Read Gracious Living Online

Authors: Andrea Goldsmith

Tags: #Fiction

Gracious Living (3 page)

BOOK: Gracious Living
8.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Now, around 1967 in the Warby-Bainbridge circle there were
no homosexuals either in or out of the closet, it simply wasn’t done. Mrs Bainbridge wondered if Phillip had been experimenting with some of the mind-expanding drugs one read about; Mr Warby blamed his wife’s great-uncle Herbert for their trouble, certainly there was nothing on his side to account for Phillip. Mr Bainbridge spoke privately with Mr Warby, suggesting that what the boy needed was discipline, a spell in the army would, he believed, do the lad a world of good. Mr Warby couldn’t have agreed more, but by this time Phillip had been forced underground, having failed to register his name for the conscription ballot that was sending young men to Vietnam. For the next eighteen months, while Phillip was being shuffled from one safe house to another, the Warbys had time to recover from their son’s terrible defection. As for the Bainbridges they, too, had time, and while Phillip Warby was the only homosexual they knew, there were plenty of other young men who as 1967 advanced seemed to forget their privileged backgrounds and turn into rebellious riff-raff.

Adrian Dadswell started to look a lot better.

In September, after their nephew had been arrested outside the American embassy, the Bainbridges gave their consent; in October there was a magnificent ‘at home’ to celebrate the engagement. In March 1968 the wedding was held.

And what a wedding! – although it was not without its difficulties. The church was the main problem. It was customary for wedding services to be held either in the groom’s old school chapel or that of his university college, but Adrian had neither. It was all so embarrassing, Mrs Bainbridge confessed to her sister, the mother of the nephew who had been arrested, a real dilemma. ‘Not at all,’ the sister said, ‘what about Elizabeth’s school chapel?’ So Elizabeth’s old school chapel it was, and in the years that followed the Bainbridges were to note with some satisfaction that Elizabeth’s wedding had started a trend, and the chapels at the various girls’ schools became a popular choice among some of the better-known families.

The day of the wedding was perfect March weather, a day when the light rises rather than falls in a marvellous matt blue. Elizabeth
saw the day and was pleased; she was searching for signs, omens to suggest she was doing the right thing. Not that she wasn’t happy and excited, she was, for this was her day, her own star-spangled day, but a mutinous spiral of doom, now no larger than a bacillus, was tailing her pleasure, wiggling and waggling and slowly gaining on it, and the future trembled in its wake.

‘All young brides are nervous,’ her mother said over breakfast, ‘and so they should be. It’s the biggest day of a girl’s life, the most important decision she’ll ever make.’

Elizabeth sipped her coffee and said nothing. The decision to marry Adrian had, in fact, been quite simple, it was the decision to sleep with him that had been an agony. As for the wedding itself, once the announcement was made, little had been required of Elizabeth, she had merely drifted along in the grand wake of tradition and Mrs Bainbridge, meeting with caterer, dressmaker and florist as required. As for today, her own special day, all Elizabeth had to do was be accessible to the various hands that would do her nails, her hair, her face, dress her, guide her down the aisle and accompany her back up again. So when her mother leaned across the breakfast table to hold her daughter’s hand, the left hand with its emerald-cut diamond, Elizabeth gave it up without a thought; and when her mother said that Elizabeth had made a good choice in Adrian, Elizabeth promptly smiled – a blank smile thick enough to conceal the months of her parents’ opposition, their insistence that Adrian was a ‘nobody’, their pleas to ‘try Oliver again’, months soggy with blame and a bubble or more of hate.

‘You’ve made us so proud,’ Diana Bainbridge continued, ‘your father in particular. Both you and I know he’s not one for showing what he really feels, but he’s very proud of you and loves you very much.’

Elizabeth heard it all across a great chasm of years; is this what she would be saying to her own daughter on her wedding day? ‘Darling, Adrian loves you, but he can’t tell you about it.’ Would these be her words? And if so, what is this fumbling atavism that renders fathers mute and mothers their apologists? She listened hard, trying to hear the words of love spoken to her unborn
daughter, but could summon up only a picture of a kitchen much like this, with Adrian standing large and stern, and Elizabeth seated at a table her head in her hands, and the sound of voices sharp and urgent–

‘She hasn’t eaten properly, that’s the problem.’ Harold Bainbridge stood in the doorway of the kitchen while his wife knelt next to Elizabeth’s prostrate body loosening buttons, fanning the air, inspecting her daughter’s skin for injuries. ‘The girl’s got to eat to maintain her strength.’

‘Yes Hal, I know, but I can’t force-feed her.’

Harold came a little closer. ‘Has this ever happened before?’

Elizabeth’s throat felt dry and swollen, she asked for some water.

‘Well has it?’ Harold persisted, ‘have you ever fainted before?’

‘Of course.’ Make light of this, Elizabeth told herself. ‘Hasn’t everyone?’

‘I certainly haven’t.’

‘That’s because you’ve never been a young bride, Harold,’ said Mrs Bainbridge as she wiped her daughter’s brow.

An hour later, fully recovered and fresh from a shower, Elizabeth sat in the living room while Tanya did her nails. Tanya, the volatile pixie from Hungary who knew women’s bodies better than their maker, was, according to Diana Bainbridge, crucial to the success of the wedding. Tanya, who shared the same opinion, had set aside the entire day so that Elizabeth and her attendants would look their best.

‘Now tell me about your bridesmaids.’ Tanya was rubbing cream into Elizabeth’s cuticles. ‘I know there’s your sister, Rosie.’

‘Yes, and Adrian’s sister Cathy. And my friend Susie Warby.’

Tanya raised her eyebrows. ‘Surely not a sister of that Phillip Warby who’s doing all those disgusting things?’

Elizabeth decided to ignore the question, Tanya the queen of gossip knew exactly who Susie Warby was.

‘And Lydia Branch, my matron of honour.’

‘Now there’s a lovely girl, really knows how to look after herself. Beautiful skin, perfect figure, truly feminine. I only wish we could cure her of her nail-biting.’

Elizabeth glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece, nearly half past ten. ‘They’ll be here soon.’

And there they were: fat Cathy, fat but desperately dieting Rosie, beautiful blonde Lydia and tall slim Susie, all chattering excitedly, reassuring Mrs Bainbridge that everything would be perfect, joking with Elizabeth about her imminent loss of freedom, admiring recent photographs of the happy couple, expressing approval of such an amiable husband – particularly Lydia Branch, whose own husband David was as dreary as he was devoted – discussing the groomsmen, and sharing rumours about Adrian’s bucks’ night.

‘Did you know there was a stripper?’ Susie was seated at the manicurist table; she twisted around to see Elizabeth’s reaction.

‘Yes, Adrian told me. I can’t see the attraction myself.’

‘That’s why bucks’ nights are for men only, I suppose.’ Susie stood up. ‘Who’s next for Tanya?’

Steadily, efficiently, expertly, all nails were manicured, and at half past eleven the girls were sitting at the dining-room table with sparkling pink pearl extremities, even Lydia whose customary raw stumps had been extended with the latest in false nails. The table was laden with party food – ribbon sandwiches, egg and bacon slices, canapés filled with salmon, éclairs and vanilla slices, caramels and chocolates. ‘We may as well eat up,’ Rosie said, ‘it’s too late now to lose any more weight.’ And so they did, pink nails flashing, jaws gnashing, cream dripping, and all the while maintaining an incessant banter to soothe poor Elizabeth’s nerves. Talk of friends and clothes and holidays was interspersed with compliments about Adrian, truthful compliments, of that Elizabeth was sure, because everyone now adored him, adored him unequivocally, only Elizabeth had her doubts.

Twenty years later with her eighteen-year-old daughter seated beside her, Elizabeth again recalled the doubts. The problem was that everyone told her the doubts were normal – her mother told her, Lydia Branch told her, anyone who was married told her, and
Elizabeth, who in those days was an indiscriminate listener, believed them all. So there she was at lunch on her wedding day, helplessness clutching the pit of her stomach, a throbbing despair in her temples, doing her best to be happy on this the happiest day of her life.

After lunch, Antoine and his assistants arrived with a lorryload of dryers and head rests, shampoos and hairsprays, pins, rollers and hairpieces – not that he approved of the latter, Antoine was quick to explain, being a man of the Sassoon school, but he had noticed at the practice session that one of the young ladies had rather thin hair. He and his people set up their equipment in the main bathroom and adjoining dressing room.

The girls had changed into button-through housecoats and within a short time Rosie was under the dryer, Lydia’s hair was being put into jumbo rollers, Susie was having a special conditioning treatment – hers was the hair that was thin – and Cathy’s hair was being washed. Antoine was telling Elizabeth of his plan to weave strands of hair through the band of miniature orchids which would hold her veil.

‘It will look perfect, trust me.’

‘But Antoine, I like the way you did it at the rehearsal.’

‘Ah yes,’ he smacked his lips, ‘but now I have something better.’

And Elizabeth gave in – Antoine would do as he liked anyway, so she might as well be seen to agree.

After the hair was finished the girls moved on to Tanya for makeup. By twenty past four the attendants were complete. Each wore an identical hairstyle: straight to the shoulders in a loose page-boy cut, a heavy fringe and the rest brushed back with a little height and liberal amounts of hairspray. Each girl wore a crown of miniature orchids with fine curls of pink satin ribbon to match the pink spotted voile dresses. Tanya had worked wonders with the makeup: all eyes had been enlarged and darkened, blemishes had been camouflaged, Rosie and Cathy had acquired cheek bones, and each girl had been given a moist, pearly pink mouth.

At half past four the photographer arrived and set up his cameras in the formal lounge room. At four forty-five Elizabeth
descended the staircase, a traditional bride in a gown of exquisite chantilly lace overlaying satin which revealed glimpses of tanned young skin. The lace was repeated on the satin shoes and in a fine border on the tiered veil. Her hair was brushed back from the face and curled up loosely at the shoulders.

The photographer applauded her – how tired he was of Twiggy eyes and gimmicky gowns. ‘Such a beautiful bride,’ he said over and over again as he arranged her for the photographs, ‘beautiful, beautiful.’

In later years Elizabeth would recall the photograph session as a speeded-up old film. She stood first this way and then that, head raised in hopeful expectation, head lowered in the pose of the virgin bride. She stood at the bottom of the stairs, she stood silhouetted by the bay windows, she held her bouquet to her cheek, she held it in outstretched hands, she stood and never sat, stood in a hundred different ways. She stood alone, she stood with her mother, she stood with Rosie, she stood with her mother and Rosie, she stood with her grandmother who sat, she stood with her mother and Rosie and grandmother. She stood with her father, she stood with her father and mother, she stood with all the family. She stood framed by attendants, she stood looking at attendants, she stood facing a line of attendants, she stood laughing with attendants, she stood looking dreamy with attendants, she stood with attendants admiring the emerald-cut diamond engagement ring. Then, with little time to spare, they all dashed outside so she could stand with the pink camellias, and with pink camellias and pink attendants. She stood with Rosie and Cathy whose long strapless brassieres were wrestling with their short buxom figures and with Lydia and Susie who were slender and elegant.

When it was all over Elizabeth went back inside for last-minute touch-ups and descended the stairs again, this time on the arm of her father. There were photographs of her on the stairs with her father, and photographs of him kissing her goodbye, photographs of Elizabeth and her father getting into the vintage Rolls, photographs of Rosie helping the tiered veil into the vintage Rolls, photographs of Rosie, her mother and grandmother in the second vintage Rolls, photographs of Lydia, Susie and Cathy in the third
vintage Rolls. And then the photographer packed up all his equipment and with extraordinary speed arrived at the chapel before the wedding party. He’d done it all before, he said.

Everyone agreed the service was beautiful and Elizabeth was radiant; in fact, everything was just right – an opinion repeated the following week in the social pages. And as the carillon played ‘Praise My Soul the King of Heaven’ even Elizabeth cast aside her doubts.

‘But how could you?’ Ginnie said every time she heard the story of the wedding. ‘How could you?’

And Elizabeth would admit to her folly, wryly, but no longer bemused. Such a glittering occasion it had been, and not just the ceremony but the reception as well. A marquee had been erected over the tennis court and a parquetry floor laid on the en-toutcas. The canvas awnings on the long western side of the tent had been raised to reveal the terraced garden and swimming pool. Lights were everywhere, and dotted amongst them were insect flares shooting a brilliant incandescence into the night sky. Rafts of flowers floated in the pool, ringlets of flowers graced the posts of the marquee, adorned the canopy, the tables, flowers so exotic – anthuriums and strelitzias flown in from tropical climes – and tuberoses as numerous as daisies.

Diana Bainbridge had said from the beginning that it would be the wedding of the year. And it was. But richer than the flowers and brighter than the lights were the people in their satins and silks and laces and brocades and shining purses and glittering jewels. Such jewels! Gusts of jewels released from bank vaults just for the occasion coruscated freely in the radiant night. Jewels nodding and waving and gossiping, jewels in groups, jewels in couples. Never had there been such a spectacular display.

BOOK: Gracious Living
8.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Outsider (Outsider Series) by Smeltzer, Micalea
Roots of Murder by Janis Harrison
Shakespeare's Counselor by Charlaine Harris
The Mark-2 Wife by William Trevor
Nowhere to Run by C. J. Box
Drinking and Tweeting by Glanville, Brandi, Bruce, Leslie