate mime he was able to verify that my doubts had already been in place. He has a trustworthy expression, and she was able to accept that my love just wasn't strong enough for us to enter into marriage. After she'd had a little cry, I reassured her that we could still be friends.
'But what about the tiger?' she asked. She had always been so fond of animals. 'They didn't kill it, did they?' Her eyes widened with concern. 'Tell me they didn't kill it.'
They had killed it, though —they'd shot it through the face with a giant gun. Demetrio provided her with a speculative re-enactment of its final moments, and she fell into a fresh wave of sobs. Dealing with that kind of thing was no longer my responsibility, and after weighing up my options I decided to leave her to it.
My friends are all married to very attractive women, and my wife couldn't help but feel a little insecure about this. When we got home after a night out with them it all boiled over, and she started to make spiteful comments. I gave her a hug, and told her that while she may not be in their league, she still had an awful lot going for her.
'Really?' she said, glad of the reassurance.
'Really.' I reached for a pen and a pad of paper, and together we set out to compile a list of her attributes. By daybreak, all we had written was that she had almost kicked her heroin habit, and that her new hairstyle might start suiting her once it had had a chance to grow out a bit.
My wife's final wish was to be cremated in her wedding dress, and when she slipped away I tenderly prepared her body just as she had asked.
When I carried her into the funeral parlour, the undertaker took one look at her and shook his head. With impeccable politeness, he explained that even though the dress was very small, the black rubber it was made from would cause a terrible mess in the furnace, as well as sending an acrid aroma through the surrounding streets. 'I am afraid, sir,' he said, 'that there are rules about this kind of thing.' He 'saw the dismay on my face. 'Perhaps,' he suggested, 'madam had something in her wardrobe which was comparably whorish, but rather more likely to conform to council regulations?'
© Dan Rhodes 2013
This electronic excerpt from Marry Me appears in The Barcelona Review with kind permission of the publisher and author. Marry Me is published by Cannongate Books Ltd, 2013. Book ordering available through amazon.com and amazon.co.uk
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Scottish author Dan Rhodes has worked on a fruit and vegetable farm, in the stockroom of a book shop, behind the bar of his parents' pub, as a teacher in Ho Chi Minh City, and, sporadically, as a full-time writer.
He has published three collections of short fiction: Anthropology: And a Hundred Other Stories (2000), Don't Tell Me the Truth About Love (2001), and Marry Me (2013), a collection of 80-odd mini-pieces about marriage from which these excerpts are taken. His first novel, Timoleon Vieta Come Home: A Sentimental Journey, was published in April 2003, and is about a dog's travels across Italy. This was followed by Little White Car (2004); Gold (2007), shortlisted for the 2008 Catherine Maclean Prize; Little Hands Clapping (2010); and This is Life (2012). Rhodes was named by Granta magazine as one of twenty 'Best of Young British Novelists'.