zingmagazine10 autumn 1999







about zing


8 poets making it new
generation z
lutwidge finch
the back of beyond

“Odd,” Finch said, now at the steps of the church.
Inside, all was blissfully dark and cool. Lutwidge did not have much use for religion. He came from a family of freethinkers, though they paid lip service to the conventions of the day. At school he had studied the Bible much as one studied maths or Latin. He had been baptized. He knew when to stand and when to sit. Was there a God? Not at times like this, he thought.

“Punctual to the second,” the Colonel cried, tiptoeing down the aisle.
Although he had not changed (the medals on his chest jangled as his body tried containing its excitement) he seemed genuinely transformed, ten years younger, and several degrees less seedy.

“A delay,” the Colonel babbled. “My fiancée didn’t have the proper attire. She is not much for fashion. Bit of a Jenny-One-Note. Simple girl really. Love and pity spring from the same root, I often think. Found her on the street corner, I did. But enough of that. A diamond in the rough. Several hundred diamonds, I should say, how much she is worth, that is.”

“Colonel,” Finch said, “are you all right? You seem very excited.”

“Well I am! I am! It’s the...culmination!” He found the word, Lord knows how long it had lain there, and held it up triumphantly. “The culmination of my entire life.”

“And what am I to do?”

“Stand by my side.” The Colonel came to attention. “Here, take the ring. Just a bauble I found, a trinket, until we pass a proper jeweller’s.”

“They slide along curtain rods, don’t they? I used to work holidays in my uncle’s drapery shop--”

“Yes, well just hand it to me at the proper moment,” the Colonel whispered hastily, seeing the door to the right of the altar open. “Wouldn’t have a bottle of spirits in your pocket, would you? No? Just as well.”

There was no music. The vicar, after having been introduced to Lutwidge, in turn presented his daughter, who was to act as the other witness. The party assembled themselves, then looked expectantly to the vestry.

“Nan?” the vicar called gently.

A tall, thin woman in an ill-fitting home-sewn wedding gown emerged. She held a simple bouquet. Though she wore a veil, her features were quite visible beneath the gauze. With hesitant, uncertain steps, she walked down the transept and took her place beside the Colonel.

“Dearly beloved,” the vicar began. “We have come together this day to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony, a state not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.”

I have never been so envious of another man, Lutwidge discovered, looking at the Colonel, imagining his happiness. I would be him, if given the chance.

As he listened, the creaking of the church’s front door made him glance back ever so briefly. Inspector Jenkins had been following him. He sat in the last pew, unobtrusive as always, like those spiders who wait on the outskirts, rather than the center, of their web.

“Do you, Jonathan, take this woman to be your wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, all the days of your life?”

“I do,” the Colonel said.

Finch turned his attention to the bride. “Nan.” The same name as the Reverend Belcher’s missing sweetheart. Could she be...? So much had happened to him today. The letter, its perfumed barb working its way deeper and deeper into his heart. Then the irony of being present at another’s wedding. The black carriage. Inspector Jenkins’ suspicious reappearance...

“And do you, Nan, take this man to be your husband, to honor and obey him from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, all the days of your life?”

...now this strange apparition of a bride, who looked remarkably like...
There was a pause. All watched Nan for her response. Her lips twitched in a way Lutwidge instantly recognized, and found utterly familiar.

“Ghoulrich,” he said without thinking.

She turned and frowned. It was as if a key had been inserted, the tumblers lined up, and the bolt suddenly clicked back. Her posture, manner, regard, all changed in the blink of an eye.

“Finch,” she said, in a voice perhaps half an octave lower.

“You are not dead, then?”

“Am I? I suppose not.”

“If you don’t mind,” the Colonel said, “we are right in the middle of something here.”

Nan looked at the balding, portly man standing opposite her, then at the bouquet of posies she held, and, by natural progression, her own dress.

“Sweet Lord Jesus Christ,” he said--for it was, in fact, Bradley Ghoulrich, “--what am I doing in white muslin?”

“Getting married.” Finch could not help but smile, despite the shock.

“The hell you say! Not to this cretin, surely?”

“Could we take that for a ’yes’?” the Colonel asked hopefully, sensing the collapse of his plans.

“My dear young lady,” the vicar scolded.“I will not have the name of the Savior taken in vain, particularly on Holy Ground.”

“It is Mr. Young Lady to you,” Ghoulrich said haughtily, letting his bouquet drop.

“Nerves,” the Colonel tried explaining, mopping his brow. “She’ll be all right. Perhaps if you gave us a minute alone.”

“And who is he?” Ghoulrich demanded, noting Inspector Jenkins, curious at the commotion, now coming up the aisle.

“That,” Finch said, “is the man who told me you were dead. He has been asking all sorts of questions about you, about your activities and associates.”

“Yes,” Ghoulrich said, dispensing with the veil as well. “I remember everything now. If he finds me, I fear I will be far worse off than dead. There is real evil afoot in the land, Lutwidge.”

“Then perhaps we should leave it.”

“Good thinking.”

“Nan!” the Colonel cried, as Finch and Ghoulrich ran through the chancel and out the side door of the church. “Don’t go, Nan! I love you!”

to be continued . . .