She knew the betrayal was going to come sooner or later. Ah yes, the early morning walks, the absorption simmering in his eyes at breakfast, the strange slur of his speech. But she told herself it could wait. Because – how accustomed she had become to that solitary state of waiting; a weight which dries the tissue of the lungs to a pith and the eyes to stones. She had become a hardened woman. She shook her head nonchalantly at this thought. Alas, it was finally time!
It was strange; a voice reverberated at the corner of her mind -
‘We have plenty of time yet. Let me go and get ready myself. You do not leave here without me; do you understand?’
It could have been the couple in the room next door. Ah, life in union! She smiled and a cold shiver trickled down her spine. A siren sounded somewhere in the street. She laughed, the alcohol anointing her throat, a laugh which echoed as the room door slammed such. Such a free World it was!
She was to be at the Church for 12 O’ clock. A tumbler of gin glimmered next to the clock – she took long draughts with a nervous compulsion, hoping the alcohol would soften her – yet the ice glanced her lips, as if in mockery. Oh, she imagined in front of her, his tall languorous frame, that cold hard mouth she would make smile – she would try! Placing a slightly tremulous hand on her own hip, she felt it as his – waltzing her decadently round the room, glancing over her shoulder as she had seen to be the done thing in the films, watching her face in the mirror. The eyes – so dark, so weary! Her mouth tasted thickly of prescription medication and alcohol. Ah, but only necessary preparation! She smiled and a supressed giggle flooded from her lips as she imagined his arms around her, encasing her. For what was there to worry about?
Nothing, nada, nil. That was what she saw in her dress – the complete absence of impurity – it nestled against the contours of a body like a white crepe. She needed to be seen at this occasion –she wanted people to know she was a part of his life. Like a torch, a magnificent globe, suspended, glowing – she wanted to cry out ‘I am here! I have waited for him and I am here!’ She mouthed the words now, let the shapes streak over her coloured lips and painted cheeks. She had preserved herself for him, she knew, as she felt the ring strong and prominent on her finger, the band round her wrist – cold and fine-fluted, like his hand. The wail of a siren, or a horn, punctured the air.
The car, the car! It was the car. She went to the door in a flurry, taking a last sweeping glance of the unfamiliar expanse which glowed open to her like a tomb. The ornate ceiling – split into tiers and spiracles, a thick white icing – striking against the lonely expanse of strewn crimson bedcovers. She had been too worried to sleep well. She kept hearing his voice in her ear; the wavering tones almost like a promise of touch. A pair of discarded scissors glimmered as the sun attempted to prise interrogative fingers beneath the window blinds, hoping to illuminate what had been the scene of a hasty dressmaking. She had to go. The door swung shut behind her like a stoppered pendulum – somewhat like she felt – so uneasy, backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards.
The little black car was waiting on the kerb, gleaming slick with heat, the street almost swimming under the intensity. She ran quivering fingers through her short and rather uneven hair – before piling into the vehicle. Money? Why did he want money? The driver examined her questioningly, before shifting into first and pulling away from the pavement, away from all those sad lonely fantasies, away from the nights spent alone in unfamiliar surroundings – she was finally ready .
Ready as the car drew up alongside the Church – evidently a relic of ages past, assembled from black slate and stone, assembled meticulously in rows. She imagined the cool, comforting darkness inside and the proximity of her love – to be like a child in the safety of the womb. So great – the expanse of cold stone, more telling, more true, than any flesh. She wavered as she got out of the car, stumbled towards the door – her head weighted with what she told herself was a kind of suspension, anticipation. Her lips tingled, her feet dragged. Her shoes, what about her shoes? What about – no, she had to go through with it, she had waited. And now he was waiting.
Her ears pricked at the distinct solemn drawl of the Church organ, the sudden crescendo of the unearthly voices organ music seems to draw from the mere mouths of human beings. It was her time. The women were always late; it was fashionable, it was right. She had read it in some brochure or some magazine in at least one waiting room or another. One preparatory breath. One last look outside. One same, setting smile. She plunged down the aisle.
There was a sweep of silence amongst the pews, a collective intake of breath.
She kept walking, walking, walking as her feet would let her, and yet they seemed so loosely hinged, like weary metal instruments – But the floor, so cold, so fresh, it was as if walking through a form of purity! And there, just aside the altar, she could see him – her eyes thickened with glassy tears. Such an immersion in sweet sorrow! There, for her, the beautiful pale skin, the rivulet between nose and mouth creased in a slight smile, but why – but how –
The vicar turned and paused on seeing her – his hand wavering in a half-prayer motion. Maybe it was how late she was! Maybe that was why all was so still! Perhaps she just better say it, perhaps the mouths were frozen open in anticipation, anticipation of her necessary pledge, every ounce of dedication which she had dredged inside her mind, every year –
‘I do!’ She cried, her voice shrill, striking up against the very eaves ‘I do! I do!’
She clasped her hands, she kept walking. The distance between her and him seemed eternal. The floor was cold, the aisle stunned to silence like a drained artery. The body of the church stuttered a steely grey – for where were the colours? Where -
‘ I think you’ve made a mistake,’ The vicar muttered numbly, approaching her with an upturned palm, how one imagines approaching an alien form in a sign of peace. She didn’t understand – was she to give him the ring? Who was to hold the rings? Her eyes darted over stunned pale faces. There were a number of members of the congregation breathing in a horrid staccato accumulation, their heads in their hands, quivering. Why did they not rejoice? The flowers, the furnishing, all clotted dull in her pulsing vision.
She spoke through the approaching bulk of the vicar, the black, the white, divided like a fat, upright pill. She gasped , she motioned through very barrier to the man she loved, the man with the cold face and thin lips, the man to whom she pledged– ‘My love, you say I do, I do, I do too, don’t you? Don’t you my love?’
Her voice adopted a hysterical tone of angst. Why did he not speak? Yes, there had been the days where he had fed her with a ignorance so very sharp, she was enticed by its cold cajoling of her blood, how it grazed through her veins like a necessary suffering. But those days were over now, weren’t they? She grappled against the vicar’s attempt at restraint, taunted by the faceless altar in front of her, the red rug which had endured layer after layer after layer of matrimonial dust, pledges of love, it was like blood, why was it blood?…
‘Is it that again?’ Her voice split to a senseless scream ‘You love her again! Giving yourself to her again?! Are you? Did I never mean enough to you?’
She grabbed a handful of skin from her arm in her shaking fist. ‘This live, white flesh not good enough for you? Ha! Ha! Never good enough for you, never…’’
There was a clamour at the church door. A figure in navy blue, evidently a nurse, bolted down the aisle.
‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!’
The lashings of entering light cast the church interior in a sickly hue, like an exhausted stomach. It took the nurse a matter of seconds to scan the ring on the girl’s finger, the band on her arm, the standard gown –
‘She’s ours.’ The nurse uttered singly, with a slight hint of apology to the vicar.
The vicar nodded. He nodded as the girl was escorted out to the waiting van, nodded as he continued the service, nodded as the first clods of earth were thrown into the young man’s open grave, the crushed chest, the red lacerations on the neck…
He nodded as sat back in a soporific stupor as the day drew to an end – for he had just seen a marriage with death, the funeral of life. The clock continued on the mantelpiece as it had always done.