That was a seriously odd arrangement. I mean, there were so many tents outside the church it looked more like some sort of festival than the wedding of a vicar, or of anyone else, come to that. For just an instant, I felt completely at sea among so many people, unable to focus on individual faces, and then people started to emerge from the background, rather like one of those hidden object puzzles.
Sally and her man, those French people, Kirsty and her own man, Arwel amid a group of stupidly big men, Annie and her family doing the meeting and greeting as folk filtered into the pews. There was a shipwreck of tables spilling from the Bells next door, and to my relief the weather had held firm and fine for days, so heels weren’t going to be a problem.
This was only our affair by association, of course, but I could still feel the love in the air. Eric, now, he was our friend, true and tried, an anchor throughout Ian’s pain, and now he was doing much the same job for Simon, who, very clearly, was crapping himself with nerves. There were so many uniforms there if could have been a Remembrance Day service, even Stewie decked out in his full Marine Number Ones, and I had an odd moment of understanding. If I had been straight, it would have been a hard choice between Sally’s man and Kirsty’s, which thought brought out a warm smugness in me.
Told you I was a woman…
There were swarms of young people as well, from Kelly’s age down to a few still at the breast, but all were smiling. I felt a sharp slap on my arse.
“Eyes off the blonde, lover!”
“Darling wifey, how could I have eyes for anyone but you? Seriously, I was having an odd thought, like, about who I would fancy if I were straight”
“Well, you’re not, are you? If you were… dibsy the big biker!”
“Glass houses, love. I’ve got your Mam settled in, pew on the right. Thought, well, more Eric’s side, yeah?”
“So many people here we don’t know, pet”
“Yeah, but so many we do, so play nicely. Look, there’s Rachel and Jim. Time to get bums on pews, lover. Hays is in the front row”
She beckoned Rachel, and I spotted John just behind them, the other John with Alec coming through the lych gate.
“Bride or groom?” asked a grinning Darren at the door, his girlfriend beside him in a dress that showed a very nice figure. Once more, I felt the hand on my arse, and I turned to Larinda.
“Bit young for me, pet, and spoken for”
For some reason this brought a sharp change in the girl’s expression, and I saw Darren reach out for her hand. He looked at me, clearly weighing me up, and then just smiled.
“We’ll tell you one day, lahk. Shan, she don’t know, no harm, yeah?”
The girl tried a smile, but it was a little fragile. “It’s OK, Daz. Merry’s day, yeah? You going to be sitting on the right, Eric’s side, sorta”
Larinda eased into place beside me. “Got his mother already in place, Darren. We’ll be fine”
We passed on down the aisle, and I whispered to my wife “What was all that about?”
“Abuse, lover. Very young… think you pressed a button, yeah? She’ll be fine. Got heart, that one”
Every now and again, I surfaced from my own problems to see that others around me have rather a lot of their own. I knew that I didn’t do too badly in lending sympathy and support, but sometimes I could be a little blind. Anyway, Merry’s day, they said. We made our way to the family pew, Von and Ian already there with Mam and Dad, Bethy cuddled up to James, who looked a little confused.
“You OK, son?”
“I have to play music today. I can’t play music here”
Bethy squeezed his hand, which I had noticed was firmly in hers and not up to his own face.
“Later, Jay. We got like the organ and choir first, and then the wedding”
“My Mum and Dad had a wedding”
“This is like the same thing, just for Simon the vicar and his girl. There’s Hays up front. She looks pretty, Dad!”
Ian smiled, but he didn’t look well. “She’s not pretty, pet. She’s beautiful, aye?”
On cue, the choir started, something in Welsh, and Mam passed the word: Myfanwy. The rendition was subdued, but there was a lot of power lurking there. The pews filled, and Simon the vicar took his place with Eric before another vicar I had never seen before. There was a brief couple of bars of ‘Here Comes the Bride’ and then that power took over, as the choir surged into that tune, the one I still think of as ‘Bread of Heaven’, Hayley’s voice clear and pure above something that sounded as visceral as a jet airliner on take-off. I caught a glimpse, past all the other craning heads, of a slim figure in white accompanied by yet another huge man, and then Eric stepped back and left the main actors to their play. The other vicar smiled around the church.
“Good afternoon and welcome. As most of you will know, I am not from these parts. It is an awkwardness for a vicar to get married in his own church, as he can hardly dance from one role to another. My name is Harry Dunston, and Simon and I were at uni together, so when he asked, what else could I say? He has told me many stories of the people gathered here today to celebrate his love for the wonderful woman beside him, as well as giving me a number of very explicit warnings as to where it would be wiser not to tread. There is only one phrase I can use, then, and it is abundantly true right here and now. Dearly beloved…”
The course of a wedding is well-known, and there were no surprises here. Vows and rings were exchanged, hymns were sung, a small Irish man gave what they called the ‘lesson’ but was actually more of a sermon, which was about love and its true meaning, and I found myself nodding along in agreement.
“So, remember, love isn’t just about putting the other person first, but recognising that if they, in their turn, truly love, they will be seeking to do the same thing for you, and that is the tricky part. My wife, for example, limits my access to certain delights, and she assures me that she does so out of concern for my well-being. In turn, I try to let her know whenever she is in error, and that seems to work well, though I occasionally have to make my own dinner.
“No… in all seriousness, love flows two ways. Be aware that while your partner will want your help for their own needs they will wish, just as importantly, to meet your own. Even with God's help, which is always there in abundance, human beings work best as partners. These two before me, before you, they are the best of partners, and now they shall be joined as such before your eyes and those of our Lord and Saviour.”
He grinned and turned to the vicar. “Harry, thank you for letting me speak for my friends on their special day. I will now hand over for the magical part”
They shook hands, and the Irishman stepped down. Harry smiled again, and looked out over the congregation with an impish twinkle in his eyes.
“Thank you, Pat. Not the conventional order to things, but who cares? Anyway…if there is anyone here who knows of any just cause or impediment to the joining of this couple in holy matrimony, let him speak now, or forever hold his peace! No? Thought not; I can conceive of nothing that could possibly exist that could separate the two before me. So… Miriam, Simon: I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride”
Larinda passed me a tissue. I blame the hormones.
Register signed, bouquet thrown (directly to Von, which was sneaky), photos, kisses, and off to the church hall for the reception. A hand tugged at my sleeve.
“Did you hear me sing, Aunty Jill?”
“Yes, Hays, it was wonderful. You looked beautiful in the choir, your Dad said”
Her face dropped. “He’s not well again. Is he going to have to go back to the hospital?”
Always the ghost at the feast. “I don’t know, love, but we’ll be there for him if he does. Today, though, we talk about happy things, like”
“I liked her dress, Aunty Jill. Can I wear one like that when I get married?”
I put on the best face I could. “You have someone in mind, love?”
What a blush! “And who might it be, pet?”
In a very small voice: “There’s a boy at the place they sent me to. He said he liked me…”
I took that to mean the little community Ian had found for her, the place that had let her grow, that had taken her away from Ellen’s poisonous control and neglect.
“Is he nice?”
The blush was still there, and she nodded.
“Then perhaps we should meet him, like. Now, we have to go and listen to some talking, and then it’s cakes and ice cream and things”
“Would you meet him, Aunty Jill?”
I kissed her and pulled her to me. “Anything for my favourite niece”
“But you’ve got Bethy”
“I can’t have two favourites? Come on!”
Long tables, packed out. Eric at a microphone, the happy couple beside him. A knife tapping a glass.
“Ladies, gentlemen, friends. This is truly a great day. This man to my right has served this community, served us, so well that words cannot begin to describe it. He has married several of us, but we’ll forgive him that one. Right, Geoff?”
A bread roll hit him on the chest. “I see my darling wife is trying to feed me up again. Now, this couple came together through the love of many things, apart from that of each other. Scripture, God, a nicely-shaped bottom—no, my spies tell me that was a mutual interest shared by both, and there was absolutely no sniffing involved…”
The traditions continued, and the toast was made, but the dancing was outside, to a ceilidh band that included a lot of the wedding guests. James and Darren sat together, Stephanie and Annie went silly, and couples gay and straight did their thing, even an awkward Will and Eddy.
Ian managed one slow shuffle with Von. He was looking worse.
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