Smoke and Mirrors

by Neil Gaiman

THE WEDDING PRESENT

After all the joys and the headaches of the wedding, after the madness and the magic of it all (not to mention the embarrassment of Belinda’s father’s after-dinner speech, complete with family slide show), after the honeymoon was literally (although not yet metaphorically) over and before their new suntans had a chance to fade in the English autumn, Belinda and Gordon got down to the business of unwrapping the wedding presents and writing their thank you letters—thank yous enough for every towel and every toaster, for the juicer and the breadmaker, for the cutlery and the crockery and the teasmade and the curtains.

“Right,” said Gordon. “That’s the large objects thank-you’d. What’ve we got left?”

“Things in envelopes,” said Belinda. “Checks, I hope.”

There were several checks, a number of gift tokens, and even a £10 book token from Gordon’s Aunt Marie, who was poor as a church mouse, Gordon told Belinda, but a dear, and who had sent him a book token every birthday as long as he could remember. And then, at the very bottom of the pile, there was a large brown businesslike envelope.

“What is it?” asked Belinda.

Gordon opened the flap and pulled out a sheet of paper the color of two-day-old cream, ragged at top and bottom, with typing on one side. The words had been typed with a manual typewriter, something Gordon had not seen in some years. He read the page slowly.

“What is it?” asked Belinda. “Who’s it from?”

“I don’t know,” said Gordon. “Someone who still owns a typewriter. It’s not signed.”

“Is it a letter?”

“Not exactly,” he said, and he scratched the side of his nose and read it again.

“Well,” she said in an exasperated voice (but she was not really exasperated; she was happy. She would wake in the morning and check to see if she were still as happy as she had been when she went to sleep the night before, or when Gordon had woken her in the night by brushing up against her, or when she had woken him. And she was). “Well, what is it?”

“It appears to be a description of our wedding,” he said. “It’s very nicely written. Here,” and he passed it to her.

She looked it over.

It was a crisp day in early October when Gordon Robert Johnson and Belinda Karen Abingdon swore that they would love each other, would support and honor each other as long as they both should live. The bride was radiant and lovely, the groom was nervous, but obviously proud and just as obviously pleased.

That was how it began. It went on to describe the service and the reception clearly, simply, and amusingly.

“How sweet,” she said. “What does it say on the envelope?”

“‘Gordon and Belinda’s Wedding,’ ” he read.

“No name? Nothing to indicate who sent it?”

“Uh-uh.”

“Well, it’s very sweet, and it’s very thoughtful,” she said. “Whoever it’s from.”

She looked inside the envelope to see if there was something else inside that they had overlooked, a note from whichever one of her friends (or his, or theirs) had written it, but there wasn’t, so, vaguely relieved that there was one less thank you note to write, she placed the cream sheet of paper back in its envelope, which she placed in a box file, along with a copy of the wedding banquet menu, and the invitations, and the contact sheets for the wedding photographs, and one white rose from the bridal bouquet.

Gordon was an architect, and Belinda was a vet. For each of them what they did was a vocation, not a job. They were in their early twenties. Neither of them had been married before, nor even seriously involved with anyone. They met when Gordon brought his thirteen-year-old golden retriever, Goldie, gray-muzzled and half-paralyzed, to Belinda’s surgery to be put down. He had had the dog since he was a boy and insisted on being with her at the end. Belinda held his hand as he cried, and then, suddenly and unprofessionally, she hugged him, tightly, as if she could squeeze away the pain and the loss and the grief. One of them asked the other if they could meet that evening in the local pub for a drink, and afterward neither of them was sure which of them had proposed it.

The most important thing to know about the first two years of their marriage was this: they were pretty happy. From time to time they would squabble, and every once in a while they would have a blazing row about nothing very much that would end in tearful reconciliations, and they would make love and kiss away the other’s tears and whisper heartfelt apologies into each other’s ears. At the end of the second year, six months after she came off the pill, Brenda found herself pregnant.

Gordon bought her a bracelet studded with tiny rubies, and he turned the spare bedroom into a nursery, hanging the wallpaper himself. The wallpaper was covered with nursery rhyme characters, with Little Bo Peep, and Humpty Dumpty, and the Dish Running Away with the Spoon, over and over and over again.

Belinda came home from the hospital, with little Melanie in her carry-cot, and Belinda’s mother came to stay with them for a week, sleeping on the sofa in the lounge.

It was on the third day that Belinda pulled out the box file to show her wedding souvenirs to her mother and to reminisce. Already their wedding seemed like such a long time ago. They smiled at the dried brown thing that had once been a white rose, and clucked over the menu and the invitation. At the bottom of the box was a large brown envelope.

“‘Gordon and Belinda’s Marriage,’ ” read Belinda’s mother.

“It’s a description of our wedding,” said Belinda. “It’s very sweet. It even has a bit in it about Daddy’s slide show.”

Belinda opened the envelope and pulled out the sheet of cream paper. She read what was typed upon the paper, and made a face. Then she put it away without saying anything.

“Can’t I see it, dear?” asked her mother.

“I think it’s Gordon playing a joke,” said Belinda. “Not in good taste, either.”

Belinda was sitting up in bed that night, breastfeeding Melanie, when she said to Gordon, who was staring at his wife and new daughter with a foolish smile upon his face, “Darling, why did you write those things?”

“What things?”

“In the letter. That wedding thing. You know.”

“I don’t know.”

“It wasn’t funny.”