Her village had run out of eligible bachelors, so Jenny found a man in the neighboring town.
“He won’t do,” friends and family predicted. The village matriarch Rose, however, insisted he should be given a chance. Jenny’s ill-fated wedding went ahead as planned.
Rose sat in the front pew, as usual. Her stage whispers were loud enough to carry through the sanctuary for everyone’s benefit. The priest paused respectfully whenever she spoke.
“Lovely peonies, just like at our wedding, Joe.”
The crowd hummed happily, hanging on her every word.
“He’s not a patch on you, Joe. You were so handsome in your uniform.”
The softly buzzing crowd agreed.
Finally, the words Jenny was waiting for. “I now pronounce you man and wife.” The priest was relieved. His part of this travesty was done. He could go home soon, perhaps avoid the inevitable showdown.
At the reception, Jenny managed to keep smiling, but her new husband Jake was full of questions.
“Who was that mad woman talking to an empty pew?”
“You must mean Rose. She was talking to Joe.”
“Her husband. Died on their wedding night fifty years ago. Terrible tragedy.”
“She was talking to thin air!”
“We can all see Joe. I guess you can’t?” Jenny sounded a bit regretful. Jake had seemed so promising.
“You people are crazy. I’m packing up. Going back to my own town.”
“Too late.” Jenny sighed.
The crowd swarmed over and surrounded Jake, buzzing angrily. They formed an unbreakable circle moving slowly inward. Jake sputtered and spun around and finally staggered, unable to stay on his feet. When he crashed to the floor, Jenny sobbed, but not for long. In her village, widows were revered, wives respected, old maids reviled. And men were expendable.
She would sit in Rose’s pew for the funeral and begin her training. Later, Jake would be by her side. She did hope his face wasn’t swollen from all the stings. She wanted him handsome and docile for eternity, like Joe.