A year ago, when I made my weekly telephone call home, I could hear the excitement in my younger sister, Isabelle’s voice.
‘I’m engaged! I’ve booked the church and everything.’
We are about as different as siblings can be. At twenty-three years old, she was still living at home, working as a housekeeper for a hotel in the same coastal town as we grew up in and singing in the church choir as she had done for years. On the other hand, I couldn’t wait to leave home, trained as a nurse and was living and working about one hundred miles away. From that moment on, my sister’s forthcoming wedding became her main preoccupation. It and things related to it were her sole subject of conversation. When she asked me to be one of her bridesmaids, I reluctantly agreed – I’m not a frilly dress kind of person. I undertook to make the bridesmaids’ dresses. Two weeks before the wedding, I presented her with two hideous, perfectly made pink satin creations.
One year on, and it’s a blisteringly hot June day. Marion, the other bridesmaid, and I are sheltering in the shade of the church’s lychgate, whilst the traffic outside trundles by. The wedding car deposited us and Mum ten minutes earlier, and returned to the house to collect Dad and Isabelle. When we left, Isabelle was nearly ready and looked beautiful in her full-length traditional dress. Outside neighbours and their children sat on the sun baked, brick garden walls waiting for a glimpse of the bride.
With a flurry of activity, Dom, the vicar appeared from the church, and walked briskly down the path towards us. His cassock billowed behind him, like the great, white sail of a ship. He looked harassed, as he said.
‘Gordon’s not here yet. When Isabelle arrives, ask the driver to go round the block. Give us time to find out where he is.’ With that he turned on his heel, and rapidly returned to the shadows of his church. Before the two of us had time to digest this information, I saw the limousine weaving its stately way towards us. I stepped out onto the pavement, and put up my arm to attract the driver’s attention (not that he could miss me in my shiny, pink dress, resembling an over sized salmon). He slowed, wound down the passenger window, and leaned across towards me.
‘Please could you drive round for a few minutes.’ He apparently had previous experience of similar situations, because unquestioningly he wound up the window and pulled carefully back into the traffic. As he did so, I heard an agitated rustle of satin and lace as Isabelle realised that something was amiss and lent forward with the intention of questioning me. She was too slow, the window was closed and the car was moving, but I saw her anxious face looking back through the rear window at me. Twice more, Dom emerged from the church, appearing increasingly agitated on each occasion. Finally, my mother appeared. Without preamble, she said.
‘We’re going home. Gordon’s not arrived.’ Almost on cue, I saw the sun reflecting on the boxy silhouette of the Daimler as it majestically came towards us. The car hardly stopped moving, before Mum pulled open one of the rear doors and said to Dad.
‘Len, you need to get out, go into the church and sort things out with Dom.’ Our father was used to following instructions. He obediently left the car and headed into the church. Meanwhile, Mum was organising us.
‘Marion, you get in the front. Izzy shove over, so that Lesley and I can get in.’ With much swishing of fabric, Isabelle did as she was told. We got in, the car doors slammed shut and without instruction the chauffeur headed for home. Tears were already coursing silently down Isabelle’s face, as Mum took her hand, and said.
‘Gordon and his best man haven’t arrived. We don’t know what’s happened yet, but Dad and Dom are going to find out.’
‘Doesn’t Babs know?’ Isabelle asked. Babs is Gordon’s Mum and they live a few doors down from us in the same street.
‘When she left home, Gordon said that he was going to the station to collect Keith and would follow her to the church.’ At this Isabelle started full on crying, between sobs saying.
‘There must have been an accident.’
At home, Isabelle went into the relative cool of the sitting room and slumped down into an armchair. She was a sorry sight, resembling a semi-deflated white hot air balloon, clothed as she was in vast expanses of fine material. Tears had made rivulets down her foundation, her mascara was smeared darkly around her eyes, and her headdress was askew on top of her now rumpled hair. Her bouquet lay upside down and discarded on the floor where she’d dropped it, and in its place, she held a rumpled damp tissue. Mum was attempting to take charge again.
‘Lesley, get the kettle on.’
‘Sod that for a game of soldiers, we need something stronger than that.’ With that I disappeared into the kitchen and found Dad’s brandy, poured four glasses full, put them on a tray and took them into the living room. I was in the process of passing the drinks round, when there was a loud knock on the door. Mum went to answer it, and a few seconds later Babs appeared. She looked like an oversized canary in her bright, yellow wedding outfit, and being short and buxom in stature. With a flurry, she went straight to Isabelle, knelt by her chair and spoke.
‘My poor Izzie. I’m so sorry.’
‘What do you mean?’ Mum was in full charge again.
‘He left this.’ In her hand, Babs held a tatty, short hand pad, and written in pencil on it were the words:
‘Sorry Ma. Couldn’t go through with it.
Need to get away. Be in touch soon.’
‘What happened to Keith?’ I was curious, was the best man still waiting at the station, or had Gordon already been in contact with him.
‘I don’t know.’
I persisted. ‘Haven’t you got a ‘phone number for him?’
‘Probably, somewhere at home. I’ll go and look.’ With that, she was back on her feet and making for the door.
Over the next few days, Isabelle wandered around the house, an empty shell, with us in body, but her spirit was gone. Our parents started to fuss about the money they’d lost. In fairness to them, it was more about the pointless waste than the expense. Mid-week Mum, suddenly asked.
‘You should be able to re-coup the money, you paid out for the honeymoon’ Reluctantly, Isabelle fetched the folder she kept in her bedroom, where she’d filed everything relating to her wedding. She pulled out a letter from the owner of a holiday cottage in Scotland, confirming her booking.
‘Go on then, go and ring them.’ Prompted Mum. Seeing that my sister was on the verge of dissolving into tears again, I took the paper from her hand.
‘Give it here. I’ll do it.’ Standing by the shelf in the hall where the ‘phone was kept, I dialled the number and explained why I was calling. In response, a gentleman with a broad Scottish accent replied.
‘There must be some mistake, Mr and Mrs Smithers checked in on Sunday as arranged.’ Back in the kitchen, I relayed the conversation to my family. A thought struck me.
‘Didn’t you and Gordon have a joint building society account?’
‘Who has the passbook?’
‘Have you got any paperwork for it?’ Routing around in the file, Isabelle pulled out several envelopes.
‘Right, we’re going into town, to the building society.’
Inside the building society, Isabelle appeared to have lost all power of speech. I took the letters from her hand and explained to the cashier that we had come to withdraw the funds from the account and close it. She peered at the paperwork, and typed something into her keyboard, consulted the monitor on her desk, before saying.
‘I’m sorry that account was closed on the 25th.’ The day before Izzie’s wedding.
‘Come on, we’re going to Gordon’s office to sort this out.’ Isabelle followed me listlessly back to the car. We drew up with a screech outside Dunton and Murdoch Accountancy and went in. In response to our request to see Mr Smithers the well-groomed receptionist looked down her nose at us and haughtily replied
‘He left on Friday’
A couple of weeks ago, there was a knock on the door, and there stood Gordon. He and I had been an item whilst he was a student. When he’d finished University, he went running home to Mummy.
‘Well, if it isn’t Gorgeous Gordy.’
‘Hello Kat. I’m here for a stag do. Thought I’d look you up.’ We stood there on the doorstep chatting for a few minutes, until he said that he’d better go and left as suddenly as he’d appeared. Over the next couple of days, I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I decided to write to him.
It was lovely to see you the other day. Next week, I’m on leave. If you are free, I wondered if I could catch the train down to Brighton and spend a few days with you? Give me a ring if you’re up for it.
The following Saturday, he rang and said that he’d managed to get a last-minute holiday cottage in Scotland, and if I’d like to go, he’d pick me up in a couple of hours. Well, I’m always game for a laugh, so quickly got my things together.
We had a great couple of days, lots of sex, drinking and driving around in his flashy car. Then on the Wednesday, there was a knock on the door and a bit of a ruckus. It was two girls, and it turned out that Gordon was meant to marry one of them last Saturday. Worse still he owed her a couple of thousand quid. She got it back though, snatched it straight out of his hand and walked off without a second glance. I decided that Gorgeous Gordy was a no-good waster and I wanted nothing to do with the whole mess. I packed up my stuff, walked out and began the long hitch hike home.
You could have knocked me down with a feather when I answered the door, and saw Isabelle and Lesley standing there. Except that you nearly didn’t have to, because as soon as I started to open the door, Izzy gave it an almighty shove and stepped inside. She grabbed the front of my tee shirt in both hands, and shook me as she said.
‘You lying, cheating bastard.’
‘I’m sorry Izzy, I really didn’t mean to hurt you.’
‘And how was leaving me at the church to face all my friends and family, whilst you scarpered not going to hurt?’
I was telling the truth, the whole getting married thing came about by accident. Two years ago, I came back to live with my Mum after finishing university. I’d got a job, but I was finding it hard being back home. I missed the freedom of living independently, the social life, and my mates. I was bored and lonely, all of my old friends had either moved away or settled down with steady girlfriends. One Sunday morning, I was out in the road washing my Capri when along came Isabelle. Her family lived a few doors along from Mum, and I vaguely knew her. She was a couple of years younger than me, but we’d never attended the same school or hung around together.
‘Hello Gordon. Haven’t seen you for ages.’
‘No, I’ve been away at uni.’ We got chatting, and she’s not a bad looking girl. Her sticky out teeth make her look a bit rodenty, but she’s got a good pair of tits on her. She seemed to be hanging around, waiting for something, and because I wanted someone to go out and about with, I asked her out for a drink. We went out the following Friday, and I could see that she’d really made an effort with her appearance. I was flattered and she was easy to talk to, if not exactly stimulating company. We soon fell into an easy routine of seeing each other a couple of nights a week for a drink or a meal. Afterwards, I’d drive to a secluded spot for a snog, and I’d try to put my hand up her jumper. She’d always stop me, saying something crass like.
‘I’m not that kind of girl.’ After about three months of this, I was nearly blowing a gasket with frustration and thinking about stopping seeing her. It was as though she sensed what was looming, because when we got to our usual place, and I began trying it on, she suddenly said.
‘If I knew that you were serious about me, I would.’
‘’Course I’m serious about you.’
‘We’re going to get engaged and everything?’
‘’Course.’ That earnt me a good grope, but then she asked.
‘When are we going to tell everybody?’
I thought quickly. ‘When I’ve saved up enough to buy you a decent ring.’ Every few weeks the subject was bought up again, but I managed to keep making excuses. Finally, one evening she burst into tears, saying.
‘I don’t think you ever mean to make it official between us. You keep putting off buying me a ring.’ If there’s one thing I can’t bear that’s tears. I’ll do anything to stop them, so I said.
‘I’ve nearly got enough money for one. Why don’t we go into town on Saturday and have a look?’ I thought that getting engaged would give me a couple of years to let her down gently. I was wrong, a few evenings later she told me that she’d spoken to the vicar after choir practice, and managed to book the church for a year’s time. After that, all she ever spoke about was the wedding.
There was one occasion when I nearly broke free. A few months before the wedding was due to take place, I raised the subject of a honeymoon. I said that I’d like to fly out to somewhere hot and sunny.
‘And how do you think we’re going to pay for that?’
‘We’ve got all that money in our joint account.’
‘That’s the deposit for our house.’ I was bitterly disappointed, and throughout the remainder of the evening I was cool with her. The next time we met, she bounced into the car, all excitement and enthusiasm.
‘Surprise! I’ve booked a honeymoon.’
‘A cottage in Scotland. I’ve bought you a copy of the paperwork for you to look at.’
‘Put it in the glove box.’ I was crushed and she knew it. I should have finished it then. The one thing that I wasn’t prepared to compromise on was my stag do. I wanted to go back to Norwich, where I’d been a student. Isabelle reluctantly agreed and two weeks before the wedding I went to stay with my friend Keith for the night. He organised a group of our uni friends to meet at an Indian restaurant and then on to the obligatory strip club. He’d recently married and had a baby, and so we weren’t exceptionally late or rowdy when we returned to his.
The following morning, I told him that I was going to call round to my ex-girlfriends to say hello. Later, as we sat enjoying Sunday lunch together, he said.
‘I’m sorry mate, it’s a bit awkward, but I think I should tell you. We can’t afford to buy you a wedding present, money’s tight what with the baby and everything.’ Without thinking, I replied.
‘There’s not going to be a wedding. I’m calling it off.’ His missus, aghast asked.
‘What because you’ve seen Kat?’
‘No, I just don’t want to get married.’
I meant to tell Izzy as soon as I got back, but the next two weeks were a blur, with her constantly rushing off to do something. However, I did manage to achieve part of my escape plan, I handed my notice in at Dunton and Murdoch’s. They kindly arranged a combined wedding and leaving lunch for me on my last day.
The eve of our wedding dawned, and I still hadn’t plucked up the courage to tell Isabelle. On the way into work, I stopped off at the building society and withdrew our savings. I had decided that after the lunch, I would put half the money in an envelope, write to her explaining that I couldn’t go through with the wedding and put it through her letterbox. I could then use the remainder of the money to go away for a bit. However, at the lunch I got paralytically drunk and had to be taken home, leaving my car in the pub car park. The next morning, Ma woke me saying that I only had a couple of hours to get ready. I walked to the pub and retrieved my car. I went through the motions of getting ready, but instead packed a case. As soon as Ma left for the church, I followed her out, picking up a handwritten letter addressed to me from the hall table as I did so. I jumped in the Capri and started to drive. I was about an hour away from home when I remembered the money. Pulling into the next layby, I was relieved to see that my jacket remained on the back seat, and the money was still in the pocket. I opened the letter and was surprised to see that it was from Kat. It was then that I remembered the holiday cottage details in the glove box.