The Elephant Bride’s Bouquet

by Mary E. Lowd

A Deep Sky Anchor Original, August 2023

“There were strict rules about harvesting the plants in the arboretum, and no matter how much she’d always wanted to curl her trunk around the stems of the flowers and snap off pretty buds, she had never dared break the rules.”

Jeko lifted her trunk and trumpeted along with the latest Star-Shaker song which she’d turned up to completely fill her small room aboard Crossroads Station.  Her trunk swayed along with the beat, and the reptilian pop-star’s lilting, raspy voice was loud enough that Jeko didn’t have to feel embarrassed about her own brassy tones.  The elephantine alien never sang in front of other people, but she loved to sing when she was alone.  Especially when she was happy.

And she was filled with joy today.

Today, Jeko was marrying her insect bride — a brilliant, glittering butterfly-like alien who was too fabulous to need wings.  Jeko had loved Am-lei from the moment she saw the freshly metamorphosed insect girl standing with one wing — the other already cut from her back at her Wing Day party — and announced, “I’m lopsided!”

When you’ve loved someone that long — since childhood, the love evolving as you both grow — and they’ve loved you almost as long, it’s almost strange to marry them.  Redundant and unnecessary.  Just some weird performance, put on for other people, friends and family, but it’s also a big, fun, celebratory party.  And while Jeko was usually too shy to like parties, she liked the idea of a party all about how much she loved Am-lei, and Am-lei loved her back.  Because that was the biggest miracle in her otherwise kind of lonely and solitary life.

Jeko’s parents had dragged her from one planet to another, between space stations and asteroid colonies, throughout her whole childhood.  Crossroads Station had been just one more lonely stop along the way, until she’d met Am-lei.  Then young Jeko had put her heavy foot down:  she was done moving.  By the time her parents had tried to drag her away from Crossroads Station, Jeko was old enough that she simply stayed behind, finished high school on her own, and made herself a home of her own.

Sure, Am-lei had gone away to college at Wespirtech for awhile, and Jeko had stayed behind, lonely again.  But after a few years, Am-lei came back, and the two of them had been together ever since.  Elephant and butterfly.  Against all odds.

Jeko stopped singing long enough to grab her white wedding dress and pull it over her head.  She reached around with her trunk to zip it up and fasten all the decorative gold clasps, wondering as she always did how mammaloids without trunks got by with their mere two arms.  At least Am-lei had four arms with her insectile body, though those arms were too stiff and spindly to reach around her own back the way Jeko’s trunk could.

Most of the people Jeko knew only had two arms, and it just seemed so limiting.

As soon as Jeko was finished dressing, a knock came on her door.  Jeko turned the music down and called out, “Come in!”

Jeko’s beautiful butterfly bride floated into the room with gossamer wings, white and gauzy.  They weren’t real wings.  Only part of her dress, an affectation designed to make her feel more like herself on this celebratory day.  The last really big celebration in her life had been her Wing Day party, when she’d emerged from her chrysalis all wobbly on those six spindly new limbs and weighed down by big colorful wings.

During Am-lei’s Wing Day party, her mother had cut off one of her natural wings, and her grandmother cut off the second one.

Tonight, Jeko would get to remove Am-lei’s wedding wings.  The elephantine alien felt the insides of her large, flappy ears blush at the thought.  Even though it was just the two of them alone — Jeko and her Am-lei — she could still blush at the idea of being allowed to love such a beautiful, delicate creature.

“Your dress is perfect,” Jeko said, curling her trunk nervously around her own neck.

“I feel silly,” Am-lei fluted, curling her proboscis up tightly in a mirror of Jeko’s curled up trunk.  “Fake wings?  It’s silly.”

Both brides were nervous.  Neither had any reason to be.  They loved each other, and only their closest friends and family were coming to the wedding.  Even so, it’s strange to be in the center of a spotlight.  It’s a strange feeling, inviting people to a party in celebration of yourself.  Especially for a shy elephant like Jeko.

“It’s not silly to wear wings,” Jeko trumpeted, trying to soothe her beloved.  “Your mother still wears those prosthetic mechanical wings.”

Am-lei’s mother Lee-a-lei — having been raised by a human — hadn’t learned about their species’ tradition of cutting their wings off until much later in her life and had never fully adjusted to the idea of living without them, even though it was much more convenient.  A Lepidopteran’s vestigial wings are far too heavy, always pulling at their back, and too awkwardly large, always knocking into things.  Lee-a-lei’s mechanical wings, in comparison, were much more compact and outfitted with all kinds of useful features like anti-grav generators.  Also, they were bejeweled, glittery, and downright pretty… drawing attention away from Lee-a-lei’s Lepidopteran biology which looked nightmarish and Kafkaesque to humans — the dominant species around this corner of space.

Am-lei would never voice her judgement of her mother’s need for a prosthetic directly to her mother… the two of them were much too close for that.  She wouldn’t have wanted to hurt Lee-a-lei.

But Am-lei did judge her.

Even so, Am-lei knew it was a character flaw in herself to be so judgmental of her mother, so comparing her own self-criticism to her judgement of her mother was likely to jolt her into being a little kinder to herself.  It was easier to be cruel to herself without noticing than to her mother.

Jeko stepped toward her bride and reached out with her trunk.  With the finger-like tip of her trunk, she took hold of the edge of Am-lei’s left wedding wing.  She waved her trunk lightly, causing the gauzy fabric to billow ethereally.  A smile twisted the mouth under her trunk.

Am-lei’s proboscis uncurled and fluted a laugh that sounded like fairies singing in a magical meadow.

“That’s better,” Jeko said.  “There’s my butterfly.”

Am-lei took a step toward Jeko too, closing the space between them, and wrapped her four long arms lightly around Jeko’s solid girth, gently stroking and circling her talons against the puffier white fabric of her elephant’s dress.  Jeko’s heart could almost burst every time Am-lei embraced her like that — the touch of her talons was so light, it was almost ticklish.  It truly felt like the kind of amazing, unexpected blessing of having a wild butterfly land on you.  Except it happened all the time, and Jeko couldn’t believe how lucky she was.

“Everything is almost ready,” Am-lei fluted.  “The last thing is the bouquets, and Grandma Amy went to fetch them from the florist a few minutes ago.  She was going to meet me here.”

That meant they didn’t have much time alone here before the ceremony.  Regardless, Jeko dropped the fold of Am-lei’s dress fabric she’d been holding and instead wrapped her trunk tightly around the insectoid’s narrow shoulders, pulling her even closer.

Elephant and butterfly brides held each other, simply breathing and letting their hearts beat together in a moment that was only for them.

Then another knock came at the door, and without bothering to step away, Jeko trumpeted, “Come in.”  Usually she was shy about being physically affectionate with Am-lei when anyone else could see them, but today, it seemed silly to care.

The door cracked open, and an aged human face, lined with wrinkles, looked through the gap.  Living on a human space station, both Jeko and Am-lei would have become well versed in human facial expressions even if neither of them had had a direct family member who was human.  As it was, neither of them had the slightest trouble seeing the worried look on Grandma Amy’s face.

“What’s wrong?” Am-lei fluted.

“It’s the flowers,” Grandma Amy said.  “There was a miscommunication, and the florist marked your wedding down as not happening for another week…”

Am-lei stiffened — a nifty trick given the innate stiffness of her exoskeleton.  “So, they haven’t finished growing,” she fluted, dourly providing the logical conclusion.

“Yes, they’re just sprouts.  No actual flowers yet,” Grandma Amy confirmed.

Am-lei and Jeko had selected flowers for their bouquets from the Crossroads Station gene bank which included genetic information for plants from hundreds of different worlds.  They’d carefully chosen one type of flower from each world Jeko’s parents had dragged her to before they’d finally settled down on Crossroads Station, so their bouquets would be a reflection of the journey that had ended with the two of them finally meeting, finally being brought together.

Both Am-lei and Grandma Amy — with their entirely different faces — managed to share the same stricken expression.  On Am-lei it involved a tightly curled proboscis and the wriggling mouth parts at the base of the proboscis clenching like tiny fists.  For Grandma Amy, it involved her human mouth straining and skewing, stretched tight across her face.

Jeko could easily read both of them, and their terror at the idea of something related to the wedding going wrong was hilarious to her.  Her trunk shook with laughter which she couldn’t hold back.

“Are you okay?”  Am-lei’s four talons grabbed ahold of Jeko supportively, as if she thought the elephant were having a breakdown.

But she was just laughing.

“I’m sorry,” Jeko trumpeted when she’d recovered herself enough to choke out actual words.  “You both looked so scared, like the station was going to explode and we all had to evacuate or something.”

“But… your flowers…” Am-lei fluted.  “They represented everywhere you’ve ever lived.”

Jeko shrugged with both shoulders and trunk.  “I live here now.  And they’re just flowers.  I had fun picking them out with you, but if I don’t have any flowers in my hands when we get married, it won’t make us any less married.”

“You’re really not upset?” Am-lei pressed.

“When you plan something as complicated as a wedding, something’s bound to go wrong,” Jeko answered.  “And as problems go, this is nothing.”

Grandma Amy smiled.  “I always liked you,” she said.  And Jeko knew that was true.  Grandma Amy had always been especially nice to her when she and Am-lei had been children.  That was part of why they’d decided to have a wedding ceremony modeled on the ones they’d seen in old Earth movies Grandma Amy had shown them as kids.  They knew it would please her.

“It would still be nice to have flowers,” Am-lei fluted, pensively.

Grandma Amy’s smile widened.  “Actually, I talked to the florist about that, and I got permission for you to pick flowers directly from the arboretum on the way to your ceremony.  There’s a field I can show you to, right next to the Karillow Glade where the ceremony’s happening.  And then you can have the flowers you originally ordered in a week, when they’re ready.”

“Sort of a one-week anniversary present, I guess,” Am-lei fluted.  “That’s kind of nice.”

“I’ve always wanted to pick flowers in the arboretum!” Jeko trumpeted.  There were strict rules about harvesting the plants in the arboretum, and no matter how much she’d always wanted to curl her trunk around the stems of the flowers and snap off pretty buds, she had never dared break the rules.  “We can really pick them?”

Grandma Amy nodded.

“It’s like a wedding present from Crossroads Station itself!” Jeko proclaimed.

Grandma Amy walked with Jeko and Am-lei to the arboretum.  The brides got a lot of admiring looks from station inhabitants they passed along the way.  It’s not every day you see an elephant and giant insect walking along, hand in hand, wearing fancy white gowns.  Even on Crossroads Station, a place filled with dozens of different species including sentient plants and fish, they still made a rare, beautiful sight.

When they got to the arboretum — a hollow sphere in the middle of the spinning rings that composed Crossroads Station — the light from lanterns above the trees in the center of the sphere filtered down through the roof of leaves and dappled their white gowns with bright speckles of gold.

Grandma Amy led Jeko and Am-lei along a cobbled stone path to a field of flowers, open to the false sunlight from above.  “You can pick anything you want from here,” she said.  “Have fun, and I’ll meet you in the Karillow Glade.”

So, Jeko and Am-lei strolled through the field, under a sky composed of golden light and the far side of the arboretum, green, lush, and upside down from where they stood.  Jeko picked pink, white, yellow, and purple blossoms.  Am-lei gravitated towards only the white flowers that matched her fluttery false wings.  To Jeko, she looked like an ethereal angel, and to Am-lei, her elphantine bride looked like a goddess of life and spring incarnate, plump, earthy, and brimming over with joy and love.

Jeko snapped the flowers off with her trunk and gathered them in her hands until her hands were full.  “I think I have enough,” she said.  Though, part of her wanted to keep picking flowers in the golden light that wasn’t quite sunlight and forget entirely about some silly little ceremony.

But their friends and family were waiting.  And while she wanted to keep picking flowers, she also wanted to stand in front of all the people she cared about, beside her insectile angel, and proclaim their love.  Time never stops passing, even when a moment is so perfect that you feel like you could live inside it forever.

“Let’s go get married,” Jeko said, accepting that it was time to let this perfect moment pass.  There would be more perfect moments to come.

“Yes, let’s,” Am-lei agreed.  She reached out a talon, and Jeko reached back, grasping the talon with the curled end of her trunk.  They walked along together toward the ceremony awaiting them.

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