“We want to get married.”
Yes, we were those people.
The ones who decided to get hitched before it was too late. The church wasn’t empty, but we had long since resigned ourselves to the fact that our ceremony would be sanctified by the ill and dying. The smell of blood and bile curled around our intertwined fingers, passing through the pair of rings Morgan had pried from the stiff rotting hands of our last travel partners. It didn’t feel right letting the bands go to waste, they had been created to proclaim eternal love. Who said that personal eternity lasted beyond death?
Outside it was silent. It shouldn’t have been, it hadn’t been for as long as anyone could remember, but the weight of the day seemed to silence even the loudest of us. Morgan fiddled with the shined band around his ring finger, twisting it, watching it get sweatier as the skin began to redden. This was what we wanted. I squeezed his shoulder, catching his eye when he looked over. His fingers stilled, moving up to cover mine.
“Please,” he told the pastor.
I hoped the old man’s eyes, hidden behind thick greying eyebrows, could see how much we needed this. His face was made of crevices. Mountains and valleys etched in sagging cheeks and dark bags. He spoke, voice frail and exhausted.
I bit on the inside of my cheek. Oh God, please don’t do this today of all days. Let us have this one thing, after all you’ve done, let us have this.
“Elder, the clerk’s office is gone, destroyed. We assumed that you would have, at least, some paper here. All we want is a civil union, a two minute prayer, something.”
I wanted to hate the old man’s eyes, filled with regret and water too bitter to be holy. A quick hand swept them away before they could overflow down the mountains, fill the crevices, flood the valleys. He looked up to the church’s crumbling ceiling, taking the cross around his neck and kissing it before returning his gaze to Morgan and I.
“Give me your hands,” he said.
We each presented our palms. He took them in his own, his gentle grasp withered and shaking.
“I can’t, in good faith, perform the traditional ceremony. Nothing I used to say applies anymore.”
“That’s fine,” I said.
Morgan seemed more apprehensive about the lack of prayer. He did a double take when I responded, obviously wanting one himself.
“Elder please, just something to make sure we’re not damned to Hell the moment we sanctify our marriage,” he said.
The pastor’s grip tightened.
“Child, what would you like to me say in this prayer? Let your love transcend mortality? I refuse to make false assurances this late in life.”
“This is all we have left. We share a bond with nobody but God and each other.”
“Then you have little more than any other in this town.”
“Why are you so bitter?” he asked. “Everyone here has gone through the same thing, and you’re refusing to make two people happy, because of what? Some misguided effort to save yourself from muttering a few words!”
The pastor threw down our hands, his own clenching into weakened fists.
“That’s the problem. Prayers now lack the meaning that made them scripture in the first place. People have flocked to me every day for the exact same reason you two have. They want to get married or they want to repent. They want and they need, and they ask for everything they think needs to be done in order to ascend. Now, the inevitable question of value is raised when this occurs. When sacred practices become trivialized, are they eternally damned for those of us who truly believe?
“I have been a Pastor for over twenty five years and on those twenty five years, I have seen miracles which only God has the capability of granting. I believe in the Holy Spirit. Despite what some believers may claim, nobody expected the apocalypse. Especially not this. Religious groups and organizations held meetings and conventions in order to discuss the coming of Jesus Christ, I myself being among them. People began approaching us more often when Jesus was no longer an idol to believe in but some sort of necessary God to appease, to appraise. It was anarchy.
“I see you two listening to me with malice in your hearts. I am telling you all this in order for you to remember why you’re here in the first place. Man armed himself with the word of the Lord, yet the Lord did nothing. This carnage and disease, this complacency that has come with the concept of death--this is not a biblical apocalypse. This is what has come out of man’s own destruction.”
God, my feet were so sore. Walking miles to get where we were. Morgan was crying, I could feel him shaking beside me. He was always the more religious of us, waiting in line to sit in the back of some mega church because he thought it would push him towards being a better person. I didn’t care about this pastor, I didn’t care about what he had to say, or what his morals were. I just wanted to sign my name on a piece of paper and say that I was married to the man beside me. Everything he was saying about the end of the world being man’s own destruction? Of course it was, even the faithful could agree on that.
There were seals though. The seals were undeniable, just like the ten plagues.
“No,” I said.
The pastor’s eyes focused on me, previously fuzzy with memories of the past.
“Excuse me?” he asked.
“No,” I repeated. “The Torah talked about ten plagues, and you know what we got? Blood pouring from the skies. We’re surrounded by families who have been tortured by pestilence, boils, hail-- everything imagined by scripture. The fate of the Egyptians has burrowed itself into us. Under our skin, into our homes, uprooting our lives. Sure, maybe that religious bullshit that you guys ‘predicted’ all those years ago didn’t go completely according to plan, but did you really expect it to? We’re surrounded by darkness, pastor. God said ‘Let there be light’ when he created the world, and so light is what he chose to take at its end.”
His laugh was bitter, manic almost. He clapped his hands together, eyes blazing. Face gaunt.
“You seem to be crystal clear on the workings of the world. Why then, is it so important for you to go through with a meaningless ceremony?” he asked.
“It’s cold outside. The sun has died alongside the millions it killed. The bible said “Thy dead shall live, my dead bodies shall arise, awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust, for thy dew is as the dew of light, and the earth shall bring to life the shades”. I drowned but I came back, I was reborn.
“I don’t remember what the other side was like, but I refuse to believe that God didn’t have anything to do with it. After that, Morgan and I decided that it was the right time to bind whatever it was that we had, into a tangible relationship. If only to hold onto a stupid title on our last day on earth.”
“How did you drown?” Morgan asked.
I had never told him that, right. I didn’t look at him.
“I walked into the ocean with two sandbags tied to my ankles. It wasn’t hard, the third seal had been broken and I was light. I hadn’t eaten for a week.”
The pastor considered all of this with an aged stubbornness. He said that we had malice in our hearts, but he hadn’t even mentioned his own. A southern tinged sermon was all that he was prepared to offer us, and yet his argument was as thin as the paper he refused to release. Hands still shaking, a cross dangled somewhere under his robe as another something he probably saw as a soiled religious symbol.
“Would you still like me to go on with the ceremony?” he asked,
Morgan hesitated. He grabbed his lower lip in his teeth the way he did when he was mulling over a hard decision. I wasn’t letting him do this again.
“Yes,” I said.
Morgan sent me another surprised look, his eyes furrowing in either irritation or offense, probably both. I kept my gaze steady on the pastor, an almost overwhelming sense of deja vu coming over me. My feet ached. He grimaced.
“And you?” he asked.
Morgan took a breath. Nodding his head. The pastor almost sneered.
“Yes,” he said.
The pastor closed his eyes.
“Dear Heavenly Father, let these two young soulmates go on to be together in harmony and peace in the presence of each other, wherever they are. ‘Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.’ Let your words stand true against these earthbound tragedies you’ve put down upon us. ‘The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.’ Let your promises ring true against the evils of the fallen. Do you, Morgan, take Sam to be your lawfully wedded wife?”
He was looking at me with so much pain. This is what we wanted.
“I do,” he said.
“And do you, Sam, take Morgan to be your lawfully wedded husband?”
This is what we wanted.
“Yes, I do.”
“You may now kiss the bride.”