I stood under the eaves of the peeling red barn, facing north on a strip of dry land no wider than the road opening at my feet.  I wore the black mortician’s getup Helen had brought for me, and even standing in the shade I’d already sweated through my undershirt.  I’m sure the heat had something to do with it—the heat, and my impending sense of doom.

My mother and father stood behind me, beside one another.  It’s not like they’d kissed and made up, but the fact of them occupying the same space would previously have been unthinkable.  Luscious Jackson lurked at the back of the barn looking out on the world with glass eyes.  Marty and Monty had leaned her up against the back wall, facing up the road, and had even taken the time to dress her in a polite white dress.

A small congregation gathered in front of me.  Mitchell, Cathy, and Faye; David Drysdale; Kingston in overalls; Meg in her moo-moo.  Everyone milled about, waiting for things to get started. I took the opportunity to speak with David Drysdale.

‘I heard you wanted to talk to me,’ I said.

‘I do,’ he said, rubbing the back of is balding head.  ‘Your story has been quite the curiosity—ever since I got your first letter.’

‘After this is done,’ I said, ‘we’ll talk.’

‘Right,’ he said.  ‘Say…’  Drysdale gestured back at the circus truck.  ‘Your friend—I think Fuco was his name?’  I nodded.  ‘Was that absinthe he was drinking?  I saw him behind the trailer.’


‘Maybe ten minutes ago.’  I called to Meg.

‘Has Fuco been drinking?’ I said.

‘I think he’s nervous,’ Meg said in a near-whisper, like this was a secret.  ‘He’s never conducted a wedding before.’

‘Jackson!’ my mother hissed from behind me.  I turned to see her pointing up the road.  ‘They’re about to start.’  I smiled to both Meg and Drysdale and took my spot at the head of the barn.

The remainder of the wedding party had gathered behind the You’ve reached the Southernmost point in Louisiana sign.  Fuco’s bloated circus truck was parked beside the sign, marking the point where the pavement turned to gravel.  The gravel strip leading up to the barn would have to pass for our aisle.

I heard the crackling of speakers from Fuco’s truck.  A familiar harp triplet rose from the crackle.  I fought the urge to puke.  Pacabel’s Kanon. Violins began to whine and Monty stepped from behind the sign.  He wore the same black pants and polished black shoes, the same starched white shirt, and he’d added a red cummerbund and a red bowtie.  But it wasn’t Monty that held my attention.  Monty led Tristan by a red leash, which was bound to a heavy leather collar around the lion’s neck.  The tremendous feline had eyes only for me as he padded down the gravel aisle, slowing to match Monty’s pallbearer pace.   When Monty reached me he stopped, nodded casually, and took his spot beside my parents.

‘What are you doing with the lion?’ I whispered to him.

‘I told you it was going to be weird,’ he whispered back.

Marty was next to walk down the aisle, leading Siegfried the komodo with a similar leash and collar.  My diminutive friend wore black, white, and red—identical to Monty.  Marty made no point of hiding his pistol, the butt of which jutted above the cummerbund.  The dragon and Marty did a similar flanking move, coming to stand beside Tristan and Monty.

The bass and violin voices began a gentle duet, and out waddled Brünnhilde the love-cursed ape, unaccompanied.  She held a basket of rose petals and deposited them in mounds as she walked down the gravel strip.  When she reached us she offered me her basket.  I wasn’t sure if Brünnhilde was freelancing and I wavered.  Sensing my indecision, the ape cradled the basket against her chest and went to stand next to her lover, the dragon.

Strings answered one another in climbing octaves as Fuco stepped onto the road.  He wore his full ringmaster regalia: red coat, black top hat, and flaring white pants tucked into knee-high black boots.  He held his golden cane out in front of him with both hands on the lion head.  After surveying the scene he strutted down the aisle, stopping in front of me.  I felt whispers of dread creeping over me as I remembered Fuco’s last public speaking engagement and detected the scent of absinthe on his breath.  The lion tamer gave me a bearded smile.

‘Hello, friend Jackson.’

I was still sizing up my circus-bred minister when I realized that Helen was approaching.  She wore a flowing white dress with no veil and with her black hair loose.  The breeze fluttered the dress and ran through her hair with a kind of fairy queen omniscience.  I wondered for a moment, perhaps hoping, if this whole wedding fiasco wasn’t some elaborate hallucination, but as she neared me and I saw the triumph glowing in her eyes I knew this was the real deal.  Helen had finally gotten what she wanted.  The violins and viola’s tiptoed in competing arpeggios as Helen closed the distance.  I did my best to conceal my abject fear, forcing a quivering smile that she saw right through.

‘You seem stressed, my friend,’ Fuco said under the violins.

‘I’m about ready to jump in the river and swim off,’ I confessed.

Helen floated toward me, inevitable and terrifying.  I wondered if anyone noticed my legs shaking.  The Kanon ended as she arrived.  She held out her hand and I took it and it was cool and calm.  I noticed the komodo drooling heavy mucus over Marty’s black shoe.

‘Calverts!’ Fuco shouted without any kind of preface.  I was rather startled and Helen at least noticed me jump in surprise.

‘Chill out,’ she said.

‘Were you smoking crack when you planned this,’ I whispered, ‘or did you hire Stanley Kubrick to organize our wedding?’

‘Don’t be such a wretch,’ she whispered, keeping it light.  ‘I didn’t want to hear any excuses, so I made sure all your damn friends were involved in the planning.  I had to make some sacrifices in terms of creative control to get them to go along with it.  Fuco would only conduct the ceremony if we included the animals, and he was the only person I could find on such short notice.  So we made a deal.’

‘I didn’t know Fuco was a minister.’

‘He says he’s an ordained minister—that’s good enough for me.  I made it clear to him he didn’t need to say much.’

‘Maybe you could have gotten Doctor Doolittle to marry us.’


‘Other prestigious ladies and gentlemen,’ Fuco continued.  He faced the congregation.  The music seemed to have been looped on repeat because the Kanon had started up again with the initial harp plucking.  ‘We are gathered here,’ Fuco orated, ‘on this beautiful peninsula,’ he spread his arms right and left to the Mississippi River on either side of the road, ‘to celebrate the breathtaking love and spine-tingling desire between Helen and friend Jackson.’  I saw my mother frown and I wondered just how much creative control Helen had relinquished.  ‘We are gathered here,’ Fuco said, ‘because their daredevil love demands that they be joined eternally in union with a bond stronger than the chains of hell.’

Marty allowed a laugh to trickle out.  ‘For real.’  Fuco shot him down with the same gaze he gave his beasts when they acted up.  Helen had begun to simmer; I still held her hand and could feel her grip tightening.

‘We will today see our friends married,’ Fuco said, ‘and we will then see their love consummated in the birth of their no-longer-bastard child.’

‘I’m guessing you didn’t script this,’ I said under my breath to Helen.

‘He’s way off script,’ Helen lamented.  ‘Cut to the vows!’ she hissed to Fuco.  He pretended not to hear her, instead smiling with red cheeks.  He took both of us by a hand, forming a three-person circle.

‘Let us pray for a time,’ Fuco intoned.  ‘Let us contemplate the awesome power of love, in all its splendid might.  Let us contemplate how love transcends man or beast, encompassing not only our soul but the very desire to fornicate.’  Brünnhilde the ape began to clap idly to herself.

‘Cut it with the fornication talk!’ Helen hissed.  ‘Cut to the chase!’  But there was no way to alter Fuco’s course.  He and his absinth had taken over.  Faye Calvert scowled and shook her head, no doubt remembering how Fuco’s circus had ruined her reputation.

‘Calverts!’ Fuco shouted.  ‘Love is like the circus, under the very big top.  Sometimes it is the brave tamer sticking his head in the mouth of the lion.  Sometimes it is high on the trapeze.  Sometimes it is no more dangerous than a band of monkeys playing the accordion.  Love, you see, is many things.’  I had no clue what Fuco was talking about, but I also couldn’t argue with his metaphors.  In one paragraph he’d managed to sum up my entire relationship with Helen.

Pacabel started over for the third time.

‘The music’s not supposed to repeat like this,’ Helen said, not even trying to hide her agitation.  ‘Everything’s going wrong.’

‘I almost prefer a perverse wedding,’ I said, just noticing for the first time that Fuco had begun a low humming that grew in volume.  As the humming became louder Fuco closed his eyes and an expression of abject bliss washed over his hairy face.

‘Bring out the rings!’ he intoned with his eyes still closed.    Monty stepped forward with Tristan so that the lion was close enough to bite off my leg.  Monty reached under Tristan’s mane to the collar and brushed back the golden hair and I saw a simple golden ring tied to the collar with a red bow.  Monty untied the bow and rested the ring in his palm.

Marty had also stepped forward, but now he looked back at an obstinate Siegfried, who had planted four clawed feet into the soft delta soil.

‘He won’t come,’ Marty said, tugging on the leash.  Fuco opened his eyes and leveled them on the komodo.

‘Siegfried!’ he spat.  ‘Behave.’

‘Yeah Siegfried,’ Marty said, tugging harder on the leash. ‘Behave.’  Siegfried’s tongue slithered out of his poisonous mouth and ran across course lips.  The dragon glared up at Marty with black eyes that bore no love.  Marty didn’t notice.  He made a final heave on the leash and at that moment something snapped in Siegfried.   With a snarl the komodo lunged at Marty.  My skinny friend sprang back on reflex.  He dropped the leash and began to back-peddle up the gravel drive.  Siegfried scuttled after him with frightening agility as Marty spun round and began to run.  Siegfried took chase, his mouth snapping at Marty’s heels.  As Marty reached Fuco’s truck he turned to face the charging prehistoric lizard and in one well-rehearsed motion he drew his pistol from under the red cummerbund, took aim, and fired.

The sound of the gunshot splintered the tranquility of looping Pacabel.  Fuco dropped Helen and my hands.  Marty stood taut with the pistol pointed down at the enormous lizard.  The blast had stopped Siegfried’s charge and now the komodo screamed a raspy complaint and bared dripping teeth.  Thick mucus pooled in the komodo’s mouth and began to spill over its lips.

No one moved.  No one, that is, except for Brünnhilde.  With a high-pitched cry the ape whipped her basket upside down, dumping a pile of rose petals onto the ground in apparent protest.  She pitched the basket to the back of the barn and it bounced off the wall.  On all fours the ape sprang to the assistance of her wounded komodo.  She came to a stop just beside Siegfried, held back by the threat of Marty’s pistol.  She matched the dragon’s cries with her own sharp screams.

‘Nonsense!’ Fuco bellowed.  He hefted his cane like a weapon and brushed past me and in broad strides closed the distance between the congregation and the sprouting violence.  Marty saw him coming and raised the pistol in Fuco’s direction.  I could see the uncertainty in my friend’s eyes and I wondered if he was sober enough to keep from doing anything drastic.

Unlike his animals, Fuco showed no fear facing down the barrel of a gun.  He bore down on Marty and without slowing wrapped his hand over the top of the pistol and took it for his own.  I saw Marty’s finger shaking as it came free of the trigger guard.  With a sidearm hurl Fuco flung Marty’s pistol off the road and into the river.  I felt a wave of relief, thinking the sideshow was now under control.

‘This is already the weirdest wedding ever,’ I said under my breath.

‘He has shot my komodo.’  Fuco announced with obvious rage, speaking more to the other animals than to any of us.  ‘He has wounded my Siegfried.’  I noticed for the first time that Siegfried was bleeding from his lower back.

‘I’m sure it’ll be ok,’ I said from behind the scene, hoping to ward off any more conflict, but I was too late.  Fuco’s cane drop to the ground as his hand made a fist.  With unusual ferocity Fuco slammed his fist into Marty’s nose.  Marty howled as he fell back against the truck, a howl that was matched by the screams of the ape and the dragon.  From behind me I heard another voice—‘No!’—and before I could do anything about it Monty had sprung past me and leapt onto Fuco’s back, wrapping an arm around the lion-tamer’s neck in a chokehold.  Fuco’s black top hat tumbled to the ground as he stumbled in his polished black boots, falling backwards and landing on top of Monty with a thud and a cloud of dust.  Both men pounced up, their wedding whites dirtied.  Monty and Fuco began to circle each other with fists raised in front of them.

I stepped forward, wanting to come between the two men, but at that moment Marty, bloody-nose and all, regained his feet and brought all his will into a single surprise punch that caught Fuco in the left cheek.  The lion tamer fell face-first onto his hands and knees.  Underneath the sound of growling animals I heard the incessant whining of Pacabel’s violins.

‘That’s enough!’ Helen screamed, somehow appearing menacing in her flowing white dress.  The combatants paid her no heed.  Fuco had climbed to his feet, the knees of his white pants soiled and ripped, blood running from his mouth and matting his beard.  Marty and Monty formed a small phalanx and together they faced the lion tamer and his two beasts with their fists raised.  Siegfried continued to screech but it appeared the gunshot had done more damage than I’d realized.  One of his back legs hung limp and the lizard could do little more than pivot in wide circles.  Brünnhilde stayed latched to the komodo’s side, barring teeth and threatening to dismember anyone who came close to her true love.

A roar peeled out from the back of the barn and Tristan sprang past me, coming to his master’s side with a growl.  Marty and Monty were losing ground to the lion and his tamer, and it appeared we would soon see our first mauling of the day.

‘This needs to stop,’ I said to no one in particular.

‘I stop it,’ a quiet voice said from beside me.  Kingston to the rescue.  My large friend stepped back into the barn, took hold of Luscious Jackson’s leg, and in a quick motion snapped it free of her torso.  Now toting the plastic leg like a club, Kingston walked up the gravel aisle and inserted himself between the two warring factions, facing the circus contingent.  With two large hands he held the plastic leg by the ankle, brandishing it before the lion tamer and his menagerie.

‘Cut this brawl,’ Kingston said quietly.  ‘This a wedding, not a brawl.’

Fuco spat at Kingston’s feet.

‘Get out from my way,’ he said, his voice even heavier with accent than usual.  The lion tamer looked Kingston up and down with a scowl, as if judging Kingston’s choice of overalls for wedding attire.  ‘No one may harm Fuco’s children.’

‘That fucking thing tried to eat me!’ Marty said, pointing an incriminating finger at Siegfried.  The komodo continued to bleed with pained howls.

I stepped up beside Kingston, further blocking the way between the two camps.

‘Can’t we just finish getting married?’ I said.

Fuco turned his angry eyes on me and they softened.

‘You are right, friend Jackson.  I do not know what came over me.’  Marty and Monty lowered their fists, and Kingston lowered his club.

‘It’s ok,’ I said, ‘let’s just get it over with.’  Just then I noticed Siegfried had dragged himself within inches of his master’s heel.  The dragon’s hind section may have been out of commission, but his mouth still worked fine, and in one treacherous chomp Siegfried took a bite out of Fuco’s calf.  Fuco’s face contorted—a mask of pain and betrayal—and he crumpled forward.  In one final selfless moment he shouted out a warning to us all.

‘Flee!’ he shouted.  ‘The children have turned on the father!’  Fuco landed in a heap and didn’t stir.  Tristan and Brünnhilde, realizing that their freedom was at hand, collaborated on a terrifying cry of liberty.  I stepped back from the beasts, putting Kingston with his prosthetic club between me and the threat.  I slowly walked backwards until I came up against the back wall of the barn.  I looked to either side and saw everyone in the world I cared about huddled in the barn.  Looking out at the road I saw the lion, ape, and komodo had formed an impenetrable front that cut off the southernmost point in Louisiana from the rest of the world, pinning my family in this shallow barn.  Fuco’s defeated body lay motionless, half way between my family and the beasts.

‘I guess we could have chosen a better ring bearer,’ I said, ‘maybe someone a little more low key.’  I looked down at the ground and saw an amputated Luscious lying on her side, looking up at me through unsuspecting glass eyes.  I remembered the feeding frenzy under the bigtop and was struck with an idea.  Some sort of distraction—something they could gnaw on like they did that fish. I reached down to where Luscious had fallen and hefted her up on one leg.

‘If I were you I’d take off my high heels,’ I said to Helen, and handed her the keys to the LeBaron.  ‘Everybody stay close, and get ready to run.’  I stepped forward, holding Luscious out in front of me like a shield, and noticed that the animals were all three eying the mannequin with anger and venom.  Perfect.  I advanced so I was shoulder to shoulder with Kingston, who still bore his club.  Marty and Monty, both unarmed, took up positions to either side of us, with my father and Mitchell on the corners.  Helen, Faye, Cathy, Meg, Drysdale, and my mother brought up the rear.  We advanced toward the agitated animals, which showed no sign of backing down.

‘What we gonna do?’ Kingston said.  I was amazed by the calm in his voice.

‘I wish I still had my gun,’ Marty said.

‘We’re gonna use Luscious as a distraction,’ I announced.  I looked left and right over my advancing line and made brief eye contact with my father, who nodded.  ‘Just be ready to run.’

Tristan roared with bristling mane, Brünnhilde screeched, Siegfried bled and frothed.  Pacabel played on.  The line of Calverts inched forward.

‘What do we do about Fuco?’ Mitchell said.

‘He’s on his own,’ Helen said from behind me.  ‘He could have just stopped nagging me about putting those cretins in the wedding and none of this would have ever happened.’  I’m not sure anyone agreed with her but no one argued.  When we reached the lion tamer’s crumpled form Kingston didn’t hesitate to step over him.  We were now no more than five feet from the animals, and I knew any one of them could pounce in an instant.  It was time to act.

‘Get ready!’ I said.

‘I’m ready,’ Kingston said, choking up on his grip.

Tristan spotted what we were up to.  He drew back, ready to pounce, and in that moment I heaved Luscious over the lion’s head.  Her plastic hair caught in the wind, shimmering blond with our last hope.  With a roar the lion lunged up on his hind legs at the flying mannequin, snatching her stiff inanimate form and dragging it down to earth.  She hit the ground hard and Tristan bit down on her head and I heard the plastic crack.  Not to be left out, Brünnhilde lunged for Luscious’ one remaining leg and snapped the leg clean from its torso and used it to bludgeon the poor mannequin.  Siegfried dragged his lifeless hindquarters across the gravel and began to nibble on Luscious’ legless crotch.  With the three animals tearing into our plastic friend, they had left one side of their front unprotected.

‘Now!’ I shouted, but there was no need—Helen was already filling the gap, followed by my mother and Faye and Cathy and everyone else.  Kingston and I followed, with Kingston wielding Luscious’ leg as our lone protection.  I glanced north I saw everyone running full tilt toward parked cars.  Faye, Cathy and my parents had already climbed into the Civic, with Mitchell and Drysdale just reaching the sheriff’s cruiser.  Regardless of her wedding dress Helen leapt over the LeBarron’s driver door and into the driver’s seat.  Feeling a momentary relief, I looked back at the animals just in time to see Brünnhilde’s dark hairy form hurtling in my direction.  I held up my arm, trying to protect my face but otherwise defenseless.  With a strange calm I realized this would be the end of me: mangled by an insane ape at the end of the river.  I waited for the moment to tick by and for gravity to bring the snarling beast down on top of me.

The blow never came.  Kingston clubbed Brünnhilde out of the air using Luscious’ leg.  Before she could scamper to her feet he reached down and snagged Brünnhilde by the ankle and flung her off the road with a mighty hammer throw.  The ape landed with a scream in the river.  I had no time to think of what I should do—I ran, seeing the red LeBaron in front of me.  Helen revved the engine and I knew if I could make it that far we could speed off and never stop until we reached California.  I hazarded a glance back and saw Kingston close behind me, with Tristan just behind him and closing the distance in fleet bounds.

‘Don’t look back!’ Kingston shouted.  I focused all my attention on the LeBaron.

‘Run!’ Helen screamed.  Exhaust poured out the back of the convertible.  With a final dive I went flying over the rear end of the car and landed hard in the back seat.

‘Move!’ I shouted.  Helen was already moving.  She dropped the accelerator to the floor and for a moment the wheels spun free, finding no purchase on the pavement.  I heard a snarl from close behind me before something landed on top of me, knocking all the wind from my lungs.

‘Sorry,’ a quiet voice said.  A strong pair of hands pulled me up to a seated position and I felt the wind blowing through my hair.

‘Did we make it?’ I said.  When I turned back I got all the answer I needed.  Tristan loped after us, trying to keep up, but the LeBaron was already doing forty and leaving him far behind.

‘Is everyone ok?’  I looked instinctively to Helen in the front seat.  Her eyes flashed up to the rear view mirror.

‘Well Fuco is fucked but everyone else made it,’ she said.

I looked back at the diminishing red barn and caught my breath.  One figure huddled beside Fuco’s fallen body.

‘Turn around!’ I shouted.  ‘Meg’s still back there.’

‘We’re not going back for that bitch,’ Helen said.

‘Turn the fuck around!’

‘No!’ Helen shouted from the front seat, but we were already slowing down.  All jealousy aside, Helen knew we couldn’t leave Meg and Fuco to the beasts.  We flipped a three-point turn and eased back down the road with great caution.  As we drew closer I could see the flowing fabric of Meg’s multi-hued moo-moo flapping in the breeze and I could hear the looping music.  I also saw that Mitchell’s cruiser hadn’t moved.  As we drew even with it I saw my cousin on his radio.  Drysdale peered out at us from the passenger seat.  I wondered if I’d be reading about my fiasco of a wedding in the Clarion Ledger.  Mitchell rolled down his window.

‘I called for help,’ he said.

‘Meg’s still down there,’ I said.

‘I know.’

‘How long before help arrives?’

‘They have to drive down from Port Jackson.  It could take a few minutes.’

‘I’m not sure that Meg and Fuco have a few minutes.’  Brünnhilde had made her way to shore, and Tristan had wandered back down the road.  Both animals now stood a safe distance from where Fuco had fallen, beside Luscious’ mangled plastic corpse, watching Meg tend to their master.

‘The animals seem to have calmed down,’ Helen said, although I noted her hand remained on the gearshift, ready to speed north if necessary.

‘Maybe we can just wait,’ I offered.

‘No, look!’ Kingston said.  For the first time I noticed Siegfried pulling himself toward Fuco.

‘We should go get them,’ Helen said from the front seat.

‘You were the one who wanted to leave them here,’ I said.

‘I know, but I just realized that we need Fuco.’

‘Need him?’

‘We’re not even married yet,’ she said.  ‘We need him to finish the job.’  If Helen was trying to motivate me, she wasn’t doing a very good job.

‘I’ve got a shotgun in the back,’ Mitchell offered.  ‘Maybe we could scare them off.’

‘Right,’ I said dryly.  I turned to Kingston.  ‘Are you up for it?’  Kingston grinned with many teeth.

‘I’m havin’ fun,’ he said.

‘HELP!’  The scream came from Meg.   Siegfried had reached Fuco.  Crazed by the smell of blood, the lizzard gnawed on the lion tamer’s wounded calf.  Meg had her arms in Fuco’s armpits and desperately tried to drag him out of harm’s way.

‘GERONIMO!’ Marty and Monty sprang from behind the circus truck.  I had thought they were long gone but somehow they’d lurked in waiting, preparing a counterattack.  Both of them had discarded their bow ties and cummerbunds and white shirts and were bare-chested.  Marty, his skinny chest and arms exposed, his face bloodied, darted for Siegfried and snatched the dragon by the tail.  Distracted from his meal, Siegfried whipped around to face his old nemesis.  Marty dropped the tail and began to back his way into the barn.  The komodo closed in on Marty, pinning him there.

Monty used the distraction to rush to Fuco’s side, and together he and Meg lifted Fuco off the ground and began to shuffle toward us.  Brünnhilde and Tristan watched without incident, detached from the carnage.  Kingston and I jumped out of the convertible and rushed to help.  When we reached the mangled lion tamer I saw Meg was crying.  I took one of Fuco’s legs and Kingston helped Meg by taking an arm.  With four sets of hands we lifted the wounded man and set him in the back seat of the LeBaron.  When I’d set him down I saw my hands and suit were covered in blood.  Fuco moaned in delirium.

‘He’s not doing so good,’ Meg said between sobs.

‘Not doing so good my ass,’ Helen said.  She jumped over the seat and straddled Fuco and grabbed him by the shirtfront and shook him.

‘Wake up!’ she demanded.  ‘Wake up and finish marrying us!’

‘Helen,’ I said, trying to veil the horror I felt watching my bride-to-be manhandle our bloody minister.  ‘I’m not sure now’s the time.’

‘It’s never the time!’ she cursed.  Fuco’s eyes fluttered open.

‘My friends…’ he said it so quiet we couldn’t hear him over Pacabel.

‘Finish it!’ Helen said, leaning down so she was right in his face, spit flying.  ‘Say, man and wife!’

‘Oh my friends…’ Fuco’s voice slipped away, his eyes faded shut.

‘Goddammit!’ Helen cried.  She slapped him across the face and his eyes shot open.

‘Leave him be!’ Meg wailed, gripping the moo-moo with frantic hands.

‘Shut up Blondie,’ Helen spat.  ‘You’d be lion food by now if it wasn’t for us.’

As Helen browbeat Fuco, I turned and saw Marty with his back against the barn wall.  Siegfried commanded the near-end of the barn, hissing and carrying on.

‘Mitchell!’ I yelled.  ‘The shotgun!’  Mitchell already had it out and loaded.  He marched toward the barn, his olive cords still immaculate.  When he got close to the barn he cocked the gun and fired a round into the air.  The blast sent Tristan and Brünnhilde running upriver and into central Venice.  I wondered what poor unsuspecting sap they would encounter next.

Siegfried was unphased by the blast.  All of his attention focused on the shirtless Marty at the back of the barn.  In one final gasp of strength the dragon lunged at Marty and wrapped his filthy mouth around my friend’s shin.  Marty screamed but even as he fell Mitchell was on top of the komodo.  The Sheriff of Poscataw County pumped two rounds into Siegfried’s back and the komodo went limp.  Monty and Kingston moved to help Mitchell pry the komodo’s jaws free of Marty’s bleeding leg.

Helen was too fixed on Fuco to notice any of this.

‘Finish marrying us!’ she demanded, shaking Fuco once more.  ‘Say it.  Say it!’

Fuco’s eyes remained closed as he eased open his mouth and uttered three guttural syllables.

‘Man…and…wife.’  He faded from consciousness.

‘About fucking time,’ Helen said, letting go of the comatose lion tamer with a wicked grin.  She turned to me with a smile, ignoring the horror around us.

‘Time for a kiss,’ she said, ‘to seal the deal.’  I stood still for a moment, fearing my new bride, my mouth too dry for kissing.  ‘C’mon!’ she demanded.  I slowly leaned forward and my parched lips met her’s just as Marty screamed in pain.  I pulled back and surveyed the scene.  Marty lay on his back, his hands clamped around a gnawed shin.  Monty knelt at his side, in tears, cradling his running-mate.  Mitchell and Kingston dragged the dead komodo carcass out of the barn.

‘Where are the rings!’ Helen demanded.  ‘Monty!’ she shouted.  ‘Where’s Jackson ring?’

‘I dropped it,’ he wailed and went back to fawning over Marty.

‘The other one is still tied to Siegfried,’ I said numbly.  Helen marched over to the dead dragon and untied the ring from its collar.  She slipped on the ring and admired it for a time, turning her hand to examine it from many angles.

‘Now that’s more like it,’ she said as she returned to the LeBaron.  She held up her hand and waved her fingers to show off the wedding band.  Pacabel played on.

‘That was something,’ said David Drysdale from beside the LeBaron.  He had stood back watching the scene develop, and now he shook his head in disbelief.

The peel of sirens in the distance announced that help had arrived.  As the sirens grew closer I looked out at the narrow strip of land and the river beyond, mingling with the gulf, and wondered if we were legally married or not.

The sirens came into view.  Two police cars led the way, followed by an ambulance.  My aunt’s Civic, packed full like some Calvert clown car, brought up the rear.  The parade of vehicles came wheeling south to the end of the road and out jumped cops and paramedics.  Mitchell took charge, barking instructions all around.  My family piled out of the Civic and crowded around me.

‘What happened?’ my mother said, her face pale, dreading what she’d missed.

‘It’s official!’ Helen announced, offering the ring on her finger as proof.  ‘Fuco pronounced us man and wife.’

‘When?’ said my mother.

‘Just now.’

‘We came back,’ I said, trying to fill in some of the blanks.  ‘Meg got left behind, so we came back.  Monty and Marty, they—well, they saved both Fuco and Meg.  Marty got bit, and then Mitchell killed Siegfried.’

‘I see.’  My mother seemed rather disturbed, just recognizing the crazed expression in her new daughter’s eyes.

‘So it’s official?’ my father said, slapping me on the shoulder.  Just like Johnson Calvert—always trying to put the best face on any calamity.

‘I guess so,’ I said, still numb.

The sun had begun to set, illuminating the cirrus clouds over the gulf with a pastel violet.  The paramedics loaded the unconscious Fuco onto a stretcher and carried him to the ambulance, followed by a weeping Meg.  They had a harder time getting Marty to cooperate.

‘Fuck you!’ he screamed at a cadre of paramedics.  Monty, still cradling his friend, tried to quiet Marty down.

‘What’s going on?’ I said, entering the barn.

‘He’s insisting on a morphine injection,’ one of the paramedics explained to me.  ‘We don’t even carry morphine.’

‘Let me see what I can do,’ I said.  I knelt beside my friends.  ‘Marty,’ I called, but Marty didn’t hear me—he was too far gone, babbling about how he needed something strong to kill the dragon’s poison.

‘Monty,’ I said, envisioning a compromise, ‘do you have a joint?’  With one arm still wrapped around Marty, Monty went fumbling in his back pocket and retrieved a bent and battered doobie.  Marty’s face contorted in pain and rage, but when Monty flashed the joint before him the face softened.  Marty wet his lips and Monty set the joint between Marty’s lips.  Someone handed me a lighter and I wicked a flame.  The flame reflected off Marty’s pacified eyes, and as he drew in his first lungful he closed his eyes and went limp.  The paramedics wasted little time, loading his docile little frame onto the stretcher.

‘What about the cops?’ Monty hissed as they carried Marty away, still blowing smoke.

‘It’s medicinal.’

Cathy ran to join us in the back of the barn, her cheeks flushed.  She made eyes at Monty.

‘I heard,’ she said, almost breathless, ‘that you helped kill the dragon.’  I left them to it, joining the rest of my family beside the LeBaron.  I noticed a medic wrapping Kingston’s large hand with gauze.

‘What happened to you?’

‘I got bit,’ he said as the medic continued to wrap.  ‘Just a nibble.  Musta happened when I was takin’ the jaws off Marty’s leg.  They say I have to go to the hospital.  They say the bite could cause some sorta infection.’

‘Bacterial infection,’ the medic added.  ‘Komodo’s have very dirty mouths.’

‘I gotta go on the ambulance,’ Kingston said in remorse.

‘I’m sure you’ll be fine,’ I said.  ‘Hey, you saved my ass back there.  Brünnhilde would have had me if you hadn’t clubbed her.’  Kingston grinned.

‘I da hero.’  He smiled his biggest smile as they escorted him to the ambulance.  It was already too crowded in back so they let my large friend sit up front.

I glanced back at the barn and saw Monty furiously necking with Cathy.  I saw his hands moving all over her and I wondered how long before he started tearing off her clothes.

‘I guess he finally got what he wanted,’ I said to myself, not intending my aunt to hear.

‘Five months ago I might have cared,’ Faye said bitterly.  She shook her head and started back toward her car.

‘Folks,’ Mitchell said to the whole group, acting as the intermediary between family and police.   ‘There’s some concern about the lion and the ape still being at large.  Is there some place nearby where you could all decompress for a while?  I’ll be along in a minute.’


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