‘I will do anything to make it up to you if you’ll just meet me at the church, where we got married, at 5. Please. I’ll do anything’. Jenny kept looking at the message on the phone over and over.
She had decided to get there early, but now she regretted it because of the cold. It was an empty, windy afternoon. One of those days where you can’t find the point where the grey clouds meet the grey sea and all memories of yesterday’s pastel-coloured seaside town and yellow sand seem irretrievable.
She knew it would hurt to see him, and to listen to everything he had to say, but she couldn’t be in any more pain than she had been this year. When you reach the bottom of a well you can’t go any lower, and she was as flat out on the ground as she had ever been. She had gone past feeling pain. It was as though she had passed out from the pain and was barely functioning in a blacked-out state. Her eyes took in the most minimal of sights, and the rest of her senses shut out anything that would risk bringing her back into reality.
After straining her neck in all directions to see up every side street, Jenny folded her long dress under her, sat on the stone steps just inside the church door, put her phone away and looked down the aisle. She couldn’t picture what her reaction to him was going to be. She had pictured it in so many ways, and now that she was here, looking down the aisle into her past, she wasn’t sure whether he would even look the same after his year away.
She took her fake glasses off and rubbed the bridge of her nose. She was a naturally skinny girl, but this past year had rendered her quite pointy in parts, and even her nose looked like it could use some more flesh on it. She wore a silky designer maxi-dress and thin-strapped leather sandals which exposed terracotta stains from the fake tan on her feet.
There was so much she hadn’t noticed before. Even in her trance-like state she could notice details that she had missed. Without the flowers obscuring the sides of the pews, she could see the curve in the arm rests, and the subtle flourishes that someone had carved into the side of each one. Without the bouquets of roses adorning them, which had been nothing more than a load of stiff stems bound together in sickly shimmering bows, she could see the full impact of the symmetry and dovetailing in the sides. Without a sea of hats, which had bobbed along like colourful buoys in her tear-filled eyes, she could see the way the light changed through the stained glass window ahead.
People talk a lot about walking down the aisle. But she wondered how many people could remember much about the actual aisle at all. She felt as though the whole thing could have been a dream. The church looked much smaller than she remembered it. She couldn’t imagine everyone fitting in, but then she remembered that it had been a small affair, immediate family only. She didn’t have many other people to invite then. They had been so much in their own little world. All he’d wanted was her. Meeting up with other people seemed to be such a chore then, only serving as time away from each other where they felt the safest.
She wanted to do the whole thing again. She looked out behind her to the cobbled street. If she pulled the door slightly closed behind her she could walk to the front unnoticed and then when he arrived she would hear the door open and could pretend to have come in to shelter from the sea breeze. If they decided to renew their vows then she would probably be too caught up in the day again, so this was her only chance.
She went outside to the front, took a deep breath and adjusted her dress, brushing out the creases. The wind kept blowing the bottom of the dress round and into the gaps in her legs, the silk snagging on the wooden door, catching splinters. She looked to her left arm, opening her elbow out slightly. She hadn’t remembered doing that before. Not at all. It took her a minute to work out which side her dad had been. Who had opened the door that day? It wouldn’t have been her but who would it have been?
When she got to the bottom of the three stone steps she was more aware of the door behind her than the rest of the aisle ahead. Had it been left open on the day, or did someone close it. All she had seen on her wedding day was her quivering groom, hands shaking by his side when he wasn’t mopping his brow. She had surprised him so much by saying yes. He used to tell her that every day when he woke up he had to wrack his brains for why she had agreed to be his wife. By the end of every single day he would have told her how men like him don’t get women like her. She had just been in a hurry to get to him and to put him out of his misery that day.
She wanted the door closed now. When he did turn up she wanted to know it straight away and not to be caught by surprise with him slipping in though the gap, and walking up behind her like he always used to when she did the washing up.
The cushion under her felt damp from the cold. She checked her phone again. It showed that her message had been delivered, and that he’d read it. Twice (she’d sent it again later in the day, her desperation winning the battle with her pride). In her valium-induced naps she had had dreams of him seeing her message and letting his anger go. She had imagined him wanting to start again and to forgive her. She was just thinking about getting up when she door squeaked and groaned open. She felt sick in an instant, and the walls seemed vast and wide as she turned around.
The man in front smiled but looked concerned. He was a complete stranger to her. He looked as though he hadn’t been expecting to see anyone inside.
It was the church warden. He explained that he had come to close up at 8 but had seen her there so went and did some errands before coming back. He asked her if she would mind letting him close up and that he was sorry. He said he wished he could leave it open so that she could pray for longer.