Thursday 9 March 2023

A Problem by Judith Skilleter, milky coffee,

Beth had a busy weekend ahead of her. On Saturday her best friend of over 20 years’ continuous friendship, Alice, was getting married. Beth and Alice met when they first started school, they were in the Squirrels group on day 1 and their friendship had continued non-stop from there. It was strong during infant school, primary school, senior school and even university when they could not have been further apart. Beth studied at Exeter University and Alice at Aberdeen.

Their friendship even survived Nick, who became Alice’s very permanent boyfriend when they were both sixteen. Nick and Alice and Beth plus whoever Beth was going out with at the time were a formidable foursome.

It was naturally assumed that Nick and Alice would settle down together. They seemed a perfect couple in every sense – but this was not to be.  A year ago Alice met Peter at a conference, it was love at first sight she said, a whirlwind romance she said, she could not bear to be apart from him she said. Alice and Peter were engaged within three months and their wedding would be tomorrow.

Beth cannot stand Peter but she dare not say anything to Alice as that would put their friendship at risk.  She thinks he is a smarmy git, a slimy toad, someone who always appears wonderful in front of everyone he meets but is totally insincere. In fact as far as Beth was concerned Peter oozed insincerity. As her dad would say “he only smiles with his teeth.” These comments and thoughts Beth kept to herself. Beth’s feelings about this wedding and her dislike of Peter were not, however, Beth’s problem.

Poor Nick, distraught at his loss and the wedding news, escaped to South Africa, to be as far away as he possibly could from Alice’s wedding.

Beth was Alice’s Matron of Honour, the Chief Bridesmaid, and Alice has asked her to make a little speech about their years of friendship.  This is rehearsed and ready to go, Beth is very pleased with her words and has every confidence that she will do a good job of it despite it being very unusual for a bridesmaid to speak at a wedding. This too is not her problem although she could imagine many of her friends would have refused absolutely.

Unfortunately as Matron of Honour, one job that she has to do is to herd the three small bridesmaids and two small pageboys into some sort of order during the service and the photographs. They will all look gorgeous is cream silk with a tartan sash, Peter’s tartan, he is a Mac something or other. But Beth has insisted that her job ends after the photographs and once at the reception their parents have to take over. She would not be a free babysitter while they all drank too much and behaved badly with other people’s husbands or wives. So Beth’s responsibilities were only a problem for a little while. They did not count as a real problem.

She was insistent about not having to look over the “little darlings” at the reception because there was going to be a chocolate fountain for all to enjoy. Beth can imagine the glorious cream silk outfits getting all chocolatey. Beth refuses all responsibility for this should it happen and she was insistent that it would not be her problem. Beth has also refused to be on a table with the “little darlings.” “They have parents and I am neither a nanny nor a nursemaid so put me somewhere else” she had said to both Peter and Alice when she saw the seating plan. Peter and Alice were a bit put out by this.

Beth’s mother was also invited to the wedding as she was a good friend of Alice’s mum. She will be with husband number four, Miguel Sanchez.  Beth’s mum left Beth and her dad when she was eight and Beth has few good memories of her early years with her mum. She remembers her regular absences though.

Her mum left her and her dad to be with the hotel manager, whom she eventually married, at the hotel where she enjoyed many illicit assignations with other men. It didn’t last. Husband number three was a chef but she couldn’t cope with the evening shifts. Of course her husband being at home most of the day meant that her illicit assignations were severely curtailed. Number three went the way of numbers one and two and now she is with her Spanish waiter, husband number four.  “Mum clearly likes her partners to be in the hospitality trade," mused Beth “as well as being very hospitable herself to these various men.”

No, Beth’s mum was not the problem; she has been used to her comings and goings for too long to be surprised or upset by them.

Three years after her mum left, when Beth was eleven years old, her dad married Meggie, the most perfect mum and step mum anyone could have. Beth adored Meggie and Meggie adored Beth. In fact before Meggie and her dad got engaged Meggie asked Beth if it was OK with her because she, Meggie, felt she was marrying a ready-made family and not just her, Beth’s, dad. Beth was thrilled at this; her own mum had never talked to her in that way, had never talked to her as if she really mattered and that she loved her. And then after Meggie and her dad had been married a few months Beth plucked up enough courage to ask if they might have a baby. Meggie’s reply was “Why on earth should we want a baby? We have you and that is gorgeous”.  Once again Beth was thrilled, and amazed, she felt so loved by both parents – although a baby sister would have been cute.

Beth’s dad and step-mum were also invited to the wedding but they had to send their apologies as they were enjoying their fifteenth wedding anniversary in Venice where Beth would join them in three days’ time.  No, the absence of two of the most important people in her life at the wedding was not a problem. After all it meant she got a trip to Venice.

The four inch heels Beth has to wear might be a problem on the day if she has to going haring off after one or more of the little attendants – but she will just take them off and sprint if that is the case. The heels are just a nuisance and not a problem.

Sadly, Beth’s own partner will not be at the wedding. He is working and can’t get the time off or even get there as he is somewhere in the North Sea on an oil rig. This is not a problem so long as the best man does not make a pass at her. Isn’t that supposed to happen at weddings? At Alice’s wedding it will be unlikely as the best man is a cousin of Peter, another Mac-something or other and he has two young children with twins on the way. Beth thinks he will be otherwise occupied and won’t give her a second glance. And that’s OK – not a problem but rather a relief. And she doesn’t mind being a singleton at the wedding, she knows that Miguel Sanchez does a mean flamenco and after a few glasses of the fizzy stuff she will join him. Ole!

So what is Beth’s problem?  She was looking forward to the wedding despite Peter and her other worries so what can it be?

Beth has been feeling under the weather all week and assumed it was just exhaustion because of the wedding and a very busy time at work. On the off chance she tested for Covid believing all the time that she was just living through a cold – and the test was positive. Oops.


About the author

Judith Skilleter is new to writing fiction after a long career in social work and teaching. Her first children's novel The April Rebellion, has recently been published. Judith is a Geordie, who settled in East Yorkshire forty-five years ago and is married with three grandchildren. 


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