“Look, stop messing about and being such a drama queen and try on the bloody dress”. This instruction came from Jackie, my Maid of Honour. What a totally stupid title, I thought, especially for her. Any honour she had was long gone, consigned as it was behind the bike sheds in exchange for a fag…
As I struggled into the meringue of a dress, almost suffocated by tulle, I wondered if throwing up would get me a pass out of this nightmare. I had been doing quite a lot of chucking up at breakfast time lately. Seemed to be one of the joys of being six weeks pregnant, but sadly just now no sign of nausea, so I reluctantly continued to wiggle my increased size into the coffin of organza. Oh that looks fantastic, cried Jackie, the shape is so you and it will hide the bump as it grows. Thanks Jackie for bringing that image to mind so vividly : always able to rely on Jackie to remind me of what a mess I have made of everything.
What was I doing here in this ridiculous bridal shop with her prattling on about veils, cakes and flowers ? My middle class so-called friends in the upper sixth would be horrified by my current predicament. Jackie, on the other hand, was loving it – and to be fair at least she was here. Oh so here, in her absolute element in fact.
We had known each other since infant school, living next door to each other as we did on the scummy council estate. I wondered why I always felt some sort of loyalty to her even though our lives had gone in very different directions till now. Whilst I stood on the verge of A levels and possible Oxbridge entry, she had been delighted to leave the comprehensive school at 16 and rush into a job at a beautician’s in town. My loyalty had been increasingly strained and now often felt seriously misplaced. What the hell was she talking to the shop assistant about ? Her plans for her next tattoo, it seemed. How had it come to this, how had I messed up so spectacularly, when my dreams had been to escape the estate, to escape my mother’s depression and lack of ambition, and yes, sad to admit, but true, to escape Jackie ? The recent development of her referring to herself constantly as my “bestie’ was bringing on a migraine. What had possessed me to involve her – did I feel so alone ?
The lovely, kind James was in shock of course, and had found it difficult to breathe when I told him. But the good catholic boy had gone home and broken the news to his parents straight off, only to agree when they insisted he had to do right by me and the baby. They would support us, they said; we can stay with them after the wedding, they said. Of course, James will continue with his A levels and apply to University : as his father pointed out, if he is going to provide for a wife and child, he needs all the qualifications he can get.
No one mentioned my future, all the talk centered round the wedding. It should be white, they said, in Church of course, but not too big : do not want to draw too much attention, they said, but even so appearances matter, therefore a quick, but proper affair. They would talk to Father Timothy. To be fair to them, they were quite kind and supportive, taking charge of all the arrangements. As his mother said, I was not the first girl this had happened to and would not be the last; James should have known better, he was brought up to behave properly, and now he must take responsibility. James sat there looking as if he had just been condemned to death row. He managed a gentle squeeze of my hand but could not look at me.
The small but tasteful reception will take place in a marquee in their lovely garden. My single mother who was clearly needing a smoke acted like a nodding dog in the rear window of a Ford Cortina. Continually nodding agreement with everything they said. Particularly when they made clear they did not expect her to pay for anything.
I try all the time to block out the horrible reality, mainly through diving hard into my studies. Keeping my head in a textbook stops me thinking about myself. Not biology though. That would be too ironic. Too difficult to face the fact that after coming top in the subject for my whole school career, I have managed to ignore science in my personal life with such ease. Physics takes me out of things, though. I don’t have a poster of Brian Cox on my bedroom wall for nothing, and maths always seems so packed with certainties. However, in bed at night, I know nothing is certain for me anymore : I do not have a future, only the fetus has one. Nobody in James’ family calls it a fetus though, it is already a baby for them.
Jackie disturbs my thoughts with her squeals of delight at yet another monstrosity of a dress – this one even worse than the one I am currently encased in. I make a plea for something a little more sober to the assistant. She has been smirking rather too much ever since we arrived and is asking intrusive questions about age and what I am currently doing as a job. Will I carry on working after the wedding ? Nosy cow if you ask me, although Jackie seems to get on with her. They are currently distracted by comparing Maori tattoo patterns around their ankles.
She eventually passes Jackie a lace number which is almost normal and makes a pointed comment about it being rather straight and not having much give. I wonder how much she has heard from Jackie about the Bump, but I ignore her. Jackie notices nothing, currently obsessed with plans for make-up colours and hair styles for the big day. I put on the dress and admire my image in the mirror : I can almost see myself on the day and I do actually look like a young but stunning bride. Jackie runs over with a veil and some gold and white slingback shoes to complete the effect. “OMG !”, she shouts loud enough for the entire shopping mall to hear, you look f-ing amazing .
Yes I think, I am amazing, I am special. And I look pretty good too. I look down at my feet and they do not look like mine. The shoes are exquisite but suddenly I am aware in the core of my being that I have no use for them. I step out of the dress in one movement, snatch the veil from my head and throw the shoes at the assistant. “I will not be needing wedding shoes” I shout. I get dressed to sounds of Jackie’s complete consternation and loud protests. “What on earth are you doing ?” she screams. “What will Jimmy say ?” It’s James, Jackie, ask his Mother ! “James can say what he likes” I shout. So can his parents, and the bloody priest. I am going back to school and taking my exams. I made one mistake, Jackie, but a white dress and gold shoes wont fix it.
I pull on my trainers and run towards my future.