“And the light by which she had been reading the book of life, blazed up suddenly, illuminating those pages that had been dark, then flickered, grew dim, and went out forever.” – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Only the bride was still.
The bride, LeighAnna Hope Camden, sat on the floor of the church dressing room in an avalanche of white. She had yet to put on the dress. The slip alone was thirty-eight yards of netting covered with a fine batiste. Batiste, Bastille. LeighAnna wondered if the netting was fomenting rebellion. The important thing, crucial really, was that the slip was not a hoop. Imitating serenity she did not feel, the bride arranged her body in full lotus position. LeighAnna had not been to yoga class in years.
The photographer aimed and clicked. The flash blinded the bride. LeighAnna resisted the urge to give him the finger. She wasn’t nervous about being married. Not really. But she’d had quite enough already and a long night ahead of her. Anna Karenina slipped in quietly, arranged her skirts and sat in an empty chair. Still white-light blind, even LeighAnna failed to notice her arrival.
She had abandoned Anna Karenina. LeighAnna had been a subscriber to the Great Books of the Western Canon for six years. Every other month, a leather-bound volume with gilt-edged, tissue paper pages and an attached ribbon arrived in the mail. After she read them, she placed each on the bookshelf in alphabetical order by author. There didn’t seem to be any pattern to the color of the covers. A few of the volumes including Anna Karenina were green. When she quit in the midst of the wedding scene some 500 pages into the story, LeighAnna couldn’t decide if the book should go on the shelf since it hadn’t been finished. For five weeks, the book sat on the coffee table.
Finally, in the blast of frenzied housekeeping four days before the wedding, she pushed Anna between Rousseau’s Emile and Voltaire’s Candide and promised to finish it after the honeymoon.
LeighAnna was proud of the 1,093 books shelved in her house, because she’d read them all. Every page. Many were hardbacks, but at least a third were crumpled paperbacks. Paperbacks were not quite real books and so she bent corners, underlined, wrote in margins, and used them as coasters. More careful with the hardbacks, she was still apt to do things to make librarians cringe. The leather-bound volumes, though, well – these were treated as religious relics –to be examined and read – yes – but with reverence. Immaculate and pristine, none of them looked touched.
LeighAnna was getting married because she was pregnant. She and Mike had been living together for four years. LeighAnna had wanted children in that someday sort of way. The idea of deciding to have a child bumfuzzled LeighAnna. She couldn’t imagine the process of a decision so momentous. Where would you start? How would you separate the pros from the cons? What would be the criteria? It was all moot, because Mike couldn’t oblige and refused to consider marriage on that principal. He had three doctor’s excuses and divorce papers to prove he was sterile. Not particularly anxious to marry, she had nevertheless raised the issue once during an argument.
“You know your sperm count has nothing to do with my love for you.”
Mike refused to discuss it.
However, the decision to buy the house had been an easy one. On their evening walks, Mike and LeighAnna always commented on the charm of the blue Victorian on the corner three blocks from their apartment. When the For-Sale sign appeared, they went to the open house just to see the inside. Immediately in love with the intricate simplicity of the ornate grande dame, they were astonished to find the price quite manageable. After a whirlwind of legal documents, LeighAnna had half the responsibility of a mortgage and a three-story house sporting built-ins ample enough to shelve all the books. The parlor fireplace sported mahogany cases just right for the thirty-seven leather volumes, room for a few more years, and space for great-grandma’s jade Buddhas. Doors of wavy, leaded glass stood between these books and LeighAnna. It wasn’t clear if this was a safety feature.
But what really rocked LeighAnna’s world was the antique phone in the alcove in the hallway. Oak and brass. A shelf. The ring-ring of a tinny bell. It made having a landline fun.
Though manageable, the mortgage was more than rent had been. LeighAnna had never been able to make the decision to quit taking her birth control pills. When money got tight, she skipped a month to save the fifteen-dollar co-pay. And another. Without a conscious decision, LeighAnna managed to quit the pills. Anna Karenina frowned.
LeighAnna crouched over the lime-green toilet and retched. It was day six.
Mike stood in the doorway. “You okay, babe?”
LeighAnna wiped her mouth. Flushing the toilet while still on her knees, she stood up, wobbly, dizzy and groping for a towel. Morning sickness, especially when undiagnosed, is hideous enough without an audience and lime-green porcelain.
At the closing, neither Mike nor LeighAnna had found words tactful enough to ask the owners about the first-floor bathroom.
The house had been lovingly restored, waxed, polished, painted, papered and fit for Architectural Digest except for the bathroom off the dining room. They had found the door stored in the basement. The hinges were missing. Mike had been searching antique stores looking for the correct hardware.
The bathroom had been wallpapered in an authentic reproduction. An oak dry sink had been modified for running water and sported expensive fixtures. The toilet was just wrong – Andy Warhol set up on the Rue du Sesame finger-painting Victoria Holt’s eyes while humming “A-Tisket a-Tasket.”
It wasn’t just the color. It was child sized. It was a toilet you might expect to find in a nursery school. When sitting, an adult found knees level to sternum. When entertaining, guests were sent to the second-floor bathroom. LeighAnna had thought about hanging a curtain in the doorway to block the view from the dining room. In the meantime, she was careful to seat dinner guests facing the other way.
LeighAnna had first thrown up at the office on the previous Monday. And every day since. Perversely, she did so at about eleven a.m. When Mike remarked on her ravenous evening appetite, she told him she’d been nauseated every day just before lunch. The conversation occurred over dinner, so she didn’t mention the actual retching and puking. Mike thought she might need to drink bottled water at work.
They had been out late the night before and so were enjoying a lazy Saturday morning. LeighAnna was in the kitchen drinking coffee and finishing Jane Austen’s Emma while Mike made pancakes. Suddenly, as had been the case all week, she felt inflated to bursting with fetid air. Her stomach churning, she dropped the book and ran for the bathroom. Day six.
“You okay, babe?”
LeighAnna groaned and stumbled to a dining room chair. Watching the pattern of winter sun and morning shadows on the Oriental rug, she tucked her head between her knees and mumbled, “If I didn’t know better I’d think I was pregnant.” Anna Karenina held her breath.
Mike stood very still.
“Could you be?”
“Not unless you’ve got live ammo in that thing.”
It nagged at the both of them.
That afternoon LeighAnna smuggled a home pregnancy test kit into the house with the groceries. In the early silence of Sunday morning, she sat on the edge of the bathtub watching the indicator. Her eyes widening as the blue of the plus sign appeared and deepened. Her face flushed. Her sweaty hands slippery. Her heartbeat was deafening. She had really expected to eliminate the unlikely. She hadn’t expected to be expecting. She understood the word swoon.
The blue ended the silence.
It was LeighAnna that started the noise. Shocked, but past swoon, she raced down the stairs, hollering, “It’s blue, it’s blue.” Half an hour later she was again puking into the lime-green toilet. This time Mike held her head and pressed a cool cloth to her forehead. They agreed to keep it secret until she could get into her gynecologist, but Mike chattered all day and all night. Amused, she noted his swaggering strut as he finished the pancakes.
Dr. Dee confirmed the test.
Mike, her family, his family, all of their friends as well as LeighAnna were ecstatic about the baby. LeighAnna’s ecstasy took a different form. She wandered about in a fog, seemingly oblivious to the actions of everyone else – lethargic, dreamy and nauseated. The others were frenzied and sweeping LeighAnna along in their rush to the future. As the noise increased, LeighAnna was finally forced to take notice.
Mike, her family, his family, and all their friends assumed marriage, LeighAnna agreed. Anna Karenina paid full attention.
Mike, her family, his family, and all their friends monitored LeighAnna’s pregnancy and behavior. LeighAnna was a little bothered by this.
The ultrasound technologist estimated fetal age at nine weeks. Her lethargy, morning sickness, and desire to sleep were typical of the first trimester, Dr. Dee said. She was encouraged to indulge herself with naps and exhorted to lay in a supply of saltine crackers. She rolled the word “trimester” around her in mouth as she slid her feet out of the stirrups and dressed. Mike made sure there were saltines on the table next to the bed each morning. They didn’t help.
Mike wanted a small wedding. He’d already been through a Catholic wedding complete with high mass and elaborate reception. LeighAnna didn’t have a strong opinion on the subject, but small and quiet were appealing. She made arrangements to get married by a Justice of the Peace in their living room. She told Mike to buy a toilet and do something about the door.
Anna Karenina had strong ideas but was rendered silent.
Her mother had other ideas.
Her father-in-law-to-be had strong opinions.
Definite ones. If this child was a boy, he would carry on the family name. Mike was the only male Butler except for his father. Frank had never come to terms with the idea that he was not a grand patriarch with great power and influence. He had never accepted the fact that his only son was shooting blanks. He had no idea, whatsoever, that when it was all over and done with he would forever and only refer to LeighAnna as “that woman Mike married.” Right now, though, he insisted on a Catholic wedding.
Anna Karenina snorted.
LeighAnna was not Catholic. Moreover, Mike was forbidden to marry in the Catholic church due to his divorce. Frank was adamant that the first marriage be annulled and LeighAnna convert thus safely legitimizing the heir apparent for a smooth transition of power. That Frank’s estate consisted of four $25 savings bonds and eight bowling trophies was disregarded. That his power was confined to a lawnmower with fouled spark plugs was never mentioned. LeighAnna would no longer answer the phone when it rang in the evening. Every night Frank called. Every night Mike refused to have his nine-year marriage annulled. Every phone call ended in yelling. Desperate to stop the arguing, eager for silence, LeighAnna called to see what the possibilities were. The diocese said no dice. Anna was not surprised. Nor was LeighAnna, really.
LeighAnna’s mother called her at the office since her landline was always busy. Her parents lived more than a thousand miles away. She bought a refrigerator magnet that said “happiness is a large, loving family in a town far, far away.” The magnet didn’t take phones into consideration. LeighAnna longed for caller ID. She longed for the time before telephones. She longed for silence.
Since five states separated them, her parents had never acknowledged the likelihood that LeighAnna was not a virgin. When Mike and LeighAnna visited, they were given separate bedrooms. LeighAnna had been curious as to how her mother would react to the news. She had not quite expected Dolores’s response.
Dolores had been pining for grandchildren. Rather than bring up a subject so closely related to sexual intercourse, she instead nagged LeighAnna about getting married. When she learned the circumstances of Mike’s divorce, she surreptitiously began reading up on adoption regulations. LeighAnna’s mother was anxious for a grandbaby and anxious for a wedding. She had never had either.
Frank was about to meet his match.
“Leigh, I sent your grandmother’s dress UPS yesterday. Let me know when it gets there.”
LeighAnna sighed. She hated being called Leigh. She had seen the photographs of Grandma’s wedding dress. You could barely tell there was a person inside of all that satin, lace, and frou-frous. She’d always thought the dress was the reason her parents had eloped. It took too much energy to argue. The second trimester wasn’t any more energizing than the first. LeighAnna began looking for a church, a minister, and a reception hall. The wedding was snowballing.
She was surprised in a city this size that she was having a problem finding a church and a hall. “Who in their right mind gets married in February?” she said to the phone book. She dialed the number of the next church in the “nondenominational” listings. A deep voice answered the phone.
“Hi. This is LeighAnna Camden and I’m calling to see if the church is available for a Saturday wedding in February and if the minister will marry nonmembers.”
“Hold just a moment while I check, please.” LeighAnna could hear pages in a calendar turning. “February 12th is available for a wedding anytime after 4 p.m.”
LeighAnna was beginning to muster hope. The church was only three miles from the house. “We’re not members. Is that going to be a problem with the minister?”
“I am Father Stephen and I would not presume to deny a couple who wished to be married in the presence of God.” Anna Karenina was shocked.
LeighAnna didn’t mention that God had nothing to do with it.
LeighAnna scheduled the mandatory counseling session and flipped to the listing for rental halls. She’d already called half of them, but now that she could narrow things down according to geography it might go quicker. She was humming the Rolling Stones when Mike walked in. She told him about the church.
“That’s just down the street from Klumskey’s, isn’t it?”
Mike and LeighAnna ate at Klumskey’s at least once a month which was often enough to make them “regulars.” LeighAnna broke into a big grin. Klumskey’s had a banquet room. She called. It was available. Better yet, seating in the room was limited to 75. Klumskey’s would put a brake on the snowball. Seventy-five guests were manageable.
Anna Karenina and Grandma’s dress arrived Tuesday, though not in the same box and not delivered by the same carrier. LeighAnna picked up the two boxes and carried them into the house with the rest of the mail. The UPS shipping label said the dress weighed twenty-three pounds. The weight of Anna Karenina is unknown. Standing at the dining room table, LeighAnna lifted the dress out of the box and spread it over the table. The dress involved twenty yards of satin, three yards of lace, thousands of seed pearls, a nine-foot train, and 107 buttons. LeighAnna gaped.
“Princess Di had a less elaborate gown,” she said to the cat.
Taking off her skirt and blouse, she pulled the dress over her head. Looking down, she was sure she was experiencing some sort of optical illusion. The dress seemed to occupy an entire universe in which LeighAnna was invisible. It’s just too big. Everywhere too big.
“Persephone, it seems Grandma has always had spectacular boobs.” The cat was too intent on examining the packing materials to answer. Clutching the bodice, she hiked the skirt up, tossed the train over her left shoulder and marched up the staircase. The dress billowed and eddied about her, tangling her legs, tying her hands, and impeding progress. Something about it reminded her of Julius Caesar and she giggled.
Standing in front of the mirror, her spirits sunk. It wasn’t an optical illusion. She and Mike could wear the dress at the same time. The seed pearl bodice drooped to her hips without Grandma’s mammaries to prop things up. The sleeves were too short, the train too long and the shoulder seams were somewhere inside her clavicle.
“This will not do,” she said to the now sleeping cat. Picking up the phone, she called a seamstress she had once hired to make slipcovers.
“Hi. Gladys? It’s LeighAnna Camden. The dress is here and it’s a disaster.”
“Oh, right. Um, I’m getting married and my mother wants me to wear my grandma’s dress. It’s a disaster. There’s just too much of it.”
“Better too much than not enough. When can you bring it over?”
“Mike’s working late, is now okay?”
LeighAnna stood on a platform while Gladys chalked, pinned and conducted a monologue. LeighAnna had mentioned the pregnancy.
“In my day, pregnant brides eloped. I don’t know if that was a good thing or not, but we didn’t have to worry about a dress not likely to fit on the wedding day. Suck your tummy in for a minute, I want to see something.”
“I’m just past three months. I haven’t gained a pound. In fact, I’ve lost four pounds.”
“Stand on your tiptoes, I want to check the drape of the bustle. Morning sick, huh?”
“Bustle? There’s a bustle?” LeighAnna twisted around trying to look at her backside.
An hour later, Gladys proclaimed the dress doable and instructed LeighAnna to buy a hooped slip.
“I am not going to wear a hoop. No. Absolutely not. I won’t do it. His name is Butler, but I am not Scarlett O’Hara. No.”
Gladys stood quietly and simply looked at LeighAnna.
“No and no!” Anna Karenina was in agreement.
Gladys said, “Look LeighAnna, the hoop is the only way I can pull that fabric up off of your midriff and support the weight of this satin. There’s no way to judge how big you’ll get and this dress needs too much work to wait and see.”
“No. There has to be another way. I will not look like Little Bo Peep at my wedding.” Tears of frustration welled in LeighAnna’s eyes. Gladys calculated, peering at LeighAnna and the dress through trifocals.
“Okay. I can make you a slip of netting. It will hold the satin the way I need it to, but you’ll have to wear a corset with stays – one that extends below your hips. Don’t get one of those stupid Merry Widow things. It needs to be functional. But at least you won’t have the hoop clanging around your ankles. Will that suit you?”
“Will the corset be safe?”
“Check with your doctor, but I would imagine so.”
“Thank you, Gladys.” LeighAnna paused. “Is there really a bustle?”
“It’s not that kind of bustle, sweetie. Relax. It’s a beautiful dress and it will be stunning when it fits you. You should be proud to wear such a family heirloom.
LeighAnna sighed. “Thank you, Gladys. I suppose I need something for my head.”
“Yes. Try Marie’s. They have some wonderful hats. I don’t quite see you in a veil and the dress needs an elaborate headpiece.”
LeighAnna sighed. Elaborate. Of course it does.
It all came together. You can put together a traditional wedding while throwing up, working, and decorating a nursery.
Decorating the nursery was Mike’s idea. LeighAnna wasn’t really involved in that project other than to comment on Mike’s decisions. Arguing that this was fate and fate would decree a son, Mike came home with Green Bay Packer wallpaper, a teddy bear with a #12 jersey, and a crib quilt officially sanctioned by the NFL.
“What’s next? A beer tab mobile?” LeighAnna was feeling edgy. Mike’s behavior was ceasing to be amusing. “If you want to decorate, you might do something about that toilet.” Mike ignored her and continued his phone conversation. He’d decided on Astroturf for the nursery and was calling to see if it was in stock. LeighAnna tried to object.
“But it will be durable and easily cleaned, LeighAnna!”
LeighAnna took the new book upstairs and simmered in the bathtub.
Not reading, she said to the area rug, “I feel like a walking womb. Sorta like the tit in that old Woody Allen flick.”
The rug didn’t answer, so LeighAnna got out and dressed. She stood on the toilet seat and examined her belly in the mirror. There was still no outward sign of pregnancy. She went downstairs and ordered a pizza. She simply couldn’t handle another phone conversation with Frank. Mike was assembling a large, plastic football that would be a toy box.
“Run, you son of a bitch,” Mike hollered at Monday Night Football.
LeighAnna rubbed her temples as the doorbell rang. Intent on fitting the curved lid into the slots of the football, Mike didn’t get up. It rang again. LeighAnna got up, muttering and annoyed with Mike. She was expecting the pizza. Instead, she got her sister-in-law. Nancy stormed in.
“I have got to talk to the two of you. Your phone has been busy all night. You have no idea what you’re doing. Preacher says St. Elizabeth’s is a den of satanic worship. Father Stephen was defrocked by the Jesuits for his blasphemy and . . . ”.
Mike exploded. “I TOLD YOU NOT TO EVER DISCUSS RELIGION WITH ME.” Mike was not the only Butler no longer a Catholic. Anna Karenina perked up.
Shrill, Nancy said, “I am only concerned for the baby. Mike? LeighAnna? You have to move the wedding. Anywhere but…”
“GET OUT! NOW!”
The doorbell rang again. LeighAnna paid for the pizza and sat on the front porch listening to the two siblings shriek at one another. Religion was a festering wound in the Butler family. It was freezing, but it was quieter out here.
“Just one big happy family,” she said to the mailbox. In a town far far away.
She saw Mike dialing the phone through the window just as Nancy flew past her and down the porch steps. Mike was now yelling at his dad.
“I don’t give a good goddamn what you think. It’s St. Elizabeth’s. Then don’t come. I don’t care.” He hung up the phone and then took it back off the hook. He collapsed into the recliner and glared at the television. The Packers were losing 13-6. He threw a pillow at the large plastic pigskin.
The phone continued to ring for the next two months. Frank continued to argue. Nancy alternated between sulking and calling down fire and damnation. LeighAnna’s mother called daily to check on the florist, the photographer, the invitations, the menu, and her grandbaby. Boxes of baby blankets, diapers, crocheted booties, and educational toys arrived weekly. The grandmother-to-be was convinced a girl was in the making but didn’t want to jinx it. Everything was pastel green and yellow and not the Packer green and gold of Mike’s overall design. LeighAnna put it all in the guest bedroom.
The lime-green toilet stood silent witness to it all. LeighAnna took the pink toilet bowl freshener out of the bowl. Pink water was too much. She put Anna Karenina on the coffee table. Tolstoy was too much.
Anna Karenina, well Anna, was quite out of her depth, but still she knew.
Four days before the wedding, LeighAnna began cleaning. Her parents, grandmother and brother would arrive soon. They were all staying with LeighAnna and Mike to help.
“If they wanted to help they would stay at a Best Western,” LeighAnna said to the copy of Anna Karenina as she slammed it between Rousseau and Voltaire. Anna winced.
Wednesday night, LeighAnna and Mike went to the Greyhound bus station to pick up Grandma. Clarissa had taken to thinking she was psychic since her trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea two years ago. Declaring receipt of a vision of falling sky, she refused to fly at the last minute. The bus station was across town and the roads were slick. Mike insisted on going. LeighAnna felt she had to. Chicken Little was, after all, her grandmother.
The bus was late. When it finally pulled in, LeighAnna rushed to the gate anxious to retrieve Grandma and get the hell out of there. The place was crawling with street people and Mike kept making her go wash her hands anytime she touched anything.
“LeighAnna, we can’t be too careful in our condition.”
“It’s my condition, dammit.”
Grandma came striding off the bus. Grandma still had those militant mammaries but had added a turban and six-foot, pink mohair scarf. LeighAnna opened her arms to hug, but before she could, Clarissa dropped to her knees, pressed her face into LeighAnna’s belly and said, “My daughter’s daughter’s daughter. I have had a vision.”
LeighAnna slowly closed her eyes and tried to remember how to breathe. Yoga, I should try some yoga. The other passengers glared as Clarissa and LeighAnna bottlenecked the flow of debarking passengers. Clarissa was rapt and LeighAnna finally succeeded in getting her diaphragm to move.
“Grandma, get up! Not here. Not now.”
LeighAnna disentangled herself and stalked off toward the car leaving Mike to cope with Clarissa.
“She’s mad at me too, Clarissa. It’s nice to meet you. I’m told pregnant women get moody. But anyway, it’s a boy. I’m sure of it.”
“Nonsense. I’ve had a vision.”
LeighAnna woke the next morning to the sounds of Mike and Clarissa making breakfast. Other than a difference of opinion over fetal sex, they were getting along fabulously. LeighAnna smiled and then ran for the toilet. The morning sickness was starting to come earlier and was getting worse. LeighAnna’s face was the only green thing in the master bathroom. Anna sat on the edge of the bed and just watched.
Her parents and brother arrived later in the day laden with luggage and baby gifts. After two days in the car, their nerves were a bit frayed, but there was a palpable effort to be jovial. Calvin insisted that she open his gift to the baby. It was a four-foot Tonka eighteen-wheeler with battery-operated lights and an air horn. Calvin was an over-the-road trucker. Roger and Calvin had argued the whole way about the quickest route. Calvin was showing Mike how to make the horn sound when Roger went in search of Scotch.
Clarissa said, “I’m all for girls playing with transportation toys. There is no need for them to feel static.”
Mike clapped Calvin on the back and steered him to the nursery to show off the Astroturf. “So, Cal, who is your team?”
In the baby’s room, Calvin and Mike argued with Clarissa and Dolores about the genitalia of the fetus. LeighAnna stood in the kitchen with her dad longing for a Scotch of her own. Rattling the ice in his glass, Roger said, “Punkin, I don’t care what flavor the baby is as long as it’s healthy.” LeighAnna sighed, abandoning the idea of just one tiny scotch, and turned on the tea kettle. Rummaging around in the cupboard for green tea, she reminded her dad that he and Calvin had to go in and make sure their tuxes fit.
By the time the rehearsal and dinner scheduled for Friday night was less than an hour away, LeighAnna was contemplating crawling into her own fetal position and hiding in the closet. The television had blared all day, Grandma and her mother had been squabbling for hours, her dad and Mike were laying the Astroturf in the nursery and her brother had set up his CB base station in the den. When Mike’s family arrived, most of them were not speaking to at least two people. LeighAnna was sitting on the bed in her bathrobe.
“Go without me. The bride’s part is simple. I walk down the aisle. Father Stephen says blah-blah. I say I do. Then you. Then it’s over and we go to Klumskey’s where in a few blessed hours it’s all over. I’ll stay here.”
“Honey, you have to go. You know that.”
They all went. Anna, too. They practiced and then returned to the house for dinner. Frank and Roger had gotten into a fight about labor unions over the lasagna. Her mother-in-law-to-be was furious that nobody told her Dolores was wearing a full-length gown. Nancy was discussing her personal relationship with Jesus Christ as channeled by her preacher with Calvin. Roger and Clarissa were in the kitchen making bets about the baby’s sex and drinking shots. Father Stephen arrived after closing up the church and charmed everyone. They were all playing poker when LeighAnna excused herself and went to bed. It was Father Stephen’s turn to deal.
LeighAnna stood in the bathroom rubbing baby oil into her eyelids and heard Father Stephen’s voice waft through the heating vent.
“Yes, Nancy, I am. The Jesuits defrocked me when I insisted on marrying, but I didn’t see that as any reason to give up my ministry.” Anna gasped.
The wedding was scheduled for six. LeighAnna got up early and went downstairs being careful not to wake Mike. She wanted peace and quiet. She padded silently into the kitchen and stared out the kitchen window. Snow flurries whirled in the wind that bent the evergreens. She was halfway through her water and had just popped her prenatal vitamin, when her dad came in.
“You’re up early, Punkin.”
“Yeah, I know. I’ll nap later, but I wanted to enjoy the quiet before all the bustle started.”
“Yeah, it’s important for pregnant women to get lots of sleep.”
Et tu, Brute?
Everyone woke up irritable. Maybe it was the storm. Clarissa’s sky was falling, and she and Dolores were at it before the first pot of coffee was done. Calvin was nursing a hangover and upset that someone had turned off the CB. Roger threatened to the throw the damn thing away if he didn’t leave it alone and visit with his future brother-in-law.
The snow began falling in earnest.
LeighAnna went upstairs and hid in the bedroom. She ended up turning on the alarm clock radio to drown out the voices below. Precisely at 9:26 a.m. she ran for the bathroom in the middle of Madonna’s Like a Virgin.
She puttered around the bedroom until it was time to leave for the church. Mike brought her a peanut butter sandwich and glass of milk at about 2 p.m. She thanked him and then pushed him out the door. Her mother knocked on the door at 3 p.m. with an offer to help.
“Mom, I’m dressing at the church. I had the drycleaner deliver the dress there. There’s nothing to do.”
“Just let me do your hair.”
Her mother chattered and waved the curling iron around when she needed to especially make a point. What her points were, LeighAnna had no idea. She had decided early in the coiffuring to take up transcendental meditation.
The snow continued to fall.
By the time they got to the church, nobody was speaking to anyone. There were four inches of snow on the ground and the weather service had issued a winter storm advisory.
Only the bride was still.
It was almost over. Seven hours tops. She and Mike were staying in a hotel bridal suite across town before their plane left on Monday for the Bahamas. Once they left the reception, she was done with family for at least a week. Maybe away from the family and the nursery, Mike’s obsession with a future Aaron Rodgers would fade. Maybe things could get normal. Or at least more normal. Maybe it could be quiet. LeighAnna tried to visualize a white sand beach and the sound of gentle waves lapping.
In the church parlor, the floor was littered with, besides LeighAnna and her net-not-a-hoop slip, make-up cases, silk flower bouquets, and Mary’s half-finished crocheted, baby blanket in mint green. Due to the snow, everyone had decided to dress at the church. Dolores was standing with her head between her legs wielding a blow dryer and a can of hair spray attempting to undo the damage of the wet wind. Her mint-green velvet dress hung on a padded, peach hanger from the ceiling fan.
Where in the hell do you get mint-green velvet? LeighAnna had wondered when she had first seen the dress. What is it with menopausal women and mint-green? She wondered now.
The photographer, hired sight unseen over the phone after a five-minute conversation, might have been drunk. He thought a candid of the bride’s plump mother in knee socks, push-up bra and girdle bent over with Aqua Net against a backdrop of mint green-velvet would be perishingly avant garde.
“Josh, I don’t think the world is ready for Reality Wedding photography,” Alice said.
LeighAnna raised her arms over her head in a not-a-hoop modification of the Salute to the Sun asana. Mary, her one-hour-from-mother-in-law, hobbled across the room frantically pulling up her pantyhose and hollering at LeighAnna to put her arms down.
“You’ll wrap the cord around the baby’s neck!”
Josh took another photo.
Alice was LeighAnna’s maid of honor. Actually, matron of honor. Alice and LeighAnna worked together and Alice’s had been the only voice of sanity. Alice was divorced and her two kids, Stevie and Katie, were the ring bearer and flower girl. Nancy was sure God would punish LeighAnna for such casual disregard of the assundering of Alice’s failed marriage. Anna Karenina smiled.
Alice was soothing Stevie who was enraged that his “spuds” were missing from the black nylon, hanging suitcase that held his tuxedo. The boy hero-worshiped Mike and Mike had spuds for his shirt, and he, by God, was not leaving that room without spuds firmly attached to his shirt. Roger was out in the snow searching Alice’s car for the missing shirt studs.
Stevie’s sister, Katie, was twirling in front of the mirror and admiring the belling of her skirt. She was still a bit miffed that her dress did not have a train like Leigh Anna’s, but getting to wear lipstick came pretty close to making up for that. Stevie decided it was all terribly unfair and threw his Styrofoam cup of 7-Up at his sister.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you. The sins of the fathers will be visited on the children.” Nancy was positively gloating.
LeighAnna lay back and arranged her body in the corpse asana. She remembered that her yoga instructor had preferred to call it the sponge since corpse sounded so negative. LeighAnna felt corpse was more appropriate, today. She didn’t particularly want to soak up anything currently in the room.
At 5:30, LeighAnna put on the dress. Alice began fastening the 107 tiny buttons. Katie counted aloud with each successful fastening. Her mother took pictures. The photographer took pictures. Roger had returned with “spuds” and Stevie was trying to muscle Katie away from the mirror so he could see them better.
An om. I think I’ll om.
At 5:55, they lined up at the door. There were still thirty-seven buttons to go, but LeighAnna was still. It couldn’t start without her, now could it?
At 6:00, the mothers were seated.
At 6:05, Katie and Stevie walked down with Alice and Calvin following.
At 6:10, the bride came down the aisle on her father’s arm.
At 6:30, Mike and LeighAnna were pronounced husband and wife.
At 7:00, the last guest had gone through the receiving line.
At 7:30, the photographer was done with the posed stills.
At 7:35, they drove through eight inches of snow to Klumskey’s.
Dinner went smoothly.
LeighAnna’s face hurt from smiling. Calvin was getting drunk and wearing her hat.
The photographer stumbled about taking pictures.
Dolores had ordered the cake and kept her decision a secret. The cake had been covered with a linen tablecloth and when the time came, Dolores exposed it in a grand flourish befitting a magician. LeighAnna blinked and when she opened her eyes she saw three tiers of white decorated with silver bells and alternating pink and blue confectionary rattles. LeighAnna tried to be thankful for the absence of mint green.
Josh took more pictures.
At nine thirty when the band still hadn’t shown up, one of the waitresses offered them use of the bar’s karaoke machine. LeighAnna couldn’t bear the thought. She declined and asked if there was a radio available.
There was. With the storm outside, the only station that would come in clear on the cheap boombox played classic rock. The DJ, stoned and mellow, but cheerful announced that the state police were closing the interstate and that the city had declared a snow emergency. “It’s a good night to be inside, kids.” Half the guests left.
At 11:00 the bride and groom left.
At 11:05 the bride and groom returned.
Their car had been towed by the city’s Department of Roads. Besides the fact that Calvin had unknowingly parked it in the loading zone in front of the restaurant, it was in the way of the snowplows. The remainder of the wedding party and guests’ cars were trapped in a parking lot behind a three-foot mound of newly plowed snow. The street was already several inches thick with the snow that had fallen since the plow went through. Cabs were called, but they were informed there was a four-hour wait. It was then that LeighAnna realized her suitcase was in the car that was now sitting in the impound lot.
LeighAnna cried. Anna Karenina longed to put her arm around her.
She couldn’t think of anything else to do. She was trapped. She was trapped with people who were driving her insane, and she was trapped in twenty yards of satin with a nine-foot train. She was trapped with a man who was laying fake grass in her fetus’s nursery. Her wedding cake was decorated with pink and blue rattles. The bridal dance had been performed to the live version of Stairway to Heaven. She was pregnant and couldn’t even get drunk. Josh snapped a picture. She grabbed his camera and smashed it to the floor. Then she kicked it across the linoleum.
“Send me a bill.”
“Mama, don’t. Not one word.”
Mike started making calls. He found a hotel four blocks away with one room left. He gave his credit number and turned to LeighAnna. “It’s only four blocks, we can walk. It’s a suite. They’ve got some roll-away beds. We can all crash and start the honeymoon tomorrow. It will be okay.”
LeighAnna just nodded, wiping hot tears from her eyes. I’m just tired. That’s all. Just tired.
Mike rounded up everybody and they began the trek to the hotel. The sidewalks had not been shoveled, so they walked in the street. The street was slick with snow and road-salted slush. The wind was drifting snow and keening with the fury of a full-blown blizzard. Mike took LeighAnna’s right arm and her dad took the other so as to keep her from slipping and falling. What with the baby and all. Her new brother-in-law walked behind carrying her train. The wind blew her hat off and Katie landed face first in a snowbank trying to catch it. LeighAnna gritted her teeth. She turned to look for her mother when she saw her brother struggling to carry a keg of beer.
“What are you doing?
“Hey. You paid for it, we might as well party.
Clarissa started to giggle.
“This is quite an entourage, you know. It’s a shame you smashed Josh’s camera.”
While standing in the lobby and tucking her windblown hair into the bedraggled hat, LeighAnna took note of some oddities.
“Mike, what’s going on?”
“What? Oh. Well. It’s a fantasy hotel.”
“Um. They have all the rooms decorated.”
“Decorated how?” LeighAnna’s eyes narrowed.
“Well, all they had left was the Tropical Dream Suite.”
“I’m not sure.”
The party of thirteen walked to the Tropical Dream Suite of the Fantasy Inn Hotel. The fetus and the keg of beer were carried. LeighAnna was the last of the group, letting the train drag behind her collecting slush and carpet lint.
Mike opened the door. Nobody said a word. The adults all looked at LeighAnna. The two fully gestated kids raced in to begin exploring. Not quite Disney World, it was still a better playground than the church or Klumskey’s had been. The adults parted to let LeighAnna go in first.
It was a two-room suite. LeighAnna’s eye immediately fell on the thatched hut wet bar and the hammock hanging in front of the sliding glass doors. Tiki lamps protruded from the walls except for the one papered in an oversized photograph of a sunset at sea. Two large papasan chairs and a wicker fainting couch replete with tapa cloth upholstery sat opposite a seven-foot tall Easter Island head that had a television for a brain. Next to the TV head was an artificial banana tree that was perch to a paper-mache toucan holding the room service menu in its beak.
LeighAnna squared her shoulders and walked in. The wedding party followed. Anna Karenina brought up the rear.
She kept walking to the bedroom. Suspended from the ceiling by thick rope was a Swiss Family Robinson-ish raft bearing a mattress covered in a loud Hawaiian print and surrounded by mosquito netting. LeighAnna pushed and, yes, it did swing. The push set off motion sensors and the room was filled with the sounds of a Hollywood jungle. Monkeys chattered, birds chirped, and tribal drums echoed. Stevie was delighted and clambered into the bed while hollering for Katie to push him. Calvin belched and followed it up with a Tarzan yodel.
LeighAnna walked to the bathroom door. She didn’t move. Unwilling, but unable to stop, she laughed – great waves of hysteria that turned to sobs. She and her dress blocked the doorway. Mike poked his head over her shoulder. Dumbfounded, he moved her aside and went into the bathroom. LeighAnna leaned against the doorjamb and just sobbed with the pent-up frustration of it all.
A bathtub big enough for six had been set into an acrylic sculpture of a volcano. Mike pushed the button. The bathroom was filled with the sound of a hissing volcano and monsoon rains. The toilet was shaped like an oversized coconut, the tank sitting in the fronds of a large palm tree. It appeared that the one hard plastic frond mixed in with the silk ones might be the lever for flushing.
LeighAnna said, “Please don’t flush it. I just can’t.”
Her brother said, “So. Where do you want the keg?”
LeighAnna pulled Mike out of the bathroom, rushed in, and locked the door. She turned the volcano off.
It’s not his fault. It’s not his fault. It’s not his fault.
She opened the door.
“Mike. It’s not your fault, but I have to be alone. I just have to. Please take care of our guests.”
She shut and locked the door.
She took off her coat. She took off the hat. She took off her wet shoes. Then she took off her wet stockings. She pondered how to unbutton the dress. It had taken Alice thirty-one minutes.
One at a time.
She sat on the floor and reached her hands behind her. Unbuttoning. One at a time. She didn’t think about anything except unbuttoning the dress.
“Honey, did you want something to drink? There are some vending machines.”
She got enough of them unbuttoned that she could swivel the bodice around and continue the unbuttoning. With great relief, she stood up and stepped out of the dress. She hung it from the totem pole towel rack. She heard voices rising outside the door. She could hear the hotel staff dragging in roll-away beds. Why don’t they just roll them? She began filling the tub. She turned on the volcano. She turned on the heat lamp and the bathroom filled with an eerie red glow. And the bride was sacrificed to the Fertility Goddess Pele. The noise of the volcano and the roar of the monsoon drowned them all out, but not the voice in her head.
Mike knocked on the door. LeighAnna turned off the water. “LeighAnna, we’re all going to go down to the pool and let you be alone for a while. The manager said it would be all right as long as we didn’t swim. We don’t have suits, anyway.”
LeighAnna turned the water back on.
She took off the net not-a-hoop slip. She took off the corset. She took off great-grandma’s pearls and put them in her left shoe. She lined the shoes up next to the door. She took off her panties.
She slipped into the water. She turned off the volcano. She slipped under the water. She opened her mouth and screamed. It was an interesting sound. It reminded her of dolphins. Do dolphins mate for life?
Sputtering, she sat up. She couldn’t hear any noise on the other side of the door. It was quiet. She was still until she noticed her fingers and toes were pruned. She got out.
Toweling herself off with tree-frog-print towels, she faced the fact that the silence would be short-lived. Everyone was tired. Eventually, the family would return to begin making beds. She could not imagine sleeping in that swinging bed. She thought about trying to get out of it to throw up in the coco-bowl.
She used the conch shell blow dryer fastened to the wall to dry her hair. She stood and stared at her drawn face in the starfish mirror. She made a decision. She used the conch to dry her stockings and shoes.
She began dressing.
She put on her panties and then the stockings. She put on the corset. She put on the slip. She put on the dress. She left it unbuttoned, picked up her shoes and turned off the heat light. She left the bathroom. She lifted the train up and fastened it around her neck with a safety-pin she found in her grandmother’s purse. She flopped the train over her head and put on Mike’s overcoat. It was longer and warmer. She flopped the train back down and let it billow around her like a cape. Even pulled up like it was, it still dragged on the floor. Phantom of the Wedding.
She took great-grandma’s pearls out of her left shoe and put them in her mother’s purse. She put the shoes on while frowning at the pointed toes and three-inch heels. She slipped out of the room, out of the hotel, and into the street. She began the three-mile walk to her quiet bedroom and silent, still bed. She walked on the sidewalk in the snow drifts because the street was too slippery in her heels. Anna carefully made her way behind her.
One step at a time.
After six blocks her calves began aching, but it was blissfully quiet. The pain was worth the silence.
Mike and I walk three miles all the time. Piece of cake. No baby rattles.
She talked to herself silently. It was dreadfully important to preserve the quiet.
The city was in a state of suspended animation. The plows had all left for the main streets. No one was out. The snow continued to fall. LeighAnna stopped, bent her head back and let snowflakes fall onto her face. The wind had died down. The air was still except for the falling snow. The cold and fresh air were welcome after the heat and steam of the bathroom.
LeighAnna walked. The voice was silent.
Seven blocks from her house, LeighAnna stopped in front of the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin. She was pretty sure there was a park bench somewhere near there and she needed to sit for a minute. Everything was just a white mound of snow, the features hidden like her pregnant belly. She spotted a particularly large mound and brushed the snow off. She had found the bench. She sat down, took off her shoes, and slipped her cold feet up under her thighs. Tucking the dress in between her and the bench to keep the cold out, she slowly began focusing on the chapel. Over the door was a life-sized statue of the Virgin Mary in an alcove. The wind had been such that Mary was snowless.
Surprised that she said it out loud, LeighAnna asked, “Was it like this for you?”
The Virgin grabbed her robes, hung onto one side of the alcove, and nimbly sat down on the ledge. She swung her legs in the air. “No. It was a little different with me, you know.” She stretched out a hand to catch snowflakes.
“Yeah, I suppose. I imagine Joseph behaved a little differently.”
“That too. But, remember, we were already planning a wedding when I woke up pregnant.” She licked the snow off her fingers.
“Were you morning sick?”
“Only once. I really think it was just a bad fig. Except for that god-awful donkey-ride to Bethlehem, it wasn’t a bad pregnancy. I would have preferred different surroundings for the delivery, but the whole thing was kind of out of my hands.”
LeighAnna thought about giving birth in the Tropical Dream Suite.
I know that feeling.
“Did you feel like a giant womb with feet?”
“No. Not really. Nobody was buying my story and refused to believe I was pregnant until they could actually feel the baby kick. That’s when the whispering started.”
“Yeah, you know. ‘She’s not a virgin.’ ‘Is it Joseph’s do you think?’ My mom was a wreck. I was mostly treated like a giant lying tongue with legs.” Mary stretched out her legs and watched the snow fall on her sandaled toes. Her eyes locked with Anna Karenina’s, but Anna put her finger to her lips and shook her head.
“God, that’s awful. Mike has never ever indicated he didn’t think it was his. Did Joseph?”
“Joseph knew Jesus wasn’t his. The closest we had gotten was some kissy face behind the temple. My mother had raised chaperoning to an art form. But Joseph believed me. He was kind of weirded out and wouldn’t consummate our marriage until after I delivered, but that worked out okay.”
“What did you do?”
“Do? I had a baby that I loved. I loved my husband. Wanna hear a secret?”
“I’m not a virgin anymore. I don’t know how that rumor got started. Where do they think ‘Jesus’ brother’ came from? After he was born and we finally got back home, I set to tending my marriage. Oy! I found out that I enjoyed sex. I found out that I enjoyed having a baby. Babies are fun, even little deities. They’re all miracles, LeighAnna. Tend to your marriage, LeighAnna. Love the child. But take care of yourself, first.”
“I should go.”
“Yes. Go to your home and sleep. You can begin tomorrow.”
“Mary, do you like green?”
“How about yellow?”
“No, it makes me look sallow. I favor blue and white.”
“Me, too. Aren’t you cold?”
“Me? Nah. I’m just a stone statue.”
LeighAnna was exhausted by the time she got to the house. She didn’t have a key. Calmly, decisively, she smashed the window next to the back door and let herself into the house. She kicked off the shoes. She took off her coat and hat. Her dress was soaked and she dropped it on the floor next to the lime-green toilet. She listened to seed pearls skitter across ceramic tiles. She climbed the stairs. She took off the net slip that was not a hoop and dropped it into the bathtub. She took off the corset, twirled it around over her head and flung it across the room. It ended up dangling from a corner of the mirror. She walked over to the mirror and examined her belly. She was beginning to poof out, but mostly she just looked plump. She rolled off the stockings and slid out of her panties leaving them in a puddle on the floor.
She pulled a heavy flannel nightgown over her head and padded back downstairs. She used duct tape to stretch a garbage bag over the broken window. She fixed a cup of green tea and stared at it. She dumped it down the sink and made cocoa. Carrying the steaming mug, she went and retrieved Anna Karenina.
LeighAnna stood in front of the lime-green toilet and flushed tissue page after tissue page of Anna Karenina down the toilet pausing now and again to sip the frothy cocoa. When there was nothing left but the green leather cover and ribbon bookmark, she returned to the kitchen and tossed them into the trash compactor. Anna had left.
She fell asleep in her own bed to the quiet hush of a blizzard whose fury was spent. She woke at dawn to find Mike’s arms wrapped around her. She burrowed in deeper and spooned her body to his. He woke with a start.
“LeighAnna! I was so worried. You shouldn’t have . . . ”
“Mike, it’s okay. We walk all the time; the baby will be okay.”
“Not the baby! You! It was late. It was a freakin’ blizzard. I was scared out of my mind. My wife ran away on our wedding night.”
“Shhhhhh. I didn’t run, I walked. Just hold me, Mike. We can talk later.”
Rigid at first, Mike began to relax and let his body wrap hers. He slid his hand up under her nightgown and pulled her closer. With his hand on her belly, he fell back asleep. They were both still exhausted, but LeighAnna fought sleep to enjoy the warmth and closeness of her husband. My husband. Startled, her eyes flew open.
“Mike! Wake up! Feel! It’s moving!”
Mike’s hand moved softly across her belly.
“There? That? That ripple?”
“LeighAnna, I love you.”
“Blue and white. I decided. I want the nursery in blue and white.”
“Yes, no green.”
“But. . .
“No green. It’s important.”
“I love you.”