World's End by Mara Sonnenschein
The waiters, in white djellabas, meandered through the rooftop crowd with trays of champagne flutes. The British guests took the champagne, paying no attention to the servers, continuing their conversations about being English in New York and isn’t Marrakech lovely and can you beat an October wedding under the moonlight. The Americans were sheepish, stopping their discussions to take the glasses and smile at the waiters apologetically. A few Brazilians grabbed the champagne as if it were a life source, similar to how they’d clapped when Gemma and Max, the bride and groom, had kissed during the ceremony. A lone Russian stood in the center of the group, chugging Cristal directly from a bottle.
Rebecca watched the drinkers because she wasn’t drinking. She had never been to Morocco before, had never been anywhere in Africa, but she’d overly indulged at plenty of weddings. She didn’t speak Arabic or French, and the waiters wouldn’t have spoken to her anyway, but she could sense their disdain for the alcoholic crowd of Seth’s friends. It was Ramadan, full-moon Ramadan, and the westerners had come to enjoy a luxurious and boozy wedding afforded by currency conversion.
The full moon obscured the countless stars that she and Seth had seen earlier in the week on their side trip to the Sahara. A twelve-hour drive across crusty red earth, a night spent in a stifling tent on the sand, a morning camel ride that had awakened back muscles neither of them knew they had. Frightening food, hot canteen water, black garbage bags blown around the globe to die in the desert. “You’re at the end of the world,” she and Seth had been told several times by the camel wrangler. In the swelter of the day, with the camel’s breath blowing back on her like landfill stench and her head pounding like she was in detox, she had noticed that Seth couldn’t stop smiling.
The party moved to the interior courtyard. The riad was beautiful, ivory plaster, orange trees growing in tiled pots of indigo and green, a small swimming pool flashing aqua. Carved wooden chairs and tables were scattered throughout, and curtained nooks allowed clandestine conversation or more for the revelers.
Rebecca watched Seth on the other side of the dance floor with his friends, doing a jokey Running Man and laughing. He reminded her of a puppy skidding across a linoleum floor. She curled in on herself a bit. “Falling in love a few weeks out of rehab is just another addiction,” her sponsor had warned her.
A couple in a dark corner hunched over for a minute, then lifted their heads up quickly, brightly. She couldn’t see the white dust rimming their noses from this far away, but she would know those motions anywhere.
Seth broke her focus. He planted himself down next to her, serenading her with Fatboy Slim, praising her like he should.
“Dance with me,” Seth urged, pulling her to her feet.
Rebecca pulled back at him. “I hate this song,” she said.
“I figured,” Seth agreed. “But I want to watch you shake.”
Rebecca considered holding a trembling hand up to Seth. “Here,” she wanted to say. “Watch me shake.”
She wondered what Seth’s friends would think if they knew about her. She already knew that Seth would leave her when he found out, but she imagined him telling them she was a drunk, that he’d thought she was a health nut because they’d met in the running group a year back and she was a vegetarian and he’d just assumed she didn’t drink as part of all that. She wondered if they’d think Seth was a fool, and the thought of his friends telling him he was too naive, and Seth becoming more guarded with the next woman he dated, made her hate him a little bit and herself even more.
The waiters appeared again with their trays of champagne flutes. Seth grabbed two. “They’re going to toast the group,” he said, proffering a glass to Rebecca. She froze.
“I … really, I shouldn’t,” she said.
“I know you’re not a drinker,” Seth said, “but a little bit won’t kill you.”
The music was turned down and lights were turned up. The crowd grew quiet, moved closer together. Gemma, the bride, moved to the center of the room, then held out her hand for Max, her new husband. Rebecca noticed that Gemma’s nail polish, a dark bloody red, was already tarnished.
Seth threaded both champagne glasses into the fingers of one hand, then put his free arm around Rebecca.
Gemma was saying something that made everyone laugh. Max laughed so hard it looked like he was vomiting. Gemma took a moment for Max to gather himself before she continued.
Rebecca watched Seth’s face as he listened to his friend. He didn’t have dimples. His chin was a bit weak. He was only 30 but his hair was beginning to recede. She would remember these things about him.
“Do you need something, babe?” he whispered to her. Rebecca shook her head.
She calculated ways to leave the room and call her sponsor. But how? She didn’t have an international plan on her cell phone. Do Muslim countries have AA chapters? She blurted out a small giggle.
As Gemma finished her speech, everyone lifted their champagne glasses in the air. Seth looked at Rebecca, quirked an eyebrow. She shrugged the smallest of shrugs. She took the glass.
“To you all,” Gemma said.
“To us,” Seth said to Rebecca.
“To the end of the world,” Rebecca said, and clinked her glass against Seth’s.
© Mara Sonnenschein, 2014
Mara Sonnenschein has been a Web writer/editor/producer since the late 1990s. She has an MFA in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California. She has recently started writing fiction, mostly thanks to the encouragement of her husband and the discipline of classes at the Writers Studio. She lives in New York City with her husband, young daughter, and their two cats.
World's End was read by Heather Lee Rogers on 2nd April 2014