Short Story: Till Therapy Do Us Part

The second victim of my ‘5 strikes and you’re out‘ rule for short story submissions but i’m walking this one because it’s only faced 3 pitches.  I like the idea behind it but I don’t think the execution has been particularly well done.

Anyway, let me know what you think, how you’d rewrite it and if you actually do want to rewrite it, go for it!

Till Therapy Do Us Part

Jake could see Tom standing outside the church, his red curls stacked upon a black suit, a beacon amongst the top hats. Jake dragged his girlfriend Elena across the gravel car park and through a gaggle of ushers towards the light, her high heels complaining with every misstep.

“We aren’t late are we, bruv?”

Jake’s brother Tom shook his head.

“So where’s the unlucky groom?” Elena elbowed Jake’s arm before looking around to check that no-one else heard.

Tom threw a thumb in the opposite direction towards the cemetery, Jake turned around to give his assessment, “So that’s what a marriage counsellor looks like on his wedding day, just as unprepared as everyone else by the looks of it.”

As soon as Jake turned back to face his brother he heard the groom sternly say, “And you tell me now!” Jake’s interest was piqued too much to ignore such a dramatic declaration on a wedding day, especially by the groom himself.

“Tom have a butchers over there will you mate.” Jake locked arms with Elena and then casually manoeuvred her around so that Tom could see the groom talking without being noticed. Jake spoke softly to Elena, “The beauty of having a deaf brother is the fun you can have; either both of us pretending to be deaf and signing to each other whilst I listen in on what the girls are saying, or Tom lip reading what girls are saying about us out of earshot. A formidable double act, I think you’ll agree.”

Elena did not, “You can’t listen in to their conversation!”

They both turned around to see the groom in deep conversation, a reddening face and a jittery demeanour dressed in a morning suit.

“You’re not interested in hearing what all that commotion is about?” Jake teased.

Elena looked around once again, “Oh, go on then.”

Tom was already dictating via sign language as Jake translated to Elena, “…You’ve done your research. Where did you get this old newspaper clipping? …So you know I’ve been married five times, never committed bigamy though so I don’t see where your story is.”

Jake interrupted Tom, “So the other guy isn’t his best man?”

Tom shook his head, “No, never seen him before.” And continued his covert spying, “…no laws stating that marriage guidance counsellors are only allowed to be married once. …What would a one-time, happily married person know about marriage? You can have all the training in the world but an astronaut only becomes an astronaut once he crosses the Karmin Line.”

Tom punctuated this last stolen snapshot with a puzzled shrug; Jake didn’t know what it meant either.

“It’s the border between Earth and space.” Elena illuminated.

Tom continued his naked puppetry while Jake narrated, “…I wouldn’t get married unless I loved her. …She doesn’t need to know the details. …I don’t speak to my ex’s. …Yeah, a bit too thorough for my liking. …So what do you want, money? …What do I have to confess? …You’re imaginative, I’ll give you that. …You’d be willing to spoil her whole day with theatrics in the church and embarrass her in front everyone based on a hunch? You lot are all the same. …Don’t be ridiculous, we’re not the same…”

“No wait!”

Jake, Elena and the remainder of the wedding guests outside heard the groom’s second exclamation without Tom’s help. Some looked around, others whispered, a few reluctantly ambled into the church; all were curious.

“OK, I’ll let you into a secret just don’t ruin today for me, we’ve come too far and we’re too close to throw it away now…”

“Hi, I’m Reverend James Bryant, I was hoping to get this show on the road soon…”

Jake eagerly detuned this interference, “OK, we’ll be straight in vicar; my brother’s hearing aid has just gone on the blink.” Tom pointed at his ears with a smile and opened his palms skyward; one-way communication, imagine that.

As the reverend left, Elena and Jake stared unflinchingly at Tom to resume scheduled programming, “…need absolutely secrecy to finish our research and complete the work. We can talk to you for a series of exclusive articles, there’s probably a book in it too, in exchange for you forever holding your peace. …Since when did you lot let ethics get in the way of a good story? …OK, just the bare bones and then we can meet up when I get back from the honeymoon. I’ll have to talk with the others today and let them know. …In a nutshell there are four of us and we’re researching the main reasons for marital breakdown. We’re all marriage guidance counsellors and we get married roughly every two years. There’s Jack, Helena, Emily and myself. We figured the best way to understand marital problems is to actually go through them ourselves, every variety. Observation and counselling sessions can only reveal a limited picture so not only do we play the part of marital partner but we also participate in each other’s marriages too; as friends, colleagues, counsellor, etc. …We’re doing this to create the most extensive field research in marital problems ever. No-one’s ever done this before, not even just the one time! …Yeah, it’s unusual but what cutting edge research isn’t? …We’re not ‘playing’, the subjects simply get a failed marriage after a couple of years, how is that unusual to real life? How are we negatively affecting the national averages? We’re not making the slightest dent. We have rules; every marriage has a pre-nuptial signed, we don’t pro-create, we don’t marry someone with children or anyone who has never married before and we endeavour to split amicably. …’Victim’ is a loaded phrase. We don’t choose any person, each potential partner has to fit within the rules I mentioned earlier plus they have to satisfy the parameters of a psychology attribute not yet studied. …I like to think once our work is published our subjects will discover their own contribution, forgive our intrusion and recognise their own important and very necessary role. …Francis is a ‘cheater’. She’s cheated on me with Jack and others.”

“I knew it!” Jake added his own comment to the original transcript.

“Shh!” Elena realised her mistake, “I mean, just carry on.”

Jake resumed his commentary, “…I’ve had to pretend I really care about her cheating, she does it for the reaction not the thrill. I’ve had to stay away from Emily, she’s my fiancée, because any suspicion that I could be cheating would void the experiment. …Emily and I have been engaged for three years now; we’ll get married once our work is published. …it’s not ‘love’ they’re looking for, luckily for us. Security, revenge, pride, fear of being alone, status; Cupid has other strings to his bow. …Group counselling sessions are the primary location to find subjects as they openly talk about their issues. We try not to use our own client lists but have to admit that we’ve crossed that delicate line a couple of times. …No, not predators, more akin to scavengers dissecting the bones of a dead marriage and trying to make good use of the morsels left behind. Psychology is a most inhumane pastime. …I’m not sure you understand our ambition. Sex is sex. Who’s going to talk about my fiancée Emily sleeping with other men when our research is filed away in the annals of history? Yes, I have to sit back and analyse how a man is sleeping with my fiancée to fully dissect their relationship. Do I enjoy that? No. Is it necessary? Yes. We are professional enough to create a distance between our work and our private lives plus what we’re learning is helping our own complicated relationship. What we’re doing works! What more motivation do you need than the joy of positive results before it’s even completed? …Look, I’ve got to go. I’ll speak to the others and we can all meet up and discuss this in private. In the meantime, you’re welcome to come inside, just say we’re old university friends. The greatest assignment of your career starts now!”

The three of them stood together in silence, looking at each other for any form of explanation or analysis of what they’d just heard along with an indication of where etiquette deemed they should venture under such circumstances.

“We should tell Francis, Jake.” Tom signed discreetly as the groom earnestly walked past them into the registry office, nodding a hello as he passed.

Elena understood Tom from Jake’s reaction, “You can’t. Not you of all people Jake.”

“I’m not saying anything; I couldn’t have wished for a more appropriate husband for that cheating ex-wife of mine. She only invited me here to gloat and I’ve only attended to show you off my darling.” Jake leaned in to receive his prize of a kiss for such skilled oratory.

“No, Tom should say something.” Elena said.

Tom made unmistakable signals to the untrained eye; no way, not on your life.

Jake shrugged his shoulders, “That wouldn’t work; I’d have to translate which would mean I’d actually be saying it. No, there’s nothing we can do. Our requirement as unwanted guests is to be seen as overwhelmed by the spectacular taking place before our eyes and act suitably jealous. Let us go now and perform such a function, I’m looking forward the challenge.”

Elena took one last look at herself in her portable mirror, slipped it back in her handbag and linked arms with Jake, “Let’s go then shall we?”

Tom caught Jake’s eye and using their own brotherly sign language, born from a lifetime together; indecipherable to any other signer, indistinguishable from the real thing to anyone else, asked, “How did you meet Elena?”

Jake’s relationship with Elena flashed before his eyes.

“Yeah, let’s go, Tom says he wants to sit at the back though.”