Wednesday 10 January 2024

A Difficult Decision by Judith Skilleter, a cup of turmeric tea

 

Alison and Tim’s wedding is due to take place in four days, on Saturday. Alice is at her parents’ home preparing for her big day and she will be joined in two days, on Thursday, by her fiancé Tim, to finalise everything. However, there is very little for them to do during these last few days as the whole event seems to have been taken over by Alison’s mother, a very determined, forthright and decisive female called Rosemary. Alison’s dad, Alan, occasionally quotes Shakespeare, saying “”Rosemary that’s for remembrance” and "Who could forget your mother?” And, usually, Alan was not being complementary when he said this.

For someone who is to be a beautiful and composed bride in a few days Alison is not at ease with things. In fact I would say she is fed up; in fact I would say she is unhappy – and for a number of reasons. The planning for her wedding (let’s get this right it is HER wedding after all) seems to have been taken out of her and Tim’s hands completely. Alison wanted a simple registry office wedding; she has no religion or faith and she felt that to promise things before someone or something she did not believe in would be hypocritical. Then she wished for a simple lunch in a nice hotel, a place where the wedding party could relax rather than have to be on their best behaviour and that would be that. By teatime everyone would have gone home.

Instead her mother had ignored all Alison’s wishes. A church wedding has been arranged (“It’s better dear; you will feel you are properly married”) followed by the reception at a swish hotel, (“Which can offer rooms for those who will want to stay over, dear”) which offered canapes (expensive nibbles with champagne!) and lunch (five courses). In the evening there would be a disco and finally drinks and snacks (“Bacon sandwiches will be very welcome after a night of dancing, dear”} for those who might be hungry before they dragged their weary bodies and sore feet off to bed.

(Alison’s dad had vetoed and cancelled the ceilidh band on the grounds that there was enough money being spent on this wedding. “A ceilidh is just over the top Rosemary – no.” There had followed two long days of silence between Alison’s parents)

Then there was the row over Alison’s wedding dress and the bridesmaids’ dresses. Alison was having three bridesmaids, two adult bridesmaids and her tiny niece, Elsa, as a flower girl. Ever since her daughter’s engagement was announced Rosemary had been buying glossy wedding magazines and Alison would, all too often, be shown a photo of a designer dress from one or other of these. It was usually too frilly and always too expensive as far as she was concerned. Instead, one lunchtime she nipped out to a local bride shop and bought a delightful simple dress that she would enjoy wearing. At least she hoped she would enjoy wearing it; for the moment it was hanging on her bedroom door looking malevolent and threatening in its protective bag. Was her dress a metaphor for her future - something simple and monochrome wrapped up in a zipped bag?

Of course when Rosemary saw Alison’s wedding dress choice there followed two long days of frosty silence. But then Rosemary brought home a headdress with a veil for Alison to try. Alison said firmly, “No, I have ordered rosebuds, in honour of you, to be woven in my hair. Please take that monstrosity back to wherever you bought it.” A brand new frosty silence over the next few days was from Alison who could barely look at her surprisingly chastened mother.

Around about the same time Alison nipped out during a lunchtime and bought dresses for her bridesmaids. She knew their sizes and bought two simple shift dresses for the adult bridesmaids and a pretty dress in Elsa’s favourite colour for the flower girl. She knew her three attendants would be thrilled by her choices. Her mother was not thrilled. Rosemary had set her heart on a fabric covered in daisies for all three attendants. Luckily Alison’s dad was present during this exchange and Rosemary’s fury was directed at him after he said “I'm sure Alison will not want her three lovely helpers looking as if they are covered in fried eggs.” There followed three days of determined silence aimed at both Alison and Alan.

Alan’s next victory over his wedding planner wife was about the caterers: she had booked to give lunch to all the guests who were staying over.

“No, no, no, no, no” he said, thinking briefly that he hoped he sounded more authoritative than the old chap on The Vicar of Dibley. “Enough is enough, ridiculous and unnecessary amounts of money are disappearing from this house owing to your excesses. Have you once asked Alison if what you are planning is what she wants? I don’t think so. This wedding is rapidly becoming an opportunity for you to show off to your mates – I don’t like it and I suspect neither does Alison. And who on earth are these 150 people who are coming to the event. I seem to remember that Alison’s list totalled forty-three.”

Yes, another silence but this time it was preceded by some door slamming.

Alison was standing at the top of the stairs quietly crying and listening to all of this. She was thinking that surely weddings don’t have to be as awful as this. Her dad was right about the invitation list. She had sent her list containing 43 guests to her mother thinking that the final number would be about 90 guests - but 150? She had gone through the list on a trip home and worked out that she really wanted about one third to be there, another third would be ok but she wouldn’t lose any sleep if they couldn’t come and who the hell were the final third? Of course by this time the invitations were ready to be posted, invitations printed on expensive vellum with the names beautifully written by a hired and very expensive cartographer. She had tackled her mother about this but had been accused of being selfish and she should be very grateful that she, her mother, was putting so much effort into her wedding. “I never asked you to do all this!” Alison screamed at her mother. Of course there followed nearly a week of silence which happily did not affect Alison as after the row she went straight back to her flat.

But the wedding was not the only worry for Alison. She was questioning her feelings for the groom, Tim, and not for the first time. She was sure that she loved him but was she in love with him? Alison was not at all sure of the latter. She was very comfortable with Tim but there was no excitement – there was no passion even when they were making love. She had never ached with desire for Tim and never had she felt that tingle of excitement when she knew they were going to be together. Was her marriage going to be like this? She expected it to be comfortable and Tim would be loyal and supportive. But what about in-love-ness? She expected that any marriage probably lacked passion after a while, hopefully after a few years. But from day one - surely not? But were these pre-wedding jitters? Did every bride feel like this? How on earth did arranged marriages succeed? Why do girls marry she asked herself? Was it for security, or for love, or because it is expected, or for money if he was a rich man. Alison hoped that people marry because they were in love and marriage was the only wished for option. To Alison’s dismay she concluded that whatever her strong feelings were for Tim, she was not in love with him.

Alison had shared all this with her best friend since infant school, Alice. They had been the two Ally’s throughout school but Alice now lived in Canada and was pregnant and could not attend the wedding. Alice listened and sympathised and made suggestions which were very helpful. Alison had tried to talk to her mother but Rosemary’s response had been “Don’t be silly dear, what you are going through is pre-wedding nerves. You will have a glorious wedding day and afterwards you will wonder what all your worries were all about.” As for her dad, Alison didn’t dare share her concerns given the money he was paying out.

Alison was sitting in her bedroom at home. It was easier being out of the way, the only conversations downstairs were usually heated and wedding related. There was a knock at the door “Come in” she said and quickly dried the most recent tears. It was her older brother Max. 

“Hello sis, how are you doing?”

“I’m fine” Alison lied.

“Just wondering about Saturday and how you are coping with all the arrangements – and mum.”

“It’s all good. I’m just letting her get on with it!” she lied again.

“And you and Tim – are you OK?”

All this time Alison was staring out of the window, she felt that if she even just glanced at her brother she would dissolve into noisy wet tears.

“Why shouldn’t we be? He’s a good man. I’m very lucky to have found him.” Another lie.

“Hmm. Well, I have just brought this for you – something from me for you to use for whatever you wish. Love you sis – and I want you to be happy” and Max quietly left the room.

After he left, the tears, an ocean of quiet tears, fell and Alison looked at the envelope. It contained ten fifty pond notes.  “I must ring Canada” she decided.

Early next morning Alison was at Heathrow waiting for her flight to Canada to be called. She had packed some essentials after Max’s visit and at 11pm that night she had crept out of the house to a taxi waiting quietly further down the street. She had left two letters – one for her mum and dad and one for Tim trying to explain why she had to do this. She felt awful, she felt she was letting everyone down, she was sorry about the money that had been spent unnecessarily, she felt guilty for causing so much pain, especially for Tim, but most of all she had felt relief. It was as if a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders.

But her departure had not gone unnoticed. Her dad, a light sleeper, had heard the stairs creak and the front door click closed and he had watched his precious daughter creep down the path and out of the gate.

Quietly he said to himself “Keep safe my lovely, you are doing the right thing. Don’t worry about anything – I will sort out the wedding – and your mum. Come back when you feel the time is right for you. Love you.” He sent the equivalent of this as a text to Alison a few hours later when she might not be tempted to return home.

Before he returned to bed he sent a short text to Max “Thanks son. It worked, Dad xxxx”

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 nearly four grandchildren 

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