Bitter Beauty
fiction by Jennifer Oliver

June 21, 2010

The sky was swollen like a bruise, and still the rain didn’t come.

Mama twisted my face away from the window.  A sticky mist of hairspray fell on my neck and shoulders.
“Don’t worry, Dolly Girl, it won’t rain.”

“I don’t mind if it does.”

“Don’t be stupid.” Mama unwound my hair from around the curling iron.  “We don’t want your hair getting ruined.”

She started on the next curl, and for a second the hot metal touched my scalp.  I breathed in.  The smell of burning hair and chemicals tickled my nose, but I knew better than to sneeze while Mama held a curling iron.  A childhood of pageants had taught me that.
Instead, I imagined what life would be like after I walked down the aisle.

At work, wives complained of stray socks or sinks full of beard trimmings.  Either would be a small price to pay.  Marrying Richard meant no more shabby one bedroom apartments littered with mascara stained tissues or lipstick rimmed coffee cups.  No more fake lashes, scales and diet pills.  I could cut my hair…

And it would all begin as soon as he showed up.

“What if he doesn’t come, Mama?”
She froze, then carefully laid the curling iron down on a side table. Mama walked over to her purse and rummaged through it.

“Come here.”  She said.  “Stick out your tongue.”

“What for?”  Taffeta ruffled as I moved towards her.

“Mama has some Lorazapam for your nerves.”

“I’m not nervous.”

She squeezed my cheeks together giving me fishy lips.

“You know how important this is, right?”
With her face so close to mine, I could see the tired woman who greeted me in the mornings.  Her mouth was outlined like a picture in a colouring book.  Orange powder filled her pores and the lines above her upper lip.  Mama was getting old.
As if she could read my thoughts, her long nails nipped my cheeks.
I opened my mouth and Mama dropped the chalky pill in my mouth.  I slipped it beneath my tongue.
“There.  Isn’t that better, Dolly Girl?”  She tapped my chin with her sharp fingertips.
I nodded.

There was a knock at the door.  While she had her back turned, I spat the pill into a Kleenex.
I caught a glance of myself in the full length mirror.  The large skirt fountained from the embroidered bodice.  I adjusted the strap slipping off the tip of my shoulder.  It was an expensive designer dress I’d seen on a wedding show.  In a flight of fancy, Richard had insisted he order one for me to try on.

It almost fit.

The nice lady at the bridal store had tugged at the front.
“Looks like your cup runneth over, my dear.”  But Mama had refused to listen to her.
“If this is the dress Richard wants on his bride, this is the dress he’s going to get.”
“Yes, Mama.”
Back in my dressing room, she wrapped her arm around my shoulder.  Her head tilted away so she wouldn’t have to see our faces side by side in the mirror.

“I did such a fine job.”

“Thank you, Mama.”

Her cold fingers rearranged the crinkly curls on my shoulders.

“I wish I’d had hair like yours.  Thick, blond and curly.  With my brains and your looks, I would have made something of myself.”  Her gaze traveled up and down my body.  “Oh well.”

Mama uncapped her carmine lipstick.

“Now for the finishing touch.”  She said.
“Mama, I think I’ll just stick to lip gloss today.”

Her hand hung in the air as she decided whether it was worth making a fuss.

“Well I guess I’ll just let you finish up then.”  She said recapping the tube.  “He’s here.”

The seconds before the music started were heavy with anticipation.  Like the air before a storm.

The string quartet began.

The oak doors swung open.

I started down the aisle.

The pews were filled with Richard’s co-workers, friends and family.  I wondered what they thought of this doll in her pretty princess dress.

Finally, I met Richard at the front.  His hand was gentle as he took mine.  I searched his face for any sign of uncertainty.  His broad, round face was kind and sure.

The minister began in a soft droning voice, and I found myself drifting off.

Everyone I had ever loved before flashed before my eyes.  From Jake who used to say my name like a prayer, to Kendall who giggled when he couldn’t unhook my bra.  I had loved them deeply in the stolen moments we had shared.  But it was Richard, the one Mama approved of, who stood beside me at the altar today.

My wayward thoughts were interrupted by Richard’s gruff voice reciting his vows.

He slipped the ring on my finger, and it was my turn.

“I, Kelly Robyn Murphy…”  I began.

Images of our pretty, lemon-scented cottage filled my head as I pushed the thick band over his knuckle.

He kissed me softly.

We turned around and all I could see was Mama’s red mouth pulled up into a smile.  She looked very proud of herself.  She didn’t understand yet.

Walking past her row, I clasped my husband’s hand.  Someone handed Richard a black golf umbrella at the entrance, but I waved it away.

“But the rain, sweetheart.”  Richard objected.

I smiled at him and took my first step outside.

Four acrylic crescents dug into my forearm.

“Get back here Dolly Girl.”  Her voice was as light as her eyes were sharp.
I turned and looked at Mama.  She thought her obedient daughter was going to hand over Richard’s money and invite her into his nice, white cottage.  She was wrong.  All those things were mine.  Not hers.

I smiled and leaned on my husband.

“I’m not your doll anymore, Mama.”

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4 Responses to Bitter Beauty
fiction by Jennifer Oliver

  1. Michael Oliver on June 24, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    I enjoyed the story, very insightful.

  2. Paul A. Freeman on June 28, 2010 at 4:12 am

    A scary insight into ‘Tiara World’.

  3. Eilidh Thomas on June 28, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    Controlled story of contol and manipulation. Well done.

  4. Cathy Desjardins on July 7, 2010 at 11:52 am

    WOW! I really enjoyed it. Well writen, and quirky. As usual I want to know what happens next.

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