Wedding Dress

 Published in Christian Courier, No. 2748, 2749 (September 13, 2004: Part 1 and September 27, 2004: Part 2)

Katherine knew exactly when it had started.  It started with Shirley’s bridal shower.  The girls in Administration had invited her.  They were a nice bunch, always including her, though she was just the custodian at Bethel Manor.  Of course, Grace and Shirley belonged to her church, but they were all much younger.  When relatives of the residents brought a cheesecake or Mississippi Mudpie to the main office, the girls would always save her a piece.   If she protested, Janice, the bookkeeper, would insist, “Honey, you work so hard, you deserve a break!” She couldn’t argue with that – she did work hard.

 

She’d been looking forward to the shower.  It would be fun, she’d told herself.  Heaven knew she could use some fun.  Forty days since Edward had moved out.  Soon, she thought, very soon, she would be counting it in months. Maybe it would seem more distant then, more removed.  Maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much.  It was not the first time they had separated, but this time, they had agreed, it was for good.  He’d resigned from church, too.  That was another hurt, a fresh one. Rev. Hamstra had prayed for him during the service on Sunday.  Tears had stung her closed eyes and she’d blinked furiously.  She hadn’t been ready for that.  At least, the separation hadn’t been mentioned.  Then she would have broken down altogether.  Her daughter, Tilda, sitting beside her, had squeezed her hand tightly. 

 

The shower was at Melissa’s place.  Everyone was excited because it was the first time they would have a chance to see Melissa’s house since her own wedding just a few months earlier.  Shirley was already enthroned in a chair decorated with purple and white streamers and balloons when Katherine arrived.  All of the girls were wearing purple, too, since that was the colour of the bridesmaids’ dresses.  There was a cheerful atmosphere in livingroom as they all admired the decorations and checked out one another’s purple outfits. She planted a smile on her face, sucked in her sadness, and reached for a glass of punch. 

 

Grace suggested a tour of the house.  It sparkled with newlywed attention. They all chuckled at the spare bedroom.  It had been a nursery and was still decorated with a teddy bear border and stars that glowed in the dark on the ceiling.   Janice had teased Melissa about when the cute little room would have an occupant.  Melissa winked and confidently assured them, “Not yet!”  Then it was back to the livingroom for coffee and goodies. 

 

Katherine had been captivated by a large framed print that dominated one wall of the livingroom.  It was a scene of a waterfall, with a girl standing in the pool beneath, arms upraised in ecstasy as the crystal spray was flung all around her.  Her uplifted face was bejewelled in the sunshine.  Melissa explained, “That was photographed by my uncle in Thunder Bay.  He’s an amateur, but he’s really pretty good, don’t you think?  The girl is his daughter.  It won an award at a local competition.  I really like it.  Such a personal gift.”  Katherine stood transfixed, marvelling at the clarity of the water droplets against the background greenery and the girl’s expression of joyful innocence.  Then, abruptly, she turned away, feeling hollow inside.

 

After everyone had had a chance to sample the buffet, Melissa introduced a fun activity before the opening of the gifts.  The girls were paired off.  Katherine and Shirley, Grace and Lucy, Barbara and Janice.  Melissa handed each one of them a roll of toilet tissue.  “Now,” she instructed, “one of you is the bride and the other is the mother of the bride.  Moms, you have to dress your daughter in a beautiful gown that you create out of the tissue roll.  You are allowed to use only one roll!  I’ll be the judge of the most beautiful bride when everyone is finished.”

 

Amid lots of laughter, the “moms” went to work.  Janice, ever the comedian, outfitted Barbara in a draped creation that would have been scandalous had she not been wearing a purple dress underneath.  “It’s the seductive look.  It’s all the rage in Paris,” she deadpanned.  “Go ahead,” she urged Barbara, “walk the runway.”  She propelled Barbara down the hall, improvising a fashion commentary on the spot. “Tonight we are sooo excited here in New York to witness the newest creation of the famous French designer, Janice, ah… Bouvier.   Janice has chosen to concentrate once again on her signature style,  the bare minimalist look, allowing the body plenty of exposure for freedom for movement.”  Barbara played along, putting on her best haute couture face, twirling at the end of the hall, and sashaying back to the livingroom.

 

Lucy had managed to form a cowl neck on Grace’s gown and was busy tucking long strips of tissue into her “belt”.  “I’m having trouble here because of your sweatshirt,” she groused.  “Grace, why did you wear such a baggy old thing.  You look pregnant!”

 

“It’s the only thing I own that’s purple!  If I had known I was going to model a wedding dress, I might have taken some precautions nine months ago,” Grace shot back goodnaturedly.

 

Shirley was having better luck with Katherine’s gown.  Wrapping tissue in horizontal strips snugly around her chest, she created a strapless bodice.  Because Katherine was wearing a tank top and only the shoulder straps showed, it looked almost perfect.  Then, catching on to Lucy’s idea, Shirley began hanging strips of tissue side by side from a tissue sash to create a passable-looking skirt in the front.  To complete the effect, Shirley wound some tissue into a headband with a dainty bow and arranged it perkily in Katherine’s hair.

 

Finally each bride was made to pose in front of the large oak mirror hanging in Melissa’s front hall.  The vote was unanimous – Katherine’s ensemble was definitely the most successful.   In the mirror was a still-lovely woman.  Short ash-blonde hair, a few laugh lines around  hazel eyes, her cheeks rosy from the busyness and fun.  And that’s when she lost it. Eyes misting a little, she acknowledged, “I would have looked nice in a wedding dress, wouldn’t I?  I never got to wear one, you know.”

 

“Why not?” blurted Melissa.

 

Katherine had paused, disconcerted.  Could she really not know?  These girls were so young.  Their world was so different.  “Well, back in my day, you didn’t wear white when you were expecting….”

 

Janice shrieked her shock. “What! You couldn’t wear a wedding dress because you were pregnant?”

 

“That’s right.  My family, my father, wouldn’t let me….”  She broke off, sensing that she was stammering. 

 

Before Janice could continue, Grace interceded,  “I thought perhaps you meant you couldn’t afford one.”   She added gently, “That must have been hard.  I’ve heard that couples even had to go and confess their sin to the council before they could get married in church.”

 

Katherine nodded as she pulled off her headpiece.  “We had to do that.  And now, today, who knows if a couple has been sleeping together what with the pill and everything.”

 

“Ain’t that the truth,” Janice agreed emphatically.

 

As the tissue dresses were shed, the slight awkwardness at Katherine’s revelation faded, and Melissa ceremoniously handed her a gift for being the most beautiful bride.  It was a tiny basket trimmed with delicate mauve ribbons and filled with flavoured coffees and herbal teas.  “I’ll take them to work, so we can all try some,” she promised.

 

Shirley unwrapped her presents and they sat for a while, enjoying the time to chat.  Janice entertained them with a wild tale about preparing fajitas for the local high school banquet.  She soon had them in stitches as she always did.  “Those goofy Grade 11 girls bought fajita kits!  Can you believe it!  Kits!  We had to cook seventy-five kits of fajitas in three hours!  We should have just gone to Taco Bell, believe me!”

 

Later, on her solitary way home, the hilarity of the evening dissipated and sorrow engulfed Katherine once more.  Her life seemed so finished. Failed.  These young women saw only bright futures ahead.  How pleased Shirley had been with the set of bath towels she’d given her!  If only she could find happiness that easily.

 

Her own wedding day tugged at her memory.  She had worn a pink two-piece suit and a pill-box hat.  She had looked sophisticated, or so she had imagined.  The wedding photo on the mantle at home revealed a teenage girl trying to look mature.  Those naive Grade 11 girls Janice had poked fun at were only a year younger than she was when she got married!   Edward’s parents had bought him a new suit, too.  He still had pimples, she remembered.  At the ceremony both sets of parents had been sober-faced. The reason for the hasty wedding had robbed them of any smiles. Nor was there a honeymoon.  They had moved into the “hired man’s house” on her father-in-law’s farm and immediately begun the day-to-day life of a poor couple still dependent on their parents.

 

As Katherine drove into her long dark laneway, lined with the tall poplars she and Ed had planted together, her hands tightened on the wheel in futile regret.  She had been eighteen.  They had only done it once.  And the truth was, she had tried to make Edward stop.  Well, not at first, to be absolutely truthful.  But he had been persistent and in no time, it was done.  In the back seat of his parents’ car.  At the very end, she had cried out sharply in surprise at the pain.  Afterwards he had awkwardly tried to comfort her as she sat shaking and sobbing.  She had been overwhelmed by the enormity of what had occurred.  He didn’t want her to cry.  He swore that it wouldn’t happen again.  He told her that he loved her….

 

The motion light her son Henry had installed over the garage door flashed on as Katherine parked the car beside the house.  She opened the screen door and unlocked the wooden door which led to the kitchen. Feeling pensive and wakeful, she put the kettle on.  She would try a flavoured coffee, perhaps the almond.

 

Puttering in the kitchen, she remembered that her mom and dad had cried, too, when she finally had to tell.  Her dad!  She would never forget his enormous hands covering his face and the strangled cry wrenched out of him before the words of condemnation poured forth.  “Slet, slet,” he had raged at her, his English lost in his fury.

 

Her mother had pleaded with him.  “Nay, Harm, nay.  Onze Katrien.  You must not say that.  The Lord forgives.”  And she had embraced Katherine then, to cover the harsh words, their tears and love mingling,  but the words still remained.

 

After Tracy’s birth, Edward had grown frustrated working for his dad, who rarely missed an opportunity to remind Edward about his missed opportunities.  About the time Henry came along, Edward had a chance to start trucking for National Freight, and he took it. Tilda was born two years later.

 

How she had tried to atone for her sin!  Edward seemed not so bothered by it, but her father’s bitterness and the serious faces of the seventeen men in dark suits seated around the consistory room table had seared her conscience.  She slaved in the house and garden, determined to meet the standards of the community.  Monday was wash day, Tuesday ironing and mending, Wednesday working in the garden, and Thursday more washing and baking, Friday clean the house, and Saturday get the house and kids and clothes and soup ready for Sunday, and Sunday go to church twice.  Though they didn’t have much money, she sewed pretty dresses for the girls and for herself, too.  Edward’s and Henry’s shoes were always polished.

 

When Henry was in Grade 1, Edward  began accepting longer runs and was away for days, even weeks at a time.  He and his cheques came home more sporadically.  By this time, the hired man’s house had been exchanged for a nice bungalow on a lot severed from the farm, but they still paid rent to Edward’s dad.  The money that made it to the bank dwindled. Edward always had some explanation for the shortage – a fine at the weigh scales, a blown tire, a buddy who desperately needed a few bucks.  That’s when she had finally taken on the custodian job at the nursing home.

 

Sometime after Tilda was born, Katherine suspected that Edward was no longer faithful.  When he came home after having been away so long, he would stay up and watch the late show, needing to unwind, he said.  She grew awkward with him, reluctant, wondering and worried.  It was her sister, Trudy, who had first confided in her what she had heard.  Trudy had told out of love, she knew.  When she had stormed and wept, Edward had begged her to forgive him, and she had.  But the extended absences continued and so did the doubt, and things were never really the same after that. 

 

She’d resolved to be a good mother at least, stanching the hole in her heart.  She read the Bible and prayed with the kids at every meal.  She attended congregational and school membership meetings.  She took Henry to Cadets and the girls to Calvinettes.  When her father-in-law was stricken with cancer, she visited him faithfully.  How surprised the whole family had been when his will was read.  He had bequeathed the house to her!  Not to Edward.  Just to her.  No one disputed it.  By then, everyone had heard the rumours.

 

Katherine sipped the fragrant coffee and wandered through the house.  She peeked in on Tilda who had been reading in bed and fallen asleep with her light on.  Katherine switched it off and smiled at her youngest,

so beautiful and so dear.  The Lord had blessed her in her children.  All three of them were solid and dependable, protective and considerate of her.  Tracy, expecting her first.  Henry, still a bachelor, but already a deacon.  And Tilda, her baby, off to college again in the fall for her final year in business.  None of them had been particularly upset when their dad had moved out permanently.  Tilda, especially, was vocal in her approval. 

 

“Good.  I hate it when he’s here and you serve him meals and he acts like he belongs here.  When was the last time he gave you any money?”  It was mostly because of the kids that she had told Edward not to come home anymore.  They had no respect for him.  When he was home, Tilda smoldered continually.

 

Edward hadn’t argued.  “Well, if that’s the way you feel, Katherine.  I don’t mind being on my own.  I’ll get an apartment in Port Billings.”  But she knew that he wasn’t on his own that much.

 

It was on her way to Bethel Manor the morning after the shower that she first saw the dress in the window at Darlene’s Bridal Salon.  She had never paid much attention to the shop before.  The mannequin faced away from the street, so that all you could see was the back of the dress.  Katherine glanced at it and noticed puffed sleeves and a bow low on the back.  A long veil cascaded from a wreath in the mannequin’s hair.  A wistful yearning overcame her.

 

Every morning and evening since then she just couldn’t help herself.  She would see the shimmering gown and allow herself a moment to imagine wearing it.  She began to wonder what the front of the dress was like.  Of course, anything so exquisite in the back must be equally stunning in the front.  She noted more details every time she drove past.  There were buttons all the way down the back, right to the bow.  The scalloped neckline plunged to a deep V between the shoulders.   She couldn’t tell if there was a train, and she found herself curious, wanting to know.

 

Shirley’s wedding day arrived three weeks later.  The weather was perfect.  The church had been decorated with white tulle, satin bows and candelabra entwined with ivy.  The groom and best man and ushers wore black tuxedos and their black shoes gleamed.  The bridesmaids promenaded down the aisle, their purple satin dresses reflecting the sunlight that poured through the stained glass windows of the church.   Shirley was poised and confident on her father’s arm.  Her dress shone and her smile was jubilant.

 

Katherine had a weepy moment when the vows were exchanged.  Her own loss seemed so blatant and inappropriate at such a happy, romantic occasion.  Reverend Hamstra delivered a brief meditation, reading a passage from Isaiah:

 

I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God.  For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 

 

He leaned over the pulpit and spoke directly to the couple, waving his eyeglasses as he did when he was on a roll: “Today is a fancy day and you both sure do look good!  But remember, it’s not just you two standing here today.  God’s here.  He has to be the centre of your marriage.  He’s the one who is a sure foundation for joy and fidelity in your future life.” 

 

Katherine liked Rev. Hamstra.  He was a good man who had often tried to convince Edward to consider counselling.  Throughout the rest of the service and through the dinner and reception, his words lingered as she socialized with Janice, Melissa and the rest of the gang.

 

The Friday after Shirley’s wedding, a huge SALE sign blocked Katherine’s view of the gown in the window.  The thought that the gown might be sold before she had had a chance to view it from all sides piqued her.  And that’s when it crossed her mind, Why not just stop by after work and have a look?         

 

She found herself rather shyly entering Darlene’s Bridal Salon at 4:30 the very same afternoon.  A woman with bleached blond hair in an upswept style and painted fingernails was sitting at a desk reading a book.  Her ebullient welcome nearly sent Katherine back out the door. 

 

“Can I help you?” she asked.  “July is an excellent time to buy.  It’s time to make room for the incoming fall stock.  As you can see, everything is reduced.”  With a sweeping gesture, she indicated the racks of wedding gowns lined up on either side of the boutique.

 

Katherine hesitated, suddenly aware of her custodian’s uniform. “Well, I just wanted to look at the gown in the window.  I’ve been admiring it on my way to work every day.” 

 

The saleslady motioned her over to the window display.  “Yes, this is a magnificent gown, isn’t it?  It’s from Saks Fifth Avenue.  It was featured in the Spring Issue of Bride magazine.”  She went to her desk, searched among papers and magazines and pulled out the right issue.  Sure enough, there it was in the magazine, modelled by a dewy young woman posing regally on a flagstone path that led to a mansion in the background.

 

Katherine was feeling awkward, but the woman was warming to her task.  “This is the loveliest dress in my shop right now, I think.  Well, I mean, they’re all beautiful, of course, but this one just had to go in the window display.  The neckline is so feminine, isn’t it, scalloped that way?  It’s a little low, but a hint of cleavage is OK, don’t you think?

 

Katherine reached out a tentative hand to touch the sleeve, intricately beaded with seed pearls and trimmed with appliqued lace.  A tiny satin bow hung beneath the shoulder puff, and little strands of pearls swung free.  The sleeve ended in a point at the wrist, detailed with more lace and pearls. “Is there a train?” she managed to ask. 

 

The saleslady stepped over a small white wrought iron fence into the window display and swivelled the mannequin slightly so that the back of the dress could be seen.  There was the train, not long, but elegantly styled with a diamond-shaped lace cutout accented with sequins and pearls.

 

“Well, what do you think?  Isn’t it fabulous?  Of course, I have plenty of others I could show you.”  She stepped over the little fence, already bustling over to the rack to pull out some other choices.  

 

“No,” Katherine shook her head and smiled politely.  “I was just looking.”  She turned to go, adding, “They certainly make beautiful wedding dresses these days.”

 

The woman, sensing that her customer was readying a departure, seized the offensive.  “Wouldn’t you like to try it on?  I’m sure we have it in your size.  What are you, about a 14?  You really can’t tell about a gown, you know, unless you try it on.  Is it for yourself, or a daughter, perhaps? 

 

Katherine was puzzled that the woman could think that she was shopping for herself.  Then she remembered that she had taken off her wedding ring the day Edward had come with the U-Haul and emptied the house of all his things.  In spite of the pang, there was a rush of independence, too, and she felt adventuresome. 

 

“Well, it would be fun to try it on.  Yes, I’m a size 14.  You’re good with sizes.”

 

The blond woman smiled and said, “It’s comes with the territory.  I’m Darlene, by the way.  Here step into this dressing room and start changing and I’ll find the dress for you.”  When she returned with the gown, she deftly slipped off the plastic, entered the changing area, and hung the dress on a hook.  Just let me know when you’re ready for some help with the buttons.  I’ll get a crinoline for you, too.”  She exited, but continued the conversation through the screened partition.

 

“Is this a first or a second marriage for you?” she called.  Katherine was stumped, not wanting to lie.  Before she could respond, Darlene confided cheerfully, “My children were thrilled for me when I remarried, but my husband’s kids sure weren’t, I can tell you that!  Didn’t want to lose their inheritance, you know.”  She knocked and entered, buttoning up the gown and demonstrating how the elasticized crinoline fit easily underneath the dress.  “Do you have any children to deal with?”

 

Relieved that she could answer at least this truthfully, Katherine said, “Three. Two daughters and a son.  My oldest, Tracy, is expecting her first.” 

 

This announcement triggered an excited squeal from Darlene.  “I’m going to be a grandma, too!  My daughter is five months along.  Well, how about that!  I am so looking forward to my first grandchild, aren’t you?”  Her attention spun back to the dress.  “Now, careful.  I’ve got your train.  Just step up on that little stool there in front of the three-way mirror, so you can see the full effect.”

 

The full effect was breathtaking.  Katherine hardly recognized herself.  There was a new person, transformed by swirls of white fabric.  The bodice sparkled with sequins and pearls, and the skirt, filled out by the crinoline, made soft silky rustling sounds when she moved. 

 

“Wait,” Darlene commanded.  “We’ll just put that veil on you, too.”  She had Katherine step down for a moment and placed the circlet of white silk flowers and leaves on her head.  The veil was attached to the back of the headpiece.  This final touch made Katherine tingle.  Could that really be her in the mirror?

 

“You look dazzling.  Simply amazing.  That dress was made for you.” 

 

Katherine was staring in astonishment.  “You know, I think this dress is even more beautiful than Tracy’s was.”   Darlene’s attention reverted to babies again.   “Has she picked a name for her baby, yet?”

 

“No, I don’t think so.”  

 

Darlene indicated the book on her desk.  “I was just looking through a name book when you came in.  Holly, that’s my daughter, said I could help her make a list of names to consider.  Guess what my name means?  Little darling one.  Really cute for a woman my age, eh.”  She smirked at her own joke.  “What’s your name?”

 

“Katherine.”

 

“Know what it means?”

 

Katherine shrugged her shoulders and shook her head, “No.”  It was an attractive gesture in a wedding gown.  In the mirror she saw the little strands of pearls on the sleeves dance.

 

Darlene reached for her book and began flipping pages.  “Do you spell it with a C or a K?

 

“K”

 

“Ah, here it is.  It means ‘pure one’.” 

 

Katherine blanched.  Pure one!  Then, like the subtle and insistent susurration of the wind whispering through the poplars that lined her driveway, a tantalizing idea came upon her. It hovered, descended and grew into an irresistible vision.

 

Darlene hadn’t noticed her reaction, still absorbed in the book.  “Funny how everyone today picks those unisex names, you know, or really weird names?  And she started reading off the other names on the page.  Katrina, Kay, Kelly, Kendra…”

 

“I’ll take the dress,” Katherine interrupted.  Darlene looked up, startled, but obviously pleased. 

 

“Why, that’s wonderful.  It suits you.  An older bride should be traditional and elegant.”  Half an hour later the dress and veil were boxed up with tissue and Katherine’s VISA card was on the desk.  For a moment, doubt shook her.  The total was well over $800.  That would pay for the next installment of her taxes, or help Tilda with her college expenses….  Resolutely, she pushed those thoughts away.  The vision she had been given was simply too compelling.  Perhaps she could sell the gown later.

 

That evening, having hidden the box in her bedroom, Katherine made a list of things to do.  Very early the next morning, while Tilda slept in as she usually did on Saturdays, she loaded her car with a vacuum cleaner, Windex, paper towels, rags, Pinesol, vases, and a pail of water with a tight-fitting lid.  She drove about ten minutes down the sideroad to Highway 6.  At the corner, she stopped and picked some tiger lilies, daisies, and cornflowers from the ditch.  Then she got back in her car and headed west for another five minutes. 

 

As she pulled into the little square parking lot, Katherine was delighted by her inspiration.  The little Wayside Chapel for Travellers would be perfect, she thought.  Built by the Cadets many years ago as a project for a woodworking badge, the diminutive building was about the size of her kitchen.  But it was a true country church, with white siding, a black roof, pale gold gothic windows and a steeple topped by a white cross.

 

As she hoped it would be, the front door was unlocked, and she stepped inside.  Two half-pews were arranged on either side of a centre aisle which led to an open area at the front.  The carpet was a deep blue and a small faded Oriental rug was positioned in front of a raised platform on which sat a lectern and an open Bible.  The lectern did not face the pews, however, but the window opposite the front door.  This window, too, was made of yellow glass, and was framed with a cross.  The cross, the panelled walls and the pews were all made of the blond wood favoured by churches in the early sixties.  A rack on the wall contained a few yellowed tracts and pamphlets.   A thick layer of dust lay on everything and a wasp buzzed overhead.  Cobwebs hung from every corner.

 

Katherine checked and found an electrical outlet by the door.  She wasted no time.  Judging by the temperature already, it was going to be a very hot day.  She took out her pail of water, removed the cover, and scooped some water with the vases.  She arranged the wildflowers in the vases and set them in the shade of a nearby shrub.  She hoped they wouldn’t wilt.  Then she dragged the vacuum cleaner into the church.  She vacuumed thoroughly, the corners, the floor, the window sills.  Next, she carried the pail of water into the building. She mixed in some Pinesol, and then scrubbed the pews and windows and wiped down the walls.  Perspiring, though it was still early, she sprayed the windows with Windex and polished them with paper towels.  She even did the outside of the panes.  The mellow light which filtered through the newly-cleaned windows gleamed on the pews.  As a final touch, she brought in the vases and placed one on either side of the lectern on the platform.

 

When she was finished, she stood for a moment in the doorway surveying her work.  Beads of sweat trickled down her face, and she wiped her forehead with her arm.  The miniature church was clean and appealing.  The corners of Katherine’s mouth lifted in anticipation.

 

She drove home and managed to put away all of the cleaning supplies before Tilda had even dragged herself out of bed.  Katherine showered, and then called her.  While Tilda ate her cereal, she embarked on the next stage of her plan.

 

“Tilda, you have to do a favour for me this morning, OK?”

 

“Sure, Mom, what is it?”

 

“I want you to call the girls from work and invite them to come to the Wayside Chapel at 3:00 this afternoon.”  Tilda’s eyebrows arched in curiosity.  Katherine continued,  “Come to think of it, don’t bother calling Shirley.  She’ll still be on her honeymoon.  Or Lucy.  She’s on holidays, too.  Call Janice, Barbara, Melissa and Grace.  See if one of them can give you a ride there.  They probably can’t all make it on such short notice, but one or two would be nice. Here are the numbers.  Just say that it’s a big favour for me, and you don’t know what it is about.”

 

“Why, Mom?  What’s going on?”

 

“Never mind, it’s a surprise for you, too.  Now, I have to go to town and get groceries and you get on the phone while I’m gone.” 

 

“But, Mom,” Tilda persisted.  “What’s going on?  What are you up to?”

 

“Something fun,” Katherine promised.  “Bye,” she called as she let the screen door slam behind her.  When she returned about an hour or so later with groceries and the mail from the post office in town, Tilda met her at the door to help unload.

 

“Well,” she said, “I did what you asked.  Grace can come, and she will pick me up.  Melissa can come, too.  Barbara and Janice are both at First Church’s picnic today.”

 

“That’s great, honey.  Thanks.  I want you to bring our camera, too, OK, when Grace picks you up.”  Katherine would divulge no further details.  For the rest of the afternoon, a smile hovered on her lips and her eyes sparkled with her secret.  She wouldn’t even let Grace in the house when she came for Tilda, but chased them both away with assurances that the mystery would soon be revealed.

 

                                                **************************

 

It was 3:30.  Tilda, Grace and Melissa were seated on the two front pews speculating about the flowers and the surprise.  Even in their shorts and t-shirts, the heat was stifling and the slate sky rumbled ominously.  They had opened the door to let in some breeze, and it seemed that the wind was picking up a little, soughing through the maples surrounding the chapel.  Then they heard the roll of tires on the gravel. A car door slammed and suddenly Katherine was in the doorway. 

 

The three women rose, speechless.  Katherine waited, savouring the moment.  She carried a bouquet of tiger lilies, cornflowers, daisies, and white parasol-shaped Queen Anne’s Lace.  In the hazy amber light of the chapel the wedding gown was luminous.  Her face was flushed and glistened in the heat.  Before anyone could say anything, she attempted a light-hearted explanation.  “Guess what I found out yesterday?  What my name means.  It means ‘pure'”.  Although she began with a smile, she choked back a breathy sob on ‘pure’.  Tilda moved toward her mom, but Grace, with a flash of intuition, placed a restraining hand on her arm.  “Go ahead, Katherine.,” she quietly urged.  “Walk down the aisle.  You look beautiful.”

 

So Katherine proceeded, the skirt crushed by the narrow aisle, her train still at the door when she reached the front of the church.  She turned around and said, “I prepared something to say.”  She knelt and faced the cross.  In a tremulous voice, she recited: “… a crown of beauty instead of ashes, oil of gladness instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair…. The Spirit and the bride say ‘Come!’”

 

“Amen.  Come, Lord  Jesus,” Grace whispered.  There was a momentary silence, then a deafening thunderclap.  All three women gasped, and then laughed at their shared fright.

 

Katherine lifted her gown, got to her feet, swung around and said, “Well, is someone going to take my picture?”  Tilda gave her a hug, and so did Grace and Melissa. 

 

“What is all of this about, Mom?”  Tilda wanted to know. 

 

“I’ll explain later, honey.  What do you think of this gown?  Isn’t it just glorious?” 

 

Tilda nodded. “It just sparkles with all of those sequins on the front! Must be hot, though.”

 

Grace suggested that they take some shots on the step of the church.  “It’s such a quaint and pretty little church.  I’ll have to use the flash outside since it’s getting so dark.  That storm is almost on us!”  Melissa wanted Katherine to pose by the picturesque sign at the side of  the highway.  Several passersby honked their congratulations to the bride as they whizzed by. 

 

A few huge droplets signalled that the cloudburst was upon them.  In seconds the rain was pouring down from the heavens in massive leaden sheets.  Melissa, Grace and Tilda dashed to the cars. “C’mon, Mom, you’ll ruin your dress,” Tilda shouted over her shoulder.  Upon reaching the parking lot, they realized that Katherine had not followed.  They watched bemused, from inside the cars, as she stood stock still in the pelting rain, arms raised and face tilted.  Though they couldn’t see it from where they were standing, her smile was triumphant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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