Thursday 25 November 2021

The Stranger at The Feast

 by Ann Bright

gin and tonic

Linda stood looking at her reflection in the gilded full length mirror smoothing her hands over the white lace dress made especially for her and she didn’t see the wide hips, the heavy breasts, the thickening waist, she saw a curvaceous, sexy, elegant, beautiful woman.

She slipped her feet into the satin court shoes-she was pretty sure they wouldn’t last all day!-and picked up her bouquet of dried lavender.  With a deep breath she left the dressing room and walked into the bedroom with its huge four poster bed, where her daughter, granddaughter, sisters and mum were waiting.  They were a tight and powerful group these women, they had always been pillars of strength for each other, during the most difficult of times they listened together, they cried together and Linda’s life would have taken a very different path if she hadn’t always had them there to rely on.  She had brought Sarah up as a single mum sheltered by the protective wall of her family.  Although they had lived with her family until Sarah was old enough to go to school and Linda could work full time, although they had been secure and Sarah had received enough love for ten children, Linda had carried the weight of the shame of being an unmarried mother around her neck, dragging her head down, never feeling good enough to look people in the eye.  She had had boyfriends in the past, but so many would be one date wonders when she revealed that she had a child.  Occasionally a good one would come along who would talk of the future and making a family of the three of them, but her insecurities and scars of betrayal from the past saw her shut down and push them away.

Until Bill came along.  Of course it didn’t matter to him all these years later that she’d had a child out of wedlock, the world was a different place now and Bill wanted to be with Linda just as much as she wanted to be with him.  This was no one-sided love affair destined to end in heartbreak.  And he was pretty close to her idea of perfect-dependable, handsome, strong, so very kind, thoughtful, generous, loving, and he made her feel safe, thank cupid for e-harmony.  Her life had always been a struggle and she'd been so lonely for so long, but then asking her came and for the first time since that first time, shed let herself go.  He was the right man for her and they’d met just at the right time in their lives.

The bridal party went to their seats leaving just Linda and her mum.  The door opened as adagio for strings played.  Linda and Bill’s eyes met, his enormous smile matched her own and she saw him wipe away tears, this was the happiest moment of her life.  And suddenly she couldn’t wait to get to him, couldn’t wait another minute to be his wife.  It felt desperately important to her that she should belong to another, that they would belong to each other.  She clasped her mum's hand and began the walk down the aisle towards her love, thankfully her mum's slow pace forced Linda to take her time so she could take it all in as she walked towards her future.  Her people were on the left and she searched the smiling faces for Tracey, her oldest and best friend-there she was blowing her a kiss.  They had always been single together, but Tracey had never had any trouble finding a mate, she was just a bit too wild to be tamed! The attractive man next to her looked familiar and Linda figured it must be her new Mr Right now, she said she’d be bringing him-she must have seen photos of them together on Facebook.  Turning to the right there was all of her new family and bills friends that were now their friends. 

Before she knew it the ceremony was over and she was walking back down the aisle on the arm of her new husband.  She was a newlywed at 59! But she felt giddy as a bride of any age. They walked together between the applauding guests and made their way into the reception area. After the initial hugs it was time for photos, some inside, some outside in the hotel gardens.  Glasses of champagne were passed round and the guests drifted off to the bar and the various comfy seating areas.  Suddenly arms were around her, it was Tracey.

“You did it!! About time one of us did really” she laughed!

“ We need a photo of just the two of us,” Linda said and they looked for a pretty backdrop in the garden.

"Hey could be you next,your new fella is pretty good looking, a bit of a change from some of your usual guys!”

“ I didn’t bring him. That’s over. He was too boring, I think I’ll go back to dating 35 year olds”

“ So who was that next to you then? I thought I recognised him.”  Linda said.

“I dunno, but I’ll tell you what,a couple of glasses of fizz I’ll be hunting him down later,” Tracey winked.

“So who is he then?” Linda wondered,

And then suddenly her past came screaming into her present.  See needed some space, she needed to breathe.  “I’m just going to the loo, we’ll do our photo when I get back” and she set off towards the hotel but took a detour that led to a section of walled garden, the perfect place to hide and gather her thoughts. 

She was 18 again and the most beautiful boy she’d ever seen was smiling at her across the club.  She looked around, thinking Tracey must be stood behind her, but no, it was her he was looking at and now oh my god, he was walking over to her.  He asked her to dance and pretty much from that moment on they were inseparable.  He took her out for meals, with menus she’d couldn’t understand of exquisite food so alien to what she was used to, they went to the theatre, out for drinks with his fancy friends in his little red convertible.   If ever she felt out of place he just held her close and told her she was the most special, that she was better than anyone else, he was her passport to a different new world and she loved it.  He took her shopping, spoiled her with the latest fashions.  He was known in the best shops.  They were in love and she was delirious, so when he suggested they have a weekend away, she knew what it meant, but was more than happy to go along with it because this was forever.  And when she found out she was pregnant at 19, he was thrilled; they would get married, he said, money wasn’t a problem, he worked for his fathers company and had a very healthy trust fund that provided his comfortable lifestyle.  She would have a custom-made dress, he said, that would hide any small bump that might be showing.  They’d go on a luxurious honeymoon to Italy, he said, and then when they got back they’d move into a new flat together and prepare to become a family.  It was a fairy tale come true and they wanted both sets of parents to find out on the same day, so she waited to tell her mum and dad  until she’d had a chance to meet his parents. He assured her that although they’d be shocked they’d love her just as much as he did and everything would be fine.  And it wouldn’t make a difference if they weren’t happy, because this was their lives and their future. 

So Linda sat on the armchair in the bay window of the house she shared with three other girls from the office, waiting to be picked up to go and meet his parents.  She was wearing  a pale yellow full skirted, drop shoulder  dress, with white lace trim and white shoes.  She was holding a small white handbag and a pair of white lace gloves. She gripped them tightly; she was nervous but excited too.  And she waited, and she waited.  An hour had gone by and still no sign.  She was getting worried.  What if he’d had an accident?  As the hours passed and the sun went down, the horror of reality started to dawn on her.  He wasn’t coming.  As the hours became days she realised with a sickening feeling that she was alone.


There he was, this man who broke her and built her at the same time.

“ I had to see you”

“Why? After all these years, why?”

“Because I had to say I’m sorry, it broke my heart to leave you but my parents threatened to cut me off if I didn’t walk away from you.  They sent me away “

“But we were in love.  We were going to have a baby together. How did you just turn off your feelings, how could you stop caring?”

“But that’s the point; I never stopped caring and loving you and not a day goes by that I don’t think about my child and how wonderful our lives would have been. I had to see if we still had a chance”.

Linda bowed her head and tears fell silently.  He took her in his arms and time melted away, she felt a surge of emotion as she held him, as though nothing had changed.  She looked up into his deep blue eyes, but this time she wasn’t mesmerised as she’d had been all those years ago; this time she felt rage.  He moved forward to kiss her and she placed her hands on his chest, roughly pushing him away.

“No, you don’t get to come to me on my wedding day, when I’ve finally found the right man and try and turn my life upside down again.  Walk away now before I tell my new husband who you are “.

“Well it’s not that simple though is it, I have a child.  I don't even know if I have a son or daughter. It’s my right as a father to meet them “.

Linda felt dizzy. Sarah had never known who her father was, and Linda knew the right thing to do to would be to introduce them today and let her decide if she wanted to have a relationship with him.  The foundations of her world were shaking, what she was about to do made her feel sick to her stomach.

“There was no baby, I had a miscarriage.  I have no children, just nieces and nephews that I’ve always treated like my own. So if you’d stuck by me, who knows how it would have turned out.  But you didn’t.  Don’t ever come looking for me again."

She turned and walked away, her legs were shaking but she had never felt stronger, she went back to her guests, back to her husband, back to her future.

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