The following story was shortlisted in the ‘Unhappy Ending’ competition in Writing Magazine
The open bedroom window was too tempting. She leant out and dropped the bottle. It bounced on the terrace below.
Then another one. It hit the garden table and rebounded on to the grass.
She looked at the remaining bottles. They were all solid, sturdy pots. Unscrewing the lid off the next, she threw it with the energy of repressed anger. It still didn’t break, but it did splatter a vivid, scarlet scar over the terrace. That felt better! One after another, they made a mosaic of colours, an artist’s irregular palette. A death blow to her nail varnish.
She stretched out her hands, looking at her elegant fingers. Then she grabbed the nail scissors, hacking each nail down as far as it would go. She grimaced at each destruction. A year of care and nurturing; a year of manicures and treatment. All gone.
She opened the wardrobe where the dress hung and touched the faint red wine stain. Profuse apologies and much white wine had followed. An aunt had announced that staining one’s wedding dress was a bad omen. She’d laughed and said she didn’t believe in old wives’ tales. Not a tactful response to an eighty-five year old widow. But high on compliments and envious looks, she didn’t care.
When Richard asked her to marry him, she couldn’t wait to start planning. Her surge of enthusiasm was magnified by her mother who telephoned daily with suggestions and ideas. The house filled with wedding magazines and bridal shops became magnets. Her mother had several recommendations for venues. Was it to be a church wedding or not? Would she wear a veil?
Richard kept away from anything to do with the wedding.
‘You could show some interest. It’s your day, too, you know.’
‘I do know and on the day I’ll be enthusiastic.’
Andrea stood in front of the mirror, naked. She surveyed herself from every angle. Nothing escaped scrutiny as she planned how to get herself into perfect shape. Richard often told her she was beautiful, but then he loved her. Her standards were more rigorous. A schedule of gym visits with a personal trainer; a series of beauty treatments: manicures, pedicures, hair appointments.
The vivid, scarlet scar on the stones imprinted itself on her mind.
The timing had to be right so she created a calendar on her laptop, her life for the following year, and worked backwards to ensure every treatment was performed at the precise moment. She thought of showing Richard her clever schedule. After all, she was doing this for him. But even the mention of the beauty salon drove him away.
A jagged nail scratched her face as she brushed back her hair.
They were once so close. The physical contact was still there but a barely detectable barrier, a chiffon of resistance, now blocked their intimacy. Bound to happen, she thought. There’s always pressure in the lead-up to a wedding. Maybe it’s Richard’s way of coping.
‘The point is to get married, not to provide business for half of the town. Do you know what you’re spending on beauty treatments?’
‘Mum is paying for most of them. She wants me to look my best even if you don’t.’
Richard didn’t reply. He went upstairs, put on his running gear and left, closing the door loudly.
She took her shoes out of the cupboard. No point in showing them to him. The red soles said everything. Maybe he hadn’t heard of Louboutin. She stroked and kissed them. Never had she possessed shoes so chic or so costly. Her mother had contributed but nevertheless they hit her budget hard.
When he returned an hour later, he carried flowers in his sweaty hands.
‘Bit hard of me. Sorry.’
She knew he’d bought them at the garage. They had a look of yesterday about them, the leaves starting to go brown at the edges.
‘When you’ve had a shower, I’ll hug you for them.’
She lit candles at dinner that evening. The atmosphere felt lighter for a day or two. But the invisible obstacle in the house soon returned, the unsavoury, persistent visitor, unwilling to leave.
Richard announced he was planning his stag “do”.
Andrea smiled. At last, he was getting involved in something. Richard’s weekends filled up. Off to Brighton to see what it had to offer. Bath another weekend. Then Bristol. He came back tired, hung-over and flippant.
She barely knew him; she rarely saw him.
She had no interest in where he chose to go. Instead she focussed on her own hen weekend. It shouldn’t have been a competition. But the sense of outdoing each other got stronger as the events approached. Andrea commented her friends were buying new outfits; Richard dismissed the idea with a shrug. Quad bike racing just needed old clothes. The wedding became secondary, fading into the background. The celebrations of leaving single life dominated their lives.
The omen of the red wine on her dress – no, she didn’t believe in silly superstitions.
So he went to Bath and she went to Bristol on consecutive weekends. What fun the cocktail-making session was! And the burlesque dancing. After that it became a blur as the alcohol took over.
He returned with a bag of muddy clothes and several bruises.
They discussed their weekends in clipped sentences. She put her Minnie Mouse outfit away without Richard seeing it.
The scissors were lying on the table after the nail-hacking session. She picked them up and looked in the mirror.
‘Andrea, can you move your dress fitting to Wednesday? I can’t make Tuesday and I need to be there.’
‘That’s a pain, Mum. You’re always changing arrangements.’
She couldn’t refuse her mother who was paying for so much. But maternal involvement was verging on interference. There’d already been one row when Andrea screamed, ‘Whose day is it? Yours or mine?’ Her mother had left the house with a sour, screwed-up look, her shoulders taut and raised, her silence stubborn.
The red wine stain looked deeper now.
When Richard proposed, they both agreed the honeymoon had to be in Florida. They were like children where Disneyland was concerned. He had booked everything early to get a good price, an Economy ticket so they had money to spend when they were there. She said if they couldn’t fly Business Class on their honeymoon, when would they?
He said he’d think about it. But he didn’t tell her his decision.
The temptation to snip at her hair was enormous.
The day arrived. The morning suit looked good on Richard; he wore clothes well. Andrea’s plans had worked and as she took a final glance in her mirror, she sighed with pleasure. When she walked down the aisle, she saw Richard’s eyes fixed on her. But she couldn’t read his face.
She cut a few centimetres from one side of her hair and threw the strands out of the window where the wind caught them. Some landed on the messy stones below. Like a collage.
Her mother wore a silver-grey suit that complimented her figure and a large pink hat that didn’t need a price tag to announce how much it cost. She was in ecstasy. She floated around the reception on a cloud of good wishes. It was certainly her day.
More strands of hair floated out of the window.
A week after the wedding, they set off for the airport. They had been difficult days. Richard spent much time staring at his i-pad; Andrea sorted out the wedding presents. Their promises at the ceremony rang emptily round the house. She looked at her shoes daily to raise her spirits. They spoke when they needed to, civil but uninvolved. It’ll be alright once we’re away, Andrea told herself.
Richard checked in on-line and printed off their boarding passes. He put them in his travel folder. While he was in the shower, Andrea looked. Seats 44A and B.
At the airline desk, Andrea asked about the possibility of an upgrade. Yes, there was space in Business Class. At a cost, of course.
‘We only need one ticket upgraded,’ she said. ‘Mine.’
Disneyland would have been wonderful if Andrea had not been with Richard.
She grabbed a handful of hair and chopped vigorously. Strands went everywhere, on the floor, on the bed, out of the window. Quickly, quickly, she muttered, before I change my mind. She opened one of the remaining bottles and poured varnish on to a pile of hair on the window-sill, mixing it with her fingers.
‘Finger-painting, Mummy? Can Charlie play?’
They flew back Economy Class. She had made her point and money had run out.
‘Why did you ask me to marry you, Richard?’
‘Why do you think?’
‘Once, I thought it was because you loved me.’
‘Well, once I thought I did. But you changed. Everything about you changed once we’d decided to get married.’
‘You could have called it off.’
‘What? It would have been like standing in front of an express train. And, anyway, the real reason I married you was Charlie. I am his father, after all.’
‘You’re his father whether or not we’re married.’
A month after the honeymoon, Richard moved out.
Now her mother phones daily with updates as the bills come in. She speaks in a flat voice, emotion wrung out with weeping. She asks her confused daughter how she is and wonders what Andrea will do next. Fearing for the wedding dress, she plans to remove it. There is always a market for once-worn designer clothing.
Charlie sits by the window each evening, waiting for his father to come home. He lines up his toys so they can watch, too, and tells them it won’t be long.
The spectre of the most wonderful day of her life haunts Andrea. Soon there will not be much hair left on her head. She has thrown the last bottle of nail varnish out of the window.
She still has the shoes.