Like horses under the marquee, the cars are circling the church.
“Mister Tichy, one more round, please,” orders my father, bidding for time.
“I beg you, Irene, won’t you reconsider your decision? What’s the price of a scandal set against a ruined life?”
A snow-white bride stares mutely past her father wearing black for her.
“What are you trying to prove? That you’re completely out of your mind? What shall you gain by marrying that overweening sissy! I can’t believe you share your grandmother’s insane craving for a doubtful social rise!”
Her mouth incised with a stifled scream, the bride clutches at her pearl-embroidered purse. There is still time to take her flight ticket out and board the plane for another life.
“Suit yourself!” Father hisses, maddened by my silence
“God is my witness I did all I could!”
“Mr. Tichy, pull up by the church entrance!”
Challenging his clear conscience, I look my father straight in the eye: is he as innocent as he thinks to be? What has gone wrong in the heart of his daughter that she has more faith in freedom than in love?
Leaning on my father, I stagger out into the sunlit street. I take a breath of the scent of linden blossoms laden with the remembrance of Milan’s kisses under the blooming trees by the old mill-wheel.
There is still time to tell my father: “Let’s pretend it never happened and go home!”
Insensitive to my mute plea, my father washes his hands of me and takes the lead.
Straight jacketed in my tight bodice, banging my head against the pristine veil, I comply with the rules. My legs chained to the narrow skirt, I teeter on the high stiletto-heels through the cloister pungent with the smell of the lilies that cling rotting to their stalks. My feet are drenched with the piercing dampness of the cobblestones, my skin coats with mouldy grime. Dissolving into gelatinous sops, I am hauled into the gaping entrance of the church. My cry for help is swallowed up in the howl of the organ. I walk blindly into the cruelly bright nave adjusting my step to the brash rhythm of the “Wedding March”. My dingy footsteps on the crimson carpet resemble closely spilt blood.
My father withdraws. Leo steps in. I am sinking into void. Leo’s dark-ringed eyes watch me in silent wonder: is that the girl who shared his bed last night?
The syrupy harmony of Schubert’s “Ave Maria” stumbles over a false note and breaks down. The wedding guests turn their puzzled faces up the choir intrigued by the shouts and bangs of a fervent clash.
Like the bolt from the blue, “Laura” has taken over mounting birdlike to the nave. After a few chords it goes down fighting, hammered down by the portly clamour of a Bach’s fugue. The Rite goes on. I missed the plane. Beda failed to lift me up from the altar to the stars.
Caught out by an imperative gesture of the priest, I proffer my hand. Leo slips a ring upon my finger and I imitate the act. My veil is lifted. The organ explodes with a victorious shriek. A cold mouth covers mine. Choking on the nauseating sweetness of withering flowers, I clench my teeth.
Wedding guests rush to the altar to congratulate the bride and the groom. Well ahead of the others, my grandmother takes me into her arms relieved that despite that last “false step” all went off smoothly and her Irenchen blundered into the marriage.
Daunted by the presentiment of impending danger, I step out into the sparkle of high noon and freeze. My heart, wrung by an icy hand, I know that something irretrievable is about to happen, and that I had better been born dead.