I loved her more than anything in the world and the wedding was rapidly approaching. Bianca wanted to organize everything with only her maid of honor and I was happy that I didn’t have to bother with any of the preparations.
We had been engaged for nearly two years and when we finally decided to finally get married Bianca was excited. We set the date and together we chose the location – a small but incredibly picturesque church set a few minutes drive into the forest near Bianca’s home village. Bianca had spent many of her childhood Sundays in that church dreaming about her wedding.
The church’s community had dried out and most of the Sunday services were now only visited by twenty or thirty people. The old priest stood at the altar and spoke so slowly that I felt an angry twitch in my fingers; I wanted to shake him; I wanted to scream at him to finish his sermon.
But Bianca seemed to love it. She stared at the priest with unmoving eyes and a wide smile while my eyes moved along the church’s high walls and ceilings.
From that day on, despite the nearly two hour ride, Bianca visited the church every week. Up until then she had not even been religious – but something about the priest fascinated her.
As time moved on I expected Bianca to grow frantic and worry about the wedding preparations. Her maid of honor certainly seemed more and more stressed every week. But BIanca stayed calm. If anything she got more calm. She seemed serene and at peace.
And every week she seemed happier.
In the week after our first trip to the church it was only a slight smile; Bianca smirked at random times during the day. I figured she was just excited about our future together.
Two weeks later the smile was constant. Whether Bianca got up in the morning, whether she came home from work, or whether her maid of honor, Jade, called in a panicked voice about a failing caterer plan or a misprint on the invitations.
All the time she was happy. Of course I wanted her to be happy, but her excitement just didn’t seem rational or reasonable – it was too constant and too intense.
Two months before the wedding I noticed Bianca’s grin for the first time. It must have been there before, probably after one of her trips to the church, but I noticed it when Bianca was on the phone with Jade. Something else had gone wrong. Even from the other end of hte room I could hear the fury and panic in Jade’s voice. But Bianca stared nowhere in particular and grinned.
Six weeks before the wedding Bianca’s grin had grown so consistent that nothing, no matter what I said, could disturb her calm. The whole world seemed to be one playground filled with candy and devoid of worries. Sometimes I felt that her lips stretched too far to the sides.
I tried to ask Bianca about her exuberance but she simply ignored my questions. She didn’t change the topic or dodge the answer – she acted as if I had never spoken the questions.
It is hard to say that I tried to have a fight. I think I did. I tried to argue with her about her smile. But it is impossible to argue if the other person doesn’t seem to notice that you argue.
I hoped it would go away after the wedding. I thought it was her method of coping with the stress.
Five weeks before the wedding I noticed that Bianca was awake at night. She went to bed with me and seemed to fall asleep with the grin on her face. But during the night I woke up from noise in the kitchen or the living room.
Bianca stood behind the living room window with a lukewarm cup of tea in her hands. I brought her to bed. Two hours later she was back at the window.
Four weeks before the wedding she didn’t even pretend to go to bed anymore. She just stayed awake. Sometimes she seemed to nap during the day.
I called Bianca’s parents to ask for advice. I felt as if I had mistreated and abandoned her, as if somehow I was at fault. I felt that she must be under enormous pressure and unable to cope with the stress – and rather than support her I thought of her as a freak.
Bianca’s father seemed mostly confused. He had always been a bit slow. His wife was more understanding. She suggested I should give Bianca some time or to help her relax – maybe with a weekend trip.
With only three weeks to go I was sure there was a lot of work. Jade said with a slightly trembling voice that she could handle the duties planned for the weekend on her own.
Friday night was fun, despite Bianca’s constant grin.
On Saturday we had a nice time. We visited an old castle. But in the evening she refused to go to bed. She just stood at the window.
At 3am I finally decided to sleep without her.
On Sunday morning I woke up alone. I couldn’t reach Bianca’s phone.
She was back by 12. Her grin was even wider; from the sides her molars were visible.
I was angry at her for not leaving a note. She apologized but with her laughing tone it didn’t sound genuine.
I asked her to keep her grin down. She pretended not to hear me.
During lunch people stared at us. We didn’t talk much. Someone asked me in the bathroom whether Bianca had had a stroke.
Bianca worked for another week. Several times I begged her to see a psychiatrist – but each time, in her weird passive-aggressive way, she simply ignored my words. She stared straight through me and started talking about another topic while I was in the middle of a sentence.
Every night I saw her at the window with her wide grin. Every night I wondered how to turn her normal again. And every night I prayed that, after the wedding, she would finally return to normal.
My bachelor party took me by surprise. I hadn’t even thought about having one. The guys took me out of town and to a series of bars.
We were home on Sunday. There was a note on the living room table.
“See you in two weeks. Family tradition!”
Bianca’s mobile phone was off, not even her parents were available.
Jade was the one that told me about the tradition:
For two weeks the husband can’t see his bride. For two weeks the bride will live in a retreat. A religious retreat.
Jade thought I knew.
A huge rock lodged itself in my throat.
Despite my hangover I drove down to the village. The two hour drive went by in minutes.
Bianca’s father was home. He said that Bianca had been there. The women had left.
Bianca’s father said he didn’t know where they went. He also said he didn’t know about that tradition.
I didn’t know anyone else in the village. The only option seemed to be the church.
I drove down the narrow gravel path.
The church doors were locked; no noise; no light.
I waited all day. No one came.
Bianca’s father offered me to stay for the night and try again in the morning. I drove back home instead.
Sunday, precisely seven days before my wedding, I drove back into the village.
I made sure to arrive long before mass. The doors were still locked.
I hid behind a tree near the church and waited.
The sun rose. I stood behind the tree. Then I sat. Finally I sank to the floor in a half-sitting position.
There were no churchgoers. There was no Sunday mass.
Without Jade I would have blown it all off. She said it sounded like a great tradition and not to give up on my love. Jade reminded me of the wonderful times we had and the feelings we shared.
On Saturday my best man and I drove down to Bianca’s parents’ house. Bianca’s father welcomed us inside.
For the first time, alone with just Evan and Bianca’s father, I realized what a dull man her father was. He didn’t seem to have any hobbies. He didn’t seem to know much about the world. He didn’t seem to have any friends.
He didn’t even remember his own wedding.
I stood at the altar, waiting. My father stood next to me and my best friend and best man, Evan, at his side.
All eyes were on the large doors. All eyes except mine.
I only saw the people in the third to fifth row on the bride’s side. I recognized most of them from the time I had been at the church. Bianca’s mother sat among them.
They were all finely dressed. They all sat perfectly still. They all had an unnaturally wide grin.
The same grin as Bianca.
The music started playing.
The doors opened with a faint creak.
Bianca’s father led her down the aisle.
Bianca’s father smiled proudly.
The veil covered Bianca’s face.
Her father placed her opposite me. The priest began to speak in his monotonous and slow voice.
I didn’t hear him. I only stared at the veil.
He talked about the value and happiness of marriage.
I couldn’t stand it anymore.
I just reached towards the veil.
I heard my own gasp.
Bianca’s lips were stretched higher than her nose and far to the sides.
She stared at me.
The priest told me to say “I do.”
I shook my head.
Bianca’s teeth opened slightly.
The priest repeated that I should say “I do.”
I shook my head.
I remember her mouth opening widely. It’s the last thing I remember.
My mother told me that Bianca bit me. Evan said Bianca tried to rip my neck apart.
My mother told me that I fell on the floor. Evan said that Bianca jumped on top of me and slammed my head on the tiles.
My mother told me that Bianca ran out crying. Evan said that she was pulled off me by other people.
Their stories only agreed on one thing:
Most people were confused and panicked. But the people in the third to fifth row never stopped grinning.
When Bianca was outside they slowly walked out after her.
Bianca’s mother walked out with them.
Bianca’s father sank to the floor, crying and screaming.
He screamed “I remember.”