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A Perfect Wedding

June 19, 2018

Something a little different this time – in honor of June, the month of brides, I’m posting a short story about a wedding, about plans memories and, most of all, about letting go. Hope you like it.

“A June wedding. Perfect. The garden will be at its best.” That little tuck appeared just above Beth’s left eyebrow, a telltale sign of resistance since she was a little girl. Surprised, I paused for a moment before I added, “Your grandmother would be so pleased.”

It’s not going to be here, Mom. Hank and I plan to be married in the chapel at the Workshop.”

“You can’t serious!”

The tuck settled in deeper.

Before either of us had a chance to say more, we heard the stamp of feet in the back hall and the clunk of pruning shears on the washroom table. Charles’s face had that shining look it always has when he comes in from the garden. He rubbed his cheek against mine and poured a cup of coffee.

I waited until he was seated. “You won’t believe the wedding your daughter is planning.”

One hand held the cup of steaming coffee; the other rested on the table, just touching Beth’s fingers. He winked at her and said, “Try me.”

“The Handicapped Workshop. That’s where she wants to be married.”

“The correct name is Sheltered Workshop. And we plan to be married in the chapel.”

“Instead of your grandmother’s rose garden.”

Charles withdrew his hand from the table and rubbed the back of his neck.

“If it were at least our church.” My voice sounded shrill – even to me.

“They can still have the reception in the garden.” Charles, ever the peacemaker, looked from one of us to the other.

“We’re having a picnic,” Beth said. Her voice was confident, almost breezy, but the rosy spots that appeared in her cheeks gave her away. “In the field by the river. Maybe a volleyball game. Very informal.”

“Like Gypsies.” I hadn’t meant to say that aloud, but it was true, so I let it stand.

Charles stirred sugar into his coffee, his down-turned face hiding his thoughts.

“This must be Hank’s idea.” I said.

Beth said, “No, it’s mine,” and put her cup down hard in the saucer, sending a dissonant jangle into the air around us. She glared into the cup, which was still vibrating from the force of her placement.

“Like a bunch of Gypsies.”

“Caroline, stop it!” Charles actually shouted at me. Shocked (we are not a shouting family), I looked from Beth to him. Over his shoulder, I saw my reflection in the window – brandishing my toast. Now I was shocked. Before I could put the toast down, Charles reached across the table and took it from me. We looked at each other, amazed, and listened to the somber tones of our grandfather clock which had begun to echo through the house. Charles broke the toast in two and handed the larger piece to me.

“Is there some reason?” We both spoke at once, directing the same question to our daughter. This was more like it.

Beth took a deep breath before she spoke. “Handicapped people are always on the fringe.” Another deep breath. “We want them to have a part in the wedding: usher, handle the guest book, help serve.” Her voice expanded as she continued. “They love Hank and me.”

“What about your family, your friends, people who’ve loved you all your life?”

“Oh, Mom. Do you know many weddings those people go to? For them, this’ll just be one more.”

“Friends, family. Don’t be too quick to take all that for granted.” Charles said.

I was glad he was standing up to her.

#  #  #

Later, when we stood at the sink, peeling potatoes, I reminded her, “This house, the garden, they were your grandmother’s.”

“I know, Mom, I know. We all know the story about how our grandfather went overseas and Grandma and Daddy came here to stay with her parents. And Grandma planted the rosebushes to keep busy while she waited for him to come home and then, when he was killed, she and Daddy stayed here. I know Daddy grew up in this house. And I know how thrilled Grandma Hamilton was when you and Daddy were married in the rose garden.” She recited it singsong, like a nursery rhyme.

I ignored the petulance in her tone and tried again, “You don’t remember, of course, but …”

“I know, Mom. I don’t have to remember. I’ve heard the story all my life. When our great-grandparents died, we came to stay with Grandma and we’ve been here ever since.”

“You took your first steps in the paths of the rose garden.” The memory of those proud, halting steps brought tears to my eyes. “You loved the garden when you were a little girl.”

“I still do. That doesn’t mean I have to be married there. Just because you did.”

“And your sister.”

“I’m not Meg.”

“Beth, are you sure?”

“That I’m not Meg?”

“Don’t tease. You know what I mean.”

“I’m sure, Mom.”

“Don’t be so quick to answer. Think about it.”

“I have thought about it,” Beth said. Then she turned and, smiling, touched my cheek with her fingertips. The pleasant, earthy scent of potato on her hands reassured me. She’s weakening. She’ll come round if I don’t push too hard.

#  #  #

I stood for a moment at the screen door, admiring them: my beautiful daughter, and her fiancé, Hank, handsome in his way, not the classic looks of my Charles, but still, a very presentable young man. I looked past them at the view I’ve come to love so: our yard, the town, the streets like a long staircase descending to the river, and the river itself curving around so that it cradles the town on three sides.

Meg and John’s car pulled up. Carrie, our only grandchild, was first out of the car. She bounced up the steps, and landed before us on the porch. She accepted hugs from Charles and me, but it was clear that she was not interested in us.

“Aunt Beth, when are we getting married?” she asked, dancing in excitement. She turned to Hank, “Did you know I’m gonna be your flower girl?” And then to Charles, “Grandpa, I’m finally gonna be a flower girl.”

He looked at Beth. “You going to have a flower girl, Pie?”

The oven buzzer sounded before Beth could answer.

#  #  #

“Grandpa, why did you ask Aunt Beth if she’s gonna have a flower girl?” The words came out of Carrie’s mouth almost as an extension of the grace Charles had just offered.

“Your Aunt Elizabeth has some very unusual plans,” I said.

I saw Hank reach for Beth’s hand under the table.

“Not that unusual,” she said, laughing, trying to get us to join in.

Carrie examined each adult face. She said, “Just so I get to be a flower girl and wear a fancy dress and stand under Grandmother Hamilton’s arbor.”

“This wedding’s not going to be in our garden,” Beth told her.

Hank stared at his plate, apparently intent on keeping the pickled beets from bleeding into the mashed potatoes.

“Well, where?” Carrie asked.

“Remember the Sheltered Workshop where Hank and I work?”

“Sure.”

“The little chapel by the river?” Beth prompted.

Carrie wrinkled her nose, “It smells like bug spray.” Her eyes widened. “You can’t have a wedding there. Not a real wedding.”

“Mouths of babes,” I said. I couldn’t help myself.

“It doesn’t always smell like bug spray.” I heard the struggle for control in Beth’s voice. “We’ll put flowers there for the wedding – roses from Grandma’s garden. It’ll be like taking the mountain to Mohammed.” I knew she was still trying to get us to laugh.

“That’s silly,” Carrie said, laying down her fork and sitting up straight.

“Mouths of babes,” I whispered it this time, so softly I’m surprised anyone even heard but they all looked from Carrie to me. I turned to Meg. “Did I mention that they’re planning a picnic instead of a reception?”

“Oh?”

“Complete with volleyball.”

Carrie wailed, “I can’t play volleyball in a flower girl dress.” She turned to Beth and said, “You promised me, Aunt Beth. Remember? When I had chicken pox and you brought me bride paperdolls? You said when you got married, I could be your flower girl and wear a white dress with lace.”

“Carrie …”

“And a ribbon for a belt …””I remember …”

“And a matching ribbon in my hair.”

“You can still do that.”

“You said maybe blue ribbon like my eyes. You promised.”

“I didn’t say the arbor.”

“You didn’t say NOT the arbor. So that’s like promising the arbor.”

The blue eyes were too bright now and the little pointed chin trembled as Carrie stared accusingly at Beth. I had to look away from that small brave face – out of the dining room, through the foyer, and beyond. The sun was setting and shadows filled the house. In the living room, I could see only the outlines of the things that were so much a part of our lives: the graceful contour of the sofa back; the tall wingchair; the piano, its outline crowned with the shapes of framed photographs, each so familiar to me that I needed no light to see the faces. I looked long at my mother’s picture, wondering what she would think of this wedding.

Carrie’s voice brought me back to the dining room. “It was a promise. All of it. Arbor and all. I know it was a promise. It’s bad luck to break a promise about a wedding.”

Now Beth’s face held my attention. I saw her glance at Hank, an appeal for help, which he missed.

Her father did not. He said, “I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m ready for dessert.”

“Beth and I’ll get it,” Meg said.

I started to get up.

Meg put her hand on my shoulder. “Mom, you stay put.”

They seemed to disappear instantaneously. There were two empty places at the table where my daughters had been. From my chair nearest the door, I could hear them in the kitchen.

“Look, Sis, don’t let Carrie influence you. If this is what you really want …”

“I wouldn’t hurt her for …”

“Don’t worry about her. We can make her understand.” I heard the knife scrape against the bottom of the pie plate.

And Beth’s voice: “I’ll get the ice cream.”

“You should think about Mom and Dad though.”

I heard the freezer door open and imagined the slap of cold air on Beth’s face.

“And yourself.” That was Meg again. “This house, the garden, Grandma’s roses, the wedding dress we all wore. You turn your back on all that …”

“I’m not turning my back on anything! How can you say that?”

“Just think about those things.”

“I can still wear the dress.”

“Why bother?”

“That’s not fair!”

“Think about it.” Meg’s voice again. So – she’s on my side. With daughters, you never know. Poor Bethy. Well, I’m sure she’ll be glad some day we talked her out of that Gypsy wedding. Probably is already. All she needs is an excuse to save face.

I resolved to help her out. “That chapel’s not very big,” I said after they had served the dessert.

“Ladies.” Charles made a timeout tee with his hands. “I think this pie deserves our undivided attention.”

Beth wouldn’t even look at me.

#  #  #

“Please, just listen,” Beth said later, after Meg and John had carried a sleeping Carrie to the car.

“We’ve been listening,” I said.

“Not really. You don’t understand what we’re trying to do.”

“No, I guess we don’t.”

“If we have the wedding at the Workshop, all of our people can come.”

“They can come here.”

“It’s not the same. They’d just be guests. If it’s at the Workshop, it’ll be like they’re giving the wedding.”

In the quiet that spread around us, I could her words, could almost read them in the air. I knew from Beth’s face that she was reading them too, understanding fully, perhaps for the first time, all that they implied, but she let them stand. Charles and Hank remained silent, studying the swirls in the Oriental carpet. I looked out the window, but it was dark now, and I could not see the garden or the town or the river, just the four of us reflected in the glass.

#  #  #

The night that followed was long and sleepless. I stared into the dark, thinking, remembering, until finally, shafts of daylight penetrated the curtains. I heard light, quick footsteps on the stairs and called out, “Bethy.”

“Yes?” She sounded annoyed, but she waited.

“Going for a jog?”

“Um hmm.”

“Have coffee with me first.”

“You don’t have to get up yet. I’ll cut it short and be back in time for breakfast.”

“Shall I make French toast? You’ve always …”

“I don’t eat that way any more.”

“A little splurge?”

“You don’t have to make breakfast for me.”

“I know I don’t have to.” I brushed some hair off her face. “But wouldn’t it be nice?”

She shook her head, causing her hair to lift and then to fall again in rippling waves, just as it had when she was a little girl.

“I didn’t sleep much last night,” I told her.

“Mom, do we have to talk about this now?”

“Just listen.”

She sighed and sat down.

“I lay there, remembering …”

“I know. The roses. The fragrance. The breeze from the river.” She was using that singsong voice again. “The sounds of the town in the background.”

“No, dear.” Her head was bent so that the sunlight on her hair was almost blinding. “Well, yes, I did think of those things. Mostly, though, I remembered the town I grew up in, the church I didn’t get married in.” She looked into my eyes as I continued. “My mother. I’m not sure she ever understood why I planned the wedding I did. I know I was right, though, to do it my own way. And now it’s your turn. That’s all I wanted to tell you. That and how proud of you I am.”

A Perfect Wedding is one of a trio of short stories –http://a.co/dSpbFEU

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 20, 2018 12:03 AM

    It’s lovely…

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