The date was set and they invited all their friends and selectively from their families. They tried to keep it from old Carmel, but she found out anyway.
‘Pillars of the temple,’ she muttered, ‘Pillars of the temple.’
‘Crazy with widowhood’ said Charlotte.
‘Old and mad’ said Hemming.
Carmel was left alone. Pulling books from shelves. Searching. Hemming and Charlotte shut out the sound of books piling high, hearing only their own united voice trilling into the future.
There was much to be done, appointments here, fittings there. Coordination, preparation, and for once, contemplation. ‘Hemming’ said Charlotte ‘you are sure, aren’t you?’ ‘Charlotte’ replied Hemming; ‘my heart-beat, how could we not be certain when we are this close?’ Charlotte thought no more, asked no more. Old Carmel continued searching.
Friends pondered on gifts. What to give a couple that were everything to each other? What else could they need? Something for their big day, someone suggested so they pooled together for bottles of the very best.
Parents congregated. There were so many of them. Neither Charlotte nor Hemming were the least bit sure which of the variously aged adults were their real ‘from the womb’ parents. The continuing decoupling, recoupling meant it became impossible to keep up, less to care. Hemming and Charlotte daily reminded each other that they would not become so emotionally disjointed. Once brought together, they would be staying with each other ‘till death us do part’.
Lily was Charlotte’s Matron of Honour. As girls, they had dressed-up in front of long mirrors. Mothers’ dresses, too big, stolen lipstick, too red. Charlotte bit her lip and twirled her hair around her finger. ‘Lily, do you think… we will be alright?’ she paused, her brow puckering with the weight of her thought, ‘…with cream and amber, will it,’ she breathed out slowly, reverentially, ‘…suit us both?’ ‘You are so old fashioned, so self less,’ laughed Lily. ‘What suits one of you will always suit you both.’ Charlotte heaved a sigh of relief. ‘Thank you, Lily, I know you’re right, it’s just butterflies.’
Meanwhile, Connor, the Best Man, was sulking. ‘I can’t help it,’ he said, I’m old fashioned, just like my first father. Always make sure you can cut free he used to say. When it goes wrong make sure you can walk away, walk right away.’
Hemming liked Connor. They had been friends since their time in the Children with Multiple Parents Support Group. ‘Connor, I understand why you’re saying this but remember that’s the old way. It didn’t do our parents any good. Always having to find someone new, being someone new. Permanent re-invention, constant introspection. It’s different now. The only way to know who you are is to stay attached to the same person forever.’ Connor twitched nervously and ducked as Hemming aimed a playful punch. ‘Come on Connor, it’s time we went.’
Hemming and Charlotte made their way towards each other’s hearts, as friends and family jostled for the best seats at the front. For those who arrived too late, they could console themselves; the video would ensure no moment would be lost.
Old Carmel sat at the back, wedged between two piles of books, her eyes shut. Occasionally she moved her head from side to side. ‘Pillars of the temple, she murmured ‘pillars of the temple.’
Soft music lulled them to silence. A female singer crooned, ‘when you’re on the outside baby and you can’t get in/I will show you you’re so much better than you know.’
Connor reluctantly walked with Hemming into the dimly lit room. Connor shook Hemming’s hand before stepping back as the Officiant came to greet them. ‘Nice to see you,’ he whispered to Hemming, ‘don’t be nervous, it’ll go well.’ Hemming smiled and then there was a rustle as Lucy, and Charlotte appeared.
‘oh when you’re cold
I’ll be there
hold you tight to me
oh when you’re low
I’ll be there
by your side baby.’
As Lucy brought Charlotte alongside Hemming the song faded leaving a silence broken only by a thud as one of Carmel’s books fell to the floor. The Officiant stepped forward. ‘Believers,’ he began, spanning the sea of faces and focusing particularly on old Carmel, ‘we are gathered here to join this Man and this Woman. This is an eternal bond which must not, cannot, be broken and therefore if any one of you can show any just cause, why they may not be so joined together, speak now or else forever hold your peace.’
‘Temple pillars’ mumbled old Carmel but no one took any notice.
Then the Officiant turned to Charlotte and Hemming and talked about the dreadful day of judgement when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed and if they knew of any reason why they should not be joined together. But their hearts revealed nothing but the race of the blood in their veins and Hemming and Charlotte were joined together and could no longer be put asunder.
Six months later, the couple held a belated reception party. ‘We’re sorry we couldn’t do this at the time, but as you know we were a bit tied up ‘giggled Charlotte. ‘We can’t believe how well it all went…how beautiful….’ Hemming moved his head slightly to let a hand wipe away a tear from Charlotte’s face. ‘Thank you for coming and as so many of you have asked we’re going to show the video. ‘Is it the Officiant’s cut?’ someone shouted and everyone, even Connor, roared with laughter.
And so they all crowded around the large screen and watched again the moment when Charlotte and Hemming became one. They oohed as incisions were made in Hemming and Charlotte as they lay on their oh so near operating tables. They ahhed as dissection in the one flesh was mirrored in the body of the other. Choices were made, his heart, her lungs. One beat, one breath. The donated blood from their friends glugged like a fine wine into their veins. Slowly, they appeared as if one single trunk, their bones fused, their limbs entwined. A conjoining at the lower abdomen enabled Hemming and Charlotte to forever gaze at each other.
All their mothers cried when it was finished and Lucy and Connor placed the cream and amber robes on Hemming/Charlotte and the Officiant pronounced them as Man and Woman together. Now both could not exist without the other and there was no longer any distinguishing point where Hemming began and Charlotte ended. ‘Oh lovely, so lovely’ wept Lucy as the video finished. ‘But why did old Carmel try and spoil it, tearing up her stupid books like that?’ ‘Crazy with widowhood. Old and mad,’ said Hemming/Charlotte at the same time. Connor stood up and pulled a crumpled page from his pocket. I think she meant this for you.
‘Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.’
(From The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran)
Acknowledgement: Lyrics taken from By Your Side, by Sade.