Updated: Jun 5
‘Hey chipmunk,’ dad says, knocking gently on my bedroom door. ‘You ready?’
I am staring into my dressing table mirror, considering how much my reflection has changed since I first gazed into it on my tenth birthday. I can’t quite believe that I see this grown woman in front of me. I finish touching up my lipstick before carefully pulling my white tulle veil over my face.
‘Ready as I’ll ever be.’ I reply, standing and turning around carefully to face my dad. ‘How do I look?’
My white satin bridal gown is a classic empire line with a simple daisy-chain trim around the neck and cuffs and slim chiffon sleeves. The dress is exactly how I had wanted it, simple and elegant, but I have indulged my love of all things sparkly with silver dance shoes and my veil held in place by a cubic zirconia tiara. I feel every bit the princess.
‘You look wonderful Rose; I couldn’t be prouder.’ says dad as he leans gently on my door frame, arms folded across his chest, posing as if he was a catalogue model. ‘But that’s enough about you. Get a load of me. Handsome or what?’
‘You look gorgeous too, dad; very George Clooney and, of course, as modest as ever.’ I roll my eyes and can’t help but laugh at this long-standing family joke. Actually, he does look really smart. He has foregone his usual roll necked jumper in favour of a navy three-piece suit, white shirt and royal blue cravat. His grey hair and beard are far more harshly trimmed than I am used to seeing and his usually tanned face is a few shades lighter than normal.
I look out of my bedroom window onto mum and dad’s beautifully manicured front lawn, with its large bed of daffodils and tulips in the centre providing an island of colour around the solitary willow tree. The borders are overflowing with lots of beautiful flowers; flowers that much to my parent’s chagrin, I had never been interested enough to learn the names of. Both of my parents loved to garden and had enjoyed maintaining the bungalow's large grounds themselves, but Mum had hired professionals to make sure everything was just that extra bit special for today, and it did look magnificent.
Across the road, a small gathering of our neighbours is waiting to watch the bride leave home for the last time. Oh God, the last time. Suddenly, the nerves hit me. Not that I have any doubts about my wedding; Mike is going to be a wonderful husband. He is kind, funny and the cleverest man I have ever met. But still, it feels like I’m leaping out of the safety of a penthouse suite and trusting that the Mike shaped air cushion will catch me and keep me safe.
‘Car’s here love… Rose?’ Dad frowns at me, his thick eyebrows almost touching in the middle. ‘Are you having second thoughts?’
I wonder, briefly, how he would cope if I said yes. Mum is the one who always handles difficult or emotional situations in the family, and she left for the church twenty minutes ago with Angela, my Maid of Honour and the bridesmaids. She looked good, better than I had seen her for a long time. I’m so pleased she took my advice and treated herself to a make-over. The new silver pixie hairstyle gave her back some of the years that our loss had stolen from her and complimented the pale pink Mariposa dress and matching lace coat. She almost looked like the strong and confident woman I remember from before.
‘No dad,’ I assure him, ‘I’m fine, just nervous. Let’s go.’ I watch as his shoulders and jaw relax, and for a moment I see a shimmer around him.
The vintage style cream and navy Badsworth Landaulette is waiting on our brick weave drive. I pick up my teardrop bouquet of daisies, cornflowers, and white roses before following my dad through the front door and making sure my dress and train don’t catch on anything. The scent of freesias, one flower that I did know the name of, permeates the air as I step out into the open.
The day is bright and pleasantly warm for April. The crowd across the street let out a little cheer and I feel myself colouring up. I give them a little wave and head for the car. The breeze catches my long chapel train and the chauffeur, ready to serve in his steely grey uniform and peaked cap, steps forward to help me.
I climb as elegantly as I can into the back of the Badsworth and take hold of my dad’s hand: the same hand that steadied me when I first learned to ride a bike, the same hand that placed cool flannels on my forehead when glandular fever made me delirious, and the hand that warmly welcomed Mike into the family whilst its owner spoke words of warning about what would happen if he ever hurt me.
The car moves gracefully for a full five minutes along Millers Lane; the same lane that I have walked so many times to school, to college and eventually to work. I stare out of the window on my side of the car and consider, bizarrely, that the hedges bordering the cemetery are in need of a trim. I ponder all the couples buried there, side by side, devoted to each other for decades. I think about my grandpa who died of a broken heart within weeks of losing my grandma to cancer. They are both laid to rest in this very cemetery, for eternity. That is the kind of marriage I hope to have, long-lasting, dedicated, loving and faithful.
Traffic lights on the crossroads at the bottom of Millers Lane bring us to a slow stop. Dad must sense my nerves increasing; I think I feel him squeeze my hand.
‘It won’t always be a smooth ride, Rose. Just remember to be kind to each other, and work on any problems openly and together.’ His voice is so quiet, just a whisper really, but as always, to hear it means so much to me.
‘You make it sound so easy dad.’
‘You’ll do fine girl,’ he says with confidence as the chauffeur, who is looking at me in his rear-view mirror, interrupts.
‘Everything all right Miss?’ he pauses, presumably for a response, and then continues. ‘We’ll be arrivin’ in just two minutes, Miss. Bang on time. Would yer like me to drive yer round the block?’
‘No, no thank you,’ I say. ‘On time is great with me.’ The chauffeur nods. The lights change and the car moves gently forward. I relax back into my seat as best I can.
‘Thanks, dad… thanks for everything.’ I say, squeezing his hand as if it is the last time I will see him.
As we drive by the little dance school where I once had ballet lessons but never really managed to get past ‘Hello toes-Goodbye toes’, the church comes into view. I see flashes of pale blue fabric as Angela and the three younger bridesmaids wait to greet me under the floral arbour, where the path through the church gardens meets the street. The closer we get I can see that the girls look lovely in their coordinated dresses with their hair elegantly pulled back into French plaits decorated with cornflowers and daisies.
The car rolls to a halt in front of the arbour, attracting another crowd, this time of people who just happen to be walking past and notice a wedding is about to start. The chauffeur steps out and walks around the front of the car to open the door for me. Angela makes sure the young ones stay safely within the church grounds and then moves forward to greet me.
‘Rooosieeeee! Look at you, gorgeous girl’ she squeals as she plants air kisses on either side of my veil, then holds me at arm’s length. ‘You look amazing.’ She fusses about with my dress and train and then stands in front of me looking me straight in the eyes.
‘Are you sure this is the way you want to do this?’ she asks, with a huge emphasis on the word ‘sure’.
‘Absolutely. Is Mike here?’ It is a bit of a lame question, but it is all I can think of to change the subject as we walk up the path to the vestibule.
‘Here and looking nearly as nervous as you.’ She smiles again, accepting of my decision and then she works on the final positioning of the three young bridesmaids behind me.
‘OK, I’m ready.’ I say, not feeling half as brave as I sound. I look round for my dad and link his arm in mine, both hands gripping my bouquet.
The church organ announces my arrival and I take a deep breath, exhale slowly and move forward with my first step. Despite having practised the perfect pace, it seems as though I am racing down the aisle and the floor feels like it is moving as if I am on one of those moving walkways you find at airports. I hold on tight to dad to keep my balance.
I glance over at all the guests on the bride’s side: my uncles and aunts with their respective partners, friends from work, from college and even a few from school, all standing with their heads turned to watch my entrance. I see pity in the eyes of some, pride in others, and confusion in just a few. My pulse is racing, and it feels as though Flipper is doing a gymnastic routine in my chest, so I fix my eyes on Mike who is standing with his back to me, next to his best man.
I reach the steps in front of the alter. The music stops and Mike turns to face me. Angela is taking my bouquet and dad is no longer by my side. Flipper has gone. There is a hollowness inside me; a deep well of sadness that I don’t believe even Mike will ever be able to fill.
I swallow the familiar lump in my throat that threatens to overwhelm me with sadness, and I choose. I choose to allow my future in and to let go of the past. I choose to love, and once again be loved. In that same second, as I look into Mike’s eyes, I feel a spark of hope for the future. There is shuffling as the congregation reseat themselves. It really is the perfect day; almost.
It begins. I gaze at the man I am about to pledge my life to, the man who has proven his love time and time again, the man who is everything I have ever wanted.
‘Who gives this woman to be married to this man?’
I turn slightly and see my mum, a vision in pink, step up to my side. In her grey-blue eyes, there is that same look of pride and sadness I had seen in some of the congregation. The one incongruous element of her ensemble is the single cream golfing glove on her right hand; my dad’s glove. She and I had agreed that this was how it should be. This was the closest we could get to my dad giving me away. She takes my bare left hand in her gloved right and offers it to the vicar.
‘I do.’ she says.