Self-Isolation: Challenge 12
Fears. What do you fear? Give your fear, bad habit, or impediment to a character in a story. Make your character face that fear and what happens?
Congratulations to Bob and Helen for jointly winning this week’s story with Bob’s short story “Fear” and Helen’s “The Clown”.
I’d never walked through a graveyard in the dark, before. I was just taking the dog for his usual bedtime stroll, when a cat ran across the road in front of us. Barnie barked, tugged the lead from my hand, and was off. He dashed across the road after the cat and followed it into the churchyard, opposite. By the time I reached the churchyard wall, they had both disappeared into the black shadows.
I called Barnie, keeping my voice low to avoid disturbing the occupants of the place. No response. In the gloom under ancient yews, I saw tall crosses and stone angels, shrouded in ivy, grimy with age. I shuddered. Summoning all my willpower, I forced myself to open the gate, the creak of its rusty hinges grating on my nerves. I crept in. Still no sign of the dog. I crept along a path of worn flagstones between the monuments, avoiding those that leaned at crazy angles and looking behind me frequently.
Anxious to get home, I checked my watch; nearly midnight, the witching hour. Then a movement caught my eye. My body froze to the spot and I watched in horror, as something came floating silently towards me between the gravestones. Whatever it was, it shone white in the moonlight, and its huge round eyes seemed fixed on my face. I turned in panic, meaning to run back the way I’d come but I must have missed the path and the thing was following me. I felt my heart beating in my chest as I ran. I stumbled over grave mounds, brushed against brambles, collided with half-seen objects, until eventually I reached the gate.
Safely back on the street, I looked round and saw my pursuer clearly for the first time. In the light from a streetlamp, I saw it was a Barn Owl, gliding serenely among the gravestones. I watched fascinated, as the beautiful creature hunted its prey. Barnie sat waiting under the lamppost, looking at me inquisitively, puzzled by my strange behaviour. I slipped the lead over his head and we went home but next evening, I returned alone, hoping for another glimpse of that beautiful bird, and now I am a regular visitor to the churchyard after dark.
Anthea’s next-door neighbour, Justin, was a “pillar of the community”. Anthea had struck up a good relationship with him and they looked out for each other. Only that day she had taken in a parcel for him whilst he was away from home. They also held on to spare keys for each other.
“He’s such a lovely man,” said her friend Marcia over a cup of coffee one day. “All that work he does for deprived children. He spends hours dressing up and entertaining them at that special school. I’m surprised he isn’t married. Underneath that make-up, he’s a good-looking man.”
A shiver caused Anthea to rattle her cup in its saucer. She apologised and confessed that, despite living next to him for a couple of years, and having much to do with him, she still found it upsetting to see him in his full clown’s outfit.
“I always hated clowns as a child,” she told Marcia. “Whenever my parents took me to a circus I would cry and hide when it was their act. Stupid, I know, but there’s just something really creepy about them. Thinking about it now brings me out in a sweat. There is a technical term for it, coulrophobia.”
“Oh,” said Marcia, “You live and learn,” and she changed the subject.
Anthea had a secret vice. She was a devotee of “True Crime” and would avidly watch the “World’s Worst Killers” programme at the end of the day. That night the programme looked at the history of the infamous John Wayne Gacy. She was tempted to switch it off as Gacy’s persona was “Pogo the Clown” and he had used magic tricks to lure in young men before killing them. As the programme dwelt more on the facts and less on Gacy’s costume, she felt that, at her age she could and would cope.
“What would Marcia think of me?” she thought, both about watching such frightening programmes and about being such a coward not to face up to her fear?
Although Anthea found the programme absorbing, the room was warm, and she was tired from her day’s activities. Despite attempting to stay awake she found herself drifting off to sleep during some adverts. A loud banging noise at her window woke her up. On the screen was a photograph of John Gacy in full, macabre “Pogo the Clown” outfit. The banging continued at the window. There, looking in at her, was the face of a clown.
This was her ultimate nightmare. Anthea screamed and felt sick. Panicking, she scrabbled for her mobile phone to contact the emergency services but her sweaty fingers fumbled to unlock it. She heard the front door opening and she passed out.
When she came round, she was being cradled in strong arms and a glass of water was being raised to her lips.
“Anthea,” said the familiar voice of her neighbour, Justin. “Are you alright? I’m so sorry to have startled you! I only came round to pick up my parcel and saw you asleep in your chair. I thought it was easier to wake you up at the window. I am so sorry, I completely forgot that I was still wearing my make-up. It must have given you such a shock. I used my spare key to let myself in when I saw you fall. The paramedics will be here in ten minutes. They’ll want to check out the old ticker. Can’t have you dying on us, can we?”
Anthea felt comfortable and safe lying there in Justin’s arms. Somehow, the clown face did not seem to bother her in the slightest. Justin was a good man and she was lucky to consider him a friend. She remembered, however, with some amusement, that John Gacy had also been “a pillar of the community”.
FEAR OF FLYING
Tony had been abroad many times but had never enjoyed flying. To lock yourself in a box is fairly dramatic; to then climb to thirty five thousand feet and hurl yourself forward at six hundred miles per hour has to be madness; to do this in the name of “holiday must surely be lunacy. But this is what happens every time Tony and his wife Nicky travel by air.
They had caught the taxi to East Midlands Airport in the normal way and endured the formalities of registration and customs clearance with the usual patience. “I don’t think I can do this” says Tony, “Why do I put myself through this torment and torture?” Nicky was used to this and calmly and reassuringly reminded him of all the good times that lay ahead. In the departure lounge Tony’s anxiety was increasing and he was trying his best to hold it all together; he did not want to disappoint Nicky and he was really looking forward to the vacation. They cleared the departure formalities and finally boarded the plane. The captain announced his welcome and the flight details, Tony started to shake and he could feel beads of perspiration forming on his forehead. As the cabin staff closed the doors his condition deteriorated dramatically until finally with an outburst of deep seated emotion he cracked. Nicky called the stewardess who initially tried to reassure Tony and calm the situation but it was obvious that it was grave and beyond recovery. Without another word he unbuckled his seat belt and ran for the exit. Sadly, that was where the holiday ended.
(An acrostic poem)
Fright, forebodings, phobias, and fearfulness are
Everywhere – in me – and out there! Mental, physical. Palpable angst,
Apprehension, alarm and anxiety, mould my anguish,
Rip my senses, lacerate my mind, molest my emotions, fracture my feelings, shred my heart.
‘Is it death that I fear, or is it the suffering I must go through at the hands of these masters of torture, who can take me to the edge of unconsciousness, not allow me to find relief in its darkness, but who can bring me back to my waking world to demonstrate new ways of inflicting pain?’
I sit on the cold stone floor of my dank windowless dungeon. I can smell its toxic moulds.
I’m an enemy of the people. I will be tortured by skilled sadists who are looking forward to it.
I sit in my cell for what feels like days. They make me wait because waiting magnifies my terror.
In an almost irrational train of thought, I want them to get on with it, and get it over with, even though I dread what is to come.
Torturers use psychology, play with minds, mess with emotions. They want victims to feel uncertain. They cultivate mental confusion. They want their subjects to hope. They watch. They wait.
You know, it’s amazing how one can know that something will happen, yet one is able to convince oneself that it won’t!
I shiver. My teeth chatter because of my fear and my vivid imagination.
I take up the foetus position for comfort, and stay like that for a long time. I’m tired. I doze.
My mouth is so dry. My lips are cracking. My tongue searches for my tears.
Out of the blue there’s suddenly some noise and movement. I become alert. My cell door moves. I’m jerked upwards. My head droops. My legs go limp. My feet drag and my body convulses involuntarily. My mind screams noiselessly.
The time has come.
It is now that I am being taken somewhere, and it is now that I know the answer to my question.
FRIGHTENED TO LOVE
John was a loner.
He’d been like that since he was a boy of about 5. He’d learned that to love can be painful, especially when the love given, was used and manipulated by the people to whom he had given it.
Those people were John’s parents.
As their marriage broke down, both parents tried to get John to be loyal to them, and to hate the other parent.
This hurt and confused John. He loved them both equally. He loved them both deeply. He prayed so hard, every night, for things to get better and to revert to the happy family unit he had once known.
But of course, things got worse, and his parents’ pressure on him to take sides increased.
So John withdrew emotionally. He wasn’t going to take sides, and, henceforth, he would show an equal respect to both parents, but there would be no more hugs, no more kisses, no more open displays of love.
Added to this, John was having a hard time at school. He was tall, and was mercilessly teased by his classmates. They saw his hurt, and concluded that it was a weakness, and would threaten to beat him up on his way home from school. So John would run all the way home as fast as he could, and his fear only subsided when he was safely indoors.
And his peers soon found more ammunition, when his class had a lesson about King Edward the 1st, who was tall and whose nickname was ‘Longshanks’. John was targetted again, the children mocking him and calling him ‘Longshanks’, or ‘Lank’. John hated it, and it upset him, but the nickname stuck.
He took solace in music. He found that he could connect with all types of music, and discovered all human feeling and behaviours represented in it. At first it was mostly pop music, then serious pop music -West Coast Underground music of the late 1960s – then folk and ethnic music, and finally he discovered the world of the concert hall and theatre, with its different types of music, played by national orchestras which made the same piece of music sound completely different.
He unearthed ‘borrowed’ folk tunes which turned out to be such an integral part of so much ‘classical’ music. He got into opera, ballet music, concerti, spiritual music from many different faiths, and so on. In fact, he uncovered so much in music with which he could identify, and with which he could connect emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually.
As a result John became more of a loner, and lived out his life in his various musical worlds. Recorded music and headphones were a real bonus, as they helped him shut out the real world, and immerse himself in his music.
John was a sensitive and caring individual, and he wanted to be able to show love, but he always found it so difficult, because it made him feel so vulnerable. He felt as if any love he might give, could, and probably would, be turned against him, bringing him yet more pain.
Life had taught him that to love openly and unconditionally, only brought suffering.
Yet, almost paradoxically, he ended up having two wonderful marriages. He met two caring souls who actually understood him, and intimate and private loves blossomed each time. When his first wife died after 28 years together, he discovered new pains, and further ways to suffer, but at the same time he realised that nothing could ever take away the wonderful love that they had had.
Four years later he married again, and found a different personality who loved him just as much as his first wife did, and he is now enjoying a second close, loving relationship.
His experiences had actually taught him that he oughtn’t cause anyone pain, but should always put love first.
And that’s what he did in his private life, but as far as the outside world was concerned, he still found it very difficult to trust anyone, because, over his working life, so many individuals had betrayed his trust, and even taken credit for things that he had achieved.
But John is now happy, for what greater gift could he have been given than to have finally found the ability to love, and be loved in return?
© Bob Reader June 2020 – 723 words
Self-Isolation: Challenge 13
Tell the story of a wedding from the point-of-view of a guest who wishes he/she were one of the people getting married. How does your character cope? One for the would-be Mills and Boon writers amongst you!
Congratulations to Margaret R. whose story about young love won this week’s challenge. Praise to Bob as well, who cleverly turned the subject into a poem.
The Dreaded Day.
Kate was feeling extremely grumpy at breakfast, she had spilt her cup of tea all over the dining table. However that wasn’t the real reason she was unhappy, she sat staring at the graduation photograph on the bookcase, six close friends with beaming smiles. Today was supposed to be a happy day, a joyous occasion, however she wished she didn’t have to go to the wedding in six hours time. Usually, she loved weddings, the pleasure of buying a new outfit, with matching handbag and shoes. Sometimes she wore a hat or fascinator, it depended on how she felt. She took time picking a wedding gift and card, usually choosing a nice gift from the wedding list. This time it had been different.
The invitation had dropped through the letterbox three months ago, she remembered it well, it had ruined her day. Still she had to stop dwelling on it, and concentrate on just getting through the day. It was going to be awful, still she had to grin and bear it.
She had to pop into the shower and wash her hair, it was time to make an effort, to try and smile.
Kate was still in love with Dave, he had been her first love. They had both lived on the same road, gone to the same school, then University followed, becoming inseparable, until two years ago. Following graduation, she had decided to do a post graduate course in teaching, whereas Dave wanted to travel, that’s when the first cracks in their relationship opened. She remembered the way he had said,”don’t worry, it will only be for six months.” A month later he had left to go to Australia with four of their old student friends. She’d had a sinking feeling the day he had walked out of the door.
Lisa wormed her way into his life, then gradually, they became a couple. Dave never came back to her, she still felt upset, it wasn’t part of her life plan. She had accepted the wedding invite, she was determined to stay strong, and show her life was moving on. Now the day had arrived, she felt physically sick.
Slowly she got dressed, then looked in the mirror. Her long blonde hair looked nice, she had made an effort for him, styling it as he always liked. Her red knee length dress was his favourite colour, she was determined he would at least notice her. She glanced at the invitation, where was the church, she didn’t know, would she be able to find it? Her silver watch sparkled, she still had plenty of time, it would be fine.
Kate began humming the song “ I Will Survive,” as she drove along the motorway to Leicester. Later she began to feel stressed, her hands felt clammy on the wheel as she weaved around the streets looking for St Giles Church. She hoped there would be someone she knew at the wedding? The time passed quickly, she pulled into a petrol station to ask for directions. Soon she was back in the car, and with a sigh of relief headed in the correct direction. Ten minutes later she reached her destination, it was an old grey building, not the modern one she had hoped for. She parked outside, it was time, with her head bowed she ran along the pebble driveway, into the dimly lit Church, and took a seat in a back pew. She dare not look up, in case the tears fell. She fumbled with the hymn sheet, and waited, eventually the wedding march started, the congregation stood up. She turned slightly, her legs felt weak, her heart began to race, her vision blurred.
Who’s wedding was it, certainly not Dave and Lisa’s? Oh perhaps, it wasn’t going to be such a bad day after all.
The Wedding Guest’s Monologue
“Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down;”
Why does every bride select this hymn to sing at their wedding? No-one can sing it properly and, anyway, it’s about Godly love not worldly love but still they insist. We’re not even in a church for goodness sake. How many times have I heard it sung? A better question would be how many weddings have I been to in the last month? I think this is my third although that’s quite normal for this time of year.
Oh, I don’t kid myself that they invite me for my dazzling personality or any close friendship. No, it’s because of my skill in making and decorating beautiful wedding cakes. Even if I say it myself, they are dazzling concoctions of icing sugar and ribbons. I began with making one for a former friend then I made them for friends of friends, now I’m making them for daughters of friends. They hope, by inviting me to the wedding, I will charge less. I won’t disenchant them. I hint that they have a cake at a cheaper rate. I still must cover the cost of the ingredients, mustn’t I? Of course, I also add the purchase of a new outfit; can’t be seen in the same clothes at each one. Anyway, they are spending such ridiculous amounts that an extra three hundred is nothing in the whole scheme of things.
“Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all Thy life receive”
Am I envious of the bride? I’ve never married, you see. I came close, once. At the time I was working as a receptionist at a local leisure centre. It was my first job before I took up cake-making. The under-manager was called Peter and he was a charming chap. Not over handsome but there was something about him. Not that I ever kidded myself that I was anything to look at. We would both be there to open up in the morning and would have a laugh and a chat. It led on to us having our coffee breaks together.
One evening he offered to give me a lift home. This became a regular occurrence. I couldn’t invite him in as I was living with my mother at the time. One night he suggested we had a drink together at a local hotel and to take a room for the evening. I remember having butterflies in my stomach but there was something exciting about it too. It was easy to tell my mother that I needed to do a late shift at the baths and soon our visit to the hotel became a weekly one. He was my first and, as it turned out, my only sexual partner. I did feel as if it were a guilty pleasure, but I was sure that this would lead to marriage.
I was on reception a couple of months later when this woman with a pushchair walked in. I had never seen her before and wondered if she wanted swimming lessons for the little child; a cute little girl who was watching everything.
“I need to speak to Peter Osbourne,” she said.
“Who can I say is asking?”
“His wife,” she replied.
I called for him over the tannoy system saying he was needed at reception. You should have seen his face when he arrived and saw his wife waiting for him. He quickly ushered her into his office. I refused to speak with him later that day and, within the week, I had quit my job. I never trusted any man again.
“Finish, then, Thy new creation:
Pure and spotless let us be.”
Certainly, I would have made a better bride than the one standing in front of us now. I would have had more class. You would never have seen me dressed as a white meringue, but I suppose it hides the bump, “Pure and spotless,” is a laugh especially as two of the bridesmaids are children from previous relationships. As for the groom, what an overweight, sweaty man; not to my taste at all.
I really don’t know why I attend apart from the money and the thought of free food and drink at the reception. Perhaps I shall give the next one a miss.
“Til we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love and praise.”
Thoughts on a wedding
James, waiting for his bride to walk up the aisle:
There she is, poor Auntie Angela, sitting at the back of the church in that funny old velvet hat. It must have come from a jumble sale in about 1970. And that dress is a joke. A long thing in green and – what would you call that colour? – puce?
I don’t suppose she’s ever thought about her clothes or what sort of impression she makes. She’s very eccentric – no man would put up with her. No wonder she’s never been married. I don’t suppose she’s ever done anything exciting in her life.
She used to send me a tenner for my birthday when I was little, which was quite generous at the time, I’ll admit, but I haven’t seen her for years. It seems she still lives in that great rambling house down by the Thames, worth a fortune nowadays, though I don’t think it’s ever been modernised. Our new place is only small, but Emma’s made it just like those homes you see in magazines, all neutral shades and wooden floors. We’ve spent a lot on the house so we’ve had to be careful and the honeymoon is just a few days on Lake Como.
We had a wonderful wedding list at John Lewis with all the linen and kitchen stuff in the colours Emma wanted, but Auntie Angela sent us this strange wall hanging – sort of ethnic and New Age. Heaven knows where we’re going to put it.
And Emma’s mother was a bit cross when she found Auntie was a vegan and we had to adjust the reception menu just for her. I don’t know why people insist on jumping on the latest bandwagon.
Oh, here she is at last, my Emma, all in white, my own little wife …
Angela, sitting at the back of the church in her vintage Vivienne Westwood dress:
I really don’t know what I’m doing here. Why are people still getting married in this day and age? And in church? I don’t believe either of them have ever darkened the door of the place in their lives. It’s just a framework for the dress and the bride’s mother’s outfit. I can hardly believe they’re so conventional.
Jeff and I never needed anything like that. When I remember the nights we spent dancing on the lawn when the band came round with their guitars! Someone would hand a joint around, and later the boys would doss down in the dining room while we made love on the riverbank, staring at the stars. We didn’t need a ring to make it legal. Fifteen years we were together and it couldn’t have been better. When he went to Bali to shoot a wildlife film, I went too, in the days when the Balinese were still performing their traditional dancing rituals and the palm trees came right down to the beach. Sometimes we’d go skinny-dipping in the moonlight. Jeff cooked rice with local vegetables, and I’ve never touched meat since.
My life was shattered when Jeff had his sailing accident. For a long time I just couldn’t take it in that he wasn’t there any more. But I never wanted anyone else in my life. He left me the old Edwardian house where we’d been so happy and I still see friends from back in the day. I’ve even managed to make a living with my big textile pieces. I hope James and Emma like the wall hanging I sent them – I can charge up to £350 for one like that in London.
Oh God, ‘Here Comes the Bride’! Can’t they think of something more original?
I like weddings but I shouldn’t have come to this one. I can feel the emotion welling up inside, as I watch him standing near the altar, waiting for her to join him. I can’t help feeling bitter. He looks so happy, but he’ll learn. I could have made him happy. I’d have done anything to please him. I just don’t understand why he’s chosen to bind himself to that woman, for the rest of his life, when he could have had me. He knew how I felt, but my feelings meant nothing to him. Well, I’ll show him. I’ll find someone better than him, and then he’ll be sorry he missed his chance. Tonight, while he goes off on his honeymoon, I won’t be wasting my time on any woman. I’ll shower and shave and spray myself with “Macho” antiperspirant. Then I’ll put my glad rags on and go out on the town. I’ll try that new gay bar in the High Street. I’m bound meet someone there who’ll come home with me.
As she stepped off the plane at Montpellier Airport, the day before the wedding, Alice felt the everyday cares and anxieties of the past weeks slipping away. She picked up her hire car and headed off down the A750 towards her destination in the Occitanie region of the South of France. Familiar avenues of poplars en route reminded her of previous trips to La Belle France.
Within an hour her satnav had guided her to the 18th century chateau. As a security guard opened the heavy wrought iron gates the view took Alice’s breath away. Formal gardens surrounded the fairy tale castle set in acres of parkland. Her car tyres scrunched on the gravel drive but before Alice had time to pull on the handbrake a young man was opening the driver’s door.
‘Bienvenue Mademoiselle. Je m’appelle Francois. J’espere que le voyage n’etait pas tres difficile?’
‘I, er. Mon Francais est tres mauvais. Vous parlez Anglais?’
‘But of course. Let me take your bags and then I will park the car. Please follow me.’
The entrance hall was dominated by a huge, highly polished Louis XV walnut dining table. In the centre was a silver jardinière filled with pastel coloured gladioli, lavender and sunflowers. The smell of beeswax and lavender pervaded the air.
Stepping across the black and white tiles Alice followed Francois up the wide stone staircase to the first floor. Her room was furnished in an interesting, eclectic style, a mixture of old and new. The fabric on the canopy over the double bed matched the blue and white toile du jouy bedcover. Either side of the bed were modern brass lamps with cream shades, set on antique side tables. The chair and sofa were reproduction pieces but upholstered in a stripey Paul Smith material. Quirky but pleasing to the eye. The ensuite bathroom boasted matching pink marble handbasins, a bathtub, shower and loo.
Alice thought she was in heaven. However, a feeling of envy surfaced with thoughts of how all this had fallen into Cecilia’s lap. Edouard, her fiancé owned the chateau and accompanying vineyards and they hired the place out for weddings at a colossal fee. The wedding invitation had come out of the blue. Alice hadn’t seen Cecilia for a couple of years, they just emailed each other occasionally.
After showering and changing into a sleek black linen shift, Alice donned a pair of red patent pumps, clipped on diamante earrings and headed outside to meet her hosts. Stepping across the lawn, an armed security guard wished her Bon Soir.
Cecilia was standing on the terrace chatting animatedly to a man who Alice supposed might be the fiancé.
‘Come and meet my future brother-in-law Alice.’
Louis held out his hand and took hers, raising it to his lips and planting a kiss upon it.
Their eyes met and Alice melted. Lust reared its ugly head.
‘Pleased to meet you too’, stuttered Alice, blushing furiously. ‘I’m afraid my French is a bit rusty.’
‘It’s not a problem. All the family speak English.’
As the evening drew on and after a couple of glasses of champagne and a splendid buffet Alice shed her initial shyness and even her French improved! She chatted to a couple of old schoolfriends, along with their partners, but soon realised they no longer had anything in common. Cecilia’s parents, Mary and George, seemed ill at ease. Alice knew they still lived in the little terraced house in Leeds, but George told her Edouard was going to buy them a luxury bungalow.
Alice had been keeping her eye on Louis, who she definitely fancied, but he was intent on renewing acquaintances, so she never got the chance to chat.
Edouard wasn’t in attendance during the festivities but was apparently flying in from Mexico later that evening. Bed beckoned and Alice said her good nights and was soon fast asleep in the comfiest bed she had ever slept in.
Whilst waiting for the ceremony to begin the next morning Alice made herself comfortable in one of the gilt chairs in the grand salon. She had splashed out on a Karen Millen frock and was pleased to note that it didn’t look out of place alongside some of the obvious designer outfits on show. There were flowers everywhere in garlands, pedestals and bowls. The colours complemented the pink and coral tones of the Aubusson carpet and their scent pervaded the air.
A small ensemble was playing a selection of chamber music. Heads suddenly turned as a man in a wheelchair, wearing a morning suit, was wheeled up the aisle by Louis. The bridegroom had arrived. Alice was momentarily stunned. Edouard was stunningly handsome but paralysed from the waist down.
The guests were requested to stand, and the ensemble played The Prayer, accompanied by a guy who looked and sang just like Andrea Bocelli. ‘No, it couldn’t be could it?’
Cecilia, on the arm of her father, proceeded down the aisle, wearing a simple white guipure lace dress and carrying a hand tied bunch of marguerites.
By now Alice’s emotions were a mixture of the original envy but also pride. She was proud of her friend for taking on this man, who, despite his wealth, would need so much support. She wouldn’t have minded being in Cecilia’s shoes. Oops lust again!
After the ceremony champagne was served on the terrace followed by a wonderful lunch which included Coq au Vin, one of Alice’s favourites and Tarte Tatin. Deliberately not haute cuisine but traditional rustic fare. Louis sat next to Alice and seemed genuinely interested in what she did and her plans for the forthcoming trip. He told her that Edouard had lost the use of his legs in a riding accident and that Cecilia and Edouard had met at a conference in Paris, but before she could elicit more he excused himself saying he had a matter to discuss with a colleague. As he stood to leave his jacket flew open and Alice was alarmed to see a pistol in the inside pocket.
Feeling a little perturbed and needing some air Alice wandered into the parkland. Sitting on a bench under a tree some distance away she spotted Mary, Cecilia’s mother. She seemed ill at ease.
‘What’s wrong Mary?’ Alice put her arm around Mary’s shoulder. ‘This has been a wonderful wedding. You must be so proud of Cecilia.’
‘Worst day of my life. You don’t know the half of it. I wondered about Edouard’s excessive wealth and discovered he’s a drug baron. I wish she’d never met him but now there’s nothing I can do, I can’t even go to the police. She’s my daughter for heaven’s sake. As for that riding accident bullshit, well he was shot in the back by someone he crossed.’
Alice didn’t know how to respond. The visions of the armed security guards and Louis’s pistol flashed before her. Envy for this ‘Golden Couple’ certainly went out of the window.
‘What will you do? What about the luxury bungalow?’
‘There’s no way I could live in it. I won’t be tainted with his dirty money. We’ll stay in our little terraced house with a clear conscience, though what the future holds for Cecilia I dead to think.’
Alice pondered on this and then an idea came to her.
‘Look Mary, you definitely need to get away from here right away and, come to think of it, so do I. I’m touring around the South of France for the rest of the week so why not come with me? It would be great to have a companion.’
‘Well, I’m not sure. There’s George you see. Actually, he said he had to get back to sort his allotment and he hates being abroad. So, yes, yes I’ll go and tell him and pack my bag. He’ll need to change my flight too.’
As they left the chateau Alice caught a fleeting glimpse of Louis and Francois locked in an embrace. Her former feelings of envy, lust and pride disappeared, to be replaced by sighs of relief.
Mary and Alice were enjoying a breakfast of coffee and croissants in a little pavement café a few days later when Alice suddenly found herself tuning in to the news on the café’s radio. She picked up familiar words, Edouard, Cecilia, Chateau, Venice and then ‘…il est mort.’
‘My goodness whatever has happened?’
The proprietor was able to give Alice more details. Apparently, Monsieur and Madame were honeymooning in Venice but inexplicably Monsieur and his wheelchair had fallen into the canal. His wife was the last person to see him alive.
I’m sitting in the aisle, near the back of the church,
Waiting for the bride to come,
The groom is in a pew, at the front of the church,
Waiting for the bride to come.
The organ plays at the front of the church,
Announcing that the bride is here,
The groom stands up at the front of the church,
Delighted that his bride is near.
The music echoes all around the church,
The bride processes down the aisle,
The groom turns round at the front of the church,
And the bride greets him with a smile.
I love the bride taking vows in this church,
I’d known her for quite a long time,
And I shed a tear at the back of the church,
It’s now that I pay for my crime.
She had dumped me at the door of this church,
On a beautiful summer’s day,
Her friend, who was getting wed in this church,
Was a mistress of mine, they say.
I couldn’t deny this inside of a church,
So today’s bride threw me away,
And this is the reason I cry in this church;
I wish I were the groom today.
©Bob Reader June 2020 198 words
Louisa was my only contact from school days, my rock through University and always there no matter where in the world my job as Sports Journalist took me. Louisa supplied platitudes and Kleenex when Bob moved out after five blissful years, no reason given. Our wedding day should have been last Christmas in Australia, which would have been followed by days of bathing on the beach and then two weeks at the Open tennis, but six months earlier, Bob chose to have a different life without. How would I get through Louisa’s wedding day without reflecting on what could have been for me? Playing it cool and acting carefree was my plan which on paper sounded fine. After the arduous drive north it was good to reach the wedding venue which was a beautiful old house in the north of Sheffield. Someone was lucky enough to have had this as their home once upon a time. But now it was an upmarket hotel surrounded by beautiful views of the countryside and the Pennines in the distance. My room overlooked the lake where people were sat enjoying the June sunshine, drinking pre dinner cocktails.
After carefully unpacking I spent a luxurious amount of time in the shower enjoying not having to rush off to my next assignment. I refrained from opening a bottle of something from the minibar as drinking alone is never the best idea. I slipped into my Karen Millen Jumpsuit, admiring how good it looked. I decided on a natural look for my makeup and tied my hair up away from my face. Sunglasses perched above my forehead, I was ready to mingle. As soon as I was in the lift I regretted not succumbing to the gin bottle, a little Dutch courage.
Jack Turner, of all people, was the first person I spied, at the bar as always. I had known him for years through my work but I was surprised to see him. He was as it turns out a guest of Max the Groom. Who knew? Small world and all that, he bought me a large G and T and we talked about footie, tennis and the state of the English Cricket team. Jack was always good company. After a while I made my excuses and walked outside to the lawned area and immediately spied the gorgeous Louisa, holding court with at least four handsome young men. She saw me and immediately ran towards me, enthusiastically hugging me, squeezing a little too hard, but it was wonderful to feel wanted. God I love her. The evening went beautifully from there on, a lovely dinner with the close family and dearest friends of the happy couple. Louisa had me seated next to Jack which was a gift for me, no danger in running out anything to talk about.
I wasn’t jealous of what Louisa had please believe me, okay, ninety five percent happy for them. But how come I was the one in love with a feckless cheat. Oh yes. It wasn’t long before stories reached my doorstep about Bob’s secret life, although I was never comfortable with hearing other peoples version of him, it would have been nice if he had told me the truth. And some of the stories just didn’t ring true at all, or was that me protecting my dignity. All I knew for sure was that he was now living in Australia and beyond that, nothing. I didn’t sleep well; I must have been worrying about getting through the ceremony without getting maudlin.
Louisa being the darling that she is didn’t choose me to be Bridesmaid. Two good reasons for this was that she knew I would hate wearing clothes chosen by someone else and also when she did the original planning, I couldn’t guarantee my attendance. It gave me the opportunity to purchase something wonderful from a lovely exclusive boutique just off Bond Street. This time I went to town on the makeup and as I checked my reflection felt confident to face the agony of the day.
The bar was buzzing; drinks were being served on the veranda. I noticed a few faces from school. I didn’t make the effort to join them and was quite happy to drink on my own as I pretended to check my phone. However, a tap on the shoulder and I was joined by Jack who saved me looking obviously lost. Three glasses of warm Frizante later I teetered in my Balenciaga’s outside to the beautifully designed Gazebo. Thank goodness the weather was behaving. We sweltered in the heat watching the happy couple take their vows and throw away the rest of their lives, oh dear, bitterness creeping in. Louisa looked stunning as expected and all the guests appeared to have spent their life savings on their outfits, hopefully they were attending more than one wedding that year to ensure value for money.
Thankfully the Reception was being held in a beautiful air conditioned ball room. I noticed that Louisa had thought it a good idea to sit me on a table with the old school pals. Deep joy, I would require more alcohol to get through this. Jackie Morton looked exactly the same as last time I saw her, fourteen years ago when I left school and town forever. The acne hadn’t cleared and she was still sporting the old fashioned Purdey haircut. She, like me, didn’t have a plus one. Debbie Ryland was heavily pregnant and she was sat next to me. At least she makes me look slimmer and I can have her alcohol! Her partner was quite ugly. No he really was. Overweight and sweaty, his suit was creased in all the wrong places. And then there was Josephine Trent and her bloke. The skirt length only just covered her embarrassment and her boobs were now twice the size they were in sixth form. She clung possessively to a tall thin man who dressed very trendily. He was heavily tattooed, dark skinned, and his clothes were very tight. He wore no socks with his loafers and his tapered trousers clung to his skinny legs. I knew that the next few hours were going to be painful.
I noticed that Jack was on his own at a table at the far end of the room, he looked rather gorgeous, which was a detail I had failed to register from earlier. Beer goggles? The food was quite outstanding which saved the situation. I endured grizzly tales of Jackie’s work as a Social Worker in Manchester and Debbie’s birth plan including a list of the tunes she had prepared to see her through. Then it was Josephine’s turn to wax lyrical about her fantastic life in retail in one of the best stores in Sheffield. I shouldn’t imagine there was much of a choice. Then, attention came my way. I braced myself. They all said I looked marvellous and they loved catching glimpses of me on TV and don’t I get fed up of the travelling? I lied through my back teeth for the interrogation that followed and eventually saw a chance to leave the table and escape to the bar. Speeches could be heard quite clearly from my perch and before I had chance to order, Jack Turner, out of the blue, was sitting next to me with an ice bucket and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, two glasses, perfection.
Jack had always been easy to chat to and we soon finished off the bottle as he ordered a second. He insisted on paying and I didn’t argue. As we sat there chatting easily, the girls from my table passed and insisted on introducing themselves. Clearly too much alcohol had been consumed by people who don’t normally imbibe. Jackie thought it was funny to burp out loud and Debbie announced that she may have wet herself as the baby was lying on her bladder. Jack was very good humoured and he waited until they had disappeared into the ladies room before raising his eyebrows, which said it all really. I had nothing in common with them and Louisa had a lot to answer to.
Having to sit and lie about how happy your life is to a group of people you would cross the road to avoid, about how living in London is wonderful, travelling the globe and meeting famous people was quite exhausting. I hated lying but as glamorous as my job sounded there were large periods of loneliness and pressure to deliver a first class result every time and to look amazing too. But now, having chance to reflect, I was realising for the first time in months that I was actually having a good time. I was relaxed, in the company of a handsome, witty bloke who spoke my language and liked to pay for my champagne. I had managed to get through the proceedings of my friends big day and congratulated myself on that achievement. It turns out that other people’s weddings are not so bad really.
Feelings about a Wedding
Here she comes ,preparing to walk down the aisle wearing that dress. What a fuss has about a dress which basically looks as if it needs ironing. When she comes past I’ll make sure she sees me. She’ll be looking for me. She will always see me as a threat and in her pathetic way she has been doing her best to try to hurt me by excluding my Tom from the little tribe of pages and bridesmaids.
We should have married years ago, her fiancé and me. His family never liked me. They think my family are not good enough. Her father is an Earl. I can’t compete with that only having a Baron in mine.
She’s getting closer now. She looks at me ,briefly. Enough to know I’m here. I’m only here because of Andrew, I’m sure. He has to be invited as he has a position and responsibility. Great.
Now she’s moving slowly towards her fiancé. What can I feel but bitterness ? This could all have been mine.
A small part of me feels some sort of compassion. She’s so young, pretty in a way, I suppose. I know he’ll never love her as he loved me .
They had started a more serious relationship when they were both in the upper sixth at school. They had always been close friends from early childhood as both sets of parents used to know one another at one time and go out together with their families. They had even all been on holiday together once when the children were little.
Diane and John tried to be discreet about their relationship at school but anyone observing them together soon realised that this was more than just a friendship. Their body language gave them away as did the fact that whenever they passed one another en route to their separate lessons, John would always wink at Diane. Their first real love gradually blossomed and it became an all consuming passion between them as they spent more and more time in each other’s company.
Applications to University had to be made by each of them and early on they had both tried to apply to the same Uni but as they each wanted to study very different subjects they ultimately found that they were going to be living many miles apart from one another.
During their first year at Uni, they tried to meet up once a month and would spend long weekends enjoying each other’s company once again. The summer holiday that they had hoped to spend together didn’t unfortunately go to plan as John had to go away on a field trip for several weeks and then had to do some voluntary work linked to his geology degree.
During their second year at Uni they began to drift apart as each of them joined in the social life that was on offer at their respective universities and they began to apply themselves more to their studies. So they met up less often and even phone calls and texts became more infrequent. John seemed to Diane to have become far more interested in his studies than in her. Although somewhat saddened by this, she accepted that things were gradually changing between them and was able to discuss the situation with John without feeling too hurt and upset. They agreed to stop being lovers but promised to remain very good friends and see one another from time to time when back at home. However John was seldom ‘back home’ as he travelled around Europe at every opportunity thanks to the interests he had developed from his time at Uni.
So it came as some surprise when three years after finishing at Uni an envelope forwarded by Diane’s parents reached her flat. She opened it to discover an invitation to John’s wedding. He was about to marry someone called Martha, a name that Diane had never heard him mention before.
Happy memories came flooding back to her of that first serious romantic relationship with John and she felt rather envious of Martha, wondering if she should have tried harder to keep their wonderful relationship going. However she had had several affairs in the ensuing years but none had ever matched up to the intensity of those spent with John.
She accepted the wedding invitation and arrived at the church smartly dressed at the appropriate time. She deliberately sat close to the aisle so that she would get a good view of the couple as they came back down the aisle after the ceremony. As the now married couple walked slowly down, nodding to friends and relatives, John spotted Diane and winked at her as he passed by. She found herself blushing in surprise at this gesture and she wondered if other people had noticed. She recalled the times when he had frequently done so back in those school days. How strange, she thought, to do this on his wedding day.
After endless photographs were taken outside the church people got into their cars and headed off to the reception. When she arrived at the hotel there was already a slow procession of people queuing to enter after being greeted with a handshake from the bride and groom. Once again, much to her amazement, John winked at Diane as he gave her a warm and welcoming hug and introduced her to Martha. Diane smiled affably and said a few polite words of congratulations to them both before moving on into the hotel lounge.
Much to her surprise, about a year after that wedding Diane received a phone call from John as she hadn’t had any contact with him since the wedding. He told her that a few months before their wedding his wife had been told that she had terminal cancer. John had felt that he must go through with the wedding as they had both spent so long working up to it and he had loved his bride to be but she had now died. He then asked Diane if she had placed any significance on the two occasions at the wedding when he had deliberately winked at her. She admitted that she had felt it a strange thing for him to do. He said he had done so in the hope that they might rekindle a flame between them, knowing that his marriage was only going to last for a short time. He also explained that he had never forgotten Diane, nor had he ever loved anyone else as much as he did her. So could they meet up again to see if they could possibly have a future together?
Diane didn’t know what to say to this proposal. What should she do?