SEEMING IS BELIEVING
by Sarah Clayville
Mia adjusts her tangled white veil and shakes it to loosen the bad thoughts from her brain like spiders shocked from their webs. She pushes down her hands stacked on top of one another as if she were trying to resuscitate the smooth mahogany vanity she leans upon. Nothing works. She stands in front of her mirror, balanced precariously on a stack of old phone books for a view of her body with no head and pretends her nerves aren’t skinning her from the inside out. She can’t believe it is possible to look so pretty and feel so rotten. This isn’t what her childhood stories promised her about weddings and marriage. Not at all.
“Should I be doing this?” she whispers to the mirrored figure that looks as miserable as she does.
Issue #59 soundtrack: Secret Cove "Alice"
This question assaults every bride’s brain throughout the engagement. But Mia’s small moments of doubt have ganged up on her, formed hours of misgivings, and now her pale hands tremble when she thinks of approaching the aisle later this morning. The aisle. Her thoughts turn to the luxury of eloping. One man. One woman. Two rings and her aunt’s small country home with unintimidating stone paths and a thousand soft, pleasantly distracting noises that are not dependent upon her arrival. Out in the middle of nowhere the world is not revolving around the ceremony. Only Mia’s heart.
And in the church every set of eyes will be trained on her and her alone. It’s the curse that comes with donning the white satin dress. Mia ignores the small voice in her head mumbling about time to reconsider. She turns and hunts for Evan’s tie, the one he left the other night neatly folded on her pillow. The small green diamonds on the tie make her dizzy if she stares at them too long. She likes being dizzy this morning. She feels the space swim around her and only reluctantly turns to face the rest of the room.
Even the clean lines of her apartment seem wrong and out of place this morning. Nothing about it can stay the same under the weight of a second person’s belongings, HIS likes and dislikes. Evan prefers the color gray and eating after eight. His clothes are never off their hangers. Mia’s dresses cling for dear life to the flimsy wire hangers from the drycleaner because she never hangs them the proper way. Often they fall into the dark abyss of her closet floor and wrinkle beyond repair. Evan hates oversized books that don’t sit flush on the shelves. She used to hunt for big books with no sense of space, running her fingers over the uneven edges at the bookstore as if they were Braille. The antique ragged pages carry old secrets that Evan has no hope of decoding. Mia prefers broken things. She supposes that is why she loves Evan as much as she does. Underneath the surface nothing about him is neat or orderly.
Mia moves gingerly for fear of wrinkling the white satin dress resembling the smooth surface of a frozen winter pond. The answering machine blinks relentlessly behind her, and after hearing phrases like no…don’t…ruin your life… Mia is numb to her sister’s warnings. She turns on the radio instead and listens to waves of classical music mimic what she will hear in the church. To bolster her courage she traces the silver stars on the wedding invitation tacked to the corner of the mirror.
Except in her anxious state she regards the names as strangers. Someone else’s father presents the bride. Another mother of the bride is proud of the union. These are not the names they should be, and her mind is off in another land.
The seventeenth button on the gown won’t stay closed, and Mia feels a tiny wisp of air like a cold pinprick stinging her spine. Each time she turns to admire her tanned back above the buttons, the back that took two weeks in a tanning machine to attain, the buttonhole opens and winks. Her family believes that things like this are clearly bad omens. Evan believes in bad omens, too. Mia, on the other hand, has become accustomed to them and refers to them tenderly as ‘hiccups’.
“A hiccup?” her sister scolded her the week prior when they sat outside their office building eating packed lunches.
The fountain by which they sat by had splattered them with bubbling water that smelled like copper, and it was the waning time of day between lunch and dinner. Remnants of food lay scattered for the clever pigeons. The world had forgotten about them for a few moments.
“A hiccup isn’t cheating on your fiancé.” Her sister’s opinion of Evan was clear.
“Cheating is an unkind word,” Mia reminded her softly.
“The man is getting married in seven days. It’s the ugliest and most appropriate word I can think of.”
Mia blissfully ignored cheating and instead settled on the pleasanter term married, allowing herself to be swept away with the romantic ideas of monogrammed towels and flower girls like tiny swans dropping petals.
“The wedding should be called off. But it’s not up to me,” her sister fretted. “I’m worried about you.”
“You should be happy for me,” Mia reminded her.
“Impossible,” she pouted with the same pair of plump lips that Mia and all the women in her family shared. Evan had told Mia that her lips were the first thing that drew him to her across the restaurant where they first met. Afterwards, he’d forgotten to mention the other reasons he was drawn to her, but Mia supposed there had to be dozens more.
Since that ugly conversation at the fountain she’d refused to speak with her sister, instead letting the answering machine manage unpleasant calls and admonitions.
Now Mia sits in her gown with flat silver slippers and watches the clock tick away the minutes. It doesn’t matter if her sister won’t be in attendance behind her to lend an arm of support in case Mia loses nerve and falls backward, an avalanche of a dress and netting burying her. She’ll come along, in her own time. She’ll be there for Mia’s first baby when Evan extends his arms and all the uneven spots of their relationship will fit together the way Mia has always dreamed they would.
The car arrives exactly at ten, and the attendant leaps out to help her fit everything neatly beside her on the torn vinyl seat.
“What a sight,” he wheezes, hitting the meter at his elbow. “Don’t get too many brides in here.”
“Well then,” Mia says as confidently as she can, “today must be both of our lucky days.”
The ride is extra bumpy, and Mia enjoys it. She remembers the carnival teacups and the sheer electric excitement that stayed with her for hours as a little girl once the rides were over. She wants the driver to go faster, to race over hills. Instead they quickly pull up to the church, stopping in front by a taped yellow x for the occasion.
“Need help getting out?” he offers.
“No. This part I get to do alone.”
The church is packed. It’s better than a show. Half of the guests whisper how beautiful the orchids are. Beaded streamers flank the alter. The other guests just whisper, aware that Evan keeps a mistress, and the formality is punctuated by the stain of his indiscretions. Mia thinks both things at once, trying to smile. It is essential, she has learned, to smile through these tough times. Her mother taught her that trick, to smile when the medicine tastes rotten, to force your brain to surrender to the pretense of the situation. Her dress crunches like brittle leaves beneath the weight of crinoline and embroidered fabric. Everything unfolds exactly as she imagined as she races through the back doors to interrupt the vows, her feet landing on the first inches of the carpeted aisle.
“Should I be doing this?” she thinks too late, the room turning with an ugly stare.
This isn’t Mia’s wedding day, because mistresses don’t get them. Evan stands with his wife-to-be in her own, better white gown at the front of the church. Real brides stand there. Evan’s hands are intertwined with his fiancé’s lacey gloved fingers. They are two puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly, exactly the way he prefers things to be when others are watching. He was never really comfortable with the solitude of Mia’s dark, sultry bedroom where they lay with their limbs askew. The whispering halts. No need to gossip about her when the crazy mistress is standing in the flesh, in a white gown, at the back of the church ready to collect all the promises Evan offered to her late at night in the apartment with the uneven books where he left his ties.
This isn’t Mia’s wedding day. But in her mind it should be.
Sarah Clayville's work has appeared in the Threepenny Review, Central PA Magazine, and Small Spiral Notebook, among other journals. She is a recent Pushcart Prize nominee, and currently works as a American Literature and Creative Writing teacher.
Alanna Vanacore is a native Floridian who earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and Drawing from the University of North Florida in 2010. At a young age, Alanna was infused with the desire to create, seeing as her mother is a painter and her father a builder. While in school, she had models to work with, but out of school she had no one to reference but herself. In her bathroom she would set up her easel and paints and position herself into the pose that she wanted as a way of translating what she had learned in school into an exponentially more intimate representation of herself. She exhibited work at a number of galleries in Jacksonville, Florida, before moving to New York City this past year. To view more of her work, visit her online portfolio at alannavanacore.com.
Secret Cove is the Brooklyn-based project of multi-instrumentalist Johnny Zachman. Their latest project, Interesting Times: Three Songs by Secret Cove, is an E.P. with three accompanying music videos. For more, visit secretcove.bandcamp.com and secretcovemusic.net.