The week before my husband and I left on our ‘last chance’ getaway, I’d stumbled across our wedding album, tucked in a buffet drawer behind a box of tarnished fish forks. Unlike our relationship, the thick, brocaded covers were still pristine.
I propped the book on the dining room table and idly turned the pages past the index of wedding party attendants I’d never filled in. I’d always thought there’d be time. Four pages in I froze, hand in mid-turn. A classic June pre-nuptial shot, sunlit and gauzy, taken on the porch of my mother’s house. Dad, newly returned after a decades-long escape to England, stands at attention on the left, grinning broadly, dapper in striped waistcoat and dove-grey tails, his work-gnarled hands cradling his top hat. Mom is on the right, in mint-green mother-dress and fist-sized corsage of golden roses. Framed by a stylish, fluffy wig, her face is smooth and pretty, her smile small and tentative. I’d ignored her advice about waiting to get to know my fiancé better, but she’s making the best of this wedding-thing. I’m shielded in the middle, a hopeful, almost-virgin bride of twenty-one, only lightly scathed by heartache, awaiting my Prince Charming. Ah, but beneath a gown crusty with pearls, my skin trembled like the flanks of a fly-bitten mare.
I had a university degree in English and an assistant editor’s job at a publishing house. Career? Check. Oh my, but I was madly-in-love impatient for what came next. Madly-in-lust, to tell the truth. He was handsome and available and self-absorbed. When he’d rolled over in bed one morning when my roommate was out of town, and asked me to be his wife, I’d said yes, of course, without a second thought. Marriage. Check.
I turn to an arty shot in black and white. Like dwellings forged of snow and shadows, our wedding montage looked, from a distance of time, durable and shiny. Children, car, house, car, take up golf, bigger house. By the twenty-sixth summer of our marriage though, that premise proved unreliable for long-term habitation. The absorption that I’d thought would shift to me, did not. Over time, the sweetness soured and our daydreams of sociable old age crumbled under our insufficiencies. I closed the book, wrapped it in a tablecloth and returned to my packing.
On a crowded dance floor under a star-pocked sky, the throb of the steel drum orchestra drowns out my thoughts. In the tropic swirling darkness scented with grilling meats, dog shit and over-proof rum, unfamiliar hands meander under hems or over midriffs, stroking and clutching wandering paths around the dance floor, teasing squeals that are mistaken for hilarity. The New Year tolls as always, with the false kisses of over-refreshed strangers wearing cardboard hats. But this year will be different from the last. Soon. Soon.