The big day

 

Wedding cake

Wedding cake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As she looked in the mirror, she realised with a deep sigh that it was still not good enough. Reaching for a wipe to remove the make up from her face, Alison tutted under her breath and told herself that today of all days – it had to be perfect. She glanced at the clock and gasped as the lateness of the hour dawned on her.

She tossed the used wipe into the bin where it joined several others and she reached for another. She stared disbelieving as she realised that it was her last one. This was her last chance in more ways than one. It would help if she wasn’t so damned nervous. There was a definite tremor in her hands and her stomach felt like a washing machine.

Removing the last of her make up, her thoughts drifted to the night before. Over and over, people had asked her if she was sure she was doing the right thing. It was a big step after all. As if she didn’t know. As if she hadn’t been through it in her head a thousand times before. Why were they trying to put doubts in her mind?

As she started applying her foundation, tendrils of uncertainty crept up on her. What if she was making a mistake. Was this the real thing? Were they going to be together forever? What if it all went wrong? She had felt so certain before, but sitting in her bridal lingerie with her make up half applied had made it all so terrifyingly real.

She looked at the clock again and nervousness started maturing into panic. She reached for her blusher and fumbled sending cosmetics flying in every direction. There was a knock at the door. “Are you OK in there?”. It was Sarah, her bridesmaid. “I’m fine – just clumsy”. She heard a giggle from the other side of the door and with a deep breath, Alison composed herself.

The rest of her make-up went on without incident and she surveyed the finished product in the mirror. It certainly wasn’t perfection but it would have to do. She had no more wipes and no more time. She pulled on her bridal gown as best she could, and called out for Sarah to come and zip her up. As she walked in, Sarah gasped and told her she looked beautiful.

Alison blushed, but she was so happy to hear the compliment and it helped to dispel a few of the butterflies in her stomach. As Sarah struggled with the zip, Alison looked in the mirror once more. Maybe she did look OK. From outside there was the sound of a car horn. “That’ll be the driver” Sarah said.

“Could we just have a quick drink Sarah? You know – to settle my nerves.” Disappearing with a wink, Sarah returned in an instant with a mini bottle of champagne and two glasses. The champagne was quickly poured and bride and bridesmaid chinked glasses before sinking a long mouthful.

The car horn sounded again, more urgently this time. “We’d better go!” Sarah said as she gave Alison’s arm a reassuring squeeze. Alison nodded and they headed out to the car. Alison didn’t know much about cars, but this one was very impressive – paid for by her father. As the doors shut behind them, they settled into the luxurious seats.

“Are you sure you’re OK?” Sarah asked. Alison nodded and stuttered that she was nervous. Sarah grabbed her hand and held it tightly. “It’s only natural – you’ll be fine”.

All too soon, they pulled up outside the registry office. Once out on the pavement, Sarah pulled Alison’s veil down into place and gave her a reassuring smile. “Let’s get you hitched!” she said. Alison moved robotically as she was led by the hand into the building. As she walked through the office towards the front, she glanced around her at all her guests furtively through the protection of her veil.

Although she had jelly legs, she managed to reach the front of the room without incident. She turned to face her partner for the first time that day as per the bridal tradition. Rebecca was resplendent in an identical gown to Alison and as they exchanged smiles through their veils, the last hints of nervousness melted away. Everything was going to be just perfect.

 

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A Victorian Letter

Dearest

My Dearest Rachel,

It seems like so very long ago that I penned my first letter to you as we steamed out of the port of Falmouth and I must confess, there have been times when I have felt that this interminable sea voyage might never end. And yet, here we lie at anchor in Zanzibar. Although we have seen some strange places along the way, I feel that this must rank as quite the rummest place I have ever set my gaze upon.

The natives seem to come from everywhere and swarm all over the dockside, spewing forth in tiny vessels into the harbour. In noisy and very loud foreign voices, they hawk their wares. They seem to be selling everything from bananas and ivory through to humanity itself. Their skin takes on the hue of varnished mahogany and their hair is curled so tight that it looks almost bound to their scalps.

The ladies seem to have little or no modesty, for they walk around wearing next to nothing. Their large breasts hang pendulous in front of them and yet they seem completely oblivious. Perhaps it is the heat, for it has become progressively warmer the further the ship has ventured. Lady Alice fainted yesterday, and it took Captain Jacobs’ smelling salts and a small dose of Father Edwards’ “holy water” to bring her back into the land of the living.

Captain Edwards is full of tales about what lies beyond the port as if he has spent several lifetimes here. I have to confess to private thoughts that I think he would speak this way of places he has yet to visit. He does say, however, that the temperature gets even more severe the further one ventures inland. As I look around my small cabin at the trunks full of evening and daywear, I feel I may have to improvise in terms of what to bring with me. Captain Edwards says that the bearers will only be able to take one trunk.

He speaks of big game with a glint in his eye as he polishes his impressive looking rifle. Apparently, some of the creatures which dwell on the island could swallow a man whole. The whole thing makes me feel quite queasy. I do look forward to seeing some of the stranger flora and fauna, but I hope we don’t come across to many snakes and spiders – they sound quite monstrous.

Father Edwards says that he is here to bring God to the savages. From what I have witnessed, I’m not sure the savages are really that interested, but he remains resolute. He says that he will found a small church, and teach the savages how to speak English and sing in God’s own tongue. I do hope he also teaches them how to dress with a modicum of decorum.

Although I have found my cabin quite uncomfortable, when we say goodbye to the ship and strike inland, we shall be staying in tents made from canvas. They assembled one on the deck yesterday, and not only did it take an age to assemble, but it really did seem like the flimsiest of structures and certainly not capable of keeping out some of the wilder creatures described by Captain Edwards.

The other thing that will take some getting used to is the constant swarm of insects tha burden every poor soul who ventures above decks. I am assured that they are much worse in the port than they are inland. I do hope so, because I find them quite the most tiresome beasts imaginable. Father Edwards has fashioned a net which hangs from my bonnet, and yet they still find their way through to my skin.

My dearest sister, I set out in search of adventure, and every day does seem to be very different to the days in London, but I do wonder why adventures seem to happen so slowly and uncomfortably. There are times when I wish I was taking tea in the parlour with you, but then I look around at the beauty that surrounds me, and I admonish myself.

Until we meet again (lest I be eaten by spiders or beguiled by snakes), I remain your most gracious sister, Emily.

Nearly home…

The stench was almost unbearable. To add insult to injury, the carriage was packed to the rafters, which was probably the main reason that Radcliffe found his nose uncomfortably close to an armpit. An unseasonably warm spell above ground had turned tube trains into mobile, underground ovens. It had been a long week, but at least it was Friday night, and this was the last time he would have to make this journey, at least until after the weekend.

He started to let his thoughts drift to how he would spend the upcoming days with his family. Maybe if the weather held, they could go to the zoo. Or maybe a picnic in Hyde Park. A walk by the Thames perhaps. The pleasant daydreams helped him to keep his mind off his current discomfort.

The train gradually slowed and lurched to a halt and the seething mass of people inside the train swayed like a field of metronomes – first in one direction and then another as they adjusted to the lack of motion. Radcliffe craned his head around to look out of the window. There wasn’t much to see other than the inky blackness of the tunnel beyond. He tutted and rolled his eyes at no-one in particular.

Seconds stretched to minutes, and a wave of impatience began to sweep the carriage. Some started to complain in hushed tones to their nearest neighbour. Some would repeatedly check their watches. Some would start to fidget, adjusting to being uncomfortable in a subtly different position. Others stared into space in borderline catatonia.

“Just two more stops” thought Radcliffe, trying to cheer himself up. Not too long now. Still, the train refused to move. Any moment now, the tannoy would crackle into life only for an overloud, disembodied voice to give them a useless excuse for why the train was stuck there.

The lights flickered once before they died out completely to a sea of collective groans from around the carriage. One by one, mobile phones came to life as people sought their own source of illumination. The  small screens served to light up people’s faces in an almost lunar, shadowy hue. Still no announcement from the driver.

Impatience matured into new emotions inside the carriage. Some grew angry, remonstrating with whoever might listen. Others became frustrated, swearing blind that this was the last time they would use the tube. For some, it was fear that spread its icy tendrils through their worried minds as the heat and the claustrophobia started to take over.

Radcliffe looked out through the window once more. Now it was dark in the carriage, a more detailed picture emerged of what lay outside the train. It was a double tunnel with two tracks and it occurred to him that no trains had passed since the train came to a halt.

Suddenly the train lurched and a weary cheer went up from inside the carriage, but it was premature, for the movement seemed not from the traction of the motors, because it was not sustained. The train rolled maybe a yard or so and then came to a halt once more.

The carriage became silent as everyone contemplated what this sudden motion might mean. People searched for answers in their fellow passengers’ faces, but no-one seemed to have any idea what was happening. Moments later, the train lurched again, more violently this time, causing some to lose their footing. Radcliffe could hear the sound of distant screams from the rear of the train.

Once again, the train lurched, even stronger and Radcliffe lost his balance this time, reaching out for something to slow his fall. Thankfully, he landed on something soft. Disoriented, he pulled himself to his feet. He could hear several people crying and some groaning in pain. “What on Earth is going on?”  he thought.

Again – he could dimly make out the sound of screaming from the rear of the train. Could it be a collision with another train? As this thought passed through his head, the train lurched twice in quick succession. The lights flickered for a millisecond and the train was plunged into darkness. In that brief flash of light, Radcliffe saw the faces of his fellow passengers frozen in expressions of terror.

He started to think seriously about leaving the train. As he tried to work out where the doors were, he was desperately trying to recall the details from the safety poster beside the door. It was a poster he had read a thousand times as a bored traveller, but somehow, the details eluded him now. If he did could get out, which way would he walk anyway?

Just as he reached the door, he started to feel vibrations through the floor of the carriage. He thought it might be an earthquake, although Radcliffe had never experienced  any kind of seismic activity in his life. The screams from the rear of the train were getting closer. Somewhere in the carriage, a window shattered.

People were starting to move forward through the train, away from the source of the screams. The vibrations through the floor grew stronger, making it more and more difficult to stay standing. The screams had now reached Radcliffe’s carriage and he could tell from their tone that there was something unwelcome moving amongst them.

Radcliffe froze as something grabbed hold of his arm in a vice like grip. He struggled to free himself and let out a scream when his other arm was grappled. He felt himself pinned back against a seat and he began thrashing his limbs, trying everything he could think of to get free.

He could hear a voice. It was muffled, coming from his assailant. The words were difficult to make out. Slowly, the creature began to take form as he focussed his gaze. The words gradually became clearer…

“Wake up sir, wake up. This is the end of the line. All change here, all change. You can’t sleep here.”

Dammit. He’d fallen asleep again. He should have known not to go for a drink with Parker after work.