By Elle Michael River
Isabella was a single white rose in the midst of half a dozen red ones. Held together by pin and lace, like a delicate, porcelain doll, she paused. She might melt away should anyone happen to stain crimson wine on her ivory silhouette.
. . . .
A light melody from a grand piano signaled the start of the ceremony. Beneath rows of pews decorated with bows of scarlet and gold, a room stood silent. Scents of burnt hair and perfume betrayed the chaos of the morning. They lingered over Isabella as she sat in a manila folding chair trying not to move. She glanced down at her embroidered dress. It had been hand-picked from the stuffed racks of romance inside a glittering bridal shop. They’d served her a glass of sparkling champagne for every corset she’d laced, even though she wasn’t yet 21.
Isabella hadn’t wanted something so delicate and detailed, but her mother-in-law had insisted that appearances mattered more than being able to breathe. Isabella couldn’t breathe. The corset bit into her ribs and reminded her with every gasp that perfection came with a price. For her own mother, that price had been a bank loan and the entire contents of their rainy-day savings jar. It had sat atop their yellowed fridge before Isabella was reminded that beauty was a bride’s burden.
She looked at the women as they resumed a hushed chatter and adjusted their skirts, giving each pin one last inspection. The flower girls were trying not to giggle, their hands caressing smooth petals they would soon throw into the air. Isabella’s almost sister-in-law was whispering to Olivia about her boyfriend’s undeserved time behind bars. The hulking, bleach blonde woman had pulled down the top of her scarlet bridesmaid’s dress. The name of the boyfriend sat embroidered in black ink above a pierced, pepperoni nipple. Olivia’s eyes widened beneath oily hair compromised into a bun. The tattoo had an unfortunate spelling error, but Olivia smiled and said it looked nice.
“Bella! The music has started. Can you hear it?” asked Violet. “It’s time!” She took Isabella’s face into her hands, fixed a stray curl, and wiped the side of her mouth where the bride’s lipstick had run away. The women were filing out of the room. Up the stairs to the sanctuary they stomped, the wooden door slamming loud behind them.
“Yes,” said Isabella. “I guess we should go upstairs.” She stood from her chair and saw stars, but Violet’s steady hands found her shoulders and began straightening her necklace of diamonds. The jewelry was a gift from the in-laws, but only for today. It wasn’t hers to keep.
“Do you need anything?” asked Violet. “Water? Wine? Do you need to recite the vows with me one more time?”
“No, I’m okay.”
Violet looked at Isabella through dark eyes framed by thick, curled hair, and wrapped her arms around the shivering bride. “Well, you let me know if you need anything, and I’ll be right here. I mean, what’s a Maid of Honor for, right?” Violet released her embrace and moved to open the door to the stairs. The music swelled, and familiar voices washed down the steps. Violet held out her hand for her friend. It was time.
And then she ran.
. . . .
Violet opened the heavy, glass doors to the front of the wooden church and greeted the delivery woman. She wasn’t quite dressed, adorned only in her beige colored slip and bra. Hair pulled up in hot curlers, and her round face covered in a white cleansing mask, Violet offered a cold smile. “Do you have the flowers?” she asked.
“Flowers? I thought you people wanted kittens.” The delivery woman chuckled, her voice deep and guttural. She moved the boxes off the dolly and onto the wooden floor of the church’s front foyer. A broad woman in her mid to late fifties, she wore her muddy brown hair, streaked with grey, pulled back into a tight bun. Finished with the boxes, she took a clipboard in one hand and began listing the contents of her delivery:
“One bouquet of red roses; two bouquets of white roses; one bridal bouquet of red and white roses; three white rose boutonnieres; one red rose boutonniere; one red and white rose boutonniere; two sets of parent corsages in yellow roses, and one bag of fresh rose petals for whatever the Hell you people want to do with them. Please sign here.” She thrust the clipboard toward Violet and coughed.
“Um,” said Violet, “the rose petals are for the flower girls to toss from their baskets before the bride walks down the aisle—”
“Listen, lady, I don’t care. Just need someone to sign for the delivery. You ain’t my only stop today, and I hate flowers.” The woman forced the sticky clipboard into Violet’s hands, took out a pack of cigarettes and an orange lighter from her khaki shorts, and lit up.
“You don’t like flowers?” asked Violet. The woman blew grey smoke from between yellowed teeth and didn’t answer. Violet looked over the order. “Well, the man from your company who delivered the flowers for the sanctuary last night didn’t seem to mind them.”
“Yeah, yeah, everyone’s got a crush on Tommy. Trust me, you ain’t his type.” The woman took another drag and coughed again, the noise deep and wet.
“You know, there is no smoking in the church,” said Violet, her eyes narrowing beneath the drying mask on her face. “And your order is wrong. There should only be one set of parent corsages plus an extra one for the bride’s mother in yellow. We did not order two sets.” She handed the clipboard back to the delivery woman, a frown cracking her frosted face.
“Well ya got two. So just give the spare one to someone else.” The woman blew another puff a smoke into the air and tore off the receipt for the flowers. “Here. I made a note so the company won’t charge ya.”
“Oh, uh, thank you,” said Violet, taking the receipt. “Can you let me know which box has the parent’s corsages in it? I need to remove the extra one before I let everyone know the flowers are here.”
“Sure. It’s in one of the brown ones.”
“But they’re all brown.”
“Yep,” said the woman. She flicked her cigarette onto the floor, stamped out its embers with a booted foot, and left. The glass doors slammed on Violet’s white, painted face.
. . . .
It was a disaster. Filled with scents of hairspray and deodorant, hues of crimson washed over every chair in the room. Women in various states of undress grappled over their tools of beauty. Painting, pasting, and prying each part of their bodies, they pined for perfection. Lipsticks and eyeliners rolled on the floor next to the crumbs of cupcakes and cream filled donuts. Someone had bought the sweets earlier that morning “for the occasion.” Every voice had vowed not to eat even one – how could they consume such confection and fit into their dress? – but the only donut left untouched was the plain, unfrosted one.
Isabella was standing in the corner of the dark paneled room. The high basement windows let her see the sun’s setting glare. At dusk she would marry. The voices of women she knew echoed around her, sucking in all the air with their laughs. Isabella fanned her face with manicured nails and pushed out a stale puff through red lips. Breathing would break her corset. Crying would break it too.
“Olivia! Why did you straighten your hair last night? I can’t even get a good wave out of it today.” Violet, her Maid of Honor was scowling at Olivia’s light brown locks. They rested, pin straight, just below her shoulders, and refused to conform to curls. Isabella waddled over on heels too high and sat down on an empty, manila, folding chair.
“Hey Bella,” said Olivia. She winced as Violet tugged at another strand of her hair, wrapping it around the curler again. “I’m sorry. I know I said I wasn’t going to, but then he called last night, after the rehearsal dinner, and said he wanted me to come out.”
“You needed to destroy your hair with a flat iron to hook up?” asked Violet, turning up the heat on the curler.
“Well, yeah, we were going out! You think he wants girl who looks like she just came from church?” Olivia paused and threw a glance at Isabella. “No offense, Bella. I just, we — we have different styles, you know? Ouch!” Violet had tugged on the iron attached to Olivia’s head.
Isabella looked at her friend with navy blue eyes framed in pale shadow, and tried, again, to breathe through the boning of her dress. “You know what I’m going to say, Liv,” she said.
“And you know what I’m going to say about—”
“Not today, Liv,” hissed Violet. She grabbed the bottle of hairspray off the ground and unloaded it onto Olivia’s burning lock.
“Fine,” said Olivia, “but then you can’t say anything either. Because we’re great. And he makes me feel good.”
“You mean he makes you feel good when he’s paying attention to you,” said Isabella.
“Now look,” said Olivia, “it’s different. He’s busy.” She paused and twirled an emerald ring on her right hand. “Besides, I gotta take his offers when they come. It was a really nice night, and we didn’t fight at all.” She sat back in the chair as Violet rolled her eyes and checked her burning curl. “He wouldn’t keep calling if he wasn’t really into me. Right?”
“I guess not,” said Isabella.
“Liv,” snapped Violet, “Bella’s about to get married in, like, three hours. Do you really think she wants to talk about you and the guy who only calls you every other weekend?” She began to unwind Olivia’s hair. “He’s probably got a wife and four kids you don’t even know about!”
“He does- he does not! He couldn’t!”
“Olivia! It’s not about you today!” said Violet.
“It doesn’t matter. It’s still important,” said Isabella. “I’m sure he’s just busy with work.”
“Yeah. Yeah.” said Olivia picking up her phone and scrolling through her messages. “Are you done with my hair already? You’re gunna make it fall out!”
“I can’t make it do anything,” said Violet. She released the iron and the curl fell against Olivia’s head before snaking out straight as a pin.
. . . .
Isabella jerked her head around, not ceasing her furious pace through the parking lot. Golden curls fell loose around her neck as she strangled white heels in one hand, her lace train in the other. “What?” she hollered back at Violet. She dropped her gown and it floated to the asphalt.
Violet looked at Isabella. The glow of the autumn sun silhouetted her figure against rows of cars driven by guests unaware. Violet was sure that as it set, it would swallow her whole. “Where are you going?” Violet shouted, letting the door to the church basement slam closed behind her.
“Going? I’m going to- to get breakfast! Where did you think I was going?” Isabella dropped her shoes and reached inside the bosom of her dress for something out of reach.
“Breakfast? I thought you were kidding!” said Violet, rushing between rows of SUVs. “Have you lost your mind? It’s not even the morning, and your wedding — your wedding — is about to start!” She stopped, breathless, next to Isabella, and put a hand on her ivory arm. “What- what are you looking for?”
Isabella didn’t answer but pulled her slender hand out from inside her dress. She was holding a car key.
“Did you hear me?” said Violet, scooping the fallen shoes up off the pavement. “I asked where you were going!” She brushed a stray strand of hair out of her eyes. “Let’s just sit down. I’ll go get your mom—”
“You said if I needed to run, you’d run with me,” said Isabella. She turned her flushed face toward Violet, her blue eyes threatening tears.
“I… I did. But—”
“And we could go get breakfast.”
“I know I said that,” said Violet, “but what I meant was—”
There was a loud beep and the limo three cars down flashed its lights. Isabella grinned, and an escaped tear leaked from her left eye.
“The limo? You stole the limo driver’s keys?” Violet gasped. She followed Isabella over to the small, black limo. A sparkling “Just Married” sign decorated the rear window.
“I’m thinking pancakes. What do you want? Eggs?” Isabella wrenched open the door of the driver’s seat, and sat down, her dress pooling around her. “No, wait, chocolate chip pancakes. We’ll order those. Two orders. And some bacon.”
“This is ridiculous, Bella. You don’t need pancakes right now. You need to get married.”
“So, you’re not coming,” said Isabella.
Violet looked around to see if anyone else had noticed their absence. “Listen, let’s go inside. I’ll get you some water, and we’ll talk to your Mom a bit. We can fix your hair, and then we’ll go upstairs, and you’ll get married. Okay?” She put a hand on the side of the car as Isabella started the engine. “The guests can wait a bit, but nothing’s ruined, right?” She looked at her friend, the bride: a poof of lace and curls, sitting as tall as she could in the driver’s seat of her honeymoon limo.
Isabella checked her lipstick in the rear-view mirror.
“You’re right,” she said. “They’ll wait.”
. . . .
“Oh, you know what I mean,” said Olivia. “Trailers are fine places to live, and I wasn’t talking about you, girl.” She sighed at Isabella who was trying not blink as Violet used a Q-tip to fix a smudge by her left eye. “Besides, you won’t be living in a trailer after today!” She leaned in and lowered her voice to a whisper. “I heard about them buying you guys a house by the beach!”
“I hate the beach,” said Isabella.
“No one hates the beach, Bella. And I, for one, would put up with a lot worse than that woman as my mother-in-law if she was gunna buy me a house!”
Isabella glanced over at the other side of the cold basement room. Her almost mother-in-law was sitting in a high-collared, black dress, busy filling in the cracks on her face with orange paste. Violet had said she looked like a vulture; why would she wear black to her son’s wedding? Her daughter was perched next to her, trying to hide the dark circles underneath her own eyes between complaints that she shouldn’t have eaten that Boston Cream. Both of them had their thin lips pursed tight: a grimace that had followed Isabella ever since she’d said yes. Looking down at the large solitaire, she realized how heavy it felt. The ring had looked so beautiful when it was only in the box.
“Well it’s not true. No house. Not for me.” Isabella sighed and looked back at Olivia. “In fact, the only thing true right now is that we’re going to have to put your hair up in a bun.”
“Aw, c’mon, Bella, a bun?”
“I’m sure not trying to curl it again,” said Violet. “I think your hair wants to be boring.”
“It’s not boring. It’s just straightened. You didn’t have curly hair as a kid. You don’t know the struggle,” said Olivia.
“You’re right,” said Isabella, “I didn’t. And I don’t have to. Because I didn’t straighten my hair last night.” She stood up from the folding chair before her friend could say another word. Walking over to the almost-empty box of donuts, Isabella selected the plain, unfrosted one, and floated out of the room. She held her chin high, ignoring the scowls from the sea of red she would soon call family.
. . . .
Violet’s manicured fingers shot out from the folds of her crimson dress and held shut the oak door that led to the stairs below. She turned her dark gaze toward Isabella, still holding the silver door handle and looking at Violet with large, nervous eyes.
“Are you sure?” Violet asked.
“Sure about what?” Isabella replied.
“You know, the…” Violet sighed. “I probably should have asked you this sooner. Like, last week, or last night, or something…. But I have to ask. Or I wouldn’t be doing my job as your—”
“Maid of Honor,” said Isabella.
“Right. That.” Violet paused and took a deep breath. “So, as your Maid of Honor… are you sure? Are you sure you want to marry him? I mean, I like him, but… his family is, well….” she trailed off. “I want you to be happy, and I believe you when you say you are, but, Bella,” — she took her friend’s soft hands in hers— “if you said you weren’t ready, I mean, if you said no, I’d understand. And I’d run with you.”
Isabella could feel her heart in her throat, the room around her blurring as Violet’s face came into focus. Her friend’s mouth was moving again, saying something, but she couldn’t hear it. She couldn’t breathe. She shouldn’t breathe. Not in this dress. Not now, it was too late. Isabella should have considered how important air was before she’d laced up the back so tight.
She blinked. “Wow, I- I didn’t expect this from you Vie. I mean, you would really throw all of this away, for me?” Isabella withdrew from Violet’s hands and walked over to the doors of the sanctuary. They were covered in red ribbons and bows, ready to be opened in just a few short hours. “You’ve worked so hard to make sure everything was perfect, and you would give that all up? I couldn’t ask you to do that. I couldn’t ask anyone to do that.”
“It is not my day, Bella. It is your day,” said Violet, “and yes, I would ‘give it all up’ as you say. I would do anything for you.”
“You’d really run with me?”
“Anywhere you want.”
“What if I wanted breakfast?”
“You know, pancakes? Eggs? Those little sausage links dipped in hot maple syrup?” Isabella’s eyes wandered to the doors of the church. “I could go for some breakfast right now, actually.”
“You can get pancakes after you’re married,” said Violet.
“Yeah, but, they’re married pancakes. They’re different. You know?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Yes, I’d go get breakfast with you,” said Violet.
“Ha, I knew you would!” Isabella’s red lips broke into a wide smile. “It’s because you love pancakes too. Chocolate chip, right?”
“I love you.”
. . . .
Isabella’s eyes wandered beneath her white veil as she stood at the entrance to the sanctuary. The music had changed. A woman from the church, her kind face deep with wrinkles, stood by the polished doors, waiting. Isabella could see through the stained glass the distorted image of Violet waltzing down the rose covered aisle. Each step timed with the melody, like she had planned.
Waning sunlight streamed in through the windows, and Isabella knew it was going to be perfect. The flowers, the dresses, the decorations, they were all perfect. And Violet was already halfway down the aisle making sure it was perfect one last time. She fidgeted with her bouquet when a gentle hand touched her shoulder.
Isabella looked into the eyes of the old woman. They were the same color as the eyes waiting for her at the altar. She hesitated a moment, thinking of lipsticks and mothers and chocolate chip pancakes covered in sticky, sweet syrup. Then the golden doors opened. Her gaze bloomed with red and white roses, the music lifting as everyone stood. Isabella found those dark eyes, took her first step, and melted away into the picture.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
© 2017 Elle Michael River, LLC