I used to think weddings were such nice occasions. The way old churches and rustic barns were decorated into something simple, yet perfect, the sweet-smelling roses that clustered the aisle, the rush of pure, unspoilt love that washed over everyone as the bride and groom said their vows. Us women would be gushing over the bride’s gown and how beautiful she looked, wearing her mother’s veil. The men would be patting the groom on the back, telling him he was a lucky man. The entire day would be about celebrating their love. I could tell you now, that wasn’t at all the case for my sister’s wedding.
You could definitely say my family was well-off. In that in-your-face, showy sort-of way. Sons and daughters were treated like show-ponies, and my sister Cassandra was no exception. Of course, Cassandra was a daughter my mum could be proud of. Petite, trim, beautiful hair in shades of chocolate-brown and buttery-blond, not one strand out of place. Cassandra knew how to dress. Elegant and understated was what my mum always called her style. Annoyingly, I did envy her for the dresses she could just slip into. And those well-cut pants-suits that made people stop and take notice. I could never squeeze into things like that. My mum says I got my figure from my dad’s side of the family-and everything else, for that matter. For I had almost nothing in common with mum and Cassandra at all.
They were tall and slim-I was short and dumpy. They had sleek, glossy, chocolate-coloured hair; I had full, curly hair that I’d dyed pillar-box red when I was sixteen. They wore beautiful, elegant things; I chose bright, brash colors that offended their collective palette, just by standing beside them. They were family? We might as well have lived on different planets. I couldn’t be like them if I tried; both of them made that abundantly clear.
I only wondered why they were still making it so clear, in the week before Cassandra’s wedding. All day, every day, they were piling chores onto me like it was going out of style. Six AM, scrub the floors in the downstairs living room. On my hands and knees, working with pristine, white marble. Seven AM, it was breakfast time, followed by work at the library. Believe it or not, endless hours of stacking books and running other librarians through the new database system was actually the highlight of my day. After I returned from work, mum was at me again for more wedding-labor. The place-cards for the tables needed to be picked up from the print shop, the menu for the catering needed reviewing, for the passionfruit cheesecakes needed to be gluten-free, the spare bedrooms needed another once-over for the fifteenth time, ect. Who needed a maid-of-honor when you had a younger sister who couldn’t pass for a show-pony, but made a perfect mule?
It was one of those ridiculous chores that made me snap. Perhaps it was petty of me, the way I put it, but I was too frustrated to care at that moment. It was when I had come inside on a Friday afternoon. I’d just finished weeding the entire garden. A garden nearly two acres big, filled with rose-bushes, birches, chestnut trees, at least one fountain, a Greek nude statue and a pavilion, where the ceremony was to take place. Mum could’ve hired a gardener for this. But she asked me to do it and I said I would, without protest. At the end of it, I was proud of the job I did and wanted a glass of iced-tea to cool me down. I went to the kitchen to pour myself a nice, tall glass of it when mum came in. The clicking of her stilettos was like a forewarning.
“You could’ve at least had a shower first.” She wrinkled her nose as she came near. I let that one slide. “So you’ve done the gardens then? Good. I’ll need you to polish the crystal next, get that ready, then take Cassandra’s going-away dress to be altered, and while you’re in town I’ll need you to pick up the bridesmaids dresses from Kendyls and take them to Yvonne’s house. Being the maid-of-honor, it seems only right that she looks after them.”
She hadn’t seen the back garden, she hadn’t even said thank you. She just handed me more demands before I could even recover from this one. That was it. For these past three weeks, I’d been a glorified dogsbody to mum and Cassandra. They told me to jump, and I just asked how high. Enough was enough. If dad, who had yet to come out of his hiding place, wasn’t going to stick up for me, then I would have to stick up for myself.
“How about, instead of harping on at me for all the stuff you want me to do, how about acknowledging what I have done?”
Mum’s head snapped in my direction. Shock flashed in her cool, stormy eyes briefly, before her gaze turned steely. She’d formed a reply in her head, as she had for every, other crack or snipe that came her way.
“I acknowledge you’ve put on weight. You may want to lose it, if you want to fit into your dress in time for the wedding.”
I wanted to crumble. I knew I wasn’t slim, like her and Cassandra were. I knew there was always a pound or two I could lose. She didn’t need to throw it in my face. Well, I had something to throw in her face. It might’ve been a waste of perfectly good iced-tea, but it was all I had at my immediate disposal.
When the tea hit her perfectly made-up face, her face wrinkled into shock once more. This time, she wasn’t doing a very good job at recovering. I turned on my heel and left the kitchen before she could bite back. Her screech growing quieter in the background, the further I got from her. I couldn’t be here right now. I couldn’t face mum, Cassandra, or even dad when I had no desire to apologize or grovel at their feet. I knew I couldn’t run away permanently. I wasn’t earning enough for my own flat, and finding one would be difficult enough as it was. But I could run away for a little while. Just for a day or two, until mum had forgotten my ‘insolence’.
Running straight to my room, I took out a travel case from under my bed and started tossing some clothes in from my drawers. When I was satisfied that I had enough, I picked up my cell phone and looked for Summer’s number. When things got hard to bear on my own, Summer was always there for me. She’s been my best friend since primary school. If there was anyone who knew my family as well as I did, it was her.
“Marianne! What’s up?” She always picked up early. It was her nature.
“Hey Summer. I just did something stupid. Can I come over for a bit, until it blows over?”
“Sure! I’ve got the place to myself so you can have Terry’s room. But what happened? You haven’t broken the law, have you?”
“God no! I threw iced tea in my mum’s face because she called me fat.”
“Hey, you stood up to the wicked bitch of the west! Good for you. And babe, you don’t even need to ask. You’re like family to me. How soon can you come over? I thought if we could get some others to come over, we could make it a party! Throw back some shots, play some cards against humanity, blast darude sandstorm until the neighbors want to kill us. How about it?”
“After the week I’ve had, I think I deserve some booze. Since I chucked my iced tea in mum’s face, I’ll pick up what we need to make some Long Island ice teas.”
“Now you’re talking! It’s an American drink, but booze is booze. Bring something sexy to wear too; I thought I might invite Jonah, the coach of that little league team. I know he has his eye on you.”
“He does not!”
“Does too! Now get cracking. We’ve got booze to buy.”
I hung up, chucking my chargers in the travel bag, along with my laptop. My toiletry bag, some deodorant and my charm bracelet, and I was good to go. I knew mum and Cassandra would likely be waiting for me at the front and back doors so I snuck out through the garage instead. Chucking my bag into my second-hand mini, I pulled out of the drive faster than I ever had, running late to work, and drove on. Out of the overly tidy, overly sunny neighbourhood, and into town. Driving steadied my nerves gradually, but that came to a grinding halt when my phone began to ring again. Not mum, not Cassandra…oh no, dad! Mum must’ve gotten ahold of him and informed him of my insolence. And by that, I mean whatever exaggerated tale she’d spun to gain his sympathy.
“Hello dad,” I sighed, putting the phone on speaker so I could drive. “I take it mum told you?”
“She told me you threw a tantrum then ran off without facing her. I know your mum though, and I know there’s always two sides to her stories. So, what’s yours?”
“That’s just like you dad, to play peacemaker.” I said as I turned the corner towards the liquor store. “After I weeded the entire garden without an ounce of gratitude from mummy dearest, she gives me more jobs to do. I just snapped. I’d gotten tired of her working me like a mule without a single ‘thank you’ so I asked her why she couldn’t acknowledge what I had done already. She told me I’d put on weight and I needed to lose it before the wedding. You know how I feel about that stuff dad! You should know, anyway. She gives you enough grief about your mid-section.”
“I do need to cut back on the pastries, pet.” He said weakly, as if he were afraid she was lurking around the corner, eavesdropping. “But she shouldn’t have said that about you. You have been working very hard to help get the house up-to-scratch and we all should be a lot more grateful.”
“Does that mean she’s going to apologize for what she said?”
“I…I think she wants you to apologize first, for the iced tea. She is your mother, pet. You’re supposed to respect her.”
“Unbelievable!” I huffed, almost running a red-light. Almost. I slammed on the breaks, just in time. “Dad, how in the hell can I respect her when she shows me nothing to respect her for? She’s a stone-cold narcissist who’s never satisfied with anything!”
“Now, wait just a minute-”
“Save it. I’m going to Summer’s for a few days. I don’t want you, mum or Cassandra hounding me to come back for manual labor. I’ll call when I’m ready.``
“If that’s what you want.” He sighed, “I’ve transferred two hundred to your account. Consider it downtime money. Your mother doesn’t know, so don’t mention anything when you do come back. You will come back, won’t you?”
“I suppose I’ll have to. I need to be sure this Carrick bloke is serious about marrying Cassandra.”
“I’ll try and talk to your mother. Get her to take it easy on you with the wedding prep. And pet?”
“I love you.”
“Love you too dad. I’ll call you later, okay?”
“Alright pet. Have fun with your friends.”
I felt a little better after hanging up. My dad was a chicken, sure enough, but he wasn’t afraid to show me that he cared. Even if he couldn’t show that to mum. I suppose it was easier to bond with him because we were the odd ones out. Dad was always a little imperfect, compared to mum. Tall and rotund, balding a little and never quite sure of himself in a public situation. Mum dressed him up with expensive, well-tailored suits, sent him to a high-end barber every month and had him wear pricy cologne to cover up his B.O. No matter how much she tried to cover it up though, dad was never the perfectly polished husband she wanted him to be. An unyielding lump of clay. I suppose that’s what I was too. I was too much like him to make her happy.
Frustrated once again, I turned back to the road and pulled into a park outside the shopping complex. It wasn’t our usual affair of wholefood markets, mediterranean deli’s and wineries; just a supermarket, an ATM, some takeaway places and a liquor store. Nice, simple, easy to choose what we needed for a good night of non-stop drinking and tom-foolery. I got out of the car, locking the mini before I ventured over to the supermarket first. We would need munchies as well as booze. I loaded two baskets with crisps, doritos, popcorn, chocolate and gummi’s, packing it all into the car before I made my way to the Chinese takeaway next door. Putting in an order for roast-pork fried rice, sweet and sour pork, steamed dumplings and fried noodles. Summer and I would probably eat before we invited anyone over. Remembering that Lena and Rose would likely join us for that, I added some lemon-chicken and beef stir-fry to the order as well. They, along with Summer, had been my childhood friends for life.
Lena, I’d known for as long as I’d known Summer. Back in primary school, they were the first friends I’d made here. Lena was, to put it bluntly, a shrinking violet. Pretty in a doe-like way with sleek, dark hair, very pale skin and big, blue eyes that stared with permanent innocence. The problem for poor Lena was that she was never very healthy. She had terrible asthma for one, which stopped her from going out for any type of sport. She couldn’t put on a lot of weight; we didn’t know exactly why, but the older she got, the thinner she seemed. Her allergies meant hayfever was a nightmare for her, and she could never eat much more than half of what we had. Despite that, Lena was always the sunniest person I knew. Sweet, empathetic, the kind of sister I would’ve liked to have had.
Rose, or Rosamund as her mother calls her, was Lena’s opposite in almost every way. I met her in the stuffy, private high-school my parents sent me to. My first impression of her was that she was another, timid friend like Lena. Man, was I wrong! Rose was bold, confident and unapologetic. She was always testing the limits with her clothes, her opinions and her family in a way that would’ve given my mum a heart attack. It was the moment I saw her, telling our English teacher to go and suck a dick, that I knew we were going to be good friends.
It was with my friends in mind that I finally entered the liquor store, in search of refreshments. Two bottles of Smirnoff (all of us), lemonade, irn-bru, Welch and a few cans of red-bull (mixers), one bottle of whisky (Rose), a bottle of salted-caramel baileys (Lena), bourbon and coke (Summer) and lastly, cherry liqueur (me). Everyone else could bring something to share around. With a loaded boot, I left the complex and made my way to Summer’s flat, on the other side of town.
Summer typically shared her flat with two others. Terry, her little brother, and Lauren, a student from the local community college. Both of whom were nowhere to be found. Lauren, I guessed, was out of town on one of her bush-camping trips. Terry, however, had disappeared a few days ago. He didn’t tell Summer where he was going, didn’t leave a note. He didn’t even pack a bag. It was a bit strange, but Summer was sure he’d gone off to see their mum, so she didn’t make much of a fuss. I just hoped he’d call her, wherever he was, and let her know how he was doing. He owed her that.
“Marie!” Lena was the first to see me pull up. “Rose! Summer! Marianne’s here!”
“Summer told us about your encounter with the wicked bitch of the west!” Rose said, grinning as she came to hug me. “Good on you! Personally, I think she deserved something worse than iced tea, but it’s a start!”
“I’m glad you think so.” I replied, “Dad reckons I should be respecting her. The whole ‘she’s your mother’ thing and all.”
“That doesn’t mean shit!” Rose laughed, “just because she gave birth to you, doesn’t mean you’re obligated to give her the time of day. I’m surprised she was able to pop you out, given how frigid she is.”
“Rose, could you not use the term frigid in relation to my mother again? I know she’s a cold fish, but that only makes me think of her and dad…ugh!”
“Rose, if it’s any consolation, I don’t think your mum and dad are capable of that.” Summer chuckled, helping me to lift the groceries out of the boot. “Personally, I think they made you and Cassandra in a test tube, rather than show affection of any kind.”
“I think they must’ve loved each other once!” Lena protested softly, “mum says Mrs. Talbot wasn’t always so mean. Apparently, she used to be really nice and helpful.”
“Then your mum is lucky Lena,” I said, calming a little more. “She’s known my mother in a way I never have. Now here; I got you lemon chicken.”
“Thanks Marie.” She gave me a wide-eyed smile, hugging the takeaway box. “I’m starving!”
“We all are. Come on! Let’s get this all inside before the neighbours call the cops early.” Rose said loudly, carrying the liquor-store bags like she was hoarding a bunch of trophies.
We relaxed a little first. Cracking open the lemonade first, we had our takeaways as we watched some TV. Talking and joking around, getting hyped for the night of looseness and reckless abandon that was to come. Even Lena was getting into the spirit; she ate three quarters of her lemon-chicken! After the takeaway boxes were emptied and the aches of full stomachs began to ebb away, we started getting the place ready for a party. A bar was set up in the kitchen, bowls and platters of snacks were laid out on the coffee table and Rose’s playlist was blasting in the background. Once the finer details were laid out, the four of us poured some shots and maintained our old tradition of an early round, for luck.
“To Marianne, for telling the wicked old bitch where to shove it!” Rose cried, thrusting her little shot-glass in the air.”
“To Summer, for allowing us to have this much-needed booze-fest at her humble abode.” I toasted.
“To this nice weather, which makes for a perfect summer party.” Lena added quietly, lifting her glass slightly.
“To my best friends, who always make things interesting!” She finished off the toasting by swigging back her vodka and Irn-bru. The three of us followed in succession. I relished the satisfying burn of the alcohol against my throat, and the encouraging warmth it spread throughout my body. Now this was the way to forget my mother. By letting that burn erase her imposing image from my consciousness.