In which we meet Tessa and The Dress.
WARNING: One unPC comment and some mild swearing.
Missed yesterday’s Part One? Read it here.
Elbows on the table, fingers at my temples I stared at the seating plan arranged on my desk as if sheer malice might make it obey. Little green flags were orbiting the pencil-sketched tables on the white plastic card tentatively. If there weren’t people who shouldn’t be seated too close to the bar there were ones who couldn’t be seated too close to certain other people or else we’d risk a fist fight.
Then there were invitations, decorations, catering, venues, cars, and dozens of other stupid details. When Dorian and I had visited a wedding fair someone had tried to sell us commemorative match-books and pens. I had been under the impression we were organising a wedding not a convention for chain smokers. Then there were the wedding invitations that could probably have constituted a down payment on a house. Instead we’d gone to Paperchase and brought several packs of invites. We had to write them out by hand which took time but cost immeasurably less than the ones at the fair.
At the bottom of the invitations for repeat attendees I had written: ‘N.B. We’ve got it right this time.’
The first time I got married, my mother-in-law had been possessed by the demon of ‘wedmin’ and all I’d had to do was nod and agree and pick out a dress. I actually missed having someone else drive the monster, but not enough to hire a wedding planner.
I twisted my engagement ring around my finger anxiously and looked about my study hoping to alight on inspiration. The floorboards had been expensively restored circa marriage number one by The Ex’s substantial pay packet. When The Ex and I divorced I got the house but I let him keep his old family furniture, which turned out to be most of it. So since then the study had been furnished with Ikea buys. I’d become a dab hand with the bent bit of metal that comes in flat-packs.
The electric doorbell rang with the rumbling dong of a church bell. I knocked half the flags onto the floor in my sudden enthusiasm to answer the door.
Tessa stood on my doorstep carrying something in a black plastic dry-cleaning bag. Despite being in her sixties she was still glamorous with bottle-blonde hair, a French manicure and a white designer suit. I glanced down at my broken nails protruding from the over-longer sleeves of my tatty plaid shirt and my frayed jeans that pooled at my bare feet.
‘Is your Chinaman here?’ She pushed passed me into the hall and looked about as if he might be hiding behind the Welsh dresser which had come with the house and had never been moved.
‘Don’t…’ There was something white and silky protruding from the bag where it had ridden up. My cutting but witty remark about political correctness faltered.
I tried to remind myself that when I was born, she ditched me. And then she walked back into my life when it suited her: i.e. when I was far too old for any of the messy stuff.
I. Didn’t. Care.
‘No? Good, good. I’ve got something just for us girls.’ She winked at me.
I turned my back on her and took my time shutting and locking the door.
‘Very nice, very nice,’ she said as she walked into the reception room, her stilettos clicking on my expensive floor. ‘You did very well out of that marriage, for a short one. Any idea what you want if this one doesn’t work out? Best to plan in advance.’
I banged my head against the cool PVC door, lightly so she wouldn’t hear. ‘Bugger, bugger, bugger.’
In the reception room Tessa had laid out her cargo on the three-seater and was rearranging a stack of books and old county maps I’d left on the coffee table. Another Ikea purchase. Three local history books and a research position didn’t stretch to more upmarket furniture shops. Or they didn’t in my mind. Why spend a thousand pounds on something you can get for a couple of hundred if you assemble it yourself?
‘Tessa… I’ve…’ I don’t know why I couldn’t tell her I already had a dress on order.
‘I know, I know, but wait until you see it.’ She stooped over the plastic bag; there was a lot of rustling as she carefully rolled the bag up and tugged it off.
There was a nagging doubt tugging at some unused animal part of my brain.
I sighed. ‘I suppose I can try it.’
Tessa must have had a very slim and slinky frame when she got married, she hadn’t specified which marriage, but she hadn’t passed it on in the genes. My waist was slimmer but my hips were broader and my cleavage could’ve used some padding.
‘The trick,’ Tessa said, pulling on the bodice laces, ‘is to suck it in and push your chest out.’
I wasn’t sure such a manoeuvre was physically possible but I exhaled a little and she pulled the bodice tighter. My fingers dug into the door frame. I should’ve suspected something when she told me to hold onto the wood. Whether the advised manoeuvre was possible or not it clearly involved very little breathing. Preferably not breathing at all.
Finally she tied off the laces, leaving just enough space for tiny breaths, and turned me around by the shoulders.
‘Right… right…’ She tapped a talon against her teeth. ‘We can do something about these.’
She proceeded to grab my breasts and pull and push them around in a way I hadn’t experienced since my one foray into expensive underwear. Her expression was similar to the assistant’s; a kind of tilting of the eyebrows that suggested she knew my measurement instantly but was determined to make me think the extortionate prices were justified.
I felt a sudden kinship with a shop mannequin.
Tessa shoved my cleavage up until I was worried it might pop out of the top of the dress. Then she pressed my hands over my chest to hold it in place and tightened the laces a little more.
When she was satisfied she stood back and looked me up and down. Her painted face dissolved in something that might have been pride or affection, but I wasn’t sure I knew her well enough to judge.
‘Oh, oh, you look gorgeous.’ She clapped her hands together then flapped them in front of her face. She must have practised the melodrama in the mirror. ‘Brush your hair, and a bit of make-up…’
My lips thinned.
‘A lot of make-up and they might enter you in a best bride competition. Just like me.’
Photographs, I’d forgotten a photographer.
Check back tomorrow for Part Three or take a look at my short story archive for more short fiction.