Saturday, November 5, 2011

Short fiction: The Bridesmaid

She knew she was supposed to be happy. She was not just a "bridesmaid", but "Maid of Honour". When she thought about it, which she did too often, it was a dumb term, something out of the Middle Ages. Or for the Middle Aged. She was thirty-seven and never married. What a horror, in these times of frantic brides knocking each other over to find the perfect foamy, huge-skirted gown.

She had come close, but only just.  By thirty-seven, if you were straight and even nominally attractive, you'd usually be engaged at least once, maybe twice. And yeah. It had been her turn, sort of. She'd had a different circle of friends then. But not really: it was the same circle, before they all got married. They were "different", all right, but in another way.

But it lasted six months, then he moved away for a promotion, promising to stay in touch. The promotion won out.

Then there were the babies. "If you want one," a "friend" said to her the other day, "you'd better get cracking." She was cracking, all right, but not in the way her friend meant.

What was this, anyway - the Wedding Bell Blues? Whatever happened to feminism and equality and the banishing of suffocating old medieval traditions like the virginal white gown and Daddy "giving you away" (which had connotations she didn't even want to think about)? Marriage was on the way out, was what they said, to be replaced by serial monogamy or open relationships where partners came and went, stopping at "home" only to refuel.

But it didn't go that way. Hardly.

Over and over again, she handed over the prize. Over and over again, she applauded, wept, tried to catch the bouquet (hating herself for even trying to do something so inane) , and generally put her heart out on the railroad tracks to be demolished once again.

Her cherished friends were all on the other side of some sort of barrier, especially the ones who had babies. They were exalted in some way. They spoke another language that excluded her, and she knew it. She remembered introducing some of her friends to their future husbands, and winced. She had actually been the agent for their happiness, giving her own away in great armfuls like so many wilted roses.

New Age thinking would say that she made this situation happen, that she recreated childhood hurts and rejections, and that all she had to do was decide to be different. Then a dozen good-looking, single, employed, non-addicted guys would come stampeding into her life. And it would be different. SHE would wear the golden crown; THEY would applaud and weep.

Except that it would be different for them too, her friends.  They were already married, had babies. Their lives were "solved". Never mind how many of these tenuous unions would fall apart in the coming years (and she knew how many of them probably would).

She was alone. She'd helped them along, given them a boost, supported them, gone to the goddamn bridal showers and played the stupid games, gone to stagettes with greasy muscle-bound gay men prancing around in their underwear. But she couldn't say no, because to be Maid of Honour was an honour. It would be like handing back an award, wouldn't it?

She looked in the mirror, took a big fat red lipstick, drew a red x over her face. What was it Liz Taylor wrote on the mirror with lipstick in that movie, Butterfield 8?  Ah yes: NO SALE.

You see, that's the thing. I'll never get to hand that award back because I'm not even in the running, am I? And if I've helped those nominees, given them a leg-up by lavishly praising their novels in my reviews, helped them line up in the gateway for the top literary prize in this country, I'm not supposed to be bitter or angry, am I? Am I?

Because it wasn't really a bridesmaid thing. Not really. And I'm 57, not 37. I guess I'm just living in my imagination again. What a thing for a writer to do. Unthinkable.

I've been reviewing books for a million years, it seems. Not that I don't enjoy it or find it engaging work. I know what it is to BE reviewed, too. I had almost unanimous positive reviews for my two novels, but unfortunately nothing happened. They were sent back to the publisher almost immediately, and now my account with them is in the red.

No one told me it would be like this, that I would owe my publishers for my glowingly-received, non-selling book. It sounds like the most pathetic thing in the world.

It was an honour (were we speaking of honour?) to review those two books, those two contenders for the Prize, and I wouldn't take back anything I wrote, because it wasn't "praise".  I was just saying what I thought.

And  it's not that I don't want them to be in the running. It's just that I want to be in the running too, before I get too old to stand up. And for some reason, that embarrasses everyone. I'm not supposed to mention it or even think of it, or everyone looks away as if I have done something unspeakably humiliating on the carpet.  I've violated one of those thousand-and-one invisible rules I never caught on to.  I guess it makes me look ungracious.

But I do wonder, because I am human and can't shut up the way I know I am supposed to, when in God's name it gets to be my turn.