WRITTEN BY SARAH SWATRIDGE
Everything was going to be perfect this time…
I might have guessed I’d wake before the alarm but it doesn’t matter. I can see a stream of daylight through a gap in the curtains and it looks promising. Mind you, I’d go through with the wedding even if we had ten feet of snow and a blizzard.
You see, I thought this day would never come. No, it’s not that I’m an ugly old maid – but Andrew and I were due to marry months ago and it had to be postponed at the last minute.
I’ve no family apart from my dad, and the evening before the wedding he was rushed in to hospital with stomach pains. Apparently he’d had them a while but hadn’t said anything.
It turned out to be appendicitis which turned nasty. At one point I thought I’d lost him. So today is truly a day to celebrate.
It’s a quiet affair, our wedding. I’m to text Betty who lives next door and she’s going to come round to make sure Dad and I have some breakfast and to help me get ready. She was Mum’s best friend.
Even though it’s really early still, I know that if I called her now she’d be over in a flash. She’s so excited.
I hear the front door slam. That’ll be Dad, nipping over to the allotment for a few hours. He knew I’d want to hog the bathroom.
I enjoy a leisurely bath and then text Betty who appears, as if by magic, with a tray of warm croissants, homemade jam, fresh orange juice and coffee. It’s fun to be spoilt… and after all, it is my wedding day.
Betty does my nails and my hair and then helps me into my dress. I hear Dad come back and head into the shower. He’s still ready before me.
We lost Mum when I was eight so Dad was my tooth fairy, he helped me revise for exams, he taught me to drive, waved me off to university and let me cry when I first had my heart broken. There was no way I’d have anyone but Dad walk me down the aisle.
I have strict instructions from Betty about not running down the stairs in my wedding dress, eating buttery toast or going to the allotment with Dad – as if!
What I haven’t reckoned on was my reaction on seeing Dad in his smart grey suit
Thankfully Betty has made sure that my mascara was waterproof.
“Is that –?” begins Dad and I know instinctively what he wants to ask.
I can’t form the words either, though, so I simply nod and smooth down Mum’s elegant, creamy wedding gown.
Right on time, the wedding car arrives at the gate.
“We’re going to be far too early, Ruth,” says Dad. “Shall I invite the chauffeur in for a cuppa?”
“No – it’s all right,” I reassure him. “We do need to be leaving about now, actually.”
Betty waves us off, although I do notice her puzzled look she when she glances at her watch.
“You know where you’re going?” I ask the driver anxiously.
In answer, he waves my handwritten schedule at me.
Good – I can settle back and relax.
“He may know where we’re off to,” says my father, “but I don’t – and the church is in the opposite direction.”
“Trust me,” I tell him.
It isn’t long before we pull up outside the care home where I work. Norah spots us and goes to alert the others.
“Is this a good idea?” asks Dad.
“It was this or invite them all to the wedding,” I tell him. “I promised I’d just pop in on our way. They know we haven’t got long.” I give him a smile and attempt to get out of the car in Mum’s lacy wedding dress. It isn’t easy – I’m glad to have a chance to practise here before arriving at the church when I might be met by cameras.
I know as soon as the glass doors slide back that this is the right thing to do.
The lobby is full of well-wishers, all dressed up. All the residents have turned out and lots of the carers too – even those not on duty.
My wedding has been the talk of the home since Andrew proposed. They all know my fiancé because he finishes work early on a Friday in order to take tea in the lounge followed by a game or two of snooker with the “inmates” as he calls them. I think they love him as much as I do.
I’ve allowed half an hour, although I know I could have spent all day showing off my dress and letting them smell the lilies of the valley in my bouquet.
They take photos and throw confetti but what really gets me was a smile from Rosa. She’s been living with dementia and it’s hard to reach her, but something stirred in her today and thankfully her daughter was there to see it.
“Come on, love,” says Dad just as he had when I played in puddles on the way to school. “You don’t want to be late.”
As we’re leaving, I turn and surprise them all by throwing my bouquet.
“Won’t you need that?” asks Dad.
“Don’t worry,” I tell him. “I’ve a spare.”
We’d overrun, I knew we would – but it was worth it and if we’re late, I know Andrew will understand. He knows how much I love my job and that I’ve adopted all the residents as surrogate grannies and gramps.
“There’s still time,” says Dad. I take his hand and squeeze it.
“Just one more thing,” I say and hope the next leg of the journey won’t be too much for him. I couldn’t pass the Garden of Remembrance without calling in on Mum.
“Just a few words,” I tell him. “You’re welcome to come, or you can stay here. I’ll understand.”
I didn’t wait as it took me a while to wriggle out of the car without getting my heels caught in the lacy hem. I reach into the boot for the second bouquet and head off to Mum’s grave.
Dad catches me up. I’m glad. It’s good to have the three of us together on my wedding day.
I’d planned a few words but in the end I just stand and know Mum will know what I’m thinking.
I set the flowers down on her resting place, dab my eyes and take Dad’s arm.
“Anything else up your sleeve?” he asks as we headed back to the car with its white ribbons blowing in the breeze.
St Mary’s is only a few streets away. I can see the square church tower looming up in front of us.
“Can you go once round the block?” I ask the driver and Dad raises his eyebrows at me.
“What now?” I think he says. I’m not sure because I’m trying to concentrate on my breathing. It suddenly hit me, seeing the church. I know it sounds completely stupid, but I’d spent ages planning my morning – and now that’s all done, I realise I’ve not given nearly as much thought to the rest of the day. I suppose I thought it would take care of itself – which of course, it will.
You’re not having doubts, are you?
“You’re not having doubts, are you?” asks Dad. He’s pulling the starched collar away from his neck and his eyes are bulging.
“I want to be a good wife. I want to make him happy. I want to be just like you and Mum.”
I’m thinking back to a picnic we’d had. Mum and Dad were teasing each other. They always seemed to be laughing together and holding hands.
“I wish she was here,” I tell Dad.
I’m sure he is thinking the same.
At that moment we pull onto the gravel driveway that leads up to the church. The driver slows right down and out of nowhere, a white dove flies on to the bonnet.
The chauffeur waves it away. I look at Dad and he smiles.
“I’d better not keep Andrew waiting any longer,” I murmur.
With surprising agility Dad leaps out of the car, retrieves my third and final bouquet from the boot and offers me his hand as I gather up my skirts once more and then smooth down the delicate material.
The church bells rang to announce our arrival as we head towards the church, ready to celebrate the day.