Authors: Andrea Goldsmith
‘A magnificent evening and a beautiful bride,’ a woman daubed in diamonds and emeralds said.
‘Beautiful,’ replied her friend, raising hand to neck so the light caught her matching necklace and bracelet in baguette diamonds.
‘Although there’s a bit too much pink with all those attendants,’ another said who had chosen rubies for the occasion.
‘I wouldn’t say that.’ Mrs Warby’s diamonds flashed at the insult to her daughter.
‘Oh, no no!’ Rubies said quickly, ‘I don’t mean your Susie, she looks beautiful, I was referring to the more buxom girls.’
‘Yes, I have to agree,’ diamonds and emeralds said with a wave of a glinting green hand. ‘But it’s so difficult finding friends of similar shape. I know when our Debbie was choosing her bridesmaids – ’
So much bubble and sparkle and catching the light, the flittering hands and fluttering eyes of those of infinitesimal concentration, then hors d’oeuvres were over and people moved to the tables for the meal: the ubiquitous smoked salmon but so elegantly presented, a lemon sorbet to cleanse the palate, followed by a choice of beef Wellington or fresh shellfish – a rhapsody in king prawns, oysters open on the shell and crayfish cradled among delectable accompaniments. And as the guests savoured the fine flavours and sucked on their cigarettes the opinion was Raleigh Price had surpassed himself. What would the master do next? they asked. What indeed? He would do the dessert, a
pièce de résistance
that warranted a knighthood, so the people said.
Lights were dimmed, the band struck a march, and a phalanx of waiters appeared each carrying a silver platter of bombe Alaska lit by a sparkler. The applause was spontaneous, the admiration sumptuous. The waiters marched to the centre of the marquee where half turned to the left and the other half to the right and like prancing Lippizaners they circled the tables rearing and bowing to their audience. And before the sparklers were quite spent the waiters re-formed in front of the top table and raised platters in homage to those seated in the place of honour. Even when the performance was over the applause continued, never had there been anything like it. Although there would be again, the performance was repeated many times in years to come, but the first time was at the Bainbridge-Dadswell wedding and that would never be forgotten.
What an evening! Uncle Freddy was drunk rather earlier than usual, but Robert his butler had the matter entirely under control, appearing at regular intervals to take Freddy to the toilet, thereby
avoiding a repeat of the embarrassment at the Wadsworth party the previous month. And Martha Potter – people said she looked like a young bride herself – was ecstatic. Finally, after a twenty-two-year courtship, Hugh Nethercott had proposed. ‘It was his father’s fault it took so long,’ Martha said to Diana Bainbridge, ‘he always said I wasn’t good enough. But now he’s dead, there’s nothing to stop us.’ And was she resentful? Not at all, she just hated the old bastard and thought he’d got what he deserved.
Oliver Warby was there with a new girlfriend, Paula Barnes, a tall blonde woman with a magnificent figure, rather too much of which was revealed by a clinging silver-mesh dress. It was Lydia Branch who said that what Paula lacked in jewels she made up for in the glittering gown; indeed, Lydia’s raised eyebrows said a lot more than that. But despite Paula Barnes’ being away from her usual milieu – her grooming, her gown, her broad vowels all betrayed her – she appeared to manage all right and the men, including, apparently, Oliver Warby, loved her
All Adrian’s mates were there, laughing and drinking and recalling old times. In the break between the main course and dessert, Adrian and his best man Jules took to the stage and performed a song and dance routine to the delight of everyone. For an encore they did a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers number, with Adrian as a gorgeous if over-sized Ginger and Jules a most graceful Fred. When it was time for the speeches Adrian and Jules were a little the worse for wear and Adrian forgot to begin his speech with the traditional ‘My wife and I’; but Jules, ever vigilant, scribbled a reminder on the damask table cloth and Adrian included it in his final remarks.
Speeches and dancing and a night full of dreams and already it was time for the bride and groom to change into their going-away outfits, but Adrian had disappeared. Elizabeth sent her attendants to find him, and when at eleven o’clock he still had not appeared, Elizabeth, accompanied by her three bridesmaids – Lydia had been lost in the search – went to change without him; Adrian would turn up, she said, he always did. It took Elizabeth only a short time. The outfit had been chosen for ease and comfort – a two-piece suit in reverse checks of pink and
white, very tailored, with boxer sleeves and straight skirt. She patched her makeup, combed out her hair and pronounced herself ready. Cathy Dadswell offered to look for Adrian, but just as she was leaving, a flushed and rumpled Lydia arrived.
‘I found him,’ she said. ‘He was in the little room near the kitchen tidying up the presents.’
‘From the look of you, you could do with a bit of tidying yourself,’ Susie said.
Lydia crossed to the mirror and laughed. ‘I see what you mean. Anyone have a comb and some lipstick?’
Elizabeth passed her both. ‘Well, is he ready?’
Lydia concentrated on her hair. ‘He said he’d knock on his way past.’
And there he was, three neat knocks and in he came. He kissed Elizabeth and apologised for keeping her waiting, but she knew he’d never been one to leave a good party early. Then he moved to the mirror where Lydia was still rearranging herself, and smoothed his hair. With his gaze directed at Lydia, he said, ‘When do I get to thank the bridesmaids for their magnificent assistance to my bride?’
Mrs Bainbridge appeared in the doorway. ‘Now’s your opportunity,’ she said, ‘I want to have a private word with Elizabeth.’
Elizabeth walked over to her husband, gave him a peck on the cheek and followed her mother from the room. They went into the upstairs den and sat down. Mrs Bainbridge gave her a small parcel. ‘Go on,’ she said, ‘open it, I’ve been saving it for you.’
Inside was a ring, a rosette of diamonds set in a fine platinum band. ‘It was your great-grandmother’s,’ Mrs Bainbridge said.
‘It’s absolutely beautiful. I’ve never seen it before, why don’t you ever wear it?’
‘I’ve had it in the bank for years. My grandmother gave it to my mother and she gave it to me the day I married your father. And now it’s yours. It’s very special in our family.’
‘So why don’t you keep it, there’s plenty of time for me to enjoy it.’
‘No darling, it wouldn’t be right, that’s not the tradition.’
‘It’s so beautiful,’ Elizabeth said again and slipped it on the ring
finger of her right hand. She looked at her mother, ‘I’ll treasure it always.’
‘Good, darling. Now give it back to me and I’ll return it to the bank on Monday.’
‘What on earth for! I’m going to wear it.’
‘You can’t, that’s not the way we do it! Besides what will Adrian say? Won’t he be offended if he sees you wearing diamonds other than his? And you wouldn’t want to upset him – not on your wedding day!’
‘What an extraordinary suggestion! Of course he wouldn’t be offended. Besides, Adrian is unquestionably of the school that believes the more diamonds the better.’
‘That’s not very nice, Elizabeth, not everyone has been as fortunate as you.’
And again the thought hacked its way to the surface: what an unexpected ally Adrian had gained.
Elizabeth looked at the rosette of diamonds. It was one of the few remnants of Bainbridge life remaining to her. Twenty years ago all her hopes had been shaped by the Bainbridge heritage: she had expected a comfortable life with a husband and three children, a complete life as wife and mother; now, of all that, she had only the diamonds and the mothering. She turned to Ginnie and smiled – she had the best, of that she was sure. Ginnie smiled back and touched the rosette of diamonds. ‘Such a pretty ring,’ she said.
‘It’s yours when I’m dead and gone.’
‘Fortunately I’m happy to wait a good long time.’ Ginnie laughed, she had heard the story of the ring many times. She glanced at the clock. ‘What time are you meeting with the curator?’
‘Not until ten o’clock.’
‘Well I’m afraid you’ll be awfully early. I’d like to leave in half an hour, so let’s get going.’
Elizabeth jumped out of bed and went to the bathroom. She stood under the shower, aware of her aching shoulders and tired eyes as the water washed over her. Soap caught in her ring, it was desperately in need of a clean; she made a mental note to soak it in gin that evening. She smiled as she remembered Adrian’s
horror when first he discovered her diamonds twinkling in the bottom of an eggcup full of gin. She had explained that her Aunt Leila insisted this was the only way to clean diamonds, but Adrian had been unconvinced. He was scared something would happen to them – but then his tendency always had been to worry about things; things above all else. It was one of the problems of their marriage: where Elizabeth’s interest lay with ideas, Adrian’s was directed at things – big things, valuable things, sometimes beautiful things, other times grotesque.
‘Come down to earth,’ he’d say to her. ‘Or better still, come to bed.’
Things and sex, that was Adrian. So many things and so much sex, and then with Ginnie’s birth and the problems, less sex, until he decided Elizabeth was frigid and should seek professional advice. Which she did. But after a few sessions the counsellor said there was little more she could do unless Adrian were willing to attend, which he was not. After the counselling finished, the sex recommenced and continued until the end of the marriage. Elizabeth simply complied with his expectations, proficiently but, as he was quick to remind her, without the passion she had shown in the early days.
There was a knock at the bathroom door and Ginnie entered. She was dressed in a pair of brightly coloured harem trousers and a loose, yellow shirt.
Elizabeth peered around the shower screen. ‘Perfect,’ she said, and silently hoped that everything would be.
‘Good. Now will you please hurry – I want to leave in ten minutes.’
Elizabeth reversed down the driveway. At the path branching to Kate’s bungalow she stopped and got out of the car.
‘I want to drop in Kate’s mail.’ She waved one of the tinfoil envelopes, ‘I know she’d want this as soon as possible.’
Ginnie laughed and followed her mother: it was worth being a few minutes late to observe Kate’s reaction.
Kate was working in her small vegetable garden on the side of the house. She looked up as they approached. ‘Are you here to inspect my home-grown, pesticide-free, extremely tasty if somewhat mottled tomatoes?’ She removed her gloves and walked towards them.
‘No, not your tomatoes, Kate.’ Elizabeth waved the bundle of letters. ‘We’ve brought your mail.’
Kate kissed mother and daughter and apologised for her ravaged appearance: too little sleep and too much whisky she said with a gentle nudge at Ginnie.
‘But very fine conversation,’ Ginnie said.
‘True enough,’ Kate replied, and took her mail.
Kate, like Elizabeth, was a small woman in her early forties, but whereas Elizabeth was considered pretty, people were always surprised to find Kate attractive. Individually each of her features was a disappointment, but taken as a whole she had an interesting
appearance, although one that was hard to place, and almost impossible to describe without reducing the whole to its very ordinary parts. It was her style people said, ‘Kate has a certain something,’ and so she did, even in a singlet streaked with dirt, frayed pink shorts and unkempt hair. It was not just her body so limber and cool that bolstered the impression, there was something else, something in her carriage, her manner of walking, in the raised arm as she opened her letters – such grace and assurance – and in her dressing, the way the ill-fitting singlet draped her shoulders and breasts and caught in the waist of the old pink shorts. And yet she looked her forty years despite her style and despite, too, a hearty commitment to a succession of health-promoting diets. Although Kate’s attitude to commitment was, to say the least, idiosyncratic; it was commitment itself she valued, not commitment to a particular thing. People should have passions, she would say, they have to believe strongly in something. Kate’s commitment – whether to an object, an idea, or a person – was explosive, bursting with short-lived passion. Each new diet or person or book was absolutely marvellous for a day or a week, and then it was discarded for something else. Kate was a promiscuous student of the new: ‘Keeps boredom at bay,’ she would say, and yet at the same time as she flirted with a passing parade of fads and novelties there were patterns gripping her life, routines and obsessions to which she clung as one does to a hand in the crowd.
‘Oh my!’ She tossed the silver invitation skywards. ‘Oh my! What a monstrosity.’ She dived a metre or so to the left, caught the thing and read it. ‘Only Adrian, our very own scion of tastelessness, could have thought this one up. What a shebang it’s going to be. I suppose there’ll be a cast of thousands.’
Elizabeth smiled, she expected so.
‘And you received one too?’
Elizabeth nodded, while Ginnie explained her conditional invitation.
‘Oh my,’ Kate said again, tapping her lips with the invitation. ‘Well, are we going?’
Elizabeth shook her head in wonderment; it never ceased to
amaze her that Kate could have lived for forty years with hardly a decision to her credit. So few people, including Kate herself, seemed aware that Kate’s decisions were invariably made by someone else. And here it was again. Elizabeth said she was tempted. ‘It promises to be a fine spectacle, and if we all went together it could be amusing.’ She glanced at her watch. ‘But we can’t discuss it now, Kate, if Ginnie’s going to be at the front of every queue we must rush.’ Elizabeth smiled at her daughter and the two turned to leave.
‘Don’t let them talk you out of Latin,’ Kate called as they walked back to the car.
They arrived at the campus at half past nine and already there were crowds milling in the union building. Ginnie saw a friend from school standing in one of the queues and went to join her.