On the morning of my brother’s second wedding I worked in a group of ten people setting up and decorating tables at the reception hall. Tony and his bride, Victoria, had decided months ago that they would manage the arrangements for the ceremony and feast, and a troop of friends and family gathered early at the hall to help them out.
Tony paused to consult with Victoria for a minute, and then turned to me with a deadly serious look on his face. He said, “Denny, I want you to help me get the cake.” Victoria had baked the cake, but had sent it out to a friend to have it iced and decorated.
Tony and I drove in his KIA Soul to a condo development on the outskirts of town. A short woman with a smoker’s cough and raspy voice answered the door and let us in. She hobbled over to her kitchen counter and dully mono-toned, “There it is.” She sounded grim as a coroner asking the next of kin to identify a body.
The cake belied her attitude: it was a beautiful stack of four tiers covered by immaculate, white frosting. An autumn leaf of gold and brown decorated one side. It was perfect.
I thought that her mood might be blamed on the state of her health rather than on the appearance of the cake. She told Tony that she had just worked her first shift after knee surgery and was exhausted and in pain. But she went on to warn us that, while she had done her best, the inner foundations of the cake might not hold up under strain. It would be a perilous mission to transport the cake to the hall.
I pushed the board on which the cake sat with my fingertips and slid it a few inches without effort. It didn’t seem all that heavy. The edge of my hand grazed the side, however, and smudged some of the decorations. The woman pointed to a tub of frosting on the counter and told me that she could easily fix the damage that I had done.
(I should have paid closer attention to the sign that I had just been given. If I had been attuned to the will of the gods I would have abandoned the job at that point. I had been Tony’s best man at his first wedding and hadn’t brought him any luck in that relationship. I wasn’t sure when asked that it was a good idea for me to serve in the roll once again, and this moment should have been a confirmation of my fears. But I was too tired from stress and lack of sleep to notice its significance.)
Tony retreated to his car. I followed and we discussed the logistics. The hatchback opened on a storage area whose floor dipped six inches below the lip of the door. We proposed several options, but finally adopted a plan that I suggested: Tony and I would sit on the lip, pivot and lower the cake.
We went back inside and slowly, carefully carried the cake out to the car. He sat on the lip (there was just enough room for one plus the cake), and I bent down. We turned and began to lower the cake. I saw it tip slightly in Tony’s direction, slid my hand to his side, and watched in surprise as the cake fell over my right hand. It dropped four inches.
The tiers remained seated on top of each other, but two quarter moon sections had split off the sides of the bottom tier. Some of the decorations and frosting had been smeared as Tony and I struggled to regain control of the cake during its brief descent. I remembered the tub of frosting on the kitchen counter and thought that it might be possible to paste the broken sections back on. The cake could be turned so that the best looking side faced the crowd…”It isn’t a total disaster,” I told myself.
Tony left my side seconds after the drop and paced on a patch of lawn twenty feet away. He didn’t say anything at the time of the accident, but now was walking in circles while rubbing his forehead with his eyes squinched shut. He looked like a migraine sufferer struggling to ward off the latest spasm.
The decorator limped up to the hatchback and sadly shook her head. Tony joined us, and he and the woman explained that my proposals for fixing and camouflaging the damage were no good. Victoria was a perfectionist about baking matters and would never tolerate a botched job. The woman added that she could doctor the top three tiers, but that the bottom layer was beyond repair.
I didn’t offer to resign as best man–it was too late for that as the start of the wedding was a few hours away–but I offered to take all the blame. Tony refused and declared that he had been at fault too. Neither of us believed that.
And then Tony began to consider when he would tell Victoria about the cake. He feared her wrath if she discovered this flagrant provocation before the wedding. He decided to wait until after the wedding ceremony. He hoped that his bride would be happy enough with the nuptials to forgive him during the drive to the reception hall. I didn’t know the route, but hoped that it was long and winding.
Victoria was ecstatically happy after the wedding as we posed for official pictures. She wasn’t upset when we reached the hall and she saw the truncated cake stationed near the wedding party’s table. I was relieved.
I found out later that one of my nephew’s wives had blabbed the bad news before the wedding, and that Victoria had taken it in stride. She knew what was important on her wedding day and was starry eyed with love as she held my brother’s hand and kissed him at the reception.
I felt grateful that I hadn’t managed to jinx the wedding. Tony and Victoria would be fine together, and nothing that I could do could mess that up. In fact, my screw up had provided one more test for their love that they had passed with ease and grace.
Perhaps the trouble with Tony’s first marriage had started with the flawless ceremony and reception. Absolutely nothing had gone wrong. If only I had dropped the ring or stepped on the bride’s train or had gotten drunk and said unfortunate things during my speech…if only…But then Tony would never have met Victoria.
I saved my best blunder for last.