After reading the first line out loud, my mum falls silent. I dig my nails into the palm of my hands. She holds the piece of paper away at arms length while she reads and narrows her eyes. Her reading glasses are in her bag but she always squints, claiming that they tend to smudge her mascara.
All these flowers are beautiful but we need a window open, it’s like being suffocated with a scented pillow. I’m not used to people reading my thoughts, even on paper. I want to run in circles until it’s over.
She hands it back to me carefully, then grabs my shoulders and begins to cry. Since she keeps trying to embrace me properly, it’s hard to mop her up.
‘Mascara be damned,’ she says, taking the tissues from me and scrubbing at her own face. She blows her nose like a goose calling. I’ve ducked the hugging, but I let her pat me on the back as she goes through into the church. I practise breathing.
Organ music. It’s time.
The church is full. Walking in, I can’t pick out individual faces because my eyes seem to be shaking. I have to touch my own face to make sure it’s still there, still in one piece. The collar on this shirt is too high and too tight. Suddenly an all-white morning suit seems ridiculous again, as do Kirsty’s reasons for picking it.
Launching into a hymn with the rest of the congregation, I picture her face when I proposed. I wish she was next to me now. It feels like I’m going to spend the rest of my life waiting for her to turn up and the pain is a punch in the throat.
‘One of us ought to wear a dress,’ she says, smoothing down the pages on the wedding magazine in front of her on the table. I’ve covered in with toast crumbs and spilt tea on it in my attempt to have a normal breakfast. We both know I won’t be the one wearing the dress.
‘You’d look beautiful in a rubbish bag,’ I tell her. I want her to put it all to one side and concentrate on me again, not on us.
‘Matching white bags,’ she agrees. We haven’t told our parents yet. I asked my mother for a family ring and she refused, telling me that rings are from men to give to girls and that Kirsty and I are just a phase. I will never tell Kirsty about this.
The minister calls on me and I turn to face everyone again. I push my hair out of my eyes and try not to let the situation overwhelm me. The minister’s advice from earlier runs through my head. This is a momentous occasion. Nobody will mind if you take your time. Nobody will mind if you cry. I clear my voice with a small cough.
‘These vows say everything in my heart,’ I say. I can hear my mother honking again in the background. Something clicks in, like the trick of balancing on a bicycle. ‘When Kirsty first suggested we write our own vows, I laughed.’ Repetition takes over and from this point on all I remember is the light streaming through the stained glass windows, the overpowering smell of the lilies, and the weight on my shoulders lifting slightly.
Afterwards, out in the churchyard, we finally get a moment alone together. I put my bouquet down on the grass with all the other flowers and sit next to them. If the grass stains my suit then it will be an excuse to get rid of it.
While I’m at it, I pull the bow-tie undone and leave it with the flowers. I can hear everyone talking over by the gates; it probably won’t be long until someone comes to check that everything is okay. There are cars booked to take us to the hall.
To pass the time, I repeat my vows to her. I have so many questions still to ask her, but topmost in my mind is what she would have said to me. Respecting her wishes, I’m resisting asking what her dress would have looked like. We’re past superstition, but I’m averse to worse luck.
Kirsty’s mother is coming to fetch me. I stand up and take one last look at the mound of flowers covering the grave. I am still to choose the wording for the headstone; words cannot express how I feel today.
*first published online in the Spring 2011 issue of Friction