The Final Photograph
Copyright © 2000 by James Paddock. All rights reserved.
Mrs. Birchdale, Leslie’s Godmother and the first of the 318 invited guests to arrive, let escape no more than a gurgle before collapsing at the base of the six-tier cake. Jack and Brenda Evans came in right behind her, quickly running to her aid. As more people arrived, the semicircle continued to grow around her until eventually it appeared to be only a big crowd around the cake. It was apparent, however, after the first dozen or so had gathered that Mrs. Birchdale was quite fine and had simply suffered from a sudden decrease in oxygen to her brain, causing her to turn pale and momentarily lose consciousness. Once horizontal, she recovered rapidly. Fortunately she sustained no injuries during her fall. A chair materialized and she sat for some time before opening her eyes and looking again at the object that caused the sudden change in her cardiac system. As she stared at it, she became aware that no one else had noticed, their attention all on her. She raised her arm and pointed with a shaky finger to the object causing the anguish in her heart and a deepening of the lines throughout her aged and craggy face. Many eyes followed and the mouths of the women opened with gasps and the men stepped forward and wrinkled up their faces. One stood on a chair and snatched the object and yelled, “What kind of joke is this? Where is the caterer? Where are the people who delivered this cake?”
He pushed himself through the crowd, looking for a door that might be a kitchen, two men right with him. Like a running back with ball in hand and a guard on each quarter, they burst through a set of double doors nearly plowing down five women in serving uniforms preparing to begin as soon as the bride and groom and families arrived.
“Who’s in charge here?” The leader demanded of the shocked group of women.
One woman, pushing back against a table as far as she could, half pointed, half waved toward another door. “Mrs. huh... huh... Graham.” In single file the three men pushed on past and burst through the door. The ball carrier slammed his prize onto the desk in front of an attractive middle aged redhead, forcing her to look up from her telephone conversation.
“I’ll call you back,” she said as her mouth dropped open and she hung up the phone. She looked from the object up to the three men crowding the little office.
“Are you in charge of the cake?” the lead man said with surprising calm.
She nodded her head in acknowledgment and looked with shock back at the object.
“I would like to believe for your sake you have no idea how this got on top of it!” he added.
“This has got to be a distasteful practical joke," Mrs. Graham said.
“This is more than a practical joke, Mrs. Graham. This is more than distasteful. This is downright evil!”
“Has the couple seen it or Mrs. Christian?”
“No, none of the family have arrived yet, but Mrs. Birchdale, who by the way is approaching eighty years old, saw it first and nearly had a heart attack. This is horrible! This is really horrible!”
Mrs. Graham navigated around the men and poked her head out the door. “Carol, find Jerry and Kevin.”
“But I’ve got these....”
“Just drop whatever you’re doing and find them!”
“I’ll try my best to get to the bottom of this, gentlemen. Why don’t you return to the reception. I’ll let you know if I find out anything. What’s your name?”
“Okay, Mr. Singleton. I’ll find you.”
“The cake still needs a proper Bride & Groom,” Singleton said.
“Yes! Yes! I’ll take care of that.” The squad stepped out and then back through the double doors, satisfied that a disaster had been diverted. Mr. Singleton decided there was one more thing that needed to be done. He headed for the chair on which he had stood a few minutes before to retrieve the object in question.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, may I have your attention please?” As the crowd of people began to hush and gather around, he stepped up onto the chair and put his hands in the air.
“Everybody please! It’s very important!” He waited several more moments. “I’m sure the word has passed quickly that there was a practical joke attempted on the bride & groom. Whoever did this has a very evil and twisted mind. I do not think it proper on this day for the newlyweds to learn of this, as well as their parents. Please keep it to yourselves and let them get on with their honeymoon. There will be plenty of time for them to be told about it when they return. Does anyone have any objections?" There were many murmurs of agreement. “Great! I need a drink!”
It was nearly forty-five minutes later before a man with a large camera in one hand and a smaller one slung over a shoulder, rushed into the hall, turned, dropped to one knee and snapped one of the cameras up to his face. Applause and flashes of light dominated the hall for several minutes as the newlyweds made their entrance, the bride receiving her due of attention as she glided around the hall, smiling and chatting. Eventually, seats were taken and dinner was served, a very formal affair with many courses.
Mrs. Graham moved about the outside edges ensuring everything went smoothly, and it did, except for the initial incident over the cake. She had located another set of bride & groom figures before the couple arrived but she was not happy with them. They were small and more appropriate for a much smaller cake, a less expensive wedding. She just hoped Mrs. Christian, the bride’s mother, wouldn’t notice. She had located Mr. Singleton and told him it had been replaced but so far had not been able to determine who the culprit was. He walked over and took a look at it while apologizing for being so abrupt with her. She said she understood.
As the remains of the main course were being cleared from the tables, the photographer approached the bride and groom and advised them that it was time to cut the cake. The main lights went out for a few seconds and then a pair of spot lights threw a blaze of white light against the beautiful wedding cake. Mrs. Graham had directed the operators of the lights to lower them so as not to make too visible the inadequate figures at the top. That really was not that big a problem as the cake stood well over the groom’s head. There was a bit of commotion as Mrs. Graham, with one assistant, moved the cake out onto a predetermined position for the cutting. She sighed at the smaller figures on top and then stepped away.
A low murmur of delight passed about the tables as the bride & groom stepped forward and picked up the ceremonial sterling silver knife. Wrapped in a bridal bow, it cast a brilliant reflection about the darkened hall. The photographer stepped in to direct the angle and how to hold the knife. He shot two frames, directed them on how to actually cut and then returned to his position, bringing the camera to ready. The groom at that moment looked up at the top of the cake. The glare from the spot lights on the brilliant white frosting of the lower tiers made the darker top tier hard to see, but something about the figures drew his attention. He held his hand up to the photographer, and said, “Hold on a minute,” then located an empty chair at a nearby table and dragged it to the backside of the cake.
“What’re you doing, John?” his father questioned out loud while others asked the same question to each other all around the room. John ignored him as he stepped upon the chair. The photographer had no idea what was going on but knew that whatever the groom was up to he had better get the picture. The unexpected can often make a memorable moment.
From the chair he placed his right foot on the edge of the table and leaned forward to analyze the unusual figures on the top of the cake, poking at them with the sterling silver knife. When it suddenly occurred to him what it was, he open his eyes wide, gasped, “What the hell?” and slipped.
John's young bride of only three hours had stretched up to her tip toes, close on the other side to try and see what he was concerned about. “What is it, John?” she asked at the same moment his foot lost the chair and his balance shifted. The photographer shot one frame as John tried to avoid the cake, another as he caught the top with a flailing arm, a third as he came across and down onto the beautiful young lady in white who had fallen backwards trying to back out of the way, and the last as the groom’s one hundred ninety-five pounds of halfback muscle plunged unchecked upon the frail Mrs. Jonathan Masters.
The hall erupted in screams and commands. Because of the photographer’s proximity to the bride and groom, he was the only one in the first few seconds to see exactly what took place, and he prayed it was not so. He did not move until several men pulled the dazed Jonathan Masters to his feet. The bride’s mother and father ran to her side and exploded into hysteria. The photographer slumped to the floor, quickly becoming oblivious to the growing commotion around him as he stared at the figures of the bride and groom that had been flung from the top of the cake, landing several feet in front of him. On professional reflex, he brought up the camera, adjusted the field to include the bride in the background with the distraught groom standing over her and released the shutter.
The final photograph.
In the foreground, as they had landed, were the bride and groom dolls on a pedestal, the bride lying on her back, the groom in full tuxedo, standing over her, a look of horror on his face. And as with the full size version, blood surged from around the ceremonial sterling silver knife, buried deep in the bride’s heart.
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The Final Photograph
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Quite good - well written.
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