Art by John Turck at http://johnturck.tumblr.com/
If you ask me, Mr. Barton looked ridiculous by not dressing up in some goofy costume. Instead, he wore his typical khakis and a short sleeved button down shirt here in front of a bunch of screaming kids, as he tried to marry off a pair of otters, all because Snowball had gotten Fur Face pregnant.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we are gathered here today in the outdoor aquarium to witness the marriage of these two of God’s creatures.”
To tell you the truth, working at Barton Family Farm for the summer wasn’t that bad. You had to deal with hyperactive kids who choked down too much cotton candy and started screaming at each other, and sometimes Mr. and Mrs. Barton came off like a pair of fundamentalist weirdoes, but where almost anybody else might have realized I’d been stoned on the job, they took the glazed look in my eyes as a sign that I needed to be saved.
Mr. Barton asked me to take the wedding photos. I knew he was a stupid middle aged man, but he took more of an interest in my photography than my parents ever showed. It almost made up for the fact that he paid me minimum wage to clean up vomit during my summer break.
“Marriage is a sacred bond. One not to be entered into lightly. But it’s not strictly something between humans. Within the animal kingdom, many of God’s creatures unwittingly enter into a pact as a way of survival.”
I tried to line up the white furred groom with the inky black bride. That maniac Mr. Barton had actually glued a top hat to his head and a veil to hers. I could only imagine what Denise, the marine biologist who discovered that Fur Face was pregnant, was going to say when she saw the pictures.
A few of the kids in the miniature amphitheater started pointing and laughing. Fur Face had started biting Snowball’s paw. Mr. Barton instructed her handler to pull back on her leather leash, so that there was a little space between the two animals. Then Snowball popped his shoulder loose, wiggled free of his leash, and jumped into the tank. A little black top hat floated on the surface of the water, while the otter submerged and spun about in corkscrews, untethered.
From the noise of the cheering children, and Mr. Barton asking for the net, I heard the flat monotone voice of Jackie Barton. “Oh no. Look at all this vomit.” I pulled down my camera and tried to get her dad’s attention.
He waved my way without looking up. “Yeah, just hurry and go clean it up.”
I knew I was probably missing my chance at taking a great set of photos, but Mr. Barton wouldn’t have allowed me to keep any of them anyway. I abandoned the amphitheater for the supply shed and asked Jackie where the kid vomited.
“Right here.” She handed me a lit cone joint. “I thought you could use a rescue.”
I took a deep breath and smiled. “You’re dad’s really in his element.”
She rolled her eyes. I could tell that she was counting down the days to when she could go back to college for the fall. “He’s such an idiot.” The supply shed was filled with old tools, and broken motors to some of the early rides that were long out of service. Over in the back was a trophy case filled with awards for small events, like Jackie’s second place cup for her summer camp’s swim meet. He had a gold record hanging on the wall, with a commemoration made out to Linda Ronstadt, though I don’t think he ever had anything to do with the music industry. I never knew why he kept it here instead of his office.
“I’m pretty sure Eric is cheating on me.”
I was relieved that she said it when I was already taking another hit. I wouldn’t have to think of an answer right away. I’d heard the same rumor. It had been floating around the park for a few weeks, but she always seemed totally above it, like she was too cool for gossip. I wished I could hold the smoke in my chest without coughing, but it was all too much, and everything came out in a disgusting chain of hacks.
“Get it all out, Tiger.”
I flipped her the bird while she took the joint back from my hand.
I only managed to squeak out, “I’m sorry,” like a little bitch.
“For what? It’s all bullshit anyway. I just dated him out of boredom. God, nothing is even real in these dipshit little towns, you know?” I nodded, but she saw through me. “Of course you don’t. But you will when you go to college.” She took a hit, and slowly let the smoke slide out of her mouth. “It’s all a fucking illusion. You know I used to think my parents loved each other.”
“No, man.” She shook her head and looked out the window covered in chicken wire mesh, while her dad had rolled his khakis up past his knees and was as far down as his arms could reach, stabbing the water with a net. “How the hell could they still love each other? They won’t say it, but I think they’re getting a divorce.”
“No offense, but why are you telling me all this?”
She crossed her arms with the joint in her mouth, and cocked her head. “Am I making you uncomfortable?”
“No, it’s just that we don’t hang out much.”
She looked at me and took another hit, probably thankful that she wouldn’t have to answer me right away. “It’s because. I can trust you.”
“Well you’re gay, so you’re going through your own thing.”
I froze. She’d handed me the joint as she said it, and I know it must have been a test. See how I’d react. I tried to think about everything I’d done. Was wanting to be a photographer ‘gay’?
“I’m not, um…”
“Yeah you are.” She punched each word by waving the burning joint in my face, like a wand.
“What do you mean, yeah I am? You don’t know.”
“You don’t have to tell me anything. I can just tell.”
“Well, I don’t know how to break it to you, but I’m not.”
“I don’t care if you admit it or not. I know what I know.”
I snapped it out of her hand, now conscious about how I’d been holding onto the joint. “Go fuck yourself.”
She smirked and kicked her legs on the desk. “It’s not a big deal.”
“Then don’t bring it up.” I looked at the joint, but passed it back without taking another hit. “Here.”
“I don’t want it anymore.”
I grabbed my camera and walked back to the wedding, featuring two wet otters with the top hat and veil still floating along the surface of the tank. Mr. Barton had been stalling with a piece of scripture that I’d never heard before, but he looked up and smiled out of relief when he saw me pull my camera up and start to take pictures.
“And as you are not able to speak vows for yourself, I will take it upon myself to speak on your behalf.”
I realized that he’d probably baptized these animals a long time ago. He continued on about how they would be loved, and their pups would be honored as family.
“And so, by the power invested in me as the proprietor of the Barton Family Farm, I hereby name you, Snowball and Fur Face, husband and wife. Go forth and be fruitful, my little friends.”
I snapped pictures, not knowing what to capture. The puzzled children. The confused otters. The determinedly happy minister. The sun wasn’t quite setting yet, and the sky hadn’t begun to glow, but the shadows started to stretch, and if you hadn’t been looking through the viewfinder, you wouldn’t have noticed that the sky was slowly turning a darker shade of blue. I pulled back and took a picture where a sunbeam fell over the shoulder of the overhang and onto Mr. Barton in front of the pool, where the shine from the tear in the corner of his eye sparkled.
Mr. Barton caught my attention, and I gave him a thumbs up. He smiled. I turned around before the moment had a chance to pass.