“And do you, Shelly, take Martin to be your husband?”
They stood beneath an ancient oak tree in a little park. Known as Lovers’ Tree, it was the one thing in their average town that could be called a landmark, aside from the huge fibreglass waffle sticking out from the roof of Carol’s Waffle Palace.
Hundreds of names, initials, and dates were etched into the bark.
HS + EM, 1964.
Roddy loves Michaela.
Pete and Rosie 4 eva.
Martin was always amazed by the absence of lewd inscriptions. He expected there to be at least one penis scratched somewhere, or a disparaging remark on some poor girl’s questionable sexual morals. But no. Only wholesome promises of love and affection, and hearts with arrows through them. Shelly never understood that image: wouldn’t an arrow through the heart result in a dead darling? Perhaps a phallus would be more appropriate after all.
Far above the other names loomed ‘MARTIN + SHELLEY’, replete with Cupid’s arrow and love heart. Who else could have reached that high? Martin was the tallest guy in town by a wide margin; beanpole thin and pasty white with a widow’s peak. Shelly was a short, dumpy, frumpy girl with mousey bobbed hair. They both wore glasses. People stared at them together in public, but it didn’t matter.
They’d met eighteen months prior, right there in the park. Shelly spotted Martin standing at the base of the tree, peering up into the canopy.
“Are you OK?” she asked timidly.
He frowned. “That…that squirrel just stole my sandwich. Jumped right up and took it out my hand.” The squirrel, sandwich in paws, looked down mockingly.
Shelly giggled. “That’s Wolfgang, he does that a lot. I could call the cops if you want?”
A few moments of silence passed.
“You can have half of mine if you like.” Shelly rummaged for a sandwich in her backpack. Martin’s stomach rumbled.
“What’s in it?”
Weekly, then daily, they began taking their lunchbreaks together on the bench facing Lovers’ Tree. On Wednesdays, an elderly man would get there first, so they’d eat their peanut butter sandwiches on another bench near the pond.
“Is your name on there anywhere, Martin?” Shelly asked one afternoon, nodding towards the tree.
“No,” he sounded dejected. “Yours?”
“Nu-uh. Though I’d like it to be.”
She chewed through her peanut butter. A crunchy bit stuck on the corner of her mouth. Martin reached over and wiped it away with his thumb.
“How about having your name on a bench?” he said, shifting himself so they could see the plaque behind him.
Emily Shore. 1949 – 2012. Dearly missed.
Shelly sighed. “I wish benches were dedicated to happier things. Like, oh I dunno, rainbows and kittens?“
“Or squirrels who steal sandwiches?”
She laughed. “You didn’t look too happy when Wolfgang swiped yours.”
“I think it worked out pretty well. I’m happy now.”
The next day, Martin approached Lovers’ Tree with a pocketknife. He felt like such a rebel. As he carved their names, Wolfgang came down from his drey to investigate. Martin didn’t think a squirrel should have such a grizzled look. He sure was a surly creature.
“Sorry Wolfgang, no peanut butter today.”
When Martin showed Shelly his handiwork, she swooned over the declaration. She didn’t even mind that he’d misspelt her name.
One morning in July, they knew it was time. Shelly found an ill-fitting thrift store dress that made her look rather more lumpy than usual; it was the only one they had left in a color she liked. Martin’s rental tuxedo was a bad fit too; the sleeves rode up past his wrists and the legs weren’t long enough to hide his mismatched socks. Shelly’s sister, Abigail, presided over the ceremony. She’d been hastily ordained online and bought a collar from a costume store. Was there anything legally binding about the wedding? Probably not, but neither the bride nor groom cared. All that mattered was it felt like the real thing.
The congregation was made up of Shelly’s knitting group, Martin’s childhood pal, and some ducks who’d wandered over from the pond. When Abigail asked if anyone would “speak now, or forever hold their peace,” one duck quacked in opposition, but it was decided he was just over-excited.
“Shel?” Abigail prompted again.
Martin waited pensively; it was still Shelly’s turn to offer affirmation.
“What?” Shelly came around from a daydream. “Sorry, I was just thinking about” —she smiled at Martin— “squirrels. Yes, of course I take you to be my husband!”
He lifted Shelly’s veil and stooped down for the kiss. An abashed peck was all they could manage in front of the ducks, who began squawking gleefully.
“Should we head over to Carol’s for something to eat?” Shelly suggested. The reception was equally as unplanned as the ceremony.
“Sounds good,” said Martin, “but I have something to show you first.”
They walked with the ducks over to the pond, where the elderly man awaited them on the bench.
“Hey Herb,” said Martin, “thanks for keeping it warm for us.”
“That’s no problem, son. Did it go well?”
“It was the best, Herb, thanks. We’re all going out for waffles now, if you’d like to join us. I owe you.”
“That’s kind of you, but I have a date with Emily.” He glanced across to the other bench, then up at Shelly. “Congratulations, Miss. I’ve seen you two out here a lot. When Martin asked me for a little favor, I couldn’t say no. Emily loved this park, and I can see you do too.” Herb got to his feet, revealing a metal plate screwed to the bench. “I hope you like it.”
Shelly adjusted her glasses and squinted at the plaque, then wrapped her arms around Martin’s waist. “Thank you. It’s perfect.”
The party left for Carol’s. With the pond bench vacant, a curious squirrel bounded over from Lovers’ Tree. He sniffed at the shiny gold rectangle. It wasn’t a peanut butter sandwich, but it was meant for him: Wolfgang – thanks for the introduction, Love Martin + Shelley.
About The Author
Samantha Knowles lives in Winchester with her cat Beverly.
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