Korbin Jones, Northwest Missouri State University
Altars became a common sight for the Morales sisters over a period of four years. They saw their first in a hot August. Sweat dripped from the pastor’s nose like a leaky faucet as he spoke, but Remedios—standing like a terracotta virgin, smelling of milk, wearing the dress—showed no signs of wetting. Nerves seemed absent. Her mane-like hair threatened to tear itself away from the countless bobby pins her sisters had stuffed in it earlier, but other than that she appeared unwavering.
The groom, Pepe, was beaming. His smile was as polished and brilliant as Remedios’s ring, which shone in the light as he slipped it onto her tapered finger. They were a hopeful mirage for the two families packed in the tiny chapel. A Morales turned Buendía. So much rode on the vows Remedios and Pepe shared—they both knew it. After all the formalities had been addressed, Remedios, having downed a few drinks, confided in her sisters at the reception.
“What a beautifully miserable day,” the bride laughed, scrunching her dress within her hands. “Watch me turn to rot before Mami’s crow’s feet scratch my face.”
Between that night and Carmen’s wedding, which followed no less than seven months after, Remedios had taken up drinking beyond her wedding night. The sun would rise with her morning glass of red wine. Pepe laughed it off when worried relatives asked about her peculiar habit. He even tried joining her, but found the aftertaste a bit too sour. A rumor passed around the family dinner tables. Carmen and Ximena worried for their sister.
“There’s a parasite in her,” said Carmen. “It curled up in her belly the day she said ‘I do.’”
“But what can we do?” Ximena looked up at the ceiling, spying a cobweb twirling from the ceiling fan’s current.
“You’ve all those friends. Take her to dinner, or whatever it is you all do together.”
“She’s always been a little solitary though.”
“All the more reason to get her around others. Loneliness is leaving her in a bottle, Ximena, and on the outside is an untouched husband any woman in town would snatch up in an instant.”
Weeks later, Ximena finally convinced Remedios to leave her dusty, unkept home for a night out with her friends. It was an awkward arrangement at first. As soon as the group sat down in the restaurant, Remedios waved her entire arm in the air until a waiter was summoned. She ordered the first red wine she saw on the menu and crossed her arms, impatiently awaiting her libation. Ximena was embarrassed. She began to apologize for her sister when Remedios’s gaze fell on Imo, a friend who had travelled from Jamaica for the weekend. Her hair was done up in dark dreads, as if roots were sprouting from her scalp. Her laugh, like the trilling call of a skylark, crawled across the table and brought Remedios’s skin to goosebumps.
The two women found each other later in the night and became inseparable. While many of the others had shuffled out in irregular intervals, Imo and Remedios remained seated at the bar late into the night. Even Ximena, who found the two women to be odd ends tied together, left before they did. It was after that night that Remedios poured all the red wine in her house into the garden. Her spirits improved remarkably. She cleaned weekly, cooked Pepe tolerable meals, and even found the courage to finally consummate the months-old marriage. Pepe himself glowed.
Carmen was facing inverse luck. Over the course of a few months she’d gained quite a bit of weight, which some blamed on an unexpected pregnancy, and was found by her sisters covered in the tattered remains of her wedding dress the night before taking Aureliano’s last name.
“I thought to try and let it out,” she sobbed, scissors nestled between her thighs.
Remedios took the scissors and placed them in the drawer. Ximena wiped the tears from her sister’s round cheeks. Carmen had been the thinner of the three sisters. She had taken pride in her cornstalk body, but now she was about the same size as Remedios before her liquid diet.
“I think my dress will fit you.” Remedios pulled Carmen’s head into her lap and stroked her shiny, black hair. “You can have it tomorrow, if you’d like. I’ll never wear it again.”
The altar paid witness to Carmen walking down the aisle in Remedios’s dress with a slight alteration; she had cut and hemmed the long sleeves to stop at her elbows. Her veil—so thick that Ximena was surprised her sister could even see—was what caught the eyes of the Moraleses and the Cortázars. Her soon-to-be husband, Aureliano, was shaking as he saw Carmen make her way toward him. To Ximena’s self-contempt, she could not recall much of what happened after Carmen arrived at the altar. It was all so similar to Remedios’s wedding—the vows, the exchanging of rings, the lighting of candles.
Unlike the first wedding, Remedios did not drink, not even at Carmen’s reception. Sobriety seemed to be coupled with Imo’s addition to her life. Ximena thought it her success, then, that she introduced a godsend to her wayward sister.
“I’m going to Jamaica in a few months,” Remedios told Ximena over the trumpets and hoots and hollers. “I’m going to see Imo. You’re welcome to come.”
It was at that point that Carmen galloped over to her sisters and collapsed into Remedios’s lap.
“I was just thinking, Remedios, about the rot you spoke of the night you got married.” Carmen slinked down, kneeling, and looked up into her sister’s eyes. “I’ve been rotting for ages. I was born rotten, my soul riddled with all these festering sores. I hope Aureliano can plug them up.”
The Morales family went some two years without marrying off Ximena, the last of the sisters. She would tell her parents that she was too busy to find a husband. Her trips to Jamaica with Remedios, short as they were, kept her occupied when she wasn’t working. Rumors passed through the mouths of the Moraleses, but none quite believed. Remedios was contently married and Ximena, although a bachelorette, would never stray, not in her family’s eyes. So while the words still found their ways into her cousins’ and aunts’ and uncles’ ears, none of the Moraleses were convinced that Ximena was the debaucherous type.
Ulises, her father, prepared her a suitor while she was away with Remedios, Imo, and the other women of the island. His name was Pietro Navarro, an aristocrat and well-traveled man. When Ximena returned and the news broke, she herself was broken. Her wedding was planned much without her. Úrsula, her mother, and Pilar, her future mother-in-law, took it upon themselves to arrange the whole thing. It was Carmen who approached her a few days after hearing of the wedding with the shared white dress folded neatly in her hands.
“I suppose a tradition has been started.” She offered it to Ximena. “It’ll need some taking in, but it won’t hurt. Not much, anyway.” Ximena gently took the dress and watched it unravel before her. “I went ahead and took off the sleeves. I know you hate them.”
There were yellow and red candles burning near the altar. Sunflower and rose petals were strewn about. Ximena’s wedding was by far the gaudiest of the three, but perhaps the saddest. As she walked down the aisle she stared into Pietro’s eyes, his returning gaze an ember. He burned for her, but she was cold for him. Nothing he did could replicate the warmth she felt on Jamaican sands; no touch could be as intoxicating as the waves on her naked skin. The thought made her body itch within the dress. She wanted nothing more than to run, to find the fastest mode to the island and erase her name in the surf. She’d awakened the rot her sisters spoke of in Jamaica, and she was wilting at the altar.
Korbin Jones is an undergraduate at Northwest Missouri State University studying creative writing, publishing, Spanish, and art. At the university, he works at GreenTower Press for The Laurel Review as an editorial assistant and typesetter. He has had poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction published in the Medium Weight Forks, Sucarnochee Review, The Vehicle, Noctua Review, and Polaris.