‘Charlie and I want a small wedding,’ I announced to my parents. ‘No fuss. Just you and Charlie’s parents.’
I had chosen to inform them of these plans when we were washing up in the kitchen after one of my mother’s staggering Sunday lunches. My mother put down a saucepan she was drying. ‘Small?’ She turned to my father. ‘How small is small?’
My father shrugged. ‘Liddy’s just told you.’
‘I see…’ which translated roughly meant: I do not see at all. She picked up the saucepan and polished it hard. I had never seen a saucepan so bright.
‘We would rather spend the money on things that matter. A bed, towards a flat… so I won’t be having an engagement ring or anything. Charlie and I hate fuss and we don’t believe in all that traditional stuff.’
I did not like the sound of ‘yes…but’. My mother’s ‘yes…buts’ were the camouflage adopted by a cunning jungle animal who knew exactly how to slide through the undergrowth towards its prey. But it also meant that I had been trained in forest lore by a master. Quick as a flash, I threw in the most effective weapon I could wield against my thrifty parents. ‘It will save you masses of money.’
‘I’m all for that.’ My father’s reply was as expected. All the same, I did not – quite – trust his tone of voice.
My mother plumped hard down onto a chair. ‘Bill, put the kettle on.’
My father smiled. ‘You want a cup of tea, Mary?’
She ignored him. ‘Sit down Liddy. Let’s get this straight. You and Charlie are planning to marry in secret. Is there a reason?’ I saw the word ‘pregnant’ slide across the inner sanctum of my mother’s mind.
I repeated. ‘We don’t want a fuss, Mum…’ I pursued my lips emphatically. ‘Nothing else. What Charlie and I have… what we feel for each other… is private and no one else’s business.’
‘Is it?’ My mother accepted the cup of tea that my father placed in her hand. ‘What about Aunt Jean, Rachel, Johnny, Uncle Ken, Lottie, Ellie…?’
My father poured himself a cup. ‘I think Liddy gets the idea, Mary.’
Mother abandoned the broad brush approach and honed in on the particular, in the past a winning tactic. ‘You always promised Ellie that she could be your bridesmaid.’
That was true. ‘You’ll be mine and I’ll be yours and we’ll wear a corset,’ was the vow, made to each other in the school cloakroom. Ellie’s blazer had been too big (she had a thrifty mother too) and my pleated skirt was far too long. The vow had been repeated long after my skirt was above my knees and Ellie’s blazer refused to do up across her bust. Things change, however, and I was sure that Ellie would see the point.
Mother sensed a weak flank. ‘Have you told Ellie of your plans?’
There was a moment of uncomfortable reflection. ‘No.’
My mother sipped her tea. ‘I would like to be there when you do.’ She lowered her voice. ‘I don’t care to think about how disappointed she will be.’ She shaded her eyes. ‘I won’t think of it…’
My mother shot me a look from under that dramatically positioned hand and segued smoothly. ‘…Or, think about Aunt Jean for that matter. She was looking forward to your wedding, given she only has boys. She wanted to make it special for the one bride in your generation of the family. And she’s saved up money for the flowers. She said it was silly really, but she said she could pretend to have a daughter after all. She was planning on masses of lilies in the church and a bouquet to die for.’
This was news to me. ‘Oh…’
Mother moved in for the kill. ‘Oh Liddy, I shouldn’t have mentioned it. Jean said to keep it a secret. She wanted to surprise you herself.’
‘Well,’ I said uncertainly. ‘I could carry a posy.’
‘That’s rich,’ snapped my mother. ‘Take your aunt’s flowers, but don’t invite her to the wedding.’
‘Liddy…’ said my father a week later over breakfast. ‘I bumped into Peter and the church is free in early March if you did want a church service, rather than the registry office. Might be nicer. After all, Peter did baptize you. He was very pleased for you, of course, but I thought he seemed a little upset. He said to tell you that he didn’t mind at all and you were quite free to do whatever Charlie and you wished. I told him that you feel that the modern girl dispenses with tradition, and post- modernist love had no need of the old rites of passage. Even so, he asked me to pass on the message.’
I slammed down my newspaper. ‘Dad, where’s the back- up? The loyalty?’
‘Right here.’ My father reached for the toast. ‘You and Charlie must do as you wish.’ The sound of butter being scraped onto the toast grated in the silence. ‘Mind you, I have always looked forward to the bit where the vicar asks who gives this woman away, lock stock and barrel? That would have been my moment.’ He bit into the toast. ‘Peter had offered me counselling for any feelings of displacement that I may feel, so you mustn’t worry.’
‘You’ve got crumbs on your chin, Dad,’ I observed.
On the Saturday night, Charlie and I escaped to the cinema to see one of those hard- edged, noirish thrillers. Charlie dropped me home after midnight , said goodnight in a satisfactory fashion and went back to his. Walking up to the front door, I stumbled over a box stacked against the dustbin. It fell open to reveal a perfectly good hat, a very nice one in fact in a dashing red with a delicious little feather curling over the ear.
‘And what is this?’ I marched into my parents’ bedroom and threw the hat down on the bed.
My mother barely lifted her eyes from the magazine she was reading. ‘What does it look like? It’s my wedding hat, but I won’t be needing it.’
‘This is a darling hat. You can’t throw it away.’
‘Liddy there is no room in this small house for things that won’t be used.’
‘At least give it to charity.’
‘I don’t have the heart, Liddy.’
My father snorted and said. ‘It’s late.’
‘Mum, you can put in a dressing up box for future grandchildren.’
‘Oh,’ said my mother, and put down her magazine. ‘I rather thought grandparents would have gone out of fashion. Like … weddings.’
There and then, I got on the phone to Charlie. ‘Can we get married tomorrow because I don’t think I can stand it.’
Charlie sounded a wee bit evasive. ‘Actually, Liddy I was going to talk to you.’
‘Go on…’ A dangerous note crept into my voice.
‘Would you mind very much if we waited until May. Annie’s phoned from Sydney to say that she and the family have managed to get a cheap flight, and she’s desperate to come to the wedding but they couldn’t afford to pay full price tickets.’
‘Charlie. That’s four months away. If we invite your sister and her family then we’ll have to have Aunt Jean and her tribe. If I have Jean, then I have to have Ellie, and she’ll want to be a bridesmaid in a corset.’
‘Liddy…’ Charlie was very solemn. ‘I can’t not invite Annie and the family, especially if they’re coming all that way.’ He sounded as if he was explaining the facts of life to seven- year- old.
Charlie loved his sister and talked about her frequently and it troubled him that she lived on the other side of the world. According to Charlie, Annie was a cross between the Madonna and Julia Roberts. And clever. And made her own clothes but looked a million dollars… Sometimes, I entertained mixed thoughts about Annie.
‘Why didn’t you mention this before,’ I asked furiously. ‘You’re the one who insists there is no fuss, and I have gone along with you every single inch of the way. I even agreed not to have a proper wedding dress which… I would… oh, never mind.’
‘I never said you shouldn’t have a dress. In fact… I wouldn’t mind you being dolled up for once. I’ve almost forgotten what your legs look like.’
After a pause, I said. ‘I see. I’m not elegant enough for you now.’
‘I did not say that.’
I observed the knuckle of the hand holding the phone turn white with tension. ‘You thought it, Charlie. For your information, I have managed to hurt and surprise my parents, my relations, my best friend and the vicar who is my parents’ best friend. And now you tell me that I look like a scrubber because I am trying to please you and to save money. I know you can be bad- tempered, a bully and infuriating, but I had no idea that you were inconsistent when it suited you.’
I snapped off my mobile.
I slept badly. My dreams were filled with the image of a white dress, a great, boned meringue of lace and net which threatened to squeeze the breath out of me. Somewhere in the background of this dream, I heard the peal of church bells.
It was not a restful night. Consequently, it was almost lunchtime when I hunched moodily into the kitchen.
‘Are you OK?’ My father skulked behind the Sunday newspaper. ‘I must say Liddy, I think Charlie is a bit hard on you. Jeans and a t- shirt are fine for the modern bride.’
I batted aside the paper. ‘You were listening in on my private conversation.’
‘Since you were shouting, your mother and I could hardly fail to.’ He looked sympathetic. ‘Believe me, when it comes to weddings, men can be very contrary. Never mind, you will have plenty to time to find the right jeans for May. You don’t mind if I come in my Hawaiian shirt? It’s sort of wedding- ish.’
To my fury, my bottom lip trembled a trifle. ‘Dad. I don’t want to get married after all. I just want to go away and never speak to anyone ever again. Especially not Charlie.’
Dad leapt to feet to put his arm around me. ‘Sweetie, don’t look like that. Mum and I quite understand. The smart, post- modern, modern bride refuses to be weighed down by tradition and all that. We will use the money saved in the wedding fund to buy you household insurance or a stakeholder pension, or something useful. A modest, the most modest wedding we can arrange you shall have.’
‘Without a bridegroom,’ I said darkly, and burst into tears.
I still sobbing when the phone rang and my father passed it over to me.
‘Is that my scrubber?’ asked Charlie. ‘Would she mind if I came round to see her?’
I was crying too hard to reply.
‘Leave it to me,’ said my father, and I overhead him conducting a long, long conversation with Charlie on the phone in the hall.
A couple of hours later, Charlie showed up on the doorstep and Dad showed him into the sitting room where I had taken what remained of the Sunday paper. ‘Liddy,’ Charlie commanded. ‘Look up at me.’
I scanned an article on dwindling oil resources. ‘I don’t see why I should.’
‘Because I’ve bought you a ring.’
‘I don’t believe you.’ I turned a page and concentrated furiously on manning levels in the civil service. ‘Um… what sort of ring?’
‘Diamonds,’ he replied. ‘Let me see… five, six, seven, no eight stones.’
I abandoned my newly discovered interest in the finer points of government departments. ‘Big stones Charlie?’
‘As large as I could manage. If you don’t look up, Liddy, I shall go away.’
My gaze remained riveted on the newsprint.
‘OK,’ he said, ‘that’s it.’ Charlie swivelled on his heel and made for the door.
Eight diamonds? ‘Charlie come back. Maybe… maybe I should try it on.’
‘Right.’ Charlie produced a box out of his pocket and flipped it open. ‘Close your eyes and hold out your hand.’ There was an awkward pause as he tugged and pushed but, then, with a glissando of metal over willing flesh, the ring was on. My eyes snapped open and there it was: perched on my finger like a glittering insect.
Charlie grinned at my sharp intake of breath. He hunkered down beside me and rested his cheek on mine. I breathed ‘thank you. It’s lovely.’
He murmured into my ear. ‘Shall we start again, Liddy? Over the wedding business I mean.’
I wrenched my gaze from my finger to look deep into Charlie’s kind eyes. ‘I suppose we can be very private after the wedding.’
‘I had sort of planned on that, Liddy.’
Which was how it came about that I went to my wedding in the May twilight clad in white silk and a veil that fell softly around my face, and carrying a bouquet of lilies that left a drift of fragrance in their wake. As I progressed up the aisle on my father’s arm (he was not in the Hawaiian shirt), I caught sight of my mother’s red hat, and Peter and Charlie waiting by the altar. The respectably large congregation turned to watch the traditional passage of a bride.
Behind me, Ellie, dressed in an exquisite corset and silk skirt smiled broadly. Afterward, in the hush after the ceremony, the bells rang out in a traditional peal.Back To Short Stories