What the peonies mean
She was perched on the toilet seat, cigarette in hand, eyes closed. The music enveloped her as she swims head first into the layers of string, and keys, wind and wood. Lips lightly on the tips of the slim graceful stick, white smokes curling around her. Tears formed at the corner of her eyes as she slumps and leans forward, as much as her white dress would allow. She reached her right hand forward, opened up her palms and pressed them against the white walls in front of her. She counted her fingers, five, and examines each nail, lacquered in a pretty pale pink. Just as she wanted.
She tapped her feet and heard the sounds of the soles on the cold concrete floors. Maybe in the next breath her courage would come and she would pick herself up and walk into that hall. Everyone was waiting. Her right hand reached for the ends of the dress and fingered the soft lace layer and then reached for the satin underneath. She ran her fingertips lightly over and over.
The amount of money they had spent crossed her mind as she took a deep breath. She thought of her parents, waiting anxiously perched on the wooden bench at the front. They had no idea, of course they hadn’t a clue. Her sister was quietly waiting in the room. She knew her best, and it was best to let her come around on her own. She tapped her heals into the floor. She loved the noise of heels on floor. She thought back to the times when she would go through her mother’s shoes and wore them, walking around the house, just to hear the noise. She would pretend to be an adult. They were so important. So powerful. Then she became an adult and for the longest time refused to wear heels. She did not feel important in any way, nor powerful. She would just be pretending.
How she longed to be back in that house again. Grandma and her would watch the fish in the aquarium in the patio as grandma sucks on her cigarettes. They would laugh at everything. She still laughs at everything.
He was quite the catch and her family was glad. Finally she would be married. Finally.
His mother and her had never quite gotten each other although they were civil. Or she was. His mother was always preaching. And she tries so hard that it sometimes send her hair standing on end. She just seemed insincere, and often tried too hard. His father, well he is nonchalant. Brilliant man.
She remembers his mother patting her on her shoulders as if to reassure her, “he is just like his father”. She felt a chill. She often found Mr.B to be a cold insensitive man.
Just a few nights ago they were dining together and she could not help noticing how empty the huge house was. They were four tiny people under a very high ceiling. They were self made people, and she had worked for the both of them before. She was one of his father’s favourite, a bright shining lawyer that may be just the protege. And then she disappointed them both, left the law to be a nail technician. Well she just decided to start a nail parlour. And it was doing well. The little shop became two, and then became six. To them she was a brilliant mind turned bimbo.
“When you get over it you can come back,” Mrs.B said, “although you’d probably have to start over. But that is ok.”
They got over it though, at some point. After all he did the same, halfway through the law school they met. He decided he did not have his parents’ genius. So he became the ad-man. His father and him, now, had no conversations. Not because they do not want to, it was just too much effort to find a common topic. He was not interested in Lord Denning and that cricket ball. He was interested in landing the next big account. Ferragamo, maybe. Mercedes, hopefully. His mother, delusional, thinks its just a phase. It isn’t he is just not that type. He is not the responsible sort, not like that.
She listened to the condescending conversations that echoed loudly throughout dinner. Everything is louder in silent big spaces. Spaces that were filled with nothing.
“Something struck me today at dinner,” she told him in the car.
“That house has no love.”
He was silent. She examined his face. It was hard at times, and yet she felt a smile quivering underneath at times. If only he’d relax those muscles and let the smile win.
“Would we end up like that?”
He looked at her with his dark eyes, piercing. And it went silent.
He was silent for days after. No phone call. No dinners. No conversations. How would she know if he was going to turn up?
Since she was little she had pictured ninety year olds dancing in the lounge, very much in love. With children who loved back, often visiting. Warmth on the dinner table, with laughter. His sister did not even turn up for dinner, and she did not call and they were always avoiding having to see their parents.
They were having dinner the four of them, and an empty seat. They hated having dinner at their parents. She wanted to build a home. Not a grand house filled with nothing. His maid came around to fill plates, pour wines, bring tea. Constantly saying “yes ma’am” to her stern mistress.
No such thing in her home. Her sister and her were constantly chattering, laughing. Her brothers often bickering, calling one another “fat-shit”. They fought over the tv channels, the last piece of pie, the ice-cream. They made fun of mom and her friends. It was warm. She wanted warmth.
Was she crossing over to cold grandeur?
There was a knock on the door and she stood up, smoothed her dress and opened the door. Her sister reached out to hold her hand and pulled her out. She checked her hair and handed her the bouquet.
She looked at her and hugged her tightly.
“Come on, it is time.”
Tears streamed down uncontrollably and she whispered. “It is going to be alright.”
She looked down at the bouquet and took it. The peonies tightly in buds. They were supposed to have bloomed. “Here are the flowers we spent months hunting down.” she laughed. She was adamant about peonies at my wedding.
Her father greeted her at the door and smiled.
Walking on she heard the wedding march start. She tried to take a peek but only saw laughing silhouettes. She sighed in a sort of relief. At least he was there. And then what?
She breathed in deep and began abandoning her fears, letting them go, one by one, in that corner. People stood and the doors opened. The flower girl gracefully begun her walk down the aisle, and just as she reached the doors she looked at the face of the groom looking back at her, suddenly remembering all the reasons they were standing here.
As she made her way down the aisle beside her dad who was beaming proud she began to gather up once again the hopes she had as a little girl in heels. She was going to make the best of this, and if it does not work. She will do it again, and again until they get it right.
Her dad took her hand, and put it in the groom’s. She looked at the kind gentle eyes of the dashing man she was about to marry.
He smiled as he took my hand and winked.
The same wink he winked the first time they met.
She gripped the bouquet, her heart skipping. Its petals loosened a little, ready to open its pretty face to the world.
So she smiled the same smile, the one she flashed with all her heart the first time they met.
The congregation sat down behind them as they, hand in hand looked on, forward.
And they knew, this was new.