Authors: Susan Minot
In the closet down the hall and back deep in the closet off her bedroom were the dresses she’d worn to all the weddings. The navy suit with the white trim to Constance’s at City Hall and for Margie’s in the field on Three O’Clock Island the dark flowered one with elastic sleeves. For Teddy’s in the little town in North Carolina where Lauren was from the purple silk with the straw hat. At her own she’d always worn white. Phil had the little white suit and Ted the long one with the train and for Oscar the lace one he picked out with the scooped neck. She liked putting on a dress with a man in mind. She’d given the flowered one to Margie who’d cut the skirt and let the hem unravel.
Were you thinking of me then?
Of course I was.
In the church.
It was hard not to think of you.
But you had someone else to think of too, didn’t you?
She was there first.
Is getting there first so important?
It can be, he said.
Is it really the important thing? People give it a lot of importance. They give a lot of importance to time, don’t they? As if time added up to something.
She shook her head.
Rounded cars parked in the lumpy field, the music of the band came over the grass and further back was a field where it was quiet behind the trees. Ann Lord had not thought of that field then, of the quiet field where no one walked, but she thought of it now.
Haze was glowing like a white ball at the horizon. A line snaked up to the couple, to Mrs. Wittenborn in pale yellow, to Mr. Wittenborn turning back to his drink on a table within arm’s reach. Carl’s parents stood beside, smaller and softer and wider, shaking with both hands. Buddy crossed the dry field swinging a bottle of champagne and Eve Wittenborn was applying lipstick in a sideview mirror. Above the tent on the rise stood Ralph Eastman, Pip Cutler and Carl’s friend Monty each holding a drink, talking as men do, not looking at each other, surveying the scene before them. Ann saw Vernon Tobin’s hand on Kingie’s back trying to steer her in one direction while she veered vaguely off in another and there was Ollie Grangers fiancée Lily comparing engagement rings with Charlie Elisofen’s fiancée. She saw—
Mrs. Lord. I’m sorry. Mrs. Lord.
The sun went behind a cloud and the field went dark in a vast bruise. The trees stood straight and dark at the edge and a shadow leapt out across the bed and monkeys started swinging on a sagging rope above her. Then there wasn’t a rope and the monkeys were still swinging and she didn’t know why they didn’t fall and land on her face.
I’ve told you to call me Ann, Nora.
We’ve got to change the sheet, Ann.
She rolled over.
She stood at the bottom of the field and saw them at an upper split rail fence, he was beside the girl in the blue hat. A thin scarf around her neck was lifted by the wind. She leaned forward like a seasick passenger on an ocean liner. His arm curved over her. Ann jumped when Lizzie Tull knocked her with an elbow.
He’s not the man for you, Lizzie said. She shook her head matter-of-factly, and cast an indifferent look in the direction of the couple at the split rail fence. Ann continued after that to be friends with Lizzie Tull who went on to marry an irritating man named
Brocaw, but she never lost the feeling after that moment that Lizzie Tull had not the slightest idea who she was.
Gigi joined them, dripping champagne onto Ann’s shoes. She looks like a mannequin in a store window, she said.
Some men like that, Ann said uncertainly.
Gigi narrowed her eyes. I’d marry him too, she said.
She still looks unwell, Ann said.
I hope so, Gigi said, and threw her champagne glass into the tall grass at the edge of the field.
Lila and Carl danced their first dance. Everyone applauded. Across the floor of the tent Ann caught Vernon Tobin regarding her with the intense one-eyed stare he got after a few drinks. She looked away. Couples stepped onto the dance floor, feeling jaunty. The setting sun came over the rim of the hill lighting up the far side of the tent a tarnished orange, picked out the dancing figures so parts of them looked dipped in copper.
Hope is a terrible thing, she said.
Yes, it keeps you living in another place, a place which doesn’t exist.
For some people it’s better than where they are. For many it’s a relief.
From life, she said. A relief from life? Is that living?
Some people don’t have a choice.
No and that’s awful for them.
Hope is better than misery, he said. Or despair.
Hope belongs in the same box as despair.
Hope is not so bad, he said.
At least despair has truth to it.
You’re in a dark mood today.
She tried a smile. It’s all this time I spend with my eyes shut. She closed her eyes. I stopped hoping with you right away.
I had to. Of course the shock helped.
Yes the shock.
Some of them never got over it, you know.
Forgot it, you mean?
I suppose that’s what I mean, she said. Some of them never forgot it.
The band took a break while everyone found the right seat for dinner. A scratchy record played some Bach chosen by Mr. Wittenborn. The bridal table was the last to be seated. Lila was in conference with her mother whose perturbed look reflected a growing awareness of her daughter’s independence. Carl waited for his bride standing beside his chair and watched calmly as she wove her way through the tables and was stopped at every turn. Ralph Eastman also stood. Buddy sat back sprawled in his seat having pulled Gail Slater’s chair close to his. Monty watched his sleeve which Lizzie Tull was poking with little jabs.
They’d finished the first course when Harris joined them and filled the empty place beside Ann.
I’m so sorry, he said to Lila. Maria’s feeling awful. She’s upset she’s missing the reception.
Lila smiled broadly. That’s O.K. I mean that’s too bad, but it’s O.K.
Did she throw up more? Lizzie shouted.
Harris glanced at her. She’s lying down, he said softly.
Lucky she has a personal doctor, Gigi said.
Harris Arden’s face was pinched. He looked down at his plate of food and reached for a drink. The table returned to general discussion.
Everything O.K.? Ann said.
He looked at her, the look seemed to hurt him. I’ll tell you later, he whispered.
The band started up and people stood to dance between courses.
Will you dance with me? Ann said.
He stood up.
His arms went around her easily and the music was not fast or slow and she felt something languid and warm come over her and had to keep checking herself not to fall into a revery and sink against him. He had a firm hold and moved her and her feet seemed to float where he led.
Are you worried about her? Ann said into his ear.
Was that, don’t ask now or no I’m not worried now? He shifted his hand to envelop her hand in his. She felt the pressure of his other hand on her back. He turned her a little this way, a little that. He stepped her back suddenly and it seemed to flip her into another dimension. Her forehead rested on the skin above his collar.
Ann, he murmured.
Through his shirt she could feel his heart beating. Or was it hers? The song ended and immediately went into another and they danced the next song, not speaking. When the music stopped she heard clapping around her and stood in front of him limp and radiant.
I better go check on her, he said.
It was like a stab. She smiled nevertheless. He walked head bowed off the dance floor.
Night fell suddenly and the striped light of the tent became a lantern one. The cake was carried out on a table and Lila and Carl fed it to each other with their fingers. Lila’s hair had come unraveled and she looked herself again.
I’m glad that’s over. It was like a job, she said. Carl was behind her talking to his cousin and Ann saw how he and Lila were joined but separate and wondered if Lila had found a superior love. Ann’s idea of love had to do with merging and at the moment she thought nothing could be greater than that overwhelming feeling.
He was gone a long time.
Ann danced with Buddy till he fell down, then with Ollie Granger after he cut in on her and Ralph Eastman. Ollie had flair
and twirled her around, making a space in the center of the dancers. She danced with Carl who was making sure to dance with each bridesmaid, though his eye always followed Lila. Ann kept glancing out into the dark. Still he didn’t come. Some older guests left. Mr. and Mrs. Wittenborn danced with each other, looking over each other’s shoulders, holding on as if they were strangers. Ann danced with a blond man who asked for advice about his girlfriend and Ann found herself feeling wise and she asked the man questions about love and how he felt and answering them for herself passed the test with Harris and felt this man, this blond man whose name she did not know, was just another element pointing her toward Harris and she felt she gave him something back too, whoever he was, and he nodded thoughtfully. She danced with Buddy again during a slow song and he leaned against her. Do you remember when we stole the plums? he said, and she looked up and was surprised by the eyes looking at her which if she had not known better would have said were full of meaning. But she did know better, Buddy had been drinking for days. She returned her cheek to his shoulder and he stopped moving and stayed still and she felt a sudden disturbance which it was hard to know if it was good or bad. I better go, he said, and left her alone on the dance floor trembling a little.
Then Harris appeared out of the darkness. Before he saw Ann he was whisked along by Gigi who ignored his worried look and pulled him by the arm over to the band where his face lit up with relief as he strapped on a saxophone handed to him by one of the band members. He stayed off to the side and Ann saw a new aspect to him as he pressed the keys and stood with his neck hung forward. The music came out smooth and humming and she felt the vibration in her rib cage. He straightened up then bent back and hit a high note which he held and held till someone hooted and everyone started clapping.