“Today, I am woman,” Aster said to herself as she braced herself against the car door. Everyone had been shocked that she waited for marriage, and at twenty-seven? In this day in age it was truly unheard of outside of certain religious sects. Yet she had been patient. She had truly saved her maidenhood, (oh god am I calling it that?), for the sanctity of the celestial marriage bed. “It had better be white, with crisp cotton linens,” Aster thought indignantly. “I’m not giving it away on something cheap and shiny.”
Aster didn’t do overdone, grand, or even elegant. Simple. She was simple, but not simplistic, easy-going, but not easy, and tidy, but not anal. “Oh no, never anal,” she thought.
The ceremony had been as concise and understated as Aster. Fewer than twenty people attended; there was no crude dancing or rowdy drunkenness or even a suggestive best man’s speech. All went according to plan, unlike other weddings, and everything had its place, even the kiss was poised and practiced, down to the quick slip of the tongue at the end to suggest Aster had grown up.
And she truly had. Or was about to at any rate. Here came her man. Her husband. The one who had waited five years to wed and bed her, with all the patience of a steer to the slaughter. Aster had never once felt his pressure, barely even his longing.
There was a time in their first year of courtship that he had gotten spectacularly drunk. Aster, as a good girlfriend, was his designated driver. She had thrown him on his bed best she could and had turned to leave, but his quick hand lost all it’s quiver as he reached for and grasped her upper thigh. He became surprisingly certain, as only a man with a burning passion would in that state of disability, and gathered her hips into his arms, pressing his warm face against her firm bottom. The sudden hot breath against her backside made Aster tingle promptly, but she remembered her celibacy almost as quickly and attempted to push him away, but in her twisting his right hand had wound its way up her skirt, finding the cotton underwear and pushing it aside, groping for her wetness.
It was then that she screamed. It was a piercing, arching scream sure to wake not only the neighbors, but to disturb the people on the street as well. It was what he needed to sober up, and he blindly apologized, his eyes not quite meeting hers. She knew he was ashamed, and decided in that moment not to shame him herself. She forgave him in an instant, and the event had never been spoken of again. Sex itself had never been spoken of again, until the engagement. Aster thought it too tempting to discuss for him and he followed lead, unwilling to lose her, especially due to his bodily immaturity.
So here they stood, four years later. The hot sun beat down on them at the southern California resort. They had flown out of their small midwestern town immediately following the ceremony. Aster had insisted on waiting until they actually reached their honeymoon destination for her, uh, deflowering. Privacy was another important factor to her. It could not be a hotel room the first time. It had to be its own building, for she feared the pain would force her to gasp and scream. And that would not do for quiet, simple Aster to have the whole floor sonically witness her virginity vanishing.
The bungalow was nice, but not luxurious. It had a bit of an ocean view, just barely enough to justify the price, and fresh, bright linens that suggested cheeriness and warmth. The deck doors were thrown open to let in the ocean breeze, and landscaping privately contained it. The sight of the outdoor bed was enough to make Aster blush and glance and her new husband in dismay. She had not expected the great outdoors to bear testimony to the act. But when she returned indoors she was relieved to find a four-poster canopy in the bedroom. “This,” she thought, “will do.”
Her husband heartily agreed. He scooped her up into his arms with a little dance and landed them both gracefully onto the bedspread. He kissed Aster’s ear and whispered, “Are you ready?” Was she? Aster didn’t hesitate for fear of changing her mind. She hurriedly shook her head “yes” and the lovemaking commenced.
Afterward, Aster did not feel much of anything. She was not disappointed, not hurt, and not ecstatic; she was not even embarrassed at all the blood soaking the white sheets. What disarmed her the most was that she did not feel love. She gazed at her dutiful husband, already cleaning up the bed and telling her not to worry. She had felt love for this man many times, why was now not one of them? It worried her, but Aster decided not to dwell on it too long. “You’re just shell-shocked,” she thought. “That’s all.”
The next day the couple ventured out to a remote airfield. This was part of their pact in married life, to take adventures together, to trust that everything would be fine as long as they were together. Today their adventure meant jumping out of a plane. Neither of them had skydived before, so they thought it was an excellent way to usher in a life of adventure and trust in each other. That’s what hurtling to the ground was supposed to mean, right?
Aster could tell he was stupidly excited. It had of course been his idea, but she went along with it. She did not want to appear to be a wet sandwich on their honeymoon. Aster believed people were supposed to glow like the sun and be daring on honeymoons; it’s the time for them to be young. And since Aster waited for her 27th year to become a bride, youth was ever more on her mind.
So Aster gritted her teeth when she entered the airplane, fully outfitted for the freefall. She had made sure the guides checked her equipment four times instead of the usual two, and she mimicked their movements a couple times after that. Almost totally assured that no malfunction would befall her, she examined her husband’s gear as well.
He swatted her hand away saying she should be less his mom and more his lover. He said it jokingly, but Aster saw the hard glint in his eyes. He was annoyed with her, visibly for the first time. He was always joking with her, but she had never seen that hard glint before. Not in the five years they had been together. “Or am I just now noticing it?” she thought. As if marriage had suddenly flipped a switch in her brain. “This is who you’re married to, look and see!” her conscience jested at her. She tried to brush away the thoughts and smiled, perhaps stiffly, but a smile all the same.
As the plane took off Aster’s mind became preoccupied with the height. She had always been wary of heights, not outright fearful, but cautious. Her flight out to California had only been her second, and this small rickety thing her third. “Adventure!” she forced herself to think. “By God, I’m adventurous!”
Her sense of adventure escaped her however as the airplane doors were opened. It yawned wide, seeming to swallow the expanse of sky behind it, all while blowing harsh wind on her person as she was being ushered toward it. Aster’s knees buckled and the hard glint returned to her husband’s eyes, if for a brief moment. His words were honey when he spoke however, “I love you Aster! I trust you and we will do this together! We’re married now!” he shouted as if she needed reminding and he just remembered himself. So clutching his hand, she wiggled forward to the door.
Perched on the edge of the plane, Aster quivered, but put on a brave voice for her beloved. “This is nothing!” she shouted. She may not have convinced herself, but at least she had convinced him. Reassurance spread across his face as he said, “I knew there was a reason I married you.”
The instructor then shouted for them to focus and wait for his signal. Aster would have liked to look back and say those seconds went on forever, but for her cowardly self the seconds went by all too quickly, and she was suddenly barreling toward the ground, devoid of any courage or visible protection.
Aster must have been screaming, because when her husband pulled her close he had one finger to his lips making the “shhh” sign. There was no hard glint, only a serene glaze over his pale gold eyes. She had always swooned over his eyes; it was hard to look away once he had used them on her. They held her captive, gazing into the molten gold depths, as if they were a true treasure. It was no different this time. He mouthed the words, “I love you.” The wind was too fierce for them to hear one another.
He made to grab for his chute pull, but it didn’t eject. He tried again, twice, thrice, but to no avail. If Aster had been in that situation, she would not have calmly tried the emergency chute pull as he did in that moment. And she certainly wouldn’t have tried again just as calmly when that one failed as well.
Aster searched the sky for the plane, but it was nowhere in sight. That quickened her breath a bit, and she began sobbing. The hard glint returned and he clutched her closer, pointing to her chute pull. “Of course, he means for us to land together with my chute,” Aster thought. She was ashamed for not having realized that earlier. The lack of plane in the sky was still working its anxiety magic on her however, and she did not truly settle down.
The plane search had preoccupied Aster so much that she had not seen the creeping feeling of dread spreading over her husband’s face. She caught up soon enough however when he began shaking her, visibly but not audibly screaming. The tears did not return for Aster however, this time she was struck mute. She scrambled at all of her safety ropes and straps, but to no avail. Both husband and wife were without chute, clutching each other as they tumbled downward in a symbolic and literal fate. “This is our marriage,” Aster thought. “Already a ruin.”
His eyes had found hers again, but this time was different than usual. She was not captivated by their deep golden hues, or even his expression of concern and love. Aster was actually annoyed that she was not in this situation alone. All she wanted was privacy, privacy for her dying thoughts, her last thoughts, however one would put it. It seemed an intrusion that he should be trying to communicate with her somehow while she was falling to her death. Aster had entered this world alone, and she had intended to leave it the same way.
He was crying now, the tears were sliding up the bridge of his nose and then being released with great force into the open sky. He was mouthing things to her, but Aster could only wonder if someone on the ground would receive his tear, and mistake it for a raindrop. “Maybe all rain is made from tears of the dying,” Aster mused.
By this point he was getting righteously angry with her for ignoring him in their last minutes together. He clasped her face in a surprisingly gentle way between his hands and forced her to look into his watery, gold eyes. “I LOVE YOU!” he mouthed, desperately demanding her answer. She could only look at him blankly. Her annoyance was gone, but it had not be replaced with tender feelings, or feelings of any kind for that matter.
Her fingers found his and she removed them from her face slowly. He was staring at her with open horror now, but Aster did not seem to notice or care. When all of his fingers were free, only their fingertips were connecting the two. No love or marital duty bound Aster to him, nor did hatred or disgust push her away.
She gazed down at the ground below them, rushing up to greet their small, insignificant frames. In a last attempt to salvage their marriage before death, he grasped at Aster’s arms, trying to pull himself closer. He mouthed again, “I LOVE YOU!!!” When Aster responded by turning away to gaze at the ground again his grip loosened, and he eventually let go of her completely.
Aster never once turned away from the ground to see him go. The earth fascinated her more than her husband’s lion gold eyes ever had. She was its prisoner now, listening intently as it bid her to come closer. She obeyed, spreading her arms and legs wide, as if to make a snow angel. This time however, she intended to make an earth and a heavenly angel all in one swoop. Aster thought it would be oddly pretty, leaving an imprint of her body on the surface.
As the ground neared, Aster found her voice again. “I…love you,” she said to the earth. That felt right, it felt…natural. She thought she would try it again; “I love you,” she said with more resolve. She knew she had meant it more in that moment than any other time she had uttered the words before in her life.
In the very last moments before Aster joined with the earth, she had wanted to say she was happy with the way she led her life. But something still pinched at her core; she could not lie to herself, not now. What do you call someone who avoids the truth even in the face of death?
Aster was not a coward. For all her timidity and silent grace, she would still not condone outright cravenness. “The only regret I have…” she pondered, “is not dying a virgin.” She was then free to die, to kiss the ground and embrace the soil, dream a thousand dreams or not dream at all. That wasn’t for her to decide. “No more deciding.” Aster had never felt so alive as in the moment of her death. There was a sweet exhale, a poof of dirt and a body; its master rejoiced, her second marriage consummated.