Fiction | Short Story
Allie arrived at the church early, wearing faded denim jeans and a wear-softened Oxford-cloth shirt that belonged to her husband. The dress, strawberry satin and tulle, was slung over her shoulder, still wrapped in its protective plastic sheathe. Allie had packed everything else into a bright orange nylon tote: black peau de soie pumps, curling iron, brush, bustier, girdle, extra pairs of pantyhose, cologne, deodorant, eyeliner, blush, lip stain and gloss, mascara, jewelry, camera — she felt a little like Houdini as she pulled each item out of the bag and wondered how she got it all in there in the first place. She dumped the tote by the bride’s room door and went back outside for a cigarette.
At 42, Allie was still a handsome woman. Elegant, even, when she chose to be. But as she imagined herself surrounded by much younger women, all dressed alike, she began to wonder why she’d allowed herself to answer “yes” when Olivia asked her to be a bridesmaid six weeks ago. Standing outside the church, Allie lit her cigarette and took a deep drag. The smoke did nothing to calm her nerves. God, she hadn’t been this nervous on her own wedding day.
In fact, her photographer had pulled her mother aside and whispered, “I’m worried about your daughter. She’s too calm. I’ve never seen a bride so calm, just minutes before the wedding!” She and her mother had had a good laugh over that. She spent the evening smiling serenely at the photographer and stayed so long at her own reception that he had to photograph her and Jim leaving in the dark. “We’re losing the light,” he whined. “Are they leaving soon?” Her mother just shushed him and reminded him he was being paid by the hour.
When Allie walked into the bridal chamber, she found Olivia seated on the floor with her voluminous petticoats swirling around her. Three other bridesmaids hovered around her, conspicuously available yet doing nothing so much as resembling a small flock of flustered pink birds. The bride looked gorgeous, even without the wedding gown. Her golden blonde hair hung in soft waves over her shoulders, the sides caught up and braided in a coronet around her head. Her blue eyes sparkled as she added the last details of eyeliner and lipstick to her radiant face. Her mother’s pearls graced her throat, their golden hues blending, yet contrasting, with the last of a summer tan picked up on a cruise to the Bahamas with her parents a week ago. “Oh, God, Olivia,” sighed Allie. “You are just gorgeous, girl. Brad’s going to drool all over his tux the minute he sees you walk down the aisle.”
“You think so?” asked Olivia. Allie winced at the hint of doubt so apparent in Olivia’s eyes.
“I know so.” Allie excused herself, went to the bathroom down the main hall, and put on her make-up. Her hands were shaking as she applied her eyeshadow, and instantly she regretted having chosen such a dark shade of smoky gray. Theatrical make-up looked good on her about a hundred years ago, she thought. Now it just made her look ridiculous, worn-out, and world-weary. With a silvery, dusty rose highlight, she managed to lighten things up to the point where her eyes didn’t look quite so bruised. The crow’s-feet at the corners of her eyes were unconquerable, but she had to laugh. How many times had she assured her own mother that they were “laugh lines, and laughter is a beautiful thing”? She chipped a nail, though, opening the curling iron. “Damn it all!” Fortunately, she had thought to bring clippers and a nail file, along with a small bottle of polish, in case of such an emergency. She misted her hair with spray, enough to hold it for several hours, she thought, if not days.
Finally, Allie deemed herself presentable. She longed for another cigarette, but didn’t want to be seen puffing away at the front of the church when guests arrived. She pulled on her corselet, nylons, and girdle and threw on her jeans and shirt so that she could make the short trek back to the bridal room.
“Help me get into this dress.” Olivia held up the wedding gown. Its bodice covered in seed pearls, tiny Austrian crystals, and hand beaded designs, it looked heavy enough to bring poor Olivia to her knees. The train was nearly as long as she was tall, and it radiated outward in a pattern of openwork bordered by beads, seed pearls, and sparkling crystal. Olivia stepped into the dress, then held her hair away from her neck so that Allie could zip it. The zipper got stuck halfway up.
“What’s wrong?” asked Olivia, turning her head to look over her shoulder.
“Stand up straighter. It’s a little tight.”
“Tight?” Olivia asked, her voice edged with panic. “What do you mean, ‘It’s a little tight’?”
“Take a deep breath.” Allie took one, too, and held it as she tugged on the zipper. Olivia’s ample curves had benefited from the shipboard fare; the fit of the dress had not. Allie nudged one of the other bridesmaids, Sue. “Come here,” she whispered. “Pull the edges of the fabric together while I grab the zipper.” Sue pulled, Allie tugged, to no avail.
“Should I pull harder?” Sue asked. Allie nodded. Olivia wouldn’t be able to breathe if they managed to pull this off. They tried to remain calm for her sake, but the look that passed between them was anything but calm.
“Oh, God! It doesn’t fit, does it?” cried Olivia. “It fit fine a month ago — Mama! Mama!” Her mother dutifully came to her side, and held her hand reassuringly as her friends tugged and pulled and squashed and tried desperately to do up the zipper. Allie told Jennifer to take the zipper while she grabbed both sides of the fabric and pulled as hard as she could. She closed her eyes and imagined herself lacing Scarlett O’Hara into her corset. She resisted the urge to place a foot at the small of Olivia’s back for leverage. The zipper wouldn’t budge. Allie felt a strand of seed pearls pop under her fingers. She suddenly felt dizzy and lightheaded; she broke out in a cold sweat. She backed away from the bride and searched her mind for ideas.
Meanwhile, Allie was hot, sweaty, and decidedly disheveled. Her carefully crafted curls were falling straight from the dampness at her neck. “No one’s going to be looking at you, anyway,” she chided herself. “They’ll only have eyes for the bride. Especially if her butt’s hanging out,” she thought with a nervous chuckle. Allie took off her jeans and stepped into the bridesmaid’s dress. She took grim satisfaction in the fact that it fit like a glove, despite having been two sizes smaller than her usual dress size and despite its close proximity to shocking pink — a color to be avoided by matronly women over 40. The tulle stole draped seductively around her shoulders. Her grandmother’s opal necklace shimmered at her collarbone, and a matching pair of earrings flirted from behind shining golden strands of hair. Allie caught sight of the woman in the mirror; older, knowing, wise, confident, and yes — even a little sexy. She smiled back. But neither of them would get a chance to shine if the bride’s dress didn’t fit — and the bride looked about ready to burst into tears.
“It’s going to be okay, ‘Livia,” whispered Allie, giving her a thumbs up.
“How? I can’t fit into my dress,” Olivia whispered back, her eyes full of terror. Allie thought of all that might be running through her friend’s head just then. The dress had fit just a few weeks ago, but it must have been tight even then. Instead of feeling like a fairy tale princess, Olivia was feeling hot, sweaty, and — fat. How — what — would she tell Brad, who was now standing at the front of the church looking down at his watch and wondering if his bride would walk down the aisle to him in mere minutes? How could she walk down the aisle in a dress that was open to the middle of her behind? How could she walk down the aisle in anything else, when she had dreamed and talked of nothing but this magnificent dress for over a month now? How could she go out there and admit that she was — well — too fat to fit in it? Suddenly, Olivia burst into tears. Allie took her friend by the hands, looked her in the eyes, and promised, “It’s going to be okay. I swear to God it will.”
Well, that was stupid. Just then, there was a gasp from one of the other bridesmaids, and Jennifer stood like a deer caught in the headlights, holding a ruined zipper pull in one hand, a pair of needle-nosed pliers in the other. “Oh, shit,” murmured Sue. Allie was relieved that she didn’t have her hands on the dress at the time. Great, thought Allie. I’ve just promised the impossible. I can’t even sew a button on, much less repair a zipper on a fancy wedding dress. Allie tried to hide her own growing sense of panic from Olivia. Tears welled up in the bride’s eyes.
“Stop that!” Allie ordered. “You’ll just mess up your mascara and get black streaks on the dress. Now just stand there while we figure this out!” Brilliant, thought Allie. Figure it out. Go for it. Any minute now. Got it figured out yet? Why not? Hop to it, girl! She mentally kicked herself around the bridal chamber just to kill time while her brain went into a panic-induced freeze.
“Kayla knows how to sew!” yelled Lisa, an annoyingly skinny stick figure of a girl who could make a flour sack look like a designer gown. For once, the older women looked at her with something akin to respect, and one of them ran off to find Kayla. Allie paced aimlessly for a few minutes, then looked at Olivia.
“It’ll be fine,” she said again, as much to reassure herself as Olivia. Olivia made a face and Allie giggled. She winked at her friend, then wandered out through the reception hall for a peek into the church. “It’ll be fine,” she said to herself.
By the time Allie returned, Kayla was busy removing the huge bow from the back of the wedding gown and sewing it over the gaping zipper with dental floss so that there would be no chance of its coming undone during the ceremony. Allie said a silent prayer of thanks to the conscientious flosser who had had the foresight to bring dental floss to a wedding. In all the junk she’d thrown into her bag of tricks, safety pins, a sewing kit, and dental floss were conspicuously missing. Within minutes, the dress looked good as new, its gaping zipper hidden by a huge satin bow. Sue and Jennifer led a trembling, skeptical Olivia to the full-length mirror, so that she could see for herself how flawless the repair job had been.
Olivia turned to smile at Allie. Suddenly, she was transformed into the radiant, fairy tale princess that all brides should be on their wedding day. Her head held high, she reached for her bouquet, a fragrant fall of blush roses and ivy held together with wide satin ribbon, white as snow. Her mother placed the veil on her head and lowered it, but her eyes could still be seen sparkling behind the sheer silk. Allie allowed herself to breathe again. The bridesmaids lined up and waited for their cue. As the music began, Allie took slow, graceful steps towards the aisle. She knew she looked stunning, elegant — and yet, she was more than content, knowing that all eyes would be on the bride.
Copyright 2001–2020 Holly Jahangiri.