IVORY SILK AND BUTTONS OF PEARL

I run the ivory silk through my fingertips. Feel its slippery touch. The pearl buttons down the front of the dress iridescent but yellow with age. A bit like their owner. I had taken my wedding dress from the large satin covered box stored on top of the wardrobe where it has been languishing for sixty years. The cake has been eaten, the champagne drained, the groom in the ground but the bride still remains. I am the remains of that bride.
At the bottom of the box is my tiara. Diamonds set in silver. Droplets of ice dancing to their own tune. Here I have also stored the miniature bride and groom that graced the top of our three-tiered cake. The groom in a morning suit and the bride with a fake veil of net.
It was a very big do, my wedding. The wedding of the year. Appeared in the society columns. Absurdly extravagant. I reveled in it. Belle of the ball. Waltzing around the ballroom on the arms of the handsome groom. I was spoilt. This was what I had expected, nothing less.
What I hadn’t expected was the groom’s cruel streak. His infidelities. Then hands which stopped caressing and began striking his lovely young wife. He loved to see her porcelain skin tarnished at his own hands. Cunningly choosing places no one but he would see. Tops of thighs, upper arms, even breasts were not sacred. No one knew. He so handsome and successful. And his fairytale bride in ivory silk with buttons of pearl.
I met Roger at my cousin’s house. He had the kind of looks that stemmed the flow of words from your lips. He knew it, of course. But he was so charming. And rich. I was running down the staircase, late for a game of tennis. David was at the bottom of the stairs talking to an elegant young man. I had thought him one of David’s boys but as soon as I looked into his green eyes I knew he wasn’t. He had fair hair which curled giving him the appearance of goodness. His skin was golden, tanned from a holiday abroad and from his mouth came the most deliciously wicked smile. We were married before the year was over.
Now I leaf through the old wedding album. A sea of smiling faces partially obscured by my water-filled eyes. The photographer had taken a picture of each table. Faded now and sepia-tinged. Old family members sprang to life from the pages. Friends long since departed made real again. My mother with her ever-present smirk of disproval, father laughing despite his unhappiness. My sisters, all three, bridesmaids. In full skirts of palest blue taffeta and Chantilly lace. As fair as bleached meadows in the summer sun. Uncles and aunts gleefully waiting for the wedding breakfast. Cousins, young and playful, now old and incontinent.
Dear Cousin David, delicate and fine. Fragile slim fingered-hands. Skin almost translucent. I have such memories of him as a child. We played monopoly together, learnt to ride and discovered our love of boys at around the same time. He drove his Bentley into a brick wall. Couldn’t live with his homosexuality, the life of an outcast. A sore upon society’s unblemished skin.
Bella, elegant and lovely. Her pretty face smiling, unadorned but still a sparkling jewel set amongst the brassy gold of other girls her age, whose mothers had allowed them to be painted with rouge. I stare at the photograph. Searching for clues of what was to come. A virgin then, before her heroin addiction made her turn, in desperation, to prostitution. How cruel the passing of time can be. And still the bride and groom waltz endlessly in my dreams. Don’t stop turning, keep the beautiful music playing, my full skirt twirling and my husband, keep him looking at me in adoration.
At the corner of a photograph I see my best friend, Nancy, looking at Roger haughtily. My closest friend and my new husband already shared more than me in common. They had shared a love of gin and a bed. It wasn’t long after our wedding day that I found them in flagrante as the expression goes. Both too drunk to care about hiding their lust for each other. I close the wedding album as a stark image of the two of them dulls any desire to continue looking within its faded pages, each one protected with a flimsy sheet of rice paper.
The upper middle class dream in our red-brick semi in a leafy suburb of North London. A flight of white painted stone steps led to our hospitable door. We held the smartest dinner parties, wearing our brightest, shiniest smiles. Danced to the latest tunes with vigour. Embraced the illusion of the daring young things. A thin veneer brushed upon the ugly reality. A reality made up of sordid couplings and icy retorts. Hate ran through our veins like hot water through copper piping.
Through the murkiness of forgotten memories a face rises up like a phoenix, haunting me. He didn’t have Roger’s too-perfect looks. His hair dark but peppered with grey. Wiry, never laying the right way. I remembered touching it, trying to tame its wildness. A comfortable face with kind eyes that seemed to smile at me without needing the curve of his lips. We had but one afternoon in Green Park, holding hands and sharing precious fragments of our inner-most secret selves. He didn’t look at me with adoration but with a quiet knowing which saw through to the essence of me. I didn’t want him to look inside me. To uncover the dark places I was afraid might be found. Here I felt unlovely and raw.
“Can’t you stay?” Robert referring to the lateness of the afternoon but I knew he meant more than today. I shook my head feebly.
“But why? What is it that keeps you going back to him?”
“I’m afraid that leaving him would make me disappear.”
He shrugged and I saw pain in that small gesture which appeared casual. He turned and walked away, leaving me standing, rooted in my misery. Too honourable a man to get involved with a married woman. And me too afraid to leave a loveless union which defined me. Without the appearance of respectability who was I? I wasn’t brave enough to walk that path so the chapter ended, as suddenly as it had begun.
The affairs were many. Casualties littered the passage that our marriage carved out. As time moved on they became fewer and finally stopped, with it Roger’s hand scarring my skin. Perhaps it was guilt that drove him to it. Guilt and disgust. The sins of his flesh which manifested on my flesh. Roger became, while not warm or loving, but kinder. I had thought him incapable of love, of feeling, of tenderness. Until the end when his worn-out body no longer functioned and he relied on me for most things, then he seemed to mellow and was thankful for my presence. Those last days together made me think that maybe there had been something between us, something small and vulnerable that we’d overlooked. Somewhere near the end I had stumbled at his bedside. Tired and sad I had lost my footing on my way to refill his water glass. His hands grabbed at me and his eyes bored into mine with an intensity I had seldom seen in them.
“Lay with me, Flora”.
And I did. I lay down beside my husband for the last time as we held each other awkwardly, as if strangers. We stayed there barely moving all that afternoon. Watching the shadows on the wall grow and fade until evening turned the air cool. I put the extra blanket over his sleeping form and sat in the winged-back chair beside the bed. Maybe this was love. We’d spent a lifetime searching elsewhere and perhaps all the time it was here, at home, our semi in Islington. Begging for nurture and sustenance amongst the flowers that flourished. Searching for light, this delicate flower, overlooked and undeserved of attention.
We never had children. For that I am grateful. Perhaps the seed of his loins couldn’t have grown within me all the time such hatred and distrust existed between us. In the end he became my child. Someone to look after and do as they were told. His gratefulness pathetic, a glimpse of the man he had been. Not a nice man, or a kind one but a powerful one nevertheless. And my man, of course.

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4 thoughts on “IVORY SILK AND BUTTONS OF PEARL

  1. I love this one…I think it hits home to a lot of older people who made the sacrifice to stay together as divorce wasn’t so easy…well done Julie 🙂

    • Thank you Sue. I was trying to remember what inspired me as this isn’t the type of story I usually write. I think it must have been after reading the Mitford sisters biography. Position and wealth can be a curse as well as a cure.

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