Titirangi Storyteller

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Tasteful

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© 2004 Veronica McLaughlin

My name is Stevie. Mum’s always had a thing for Stevie Nicks, that singer who pranced around in white lace up boots and swirled chiffon scarves over her head while she bleated about witches in the woods. Mum endowed me with more fairy costumes and magic wands than my namesake ever owned; and for the first ten years of my life I pranced around the garden casting spells to meet Prince Charming and go off and live in a castle when I grew up. It hit me around fourteen that girls living on Taurus Circle in Glen Eden don’t always get married, and if they did, all too often it ended like Mum and Dad. He hung about when we were little, but by the time NancyAnn (named for the Wilson sisters from Heart) and I were teenagers we saw less and less of him and Mum had a new bloke every couple of months. I had my heart set on a prince and nothing less would do.

When I left school, I shifted to a student flat in Ponsonby. I felt clever living with people who studied and listened to the Cure, instead of dole bludgers who believed in Nintendo and Metallica. Mind you, I was glad to be done with books and thought Robert Smith was so far up himself, he was just about inside out, but these people were going somewhere and I knew that if I stayed on Taurus Circle, I’d be doing Karaoke to Mariah Carey every Saturday night and end up just like Mum.

I got a job in an op-shop on K Road and then one at Glassons. Moved up to assistant manager, and so on. Got a better flat. Dated some nice guys with good jobs, but they never worked out. Instead of being set in a flash house in Remuera, working on a kid or two; I was pushing thirty and still single, working as a buyer for Smith & Caughey. I was starting to think it would never happen until I met Griffin.

Griffin is perfect in every way; tall, dark hair, good looking, and an account manager for Microsoft. Not to mention that his parents’ St Heliers home has six bedrooms and seven loos! I love him and we get along just great. It’s been nearly two years and we just bought a flat in Parnell; so I figure it’s just a matter of time until he pops the question.

Last winter NancyAnn and her partner Mike decided to get married and I have to be a bridesmaid. They’ve been living together nearly ten years and have three kids, so it seems a bit late. A few years ago they bought a classic fixer upper in Ranui, which means Mike’s always got half a dozen things going with jib board, wires and half painted walls everywhere. Sort of like a modern art exhibit, bright colours and everything every which way so none of it makes any sense.

Not for me. I like things tasteful – and Griffin’s mum, Rosalie, has such great taste. She helped me pick out the lounge suite and our bedroom furniture, and told the painters what colours to paint our walls. I didn’t really like the mustard and lime green she chose, but everyone says it looks great, even the weird vases and pictures. I hated the pictures, blotches of colour, like kindy kids painted them. So I bought some nice posters and had them framed and hung them instead. Rosalie had a fit, said they would never do, and took them right down, clucking at me like a chook. I mean, I really like her and respect her, but sometimes she can be such a bitch. Besides, the pictures were artistic, like the Botticelli exhibit she dragged me to the art gallery to see, girls in long white dresses, running through the forest with flowers in their hair. But they weren’t by a famous artist, and that’s all she cares about.

NancyAnn had been after Mike to marry her ever since Kylie was born, and she’s eight now. They were supposed to do it when Kylie was two, when his Nanna died and he inherited ten grand. She was so excited, making plans. But then she fell pregnant again and they decided to wait until after the baby came.

Right about then, Mike became obsessed with his hair. He’d always worn it in a mullet, but it was getting thin on top and he spent hours fussing in front of the mirror. First he tried that Regain stuff from the chemist. Then he went to the doctor and got the real thing. I’d go over and the two of them would be massaging themselves, NancyAnn rubbing lotion into her belly growing bigger and bigger and Mike rubbing lotion onto the top of his head getting balder and balder.

When NancyAnn went into hospital, Mike went to a men’s clinic. She came home with a baby; he came home with plugs. As NancyAnn’s baby fat dropped off, so did the little rows of baby hairs, and soon you couldn’t tell NancyAnn had ever had a baby or that Mike had spent eight thousand dollars trying to get his hair to grow back. When NancyAnn learned what he’d spent, she called him every name in the book, and swore she couldn’t live with such an arse.

When he brought the wig home I thought she would take a kitchen knife to him. It looked great, custom made to match his hair perfectly, so he was back to looking like the old Mike, mullet and all. But that cost a couple grand, so all NancyAnn’s wedding money was gone. After a couple of months the wig started looking tatty and he couldn’t afford to keep it shampooed and styled, so he didn’t wear it anymore. He went back to the other old Mike and there was no more talk of weddings.

For two years I’d come up with excuses to keep Griffin from meeting Mum, but there was no way out of this. Not when NancyAnn turned up at seven in the morning to deliver the invitation and he answered the door. She said that if he found some excuse to get out of coming to the wedding, she’d never speak to either of us again.

I knew the day was doomed from the start. NancyAnn booked the entire Glam-U-Lon Salon in Glen Eden – hair and makeup for her entourage. How tacky is it for a 34-year-old bride with three kids to have eight bridesmaids?

The salon seemed dark as I stepped inside, but as my eyes adjusted I had the sensation of falling into a cloud… a muslin cloud… muslin draping and swooping on the walls, muslin Austrian blinds pillowing and bunching, muslin room dividers. At the reception desk I was greeted by a girl with decaying front teeth, brittle bleached hair and a T-shirt that read ‘Enjoy Cock’ instead of ‘Enjoy Coke’.

She pointed me to a seat near the seven other bridesmaids, their hair up in an impossible number of rollers, heads under those old fashioned bonnets like Mum had when we were kids. “Who did this to you, doll?” a woman in a muslin smock asks, running her fingers through my hair. “How can we fix it?”

“Leave it alone, “ I growl back. As if I’d let her touch it! This cut and colour cost $225 and looks great, very tasteful. “I’m just getting make-up.” She shrugs her shoulders and turns away, looking sorry for me.

Three hairdressers go to work on the other bridesmaids. I wonder what they’re going to do with all that long hair. Like factory workers on autopilot, they part each girl’s hair in the middle and then divide the front from the back. The back goes into a ponytail and then, tress by tress, with the assistance of a fog of hairspray and hundreds of strategically placed pins, is converted into a towering pile of ringlets. Then each of the front parts gets draped over an ear and swooped on top of the pile where it is pinned and sprayed into place. I am in awe.

“Where’s NancyAnn?” I ask.

“Oh, she’s in the private room. Krystle’s doing it herself.” I decide not to ask who Krystle is, and sit back in my chair and let the beautician apply my makeup. Judging by hers, I’ll look a fright, but there’s nothing I can do.

When she’s done, the first group of bridesmaids is ready. They gather at the front door and smoke. I leaf through the magazines on the glass and chrome coffee table. I wonder what Griffin’s mum would think of the life-size bust of Cleopatra perched at the table’s end – cast in plaster and tarted up in silver and gold paint. I ask the girl in the Cock T-shirt for a glass of water. She goes out back and returns with a half-filled coffee cup. I look outside at the bridesmaids with their ringlets and their fags and feel lonely sipping my tepid tap water.

At last NancyAnn emerges in a tiny red T-shirt – the sleeves and lower half of the body cut into a fringe, over a tight black leather skirt and black and gold cowboy boots. She is beautiful, though she could be hiding the scars of a knife fight under all that pancake. Her hair is done like the bridesmaids, but she is the only natural blonde, the only one with a long white veil. She waves at me and pays the girl in the Cock T-shirt with five hundred dollar notes as she lights up a fag, exhaling as she steps outside.

They all high five each other and get in their noisy old cars. I hear the radio playing Born to be Wild as they drive away, laughing. I pinch a cigarette from the girl in the Cock T-shirt and go sit outside and smoke.

I’d arranged for Griffin to meet me at a café in Ranui– if you could call that hole in a wall next to a fish shop a café. I sat there sipping a dreadful coffee, when he turned up at three thirty on the dot. With Rosalie in tow. Oh no! Not his mother. His perfect, Patrick Steele suited mother can’t possibly meet Mum. Or NancyAnn and Mike. I could explain to Griffin, make him see I’m not like them, but not her. She won’t care how much I’ve tried to improve myself and be like her. All she’ll see is the ringlets and the teeth and NancyAnn’s purple velour lounge suite from the Avondale Spiders.

“A bit too much make-up, Stevie, don’t you think?” Griffin’s mum’s voice is sour and disapproving.

“I know,” I apologise, “but NancyAnn insisted. It’ll look better when it gets dark.”

Griffin props a weak grin on his face and says, “Mum’s been dying to meet your family, too, so she rang NancyAnn this morning and asked if she could come along. She said it was all right.” I nod and don’t answer.

We parked a couple of blocks up the street from NancyAnn’s house. As we walked down the footpath, I knew she was eying every bit of rubbish in the street, every broken toy lying in the garden, every old car parked on the front lawn, every weed and crooked post-box, and there was nothing I could say.

“Stevie!” There’s Mum, straight off the cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album, her long hair a tangle of greying curls entwined with roses, in white lace up boots, several dozen silver bracelets and chains and a dozen metres of floaty pink and blue chiffon billowing below a white lace corset. “Look at you, girl! Looking like a million bucks,” she says, “Hey Garth! Garth!” She calls through the lounge to the garden and a lanky bloke in black leather comes strolling in. “Meet my other daughter, Stevie.” Garth nods and looks at me nervously. “And you must be Griffin!” Mum downs her wine and throws her arms around him. He doesn’t know what to do, and stands helplessly while Mum carries on.

I introduce Rosalie to Mum and wait for her to scowl or say something awful. Rosalie smiles and says, “Deanna! It’s so lovely to meet you at last. Stevie talks about you all the time, how brilliant and talented her Mum is.” She takes Mum’s hand, “What a beautiful dress! You must have made this yourself.”

Mum is beaming. “Oh, this is nothing, wait til you see NancyAnn’s. I spent nearly two months on it.” Then they’re talking like old friends. What’s going on? Before I have a chance to think, little Kylie spots me and drags me to the bedroom to get dressed.

I’m so freaked I don’t even care that my dress doesn’t fit and my boobs are bursting over the tightly laced black corset. These stilettos will sink into the lawn. Everything seems far away, like I’m remembering a dream or a movie from long long ago. I have a couple of glasses of wine and find myself laughing with Mel and Serena and Juliana, girls I haven’t seen for years.

It’s about to begin. We fall in line, one by one, eight bridesmaids, eight dark fairies, popping through the billowing chiffon curtains that festoon the ranch slider, parading across the deck, through the garden atop a white wooden platform to a rose-covered trellis, as Stevie Nicks’ Belladonna plays in the background. And there’s Mike, in a white leather suit, looking fit and tan as ever, with his wig, professionally shampooed and styled, perched on top of his head, too blonde now to match his greying ponytail. I muffle a giggle and stand next to Mel, clutching my bouquet waiting for NancyAnn.

The tape suddenly shifts and Heart’s Dreamboat Annie starts to play.

Heading out this morning into the sun
Riding on the diamond waves, little darlin’ one
Warm wind caress her, Her lover it seems.

Oh, Annie, Dreamboat Annie my little ship of dreams

NancyAnn appears, a hundred metres of white gossamer chiffon, so she’s floating on it, her eyes a million miles away, happier than she’s ever been in her life. And I realise this is her dream come true. This. She is the Queen, beautiful and glowing and radiant and nothing is more pure than this moment. She will treasure it for the rest of her life, no matter what comes after. I feel a quiver flow through me, starting at my toes, rippling upwards til it reaches my eyes and I feel tears stinging. This is what I want, too.

The ceremony was lovely, a couple of dogs barking over the fence, but nothing awful. But when Mike kissed NancyAnn I had a terrible thought. Now that they were married, what was left for them to do?

I found Griffin and his mother in the back corner of the garden. Neither seemed unhappy, so I gave him a peck on the cheek and promised to be right back. I keep running into people I haven’t seen in years, Cindy – getting drunk in her parents’ lounge and throwing up red Chateau de Cardboard on their burgundy carpet, and we laughed because you couldn’t tell. Donna – we got caught getting stoned behind the library in sixth form and had to leave school. And Shane – my first bonk. I don’t know how many peach schnapps I’d downed, but suddenly we’re in the loo, my corset unlaced and knickers around my ankles, laughing and going at it, on the sink, on the toilet, ending up in the shower. Fixing my makeup after, I fretted over how to explain being away so long to Griffin. It didn’t matter. We were over anyway. Rosalie would see to that.

It was getting dark when I got back to the garden he was waiting alone. Rosalie had gone and he seemed thin and frail and in need of protection. I took his hand and introduced him around, telling him all the stories, waiting for him to pull away, to hate me for hiding the truth.

We went home at midnight, me so drunk I could barely walk. Griffin undressed me and tucked me into bed.

I awake to croissants and beautiful coffee and vases of white lilies surrounding the bed. Maybe I’m stuck in a dream. But this is no dream. On the breakfast tray there sits a small velvet covered box and inside the box is a huge diamond ring. “I wanted to ask you last night. I thought it would be romantic to propose at your sister’s wedding, but things didn’t go the way I expected.” I grin and carefully shake my head. “Will you marry me?”

“Yes.” Yes! Of course I say yes! This is, after all, exactly what I have been praying for all these years.

The phone rings. Griffin answers and hands it to me. “It’s Mother.” Well, there’s nothing the old cow can do now. “Congratulations, dear. You’re a very lucky girl.” She sounds positively sweet.

“Oh yes, thank you,” I gush. “You have to see my ring – it’s so beautiful!”

“I know,” she answers. “I helped pick it out.”

“You? But…”I don’t know how to finish the sentence.

“I know, dear,” she sighs. “You remind me so much of myself when I was young, with so much to learn. You do understand that I will make all the wedding arrangements.” Suddenly it all becomes clear.

“Even my dress?”

“Especially your dress.”

I pause a moment. It wasn’t fair, I should at least get to choose my own wedding dress. I’d always imagined myself in a medieval gown with a boned corset and split sleeves, cream with lots of gold brocade trim, like a maid waiting for her prince. No, Rosalie would insist on something tasteful, but I might be able to talk her into something from Trelise Cooper. We could both live with that. I giggle and whisper, “Okay.”

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

29/12/2008 at 11:17 am

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