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Short Story: Blushing Bridey

It’s Sarah’s big day – her wedding to her beloved Freddy – and all the family are on hand to share in her happiness...Mum, Dad, sisters Vanessa and Sharlene. But are they actually?

Short Story: Blushing Bridey

When I’m in my high heels, I’m the same height as my dad. He was always short, but a car accident in 1982 compounded the problem. And his right leg. Right femur was broken in four places. When it healed, it was four centimetres shorter than left.

Today, Dad wears his good shoes. One has a sole four centimetres thicker than the other. I’m not allowed to mention the gammy leg, but when he’s in a good mood, I tease him.

“Come on, Baby Spice, let’s do this,” I say.

“Baby Spice?”

“Platform shoes.”

I love my dress. White. No. Ivory. With vintage lace and real pearls. I was worried the dress might be a little old ladyish, but Dad assures me it’s “timeless”. He paid for it, the wedding, too, so I guess that buys him some input.

Dad offers his arm and we walk down the aisle, doing that silly step-together-step-together-step walk that they do in the movies. It’s the same church Mum and Dad were married in. People smile like I’m a toddler, faces all gooey. Mum cries. It’s the reaction I hoped for.

Freddy looks so handsome. My sisters, Vanessa and Sharlene stand to his left. They’re squeezed into unflattering bridesmaid’s dresses, but look cute enough to not ruin the photos.

All of us together, wearing the same fabric, makes me think of the outfits Mum made us when we lived on the farm. We matched, but didn’t – same fabric/different dress or same dress/different fabric.

I remember Vanessa’s curls and her chubby wrist creases and Sharlene’s Buddha belly and indignant looks. I remember us mainly in gumboots.

Dad kisses me on the cheek. It’s a bit gross and wet, but I don’t wipe it off.

The reception is at the town hall. Dinner is beef or salmon, beef or salmon, beef or salmon.

Shhhhh! It’s time for the speeches.

Dad reads from cue cards, hand-printed on cardboard squares cut from a Weet-Bix box. He holds them with both hands and his knuckles are white. His eyes are glued to his cards and we all laugh as he makes tastefully appropriate jokes. He tells everyone about my second birthday when I ate the skin from 24 pieces of KFC.

Dad welcomes Freddy into the family. He winks at me from across the table and lifts his glass.

It’s time for the dance. Freddy whisks me around before Dad takes over. We dance together, Dad in his shiny brown Spice Girls shoes, me in my ivory satin Jimmy Choos. And we are exactly the same height. Dad is so proud, he smiles a smile that I know is gummy underneath those false teeth. He pops out the bottom row and I laugh like I did when I was a girl.

My grandparents are here and they dance, too, even Grandma Beryl. She’s still a minx and she does the lindy hop and she’s so glamorous with her clip-on earrings and long legs and hair like an olden-day film star. Her makeup is perfect, apart from the tiny square in her nose-crease where she always forgets to put foundation.

Granddad’s back is better. He has his socks pulled up to his knees and hands out bowls of his famous pickled onions to keep the guests’ digestion on track.

At the end of the night, the soles of my feet are black. I’ve slung my shoes over my shoulder. I ripped my dress sometime between cake and chicken-dance. Mum and Dad kiss me goodnight. Ick. Another wet one. They climb into the back of a cab.

Vanessa sneaks up behind me and wraps her arms around my waist. “You know they’re off to have sex, don’t you.”

Mum and Dad wave at us. I wipe my soggy cheek. We wave back and Vanessa mutters as the cab pulls away.

“Let’s hope the new heart holds out.”

It was a perfect day.

But, if I’m being completely honest, the wedding could have just as easily gone like this:

 

Ford, HiLux, Holden and Cherokee look so cute in their tuxedo t-shirts. I was going to buy them real tuxedos, but who can afford that?

I’m so proud of my boys. Cherokee has a mohawk.

“Get those kids out of here,” says Vanessa. She has four diamante bobby pins in her teeth, but can still hold a conversation.

She’s not a professional hairdresser, but could be. Educated by YouTube, she practices on us when we go clubbing in Palmerston North.

My phone rings. It’s on silent, but the vibration setting is louder than a ring tone.

It groans and hammers around the plastic table and knocks my glass of bubbly onto unforgiving concrete.

Glass breaks, bubbles spill, and I swear.

Sharlene rolls a cigarette. She picks up the phone just as it stops ringing. A clump of tobacco falls into the puddle.

“It’s Dad,” says Sharlene as she shakes off the soggy tobacco and stuffs it into the smoke. “I’ll call him back.”

Turns out, Dad is broke. His neighbour owes him money and the car blew a head gasket. He can’t make the wedding unless we pay for a rental car, petrol and a hotel. He’ll pay us back. “You’re getting married in four hours,” says Vanessa.

“He should have thought about this earlier.”

“He can stay with me,” says Sharlene. “Consider it your wedding present.”

The ceremony and reception are at the Rugby Clubrooms.

Dad limps in, just in time to see the ‘You may now kiss the bride’ bit. He looks shocking – grey-faced, grey-haired, grey suit. The pink shirt is a surprising choice for someone who is vaguely homophobic.

Dad sits in the back row, on the opposite side to Mum and Stepdad. Good. Freddy then squeezes my hand. I think it’s OK to smile now.

There’s a lamb on a spit behind the clubrooms. My uncles and cousins stand around and drink Waikato Draught from the can. They think the lamb won’t cook without supervision.

My vehicular-themed children chase each other with water guns. A present from Dad. He smokes menthols when he thinks that I’m not looking.

Freddy’s dad gives his speech. He’s funny, in an Eighties sitcom kind of way.

Sharlene leans forward, rests her chin in her hand and grins. Her elbow slips off the table. Vanessa snorts. They’re wasted. Freddy’s dad finds them hilarious.

“Taxi for the bridesmaids!”

Mum glares.

I look at Dad. I can tell by the way his shoulders jiggle that he’s bursting to speak.

The guests cheer as Freddy’s dad raises his glass.

Dad stands up and clears his throat. Oh shit. “Shhhhhhhh…” My cousin bangs his knife against a beer can.

Dad pulls out a battery-operated transistor radio. Sharlene snaps out of her slump and grimaces. Vanessa’s hands are in two tight fists. We’ve hated that transistor radio as long as we can remember. That transistor radio. Our childhood symbol for ‘shut up or get out’.

Decided Dad’s mood for the rest of the day. A shadowy figure, ever-present.

On the shelf above the microwave, it propped up unpaid bills and muttered in the background. Horses raced through our childhood. Interrupted every conversation. Those stupid horses with their tiny riders and ridiculous names.

Dad clears his throat again. Oh God. He wouldn’t. Would he?

“As my gift to the bride and groom, I’ve made a generous bet on Blushing Bridey…”

He would.

Dad turns up the volume. He grins, and that grin disappears into the void, unreciprocated.

A static hiss is followed by the sound of the trumpets, followed by the voice of the man who jumbles his words into a purr: “And they’re off…”

My uncles and cousins yell and cheer and make all those enthusiastic noises that nearly distract me from Freddy’s family, who keep their eyes down. They look at cell phones, rummage through handbags, examine labels on wine bottles.

“Blushing Bridey takes an early lead…”

The radio blares through the room, cutlery rattles, excited fists bang on tables. Momentum builds and it seems to make Granddad rise to his feet. His chair screeches along the polished cork floor.

Dad yells at the man in the radio, screaming for a reprieve, a win in front of his new family.

Freddy’s mum twirls the stem of her wine glass between her fingers, then throws back half a glass of chardonnay. She dabs her mouth then catches Mum’s eye. Mum smiles thinly.

“Come on, ya bastard!”

Dad’s face is scarlet. He smacks his folded betting guide rhythmically against the back of Aunt Jenny’s chair – he’s tapping into some psychic force field, he’s whipping that horse through another dimension. HiLux and Cherokee race around the hall. They think the cheering is for them. Freddy grins, my family is still a novelty.

Vanessa slides down her chair, her eyes level with the table. Sharlene busies herself rolling cigarettes. Her eyes are drunk, but her fingers are sober. Five perfect cigarettes form a neat row. Now six.

I haven’t smoked in years, but they look appealing.

“Blushing Bridey holds the lead, My Geronimo coming around the outside, Daddy’s Big Boy closing in, but Blushing Bridey’s taking charge, and no! She takes a tumble. No…”

The excited whoops and cheers hover in clouds above us, before then converting into groans of despair. Not only did Blushing Bridey come dead last, but after breaking her leg and sending her jockey into a coma, she’ll be dead herself.

Now I’m a blushing bridey.

Dad turns off the radio. He scans the room, searching for a supportive face, but everyone is too busy looking anywhere else.

Suddenly, everyone’s a smoker. People stand, shuffle outside, to the bathroom, to the elderly aunt. The barman prepares for the avalanche.

Stepdad whispers to Mum. Dad leans forward and speaks with a dangerously perky tone.

“Got something to say there, wife stealer?”

Oh, shit.

“Sit down. You’re making a fool of yourself,” says Stepdad.

“What did you say?” A chant breaks out. Fight, fight, fight, fight…

Sharlene clambers onto her stackable chair.

A flurry of middle-aged fury. Dad leaps on Stepdad’s back. I think that he’s trying to get him in a chokehold.

Stepdad spins around. Centrifugal forces send Dad across the room, he flies through the air, into a framed All Blacks jersey from 1987. Glass breaks. Men pant.

Dad plucks the rugby jersey from the shards of glass. He shakes it off. He holds it in his fist and prays silently to the Gods of All Blacks Past. Stepdad is hunched forward. He holds his knees. He grunts and spits. Dad breathes through his teeth. He picks up the wooden frame. His fingers bleed, but he doesn’t notice. He runs at Stepdad and swings the frame at his head.

It hits with a thick smack.

Stepdad staggers and falls forward, headfirst.

Mum throws her head back and yells. She has excellent lung capacity.

“Nooooooooooooooooo-”

Dad smiles for a moment, then claws at his chest. His face turns purple. He drops to the floor, dead.

“-ooooooooooooooooo-” (Mum is still yelling)

Stepdad lies in a pool of blood. He’s dead, too.

“-oooooooo.”

This wedding did not go to plan.

 

Dad died when I was 15. Most of the time it’s fine. It’s been 20 years. It’s the major life events – births, deaths and marriages – when I imagine what my life might be if he was still around.

Vanessa pins the veil into my hair. “In two hours, you will no longer be a spinster.”

Sharlene takes a photo of us with her phone.

“I wish Dad was here to see this.”

Me, too.

 

About the author

Sarah Harpur Ruigrok is a former stand-up comedian who accidentally fell in love with writing along the way. She’s performed in many festivals including the Edinburgh Fringe. In 2017, she got her Masters in scriptwriting from Victoria University. These days she works in government communications while writing on the train and trying to convince herself that she hasn’t given up on life. She lives on the Kāpiti Coast with her husband, son and two annoying dogs. Sarah is passionate about yoga and Sausage & Egg McMuffins. She is of Kāi Tahu descent (Kāti Huirapa, Kāti Hāwea, Kai Te Ruahikihiki).

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