She looked like the ninth wonder. She stood at the back of the garden for a second. There was about a hundred pairs of eyes glued on her. I knew she always got nervous around crowds but this was her day. Her big day. It was the last day she’d ever be single. The day she’d make a life long vow in the name of love. The day she’d say ‘I do.’ It was a day she’d longed for and dreamt about ever since she was in her teens. The last few weeks had been hectic for her. Bella always wanted everything to be perfect so when the planning drained the last ounce of strength in her, she would occasionally sip her whiskey and take long drags of her favourite cigarettes – Newports – as she watched the sun sink behind the trees in her backyard. Her eyes glistened in the afternoon sun. It was as if her dress was was sown onto her body. It was perfect. She was perfect. She raised her head slowly as she took her first step to begin her bridal procession. We locked eyes. She smiled at me. I smiled back and gave her the most subtle of nods. Above all, I knew that that was what she craved at this very moment – affirmation. That this was okay. That she was happy. That she was in love. That this, unlike many of her past choices, wasn’t a mistake.
I had never seen her mother this happy. She kept smiling and taking photos on her phone, waving her hands as she broke into a twist. Just like mothers do at their daughters’ weddings. I hoped this day turned out just like she had imagined. I could tell that she was a bit tipsy. She’d asked me to bring her a double whiskey and a pack of ciggies that morning; which I did because it’s rude to say no to the bride. All her friends were there, apart from Patricia who missed her flight. She was supposed to be the fifth bridesmaid but work got in her way. Try a little tenderness by Otis Redding was playing as she strut her way to the front of the congregation. It was just as she’d always dreamt. I knew this because she had always told me everything. The song, in particular, she’d picked out eons ago when she first heard it on her favourite sitcom’s series finale. I couldn’t see her shoes. Her gown flowed right below her feet slowly caressing the lush green grass as she moved. It was as if she was gliding. My hands trembled uncontrollably. Up until today, I still don’t know whether it was fear or anxiety that made me shake that way.
She had always wanted to walk down the aisle alone. Her father wasn’t in the picture. And he wasn’t going to be in any of the wedding photos as well. She was raised by her mum who asked her never to ask where her father was. She was always angry at her mum in her teens but as she got older, it somehow sunk in her mind that love can make you do terrible things. Things like raising a child without letting her know who her father was. Even worse, telling her to never ask. Her uncle had offered to walk her down the aisle but she declined. And not politely at that. “You’re not my father. I won’t let you take his place. Not now, not ever.” she’d tell him. It shocked everyone but no one spoke a word. Bella had been known to stand her ground. It was impossible to undo her doings. No one questioned her actions. She’d always been known to like things a little different. Ice cream for example. She’d take it out of the refrigerator and let it sit until it melt. Then she’d enjoy it using a serving spoon. It was her version of eating life with a big spoon and it made her happy. No one questioned her. No one needed to. That’s how she ended up alone at her bridal procession. The only thing she held in her hand was a tiny bouquet of lilies. They were her favourite. She hated flowers but loved lilies. I know this because when I first bought her flowers, she didn’t even touch them. They were roses. She loathed roses.
As she got closer to the podium, I watched her glance at her mum. Her eyes were starting to tear up but she held it all in. The padre had started humming into the mic subtly hinting at the congregation to join in. As she stepped onto the stage, everyone took a step back. Everyone but the groom. I was still looking deep into her eyes hoping they’d meet mine. I thought about how much I loved her. How happy I was for her. How I hated her smoking habit but still sat in her car in traffic on most days inhaling her second hand smoke. How I wanted her to marry me. How I wasn’t the groom at her wedding. She was marrying my brother, Nick. I was his best man and her best friend. I don’t know how to describe what I felt at that exact moment when they held hands and he drew back her veil. I zoned out. I was numb to everything that was happening. I came to when Nick gave me a gentle nudge so I can hand him the wedding bands. It was all happening. As he read out his vows, My mind slowly wandered to the first time I told her I loved her.
It was in April. We had known each other for a year, we were both single. She was going through a thing and needed a shoulder to lean on. She didn’t have to ask twice. I drove over to her place at around 8 in the evening. She was on the balcony smoking a doobie. I let myself in and joined her. That night was one for the books. I made her laugh so hard she forgot everything. I loved seeing her this happy. As we went back into the house, I said it. I just blubbered, ‘I Love you Bellah’. She smiled. She didn’t say a word. It hurt. Picture a thousand arrows tearing into your chest at the same time, only worse. Just then, as we stood in the kitchen, her face lit up. She opened up her arms and said ‘Come to mama!’ as she walked towards me. I was elated. I stopped leaning on the marble table top and took a step towards her. Before I took the second step, I realised those words were not meant for me. Her eyes were set on the top right side of her kitchen shelf where a tab of ice cream sat pretty. The munchies had kicked in, and so had the feels. I moved away as she grabbed the tub and started digging in. “Calories don’t count after midnight, right?” she joked. “Right!” I replied with a light chuckle.
“Listen, I have to go.” I said.
“Maybe stay the night?” she asked.
I looked deep into her bloodshot eyes and said the hardest, but smartest, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
That night, as I drove home, I thought the same thing I thought on her wedding day as I watched her say ‘I do.” I wish I was vanilla ice cream on your kitchen shelf.
Mwass identifies as a future adult, half human and a third bad at fractions. Sometimes, he writes short stories on pictures. Have you read his last short story, ‘It’s a beautiful story, really‘?