On the day – how she loathed the phrase, once removed from “my big day”, “it’s your day after all” – Ian’s choice of good friend, a fellow anaesthetist, was called in to surgery and could not be replaced at such short notice. Frances’ good friend was her sister, less a choice, but reliable and she already owned a dress she could wear.
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Although so sure about the small congregation until then, as Frances made her way towards the altar, her singular impression was of the empty pews, scattered with kneelers, abandoned hymn books. A dropped tissue. The six children lined the front row but only hers, daughters seven and five, turned to watch her progress.
Ian’s much older children waited with heads bowed for what may as well have been a school assembly. Even from a distance it was clear the middle boy Tom was texting.
As she drew in at Ian’s side, rain began to fall and the atmosphere inside turned dark and funereal. The female celebrant, in a powder-blue skirt and jacket, opened her binder with unnecessary flourish. “Friends,” she said, as though any were present. “We are here to celebrate the love of Ian and Frances…”
Really, it had all been too hard, planning a proper celebration around the relentless demands of children and career, Ian’s irregular hospital hours. Besides which, it was surely ridiculous for a middle-aged woman to spend more than a minute choosing between two styles of “cake topper”. When the editor of Modern Bride, situated adjacent to Weekend, carried over a pile of back issues, the offering made Frances flush so deeply her cheeks were still hot against her hands by the time she closed herself into the ambulant toilet and attempted some yogic breathing. Easier not to have cake at all.
Was she doing it for Thea and Elke? In a way. For those darling, clever girls who should never be made to utter the phrase “Mum’s boyfriend”. My mum’s boyfriend can bring me. My mum’s boyfriend has a motorbike. “I left it at my dad’s” was already their cross to bear.
The dinner that followed the service went well – only Ian’s eldest daughter Laura was obviously drunk by the time the bill came – the next morning, less so. When Ian appeared in Frances’ kitchen in a pair of Qantas business-class pyjamas, Elke emitted a low sort of growl, then burst into tears. They had been scrupulous about avoiding sleepovers when she and Thea were not at their father’s, and it was only then Frances realised the little girl had not fully incorporated the idea that their living arrangements would change after Mummy’s wedding. As hot tears began to plink into her bowl of puffed rice, Frances lifted Elke onto her lap. The tremor of small shoulders against her chest made it difficult to hold onto the fact that it was somehow in the child’s interest to have a strange man move into the house her father had evacuated only 14 months earlier.
Ian backed silently out of the kitchen. Frances gave him a look of gratitude, then turned back to Elke, noticing as she did that the kitchen still awaited repainting. The walls shimmered with the single coat of gloss white Jason had given it on what would turn out to be their second-to-last Sunday together. Having bought too little paint and failing in his attempt to freehand around the scotia, the project had been abandoned by day’s end. Such an obvious
“As Frances made her way towards the altar, only her daughters turned to watch… Even from a distance it was clear the middle boy Tom was texting ” metaphor for their marriage, Frances refused ever to draw it.
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