In the floor length mirror, Debbie watched her mother, Blanche dab her handkerchief at the corner of her eyes. The cloth came away stained with foundation and mascara.
Debbie’s stomach churned with a wave of sudden nausea and her heart fluttered as if the organ wanted to split in two. Her mouth became dry and she decided to hold off voicing her decision for another few minutes. Instead she asked, “Are you alright, mom?”
Blanche sniffed and clutched the hanky in her be-ringed hands.
“You look so beautiful.”
Debbie swallowed and forced her eyes to take in her own reflection rather than being pulled toward the dressing room door a few feet away. Her sweaty hands trembled as she fluffed the marshmallow sized skirt, making her legs itch as the mesh rustled underneath. She patted down the bead covered bodice squeezing her torso into a snug hourglass and tried to breathe.
Tucking away the hanky, Blanche adjusted the lace hem of the veil tumbling down from the jeweled tiara mounted upon Debbie’s head. Her bare shoulders shook with a sudden chill.
“Are you catching cold?”
“The air conditioners then, they keep these dressing rooms like ice boxes.”
Debbie sighed and pivoted away from the mirror.
“It’s hard to breathe in this,” she growled tugging at the square neckline standing like a wall over her chest. “I feel trapped.” Her eyes hung on her mother’s face, willing the insinuation to land home.
Blanche patted away her hands with a testy cluck of her tongue. “Careful, you’ll stretch it.”
Debbie’s head hung and she stared down at the gown. “How can I stretch it? It’s made of cement.”
“It needs to be stiff to keep you all together.”
“Yes, but I need oxygen in order to keep live.”
Blanche heaved a sigh and finished her tugs on the veil. Debbie dropped her eyes back to the soft flower patterns stitched along the hem of her dress while her mother took a step backwards. She heard a soft crinkle as Blanche’s lean arms folded over her silk blouse.
“Wedding gowns don’t go with frowns, Deborah.”
Debbie bobbed her head as she twisted at the weighty boulder attached to the gold band on her left hand. The ring slipped with surprising ease over her knuckle. A flash of skipping rocks across a pond came suddenly to mind.
The memory vanished as her mother took her chin hand and tilted Debbie’s face back to her.
“You look like an angel.”
“I feel like a cream puff.”
Blanche laughed. “A cream puff?”
“No, literally. How about we have some lunch?” Her roiling stomach let out a grumble to second the notion or perhaps, she thought, in anticipation of the pending dining topic. Somehow lunch seemed to make the discussion more palatable.
Blanche frowned and picked off an errant thread. “You need to be careful.”
“A pound or two can make a big difference in how this sits. Don’t you want to look your best for Jake? He is such a dear.”
Debbie chewed on her lower lip and bit back her answer. Jake’s disinfected smile on his sharply cut visage, the one her mother expected her to spend the rest of her life looking at, hovered before her eyes. Her stomach grumbled again as Malcolm’s softer smile on his earthy face sprang into mind, warming her like a comforting embrace.
With a sigh, she stuck to her appetite’s demands. “You know I’ve been good all week. Right now, I’m starved.”
“Only two more days dear.”
Debbie rolled her eyes and turned back to the mirror as the seconds ticked by at racing speed. She wiggled her torso in an attempt to make the bodice sit more comfortably. No amount of adjustments seemed to lessen the crushing hold on her ribs. She trailed her fingernails over her collar bones and then down the edges of the dress.
“Careful, Debbie,” her mother chided as her newly manicured nails rattled at the faux pearls.
Debbie stilled her hands but the urge to move remained. She poked her bare foot out from the hem of her dress and rolled one ankle and then the next. Her toe ring on her second foot sparkled.
“Be sure to take that off.”
Debbie sucked in a gasp as she slipped her foot back beneath the dress and began bouncing as if warming up for her morning run.
Her mother offered the tissue lined box with the pair of crisp white heels.
“Do you want to try these on one last time too?”
Debbie shook her head and rose up on her toes as if the pointed shoes already cut off the circulation in her feet and forced her up on the two inch spikes. “I’d be about here,” she noted, feeling two inches too tall.
“Then the hem line is perfect.” Blanche drew the shoe box into her arms, clutching the cardboard and thin paper like a child.
Debbie wobbled and then braced herself against the mirror, leaving sweaty fingerprints on the glass. The air conditioner gave another hearty blast and goose bumps bloomed on her bare skin. She shivered again.
“I’m going to change.”
“I feel like I’ve been standing here for an hour!”
Blanche relinquished the box to one in the pair of plush floral print chairs set in each corner of the changing room. “Alright, bride’s prerogative.”
Debbie straightened her shoulders and clutched at the front of the gown as her mother unfastened the loops along her spine. She savored the first full breath she managed once the prison of lace and cloth relinquished her body.
She leapt free of the bodice and skirt and thrust her mother the gown by the pair of satin hanging loops. She slipped off the tiara and veil, laying them on the second plush chair then turned her back as Blanche tittered over the placement of the dress on the ivory hanger and refastened the loops around an invisible bride.
Out of the corner of her eye, Debbie noted the dress formed a more appealing shape wrapped around nothing at all. With a deep breath, she focused on her skirt, sweater and sandals, savoring the comfort of familiar clothes and with each passing moment, feeling more like herself. Behind her, Blanche finished wrapping the dress back into the protective sleeve with a shimmer of plastic.
“So where do you want to go?”
“Go?” asked Blanche.
“For lunch.” Debbie swung her purse onto her shoulder and turned to her mother. Blanche’s hands gripped the padded hanger as if holding onto the edge of a cliff. Even with all the blush, Debbie watched her mother’s face pale. “I promise,” said Debbie, raising her right hand as if swearing in on some courtroom stand, “to have a salad.” She made sure to vow nothing else.
Blanche’s face burst back into color and her mother’s smile returned.
“Your choice dear,” said Blanche, releasing the hanger to a golden hook sprouting from the wall. “You know what’s good around here better than I do.”
“You’re right,” said Debbie with a sudden wave of confidence. She turned toward the dressing room’s door. The idea of lettuce and vinaigrette, followed by the necessary dessert in response to her mother’s certain breakdown, making her mouth water.
She stopped with one hand on the door knob, frowning at the pause in their departure.
Blanche gestured toward the dangling gown. “What about the dress?”
Debbie gave a half hearted shrug. “We can deal with it later.”
Blanche frowned. “Are you sure?”
Debbie stared at the sheen of wrinkled plastic. Her stomach growled. She wiped her damp palm on her purse strap. Malcolm’s face sprang back into her thoughts, calming the patter in her heart and causing the storm in her stomach to ebb. “I can’t get married without it right?”
With a chuckle, Blanche shouldered her own stout purse. “You won’t make much of a bride without a wedding dress, Debbie.”
Debbie’s lips coiled into a weak smile and she opened the door for her mother. Her eyes however, remained trapped by the hidden beads and fabric.
“I guess I won’t,” she said to the empty room. She drew in another deep breath, relishing the full expansion of her lungs. “For better or worse,” she whispered, then shut the door and headed for lunch.