Certainty by Laura Chanoux featuring photography by Ben Van Loon

“The hanging paper lanterns can be retracted to the level you’d like,” the event coordinator explains.

“They really add to the space.” She remembers them from last time, about a year ago. Luckily the coordinator doesn’t remember her. The venue is open and bright, with large windows in the back and a small balcony.

“How many people will be at the wedding?” the coordinator asks.

“Probably eighty,” she responds. She changes the number every time, depending on the space. They’d mostly looked at places that could accommodate one hundred and forty. She likes the idea of a smaller wedding today.

“Have you looked into catering yet? We have a list of preferred vendors if you’d like to take a copy with you.”

“Yes, thanks.” She collects the paperwork. The space is empty. She can picture the aisle leading to the windows, where he would have stood waiting, where their friends and family would have sat. She imagines bright flowers on all the tables, bursts of colors against the white walls. It would have been nice. There was even room in the front for a food truck, which other couples had arranged in the past according to the website. He had laughed when she suggested it.

“Do you want a few more minutes to look around?” The coordinator jars her out of her memories.

“No, I think I’m all set. Thank you.” They discuss ways she can follow up to reserve a date, and she finds her own way out through the patio area and back to the industrial West Loop street.

He hadn’t liked this venue much anyway. It felt too far from downtown, and too blank for him to imagine starting their future there. On the walk back to the train, they’d stopped for coffee at a small shop that seemed out of place for the area. Maybe our bridal party will come here on the way to the wedding, she had said. We could come back here every year to have coffee and reminisce. He’d smiled at that idea. She could always hook him with the little romantic notions.

She stops for coffee on her way again this time. It takes a few minutes for the barista to make her latte, so she sits in the window and scrolls through old texts from him. When her drink is up, she hits delete and slips her phone back in her jacket pocket. She squints as she steps back into the sunshine. One down.

 

The West Loop performance space hadn’t been the first venue they’d visited. He chose the first, scheduled for the day after he’d proposed. He wanted a ballroom wedding at a hotel downtown. They walked through the grand rooms with high ceilings and multiple chandeliers while the event specialist talked them through various room set-up options.

What do you think? he asked her. The event specialist looked on expectantly. As the bride, she was supposed to have opinions. They hadn’t even been engaged for twenty-four hours.

It’s big. She couldn’t get past the carpets, with elaborate designs and rich dark colors. They were fancier than the hotel conference rooms she visited through work, but made her feel the same way. He watched her, waiting for more. She looked out the windows over the Magnificent Mile. They never spent time in the Loop.

He seemed disappointed as they left, holding the folder of information on rental rates and preferred caterers. Why didn’t you like it? he asked. It’s beautiful, right?

She glanced down at the ring on her finger, a large diamond set with two rubies, her birthstone. It was unlike her other jewelry. The earrings she wore were also gifts from him, turquoise studs he’d brought back from a business trip to the southwest, as well as the silver ring on her right hand for their first anniversary. His only accessory was the Shinola watch that he’d bought after his internship to remind him of Detroit.

Her necklace was her own – a gold circle on a thin chain that she’d found in a shop near Logan Square. It was so light that she worried about bending it when she picked it up. She sometimes forgot she had it on when she got ready for bed.

We went to Josh’s wedding here last year, remember? he prompted.

Right. I just haven’t really thought about the wedding yet. It’s hard to picture.

Maybe we can make the guest list tonight. That will make it more real. His tone was harsher than it needed to be.

He didn’t bother her about plans for the rest of the weekend, but the following Monday he emailed her lists from wedding websites of the top places to get married in Chicago. He sent links during his lunch breaks that she pretended to have been too busy to read. They compiled the list of family, childhood friends, college roommates, and professional acquaintances, and she marveled at how many people he knew.

His parents began planning an engagement party. They considered renting a room at a downtown hotel, but decided on a private room at a restaurant instead. Her parents couldn’t come. Cross-country flights were difficult to buy with three weeks’ notice.

 

She takes a cab to a thrift shop in West Town with a large loft space for events. Instead of setting up a formal tour this time, she walks through on her own.

He had hated this one and muttered about asking his grandmother to sit on a secondhand couch as he walked down the aisle.

This is just a giant room of random stuff.

It’ll be different. Look at those windows.

Every wedding is the same, honey.

But this will be more “Chicago.” She knew he wanted that, especially for all his grad school friends from the east coast. The venue had CHICAGO written in lights in the back garden.

The Loop is “Chicago.” This is hipster as fuck.

It’s just kind of funky.

No, it’s weird. This isn’t us. We’re not mismatched chairs and tchotchkes.

She didn’t respond. It was true that their apartment looked nothing like the shop. He couldn’t stand clutter. After he’d thrown out a pile of her tax documents that had been sitting on the coffee table amongst magazines and coupons, she learned to stash everything in the wicker baskets under her bedside table.

Today, she buys a set of salt and pepper shakers. They are sky blue, faded a bit with age. They will look good on her kitchen table. She keeps searching for items in her kitchen like the mixing bowls only to realize that he had taken them, assuming they were his.

 

She hasn’t seen him in six months. She kept his number in her phone in case she’d forgotten anything. After living together for so long, she was bound to have left something. He never texts or calls. It isn’t a surprise, she supposes.

They had gotten together when she was a junior in college and he was a senior. She’d liked him immediately. Unlike her friends, he was sure of what he wanted. She liked that – his certainty. When he decided he wanted her, any doubts she had could be addressed by remembering that she was someone worth being sure about.

 

She got drinks with her friend Rachel after they announced their engagement.

It’s good to see you on your own, said Rachel. How are you feeling?

Good. It’s exciting. She showed off the ring.

Yeah? Rachel’s question was light. They knew the language to talk around things, leaving an opening if the other wanted to be direct.

After living together in college and the year after, she had expected they would still be in regular contact. They lived in the same city, after all. Schedules got in the way. She had weekend trips out to visit his parents, they had plans with other friends, Rachel had a hectic job and traveled often. They checked in online and got drinks every couple of months. Her boyfriend – fiancé, rather – came along for happy hours and parties. She didn’t realize how little one on one time they had until suddenly it was just the two of them talking over a hightop.

Yeah, she said. It’s kind of a lot. We’re looking at venues. She outlined their current round of disagreements over hotel ballroom vs. art gallery vs. cultural center vs. extravagant former bank. I can’t seem to make up my mind, and I’m not excited about anything he likes. He gets frustrated.

I mean, it’s not what he’s used to.

How do you mean?

I don’t know, it seems like you guys do what he wants a lot of the time. Like that trip to Hawaii.

Yeah. He made some good points about that. We had a good time.

Yeah, for sure. Rachel knew of other examples. When they moved in together and only looked at apartments in the neighborhoods he liked best. When they spent New Year’s Eve with his friends because he’d confirmed plans with them first. There were the quieter moments, too, like when she realized she hadn’t seen her favorite show all season because they always watched TV together. He didn’t insist or push her. He knew what he wanted and it made more sense to go along than sort through her own internal debates.

But yeah. I guess it feels like it’s everything at once.

 

She saves her favorite location, the garden store with a venue space attached, for last. She walks through the shelves of succulents, hyacinths, and lilies. The dense clusters of plants are interspersed with delicate glass vases and handmade pots. Through the back door, she steps into a small courtyard strung with carnival lights. A few café tables blend into the stone patio and brick walls. A large tree hangs over the space and drips ivy towards the ground. She can still dimly hear the buses and car horns of the city.

 

She had poured over photographers’ portfolio sites that featured weddings here. She showed him her favorites: the twirling first dances by the front windows while friends watched from the two staircases. The first kisses under that tree. The couples in front of a wall of flowers, eyes locked on each other.

He smiled at her enthusiasm before pointing out the space constraints. The vendor list also left off his preferred catering company. If she wanted to get married around plants they could drive to the Chicago Botanical Gardens instead of being cramped at some flower shop in Lincoln Park. He was right, of course.

She wanted to visit anyway. He didn’t come with her, citing work deadlines. She knew he didn’t want to see more venues. He’d already decided which ones he liked and was waiting for her to agree.

It looked even better in person. She was glad she saw it on her own without needing to defend how much she liked it.

 

She came here after she told him she was moving out. The shop was closed, but she sat on the steps and watched the traffic down Clark Street. The stone wall of the doorway felt cold through her coat. She rubbed her thumb against the spot on her finger where the ring used to be.

After she watched the 36 bus south pass for the fourth time, she stood up and started the walk home. She returned the next day to buy an air plant to keep by her bed.

 

In the event space, a crew unloads tables and chairs. There’s going to be a party of some kind here tonight. She sees hurricane vases filled with fairy lights stacked by the door. It will be beautiful.

After browsing for a half hour, she buys a bouquet of chrysanthemums for herself. The blooms are bright, fiery colors and look like summer. Soon, buying a bouquet won’t remind her that he never bought cut flowers. He found them wasteful.


Laura Chanoux has lived in suburban Boston, Philadelphia, Ann Arbor, and Chicago. She spent 2012 traveling through Southeast Asia and Europe. Her writing has appeared on The Billfold, The Belladonna Comedy, and other publications.