Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Dress

The washing machine cycle ends with a whimper. She hears it sound a whine from the kitchen and lifts herself up onto one elbow towards the window. On the field outside, cars are drawing up for the wedding and she watches, expressionless, as guests clamber carefully from their cars. Women tiptoe towards the yard, avoiding the sudden snatch of their heels in the dry earth, still soft from two day old rain.

The television behind her is switched on but muted. She can neither here nor see Kylie spinning around in tiny gold hot pants. She is too high up to catch more than the low murmur of guests as they speculate about the food, the ceremony, the rumours of recent discord amongst the family. Earlier, when she woke before dawn, the screams of gulls were competing with the mournful whistle of the starlings across the morning air. It had seemed like another world. A world with no cars and no guests in it. A world with no wedding.

The birds are not singing now, and under her breath she notes, "I do not think that they will sing to me."

Below her, deep in the house, she hears a door slam and, anticipating her mother, she springs from the bed and runs the short distance across the room to lock the door. She leans her naked back against the cold white door for a moment until she can hear her mother's heavy, determined, tread approach and she returns to the bed.

She perches nervously on the edge, her wary eyes on the door, waiting for the sound of knocking. When it comes, her mother's voice is not far behind.

"Loren?" There is a pause and an audible sigh, "Please just tell me you're dressed. Your hair and make up won't take long, but please. God. Tell. Me. You're. Dressed."

She looks at the dress before she can help it. It hangs on the side of the wardrobe like an accusation. The outfit chosen for the bridesmaids - the two sisters of the bride - not too formal, but smart, clearly for an occasion. She had hated it from the moment her sister brought it home.

"Jesus. Loren. Please. You promised you wouldn't be like this. Not today. It's just one day. Come on honey, please?" Her mother's voice is cajoling, gentle, a familiar plea.

She stares at the floor, knowing the sweet tone of persuasion will not last. There is a long silence. She cocks her head, uncertain if, lost in her thoughts, her mother has wandered away. But moments later, there is a hard, angry banging on the door. It makes her jump and she reaches, without thinking, for the pillow, bringing it slowly to her face.

"I can't do this, Loren. I just can't fool around like this with you today. Get dressed. Sort yourself out. Come downstairs. If you're not down in ten minutes I'm sending your father."

There is a pause.

"We've been through this. Today is not the day for one of your temperamentals. It's Samantha's day. Samantha's and Ben's."

She inhales deeply into the pillow, as the footsteps echo sharply away.

She can still smell him, the acid sweetness of his aftershave, the vague after-scent of his sweat. She closes her eyes and breathes it in, remembering his face as it neared hers on the night of the engagement party. She can almost taste him again as the memory runs, old and familiar, behind her eyes. The images are so sharp they slice through her. The arch of his back as her hands move across his spine. The whisper of her name on his mouth. The sting of his regret in the morning as she failed to feign indifference. The final humiliation of his endless apologies.

She drops the pillow to the floor and lets the tears come. When they have taken her over, and finally given her back to herself, she is not sure how much time has passed. She picks up a creased shirt from the floor and stretches to pull it over her head, walking to the window. A small crowd are gathered in the courtyard of the farm, but she barely glances at them, picking him out immediately, a solitary figure by the side of the old dairy.

His head is resting against the wall as he inhales deeply on a cigarette, although her sister has told him many times she will not marry him if he smells of tobacco today. They both know it is an empty threat, that Samantha would not call off the wedding she has been planning since she and Loren were in their teens. While Loren had dreamed of tiny Parisian lofts and mornings spent consuming black coffee and roll ups, hunched over a notebook, her sister had made scrapbooks from Bridal Monthly, collected fabrics for wedding dresses and pictures of stately homes for her reception.

As if he can sense her, he turns suddenly toward Loren's window, places his hand to his eyes as he squints upward. She darts backward, catching her shin on the bedside table. She lacks the energy even to curse.

She remembers his worrying, wondering face as he asked her, "Are you going to tell, Loz? Are you going to tell Sam about this?"

She has loved him for as long as she can remember, from the first moment her sister brought him home to meet their parents. She cannot imagine denying him, she cannot imagine hurting him. It is a constant surprise to her that she could betray her sister with ease, but cannot bring herself to defy him. No matter what it costs her, she cannot tell.

She turns back to where he stands, still staring up at her window. Though she knows he cannot see her, she almost smiles as she sees him raise his hand up toward her, pointing with the other hand toward his watch.

It is almost time. She crosses the room. She reaches for the bridesmaid's dress.

Copyright: Sarah Cheverton. Not to be reproduced without permission of the author.

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