The Pleasure of Your Company, and Babies, Requested for a Celebration of the Union of our Marriage

	ON PEARLIZED INVITATIONS, the words, “newborn babies required,” swirl above debossed emblems of storks. If potential guests are paying attention, they’ll see droplets falling from the satchel the stork is carrying, and they’ll probably think it has something to do with freshness and new life — and maybe it does. Mom insists on these hand-crafted cards in particular. 
	“Babies are a blessing,” she says because she, by miracle, popped one out two days after her own wedding. “And we didn’t even have sex,” she had whispered in a secret way, when she told me — when I was twenty.
	I don’t really want a room full of screaming, smelly babies at my wedding, but if I don’t comply, I fear I’ll never see my family again. The pull of babies is that strong. My older sister has been married for four years, and she has ten children — and she wants more. My cousin has fifteen. My mom had seven, which she says is a pretty big number for her day. 
	For my wedding dress, I choose a drop-waist look, but only so that the part over my stomach has enough of a gap for my mother to place a specially made satin “bump” — a prelude to the many bumps I’m supposed to have throughout my years of wedded bliss. 
	My mother has picked the cake as well: a three-tiered baby cake. She hired a celebrity baker to create three life-like representations of babies in cake, stacked on top of one another. It will be ready the day of the wedding, and I’m not allowed to see it beforehand because that’s tradition.
	Another tradition is sleeping on a dirty diaper the night before the wedding. According to my mother, women who sleep on dirty diapers will dream of their first baby’s eye color. The dirty diaper is from my sister’s newest baby, and it’s wrapped in a garbage bag and placed under my pillow. She and Mom keep vigil all night to make sure I don’t just throw the diaper away in the middle of my sleep. When I close my eyes, though, I don’t see anything — nothing I can remember, anyway.


	The bump under my gown, on the day of my wedding, keeps slipping, so my mother pins it to the shaping garments I’m wearing. The pins poke through to my stomach, especially when I sit. My mother tells me that I just shouldn’t sit at all and to remember that lots of women don’t get to enjoy their wedding day.
	“It’s not really the day the matters,” she says. “It’s the entire life after.” 
	When I take my place at the back of the church to walk down the aisle, I hear nothing but screaming. It seems that every guest has brought a baby. In fact, some have brought neighbors’ babies as well. As I walk down the aisle, to Pachelbel, I hear burping and vomiting. Milk spills down the sides of the pews.
	From the altar, I can barely get through my wedding vows because of the screaming and the children running around. I start to feel nauseas, and the room spins. The milky white drops on the edges of the pews thicken, and I think I can see blood.
	In the reception line, the faces all blur together, but my mother’s high-pitched voice stands out. Each note grates on my nerves. It’s like she’s been spun into an uncontrollable bundle of energy, just like the babies and the kids.
	As my stomach lurches, and my hands turn clammy, she pulls me in for a hug and whispers, “You’re very special — I’ve known this since the day you were born.” Then, she holds me in tighter — and won’t let go. I can feel her sobbing on my shoulder. “Very special, indeed.”
	Dad pushes her away, looking nervous — or maybe embarrassed. “All mothers cry at weddings,” he says. But my mom’s hysterical, and I can’t figure out why. I’m only going on a honeymoon to Florida. When we come back, our house that I’ll move into will be right next to theirs.
	When it’s time for the father-daughter dance at the reception, my mother cuts in. “I’ve just got to dance with her,” she says. Dad rolls his eyes, and my mother pulls me in as we dance awkwardly to a song I barely know and didn’t choose. She has wept the entire day.
	“Mom,” I tell her. “You’ve got to get a hold of yourself.”
	“I do,” she says. “I really do. You’re right.”
	Eventually, I get to see the cake. The baby cake is everything I imagined it would be. Three very life-like babies are stacked on top of one another, snuggling. I’m handed the knife to make the first cut—through the head of one of the babies. I cut straight through the red velvet cake interior, which is filled with layered cream, and my mother shrieks and cries. I don’t remember her doing this at my sister’s wedding, but then again, I was quite young.
	My hand begins to shake as I finish the first cut. That cold feeling courses through me again, and I can barely stand. The sounds in the room fade as my legs collapse underneath me, and I’m seized by violent twists of pain from my spine, ripping through my stomach, contracting. I begin to bleed, my white dress suddenly soaking red, from the inside out, spreading up under my bodice. The blood gurgles in my throat. My mother’s face ripples and waves. Hands touch me, all over my body, and I realize that the wedding guests are plunging their hands into pools of my blood and wiping their fingers on the newborn babies, in the form of a cross. “So that they might live forever,” my mother says — for tradition needs a sacrifice — and I’ve been chosen. 


Cecilia Kennedy (she/her) is a writer who taught English and Spanish in Ohio for 20 years before moving to Washington state with her family. Since 2017, she has published stories in international literary magazines and anthologies. She currently works full time as a copywriter and does freelance work as a proofreader for Flash Fiction Magazine and as a concept editor for Running Wild Press, LLC.