I stood in front of the full-length mirror. Black mascara streaked my tear stained cheeks. A hiccup escaped in the midst of a long sigh. I ran my fingers under the high lacey neckline, and scratched.
My reflection squirmed in the A-line wedding dress. The lacey neckline and sleeves of the dress made me itch. Taffeta made up the bodice and lower half of the dress. My chest, shoulders and neck itched something fierce. I hated the dress. I felt artificial. I thought I looked like a Wedding Day Barbie doll with two black eyes.
My Mom, Babs bought the dress at a bridal shop auction in Georgia a couple of months ago without me. Proud of herself, Mom went on for weeks about paying only: one hundred and sixty dollars for a new wedding gown. I never had a say in it.
The pretty-white shoes were covered in lace with three inch heels. But, they were a half-size too small. The backs dug into my heels and the fronts squeezed my toes. I hopped from foot to foot trying to find relief.
Mom found the shoes at a secondhand bridal boutique and brought them home to me. They cost eight dollars.
My mother picked the wedding day, and the groom, too. She’s never been one to give me an opportunity to speak.
I swiped at my tears and picked up a hand-mirror on a near-by table to see the back of my head. My headpiece slid midway into my blonde curls, and I adjusted the pearlized combs.
My stepdad Howard opened the door wide enough to poke his head into the small room the church set aside for brides. He smiled and asked “Are you ready?”
He looked handsome in his black tuxedo, even though his belly hung over his pants. He smoothed back his salt-and-pepper hair, and his usually droopy eyes twinkled.
The mirror reflected that he walked into the room smiling, came up behind me and put his hands on my shoulder. “Lila, you look¾.” He fixed his eyes on my runny eye make-up and gave me a wary look. “You look lovely.” He forced out the words. “Seems like yesterday, you were six and falling off your bike. Scraping your knees. And then I’d have to pick you up and carry you into the house to wipe away your tears and put iodine on your scrapes.”
I bowed my head, and my lips quivered. Daddy did his best to make light of a terrible situation.
My mind shouted at me before he spoke again. It shouted and shouted Julio’s name. It shouted that this day should’ve been ours. My brain went into tantrum mode, but I bit my tongue. I knew Mom considered Julio a moot subject and Daddy shied away from it.
“I hope those are tears of happiness, sweet angel?”
He knew better.
I shook my head. “Oh, Daddy I can’t marry Max. It’s all wrong.” Julio jumped into my head. I shouldn’t have broken up with him.
He pulled me to his chest. Cuddling my head against his shoulder like he did when I was little. “Did you tell your mother, this?”
“You know that would bring doom on me.” Mom’s wooden spoon crossed my mind. She never leaves home without it. “Couldn’t you do it?”
He patted my back. “Honey, she’s only doing what she thinks is best for you. You know how she is?”
I lifted my head from his shoulder. “But I’ve only known him three months and I’m barely eighteen. I should’ve taken your advice. I should be allowed to make my own decisions.” I pulled at the high lacey neckline to scratch my neck again. “My stomach’s upset.”
Daddy grabbed a bunch of tissues from a Kleenex box nearby and wiped at the smeared make-up on my face. “Do your best to convey this to your mother. I’m right here, sweet girl.”
A lot of good that would do. Daddy’s never done a great job at standing up to her. I wished he had the guts to do it for me.
The door to the bridal room flew open, hitting the wall. Mom barged in, and the door bounced shut with a click. Her hair looking more fiery red than usual and her eyes piercing, she said, “Why are you still here? You should’ve been out there five minutes ago.” She cocked her left brow at both of us. Her eyebrows were painted on. It was a grimace-inducing sight when she cocked sans paint from a barren forehead. Prone to neuroses about her appearance, she pulled all her eyebrows out lest they wild-hair on her.
Thank God she didn’t come with her weapon. Quick, I looked around but saw nothing she could grab to swat with.
Daddy stepped away from me and raised his hand in a calming gesture, something he did when he tried to take a stand against Mom. In the fourteen years they’d been married, Mom won the battles. All of them. The land mines that she planted in our home were too much for him to contend with, and he’d backed down.
Daddy looked at her. “Lila has something to tell you.”
Mom jammed her fists on her hips. “What is it?”
“I don’t want to marry Max.”Where the words came from, I didn’t know. I certainly hadn’t taken bravery pills.
Mom’s gray eyes narrowed.
If she goes to slap me, I’ll grab her wrist mid-go. Maybe. If I’m fast enough. Speed is the key here.
“What do you mean you don’t want to marry Max? There are two hundred and fifty people waiting out there. I spent twenty-five hundred dollars on the caterers, which, if you’ll recall, can’t be refunded. I put a lot of time into looking for your dress and shoes. You have bridal nerves, that’s all.”
I hiccupped and shifted my feet.
“It’s not bridal nerves, Mom. Don’t you remember the dream that I had?”
Tears welled up in my eyes again, and my throat went dry.
“Don’t start with that dream nonsense.” She threw her hands up in the air.
This time I flinched. I thought for sure she’d hit me, but she didn’t. Unusual.
“No, you have bridal nerves, and you’re getting married. So don’t start your nonsense and ruin your chance at having a husband.”
Mom stepped closer to me and put her finger in my face.
I lowered my head. She’d never fought with just words.
“Do you want your future husband to find out that you’re certifiably nuts before the ink is dry?”
“But my dream was trying to warn me.”
“Lila, your dream is proof that you’re nuts. Not to mention, you see people that no one else does.” She chuckled. “It’s as if you think you’re a psychic or something. Your Gram filled your head with this foolishness. I guess she wanted you to be a fool like your father.” She annunciated it with anger, spewing spit out of her mouth.
Daddy put his hand on Mom’s shoulder. “Dear, she shouldn’t go through¾.”
“You stay out of this. She’s not your daughter.”
Daddy slouched. Defeat stretched across his face and seeped through his eyes. That’s all she had to say. Remind him that I’m not his biological daughter. I know it pained him.
Verging on hysteria, I fell into my Mom. “But, I can’t, Mom, please. This should’ve been me and Julio’s day.” Immediately I pressed my lips together. This comment earned me a good whack.
She grabbed my arms hard and pushed me back instead. “Now stop this Julio and dream nonsense. Do you think you’re the only bride who panics at the altar? You’re not. Pull yourself together and act like the lady I raised you to be. This is your wedding day.”
I twisted free from Mom’s grip. What could I say at this point? My mouth opened to speak, but nothing came out. I thought twice about it. People were here, and I didn’t want to embarrass myself. They’d take her side anyway. I’m sure she’s told all of them how crazy I am. She would do that.
Mom spun, pulled half a dozen tissues from the box on the vanity next to the full-length mirror, and shoved them into my hand. “Now fix your face.” Out of nowhere, her face softened. “Let’s go.” Her voice sweetened. “People are waiting.”
Mom turned on her heel but stopped, looked at me and said, “You know that I love you and want what’s best for you. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. Why do you think we spent so much money putting you in private school?” After a second, she turned and marched out of the bridal room, leaving the door open behind her.
The man I called Daddy from the time I was four stood with his head down. He looked up and, taking a tissue from my hand, wiped my face.
“Your mother’s probably half-right, you know, honey. It’s nothing more than nerves.” I don’t think he believed this, but how else could he justify his wife’s actions. It irked me, but I didn’t let him see it. Maybe one day when I’m all grown up, I thought.
I nodded as I choked back more tears.
My Daddy gave me a small smile. “That’s my pretty girl. Now blow your nose, and fix your make-up, and I’ll walk you to your groom.”
I blew my nose and fixed my make-up as I thought of my real dad. I wished he could be here today. I jostled my brain trying to remember if I addressed an invitation to him. I know that I did because I tucked a note in with the wedding invitation. That note read:
I know that you and Mom don’t get along. But, I would love to have you walk me down the aisle along with my stepdad. I feel so lucky to have two dads in my life even though I haven’t seen you since I was ten. I don’t know why you haven’t come to see me or call but I would love to see you on my wedding day. Please come.
Mom promised that she mailed out the invitation and note. The week before the wedding Mom placed a yellow post it note on my bedroom door while I was at work. That note read:
Your father is not coming to the wedding. He never received the invitation.
I tried calling him but got his answering machine instead. I left several messages for him to call back. He never did according to Mom.
Mom voiced later in that week that my sister Katy may have intercepted his mail. “Maybe she ripped it up and threw it away. She’s a hideous child that never should’ve been born, you know.” A comment we all heard from the time Katy had turned three.
Finishing my lipstick, my Daddy put out his forearm and smiled. “Are you ready now, honey?”
No. I entwined my arm in his and looked into his amber puppy eyes. We were both Mom’s captives doing her bidding.
“Of course.” Another hiccup freed itself. At least something got to be free. Too bad I can’t be a stomach bubble today. Too bad I can’t float away somewhere.
We walked out of the church’s bridal room and into a long dark corridor. Something shadowy waltzed ahead of us. Silence echoed in the passage to the sanctuary.
Flashbacks of my dream raced around in my head. I could see myself in a mall void of people. Lights dimmed from front to back. I pushed on a glass door. Locked. At full body weight I shoved myself into it. Nothing happened. Not even the slightest movement of air came inside.
I lowered my head and walked toward an escalator. Still and silent it sat. I looked up to the top of it. I saw nothing but an eerie glow. Curious, I lifted my long white dress and took the first step onto it. It jerked and made a humming noise.
The escalator went from unsteady to a smooth glide. I took a few more steps up. Something black and sharp nicked my forehead. A surge of black pointed objects hurled themselves at me. I crossed my arms in front of my face. This lasted seconds.
Something bony and dry touched my hand. The stench of sulfur and death filled my nostrils. I peeked through my arms and gulped down a lump of fear, suppressing a scream. Bulged eyes in rotting sockets looked back at me. Pieces of ash-colored skin hung in clumps below its cheeks and chin. It tilted its head from side to side and groaned. I jumped out of its way, and my long white dress got caught under my foot. I clung to the rail, and it walked along side of me in the opposite direction of the escalator’s destination. More of these zombie-looking creatures came toward me, and a gush of wind hurled tiny pointed objects at me. They bit into my flesh while I continued up toward the light.
The sound of organ music brought me back to reality as my Daddy and I walked closer to my fate.