Ceremony
A Short Story by Alice Clark
Written using the suggestion "Tears"
Originally featured on 01-27-2009
As part of our series "Bursting Into '09"

Once when my favorite friend was singing Ave Maria at a wedding, she forgot the words and just kept going, with high and smooth tones, oscillating in vowel sounds. She was sad afterwards, but I thought it was beautiful.

We were all disappointed by our weddings, we young beautiful brides. We would never say it. We allowed ourselves to be tied into white clothing and to be propelled by ancient classics to bewildered young men.

I bought my dress in an afternoon by myself. I looked at the lines and was careful to scrutinize with the eyes of a mother in law. I needed to look like an S. Someone put a bouquet in my hands and they wouldn’t let me put it down, so they could see everything. There were bright red roses in it and I felt like it would bleed on the dress. They could not get the dress to stay up and the Asian women brought me many pins and clamps to keep it on. They sewed me in and asked me to walk. I stood on the pedestal. I wished I were older so the women wouldn’t care. So it wouldn’t matter what degree my waist to hip ratio was. So they would give me a size 12 and leave it at that. But the belief was too strong that someone has to be young and someone has to be proportioned according to golden rules.

One of the women stuck her finger on a straight pin while trying to size the dress and she bled on it. It was the deepest red against that white. Her associate rushed for an alcohol pad to wash it off. I wanted her to leave it, to let it be a little disgusting amidst the Edwardian lace. But I didn’t say it.

The elastic stole my breath and the women clutched bunches of fabric on both of my sides. Getting the dress to hold on to me. I asked to sit. I asked quickly for a garbage can. They didn’t understand what I was asking. I tried to walk in the pinned dress. They caught on and brought the garbage can. I vomited in it. They opened the back of my dress so I could breath and I sat there in bra and underwear, the back of my dress gaping. I sweat into the synthetics of the dress as nausea waved over. One associate brought me water in her personal coffee mug. It tasted sweet in that mug that said “I love mom”. Their eyes told me that they thought I was pregnant. Thicker brides, some with bold tattoos walked past and I marveled at their strong arms, arms to clutch a child and knead bread dough, my purpose being a prototype, a young muse. They looked at me with the pain that comes when you realize the thing you were was ages ago. The transition from what I was to that was lost on me and I didn’t understand how I could get there. I was both disgusting and beautiful and felt exactly eight years old.

I let my fiancé see that dress. I left it on our couch. He said the lace looked like dead women and I smiled because he knew.

In the basement of the church, there were toys, as it also functioned as a preschool. My friend held a mirror up for me as I was expected to put on another layer of lipgloss. I was highly painted and decorated and I wished for the honesty of my naked face. The Hungarianess of it and the way it has a downpull. I wanted my eyelashes to stick out in their natural way, short and blond, making my eyes not into pretty focal points, but into holes. Several women stood around me, in a circle, one holding a dress, and I was expected to undress to put this on. It was too much, that standing in the middle of the circle. I told them no. One of the bridesmaids put the dress over my head and another climbed under the skirt and pulled off my jeans, one leg at a time. There was tape involved in getting the dress to stay and the camera woman was relentless as other people helped me tape the top to my chest. I told her I would never want to remember this and she kept snapping. My mother handed me the bouquet. It was dark purple, because she knows.

I walked down the aisle by myself. My father cried. His face writhed. It was an odd thing, to walk when people watch.

When we stood in line to hug people, each face with make up frightened me. I knew I would be removed, if any got on the dress, for it to be fixed. I stood by my now husband and leaned close as the frightening relatives hugged with their beards and aftershave. Large men I did not know hugged my naked shoulders.

My mother leaned in deep to me, smelling of nothing but lilacs, she said,

“Good luck getting old enough, to the place where it doesn’t matter, to the point when people think you are done.”

At the reception we sat at a long table and people watched us whenever we walked with strange, happily judging eyes. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to eat, so I did, glazed chicken, thick rolls. The cake was cut and he put the bit of frosting on my cheek, as he was expected.

The people started to leave and I remembered that we were supposed to be gone first. That we were supposed to have talked to everyone. I found my husband and tried to get him to leave. He stood talking. The best part of him was the way he didn’t need space when he slept. You could mirror his curves with your body and feel his heat, a willing gift.

My grandfather approached me as I stood to go and he asked me for my bouquet. He said, with welled eyes, that my grandmother had died and he wanted to put the flowers by her ashes. I handed him my bouquet. It was better than talking to him any longer. I accepted the loss. I remembered how she had labored as she took the last breaths and the way he had commented at thanksgiving that he had lost his “gravy maker”. The same welled eyes were there. The way he listened in on her every phone call and the way she hid her shame, smoking alone in the bathroom, it always smelling of flowers and ash. His welled eyes were there too, when there were finger marks on my sister’s cheek from his hand. My mother saw him with the bouquet in his hands and she came up to me and asked if I cared.

I left quickly and in haste caught our friends painting the limousine. They were sad that I saw, but the champagne buffered it. The guests were mostly gone and we were left waiting. Someone put the rest of my dress in the car, as it hung outside when I sat down. I hummed Ave Maria long enough until I liked the song. I leaned back in the seat and was thankful for the darkness, to hide me, as we pulled away.

Weeks later a package arrived in the mail. The bouquet carefully dried and tied with coordinating ribbons, because I was supposed to have it.

Read More By Alice Clark

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Portland Fiction Project

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