The mahogany wardrobe was the last to go. I’d spent all of the morning and most of the afternoon on the rest of the house. The mammoth wardrobe, with all of its secrets, and most likely rubbish, was the last thing I needed to sort through. Then Gran’s house would be done and I could go home. The boys would be wanting their dinner.
My back already ached from the bending and stretching required to put a lifetime of possessions in boxes for the charity shops. In the end, not much of Gran’s things had been worth saving. Tatty old hats and shoeboxes of theatre programs and dried corsages were sentimental, but not enough to justify keeping, I thought.
The wardrobe seemed to glare at me, and I decided a cup of tea would be just the thing before going on. To tell the truth, I felt a little sad. Gran had died several months ago, but the memory–and the loss–were still fresh.
I could still remember her smiling, wrinkled face, the way she doled out sweets from a tin that was impossible to reach, even with the help of the highest chair. I could almost hear her dry little chuckle. And now she was gone.
“Right,” I said aloud, in the empty kitchen. “Time for that wardrobe.” No point dwelling the past, I told myself briskly. The job had to be done, and I was the only one to do it. My sister, Eliza, was younger than me and too flighty to even think of taking on such a responsibility. After all, I was the married one, almost forty, with two grown sons. Naturally the job of sorting out Gran’s house would fall to me.
The wardrobe creaked ominously as I opened it, and promptly groaned. Jumpers, hats, boots, trousers, and dresses were piled high enough to clothe a family of six. Sorting it out would surely take hours. I picked up an old green wool suit coat, smelling of must and mothballs. I wasn’t sure a charity shop would even want these antiquities.
Still, I bagged everything up and took it out to the car boot. I was taking the last bag out when I saw I’d missed a drawer underneath the main door of the wardrobe. I could just imagine what was in it… spools of thread and safety pins, bits and pieces of junk Gran hadn’t wanted to throw away, ‘because I might need it someday’.
The drawer slid open surprisingly easily, and I was surprised to see only one item lying swathed in tissue paper. It was a wedding dress. Gran’s wedding dress.
I lifted out the spangled, gossamer thin silk with a whispery sigh. Although the once white dress was now a pale yellow with age, I could still see the simple beauty and elegance of the dress, worn on a magical day over seventy years ago.
I’d heard the story of Gran’s wedding many times. Her grandmother had loved to tell how Grandpa’s fancy new automobile had broken down, and how he had had to dash to the church to make it on time, panting and breathless with his tie askew and the vicar looking thunderous.
Gran would laugh as she told of how it rained for their afternoon tea meant to be in the glorious spring sunshine, and how she and Grandfather hadn’t minded. They had left the guests and stolen off to the apple orchard, where they had kissed underneath the shelter of the blossom laden boughs.
I sighed as I imagined the day. I’d never seen Gran’s dress outside of photographs, but the reality of it was even better than the old sepia snaps. I held the dress to my face, and smelled the faint scent of lavender that always reminded me of Gran.
“Oh, Gran.” My voice came out in a whisper, and I realised I wasn’t sad anymore. Gran may have passed from this life, but the life she’d lived had been full… she’d enjoyed every minute. The love she’d shared with Grandpa for over fifty years had been deep and abiding.
I carefully wrapped the dress back in the tissue paper, and put it in a box. This box I would keep.
As I drove back to my house with the wedding dress carefully stowed in the boot, I couldn’t help but feel sad once again… not for Gran, but for myself.
“Fool,” I muttered. Why was I thinking this way, after being married for nearly twenty years?
My husband, Harry was a wonderful man. He worked hard and was devoted to me and the boys. But when had we last giggled and kissed under an apple tree? Had we ever? Any spark of romance we’d had had long been extinguished.
My own wedding day had been a blur of greeting guests and taking photographs. And as for my wedding dress… I groaned aloud. I’d be lucky if the dress could be zipped up even halfway now. Did Harry even remember what I’d looked like in it?
I pulled into the drive and turned off the car, but I didn’t move from my seat. I suddenly remembered a moment in our wedding… a moment that had captured that spark.
As we left the church, arm in arm, formal and stiff, Harry’s fingers found my own and he gave them a squeeze. It was all I’d needed. That squeeze had told me everything. We were in this together. We were starting an adventure, just the two of us, and he was glad.
“So was I,” I said aloud now. And I was still… wasn’t I? I just wished Harry would notice once in awhile. I wished he would come home early from work, or look up from his paper, and give me that lightning flash smile. It didn’t seem like much to want, to wish for.
“Meredith, my girl, you’re as lovely as the day we married.” If only he would say that… but he never had.
“You’re not a girl any longer,” I reminded myself as I got out of the car. “So stop dreaming! Anyway, you’re not as lovely as the day you were married… two children saw to that!”
Later, curled up in the window seat in our bedroom, I watched the moonlight shift across the trees in the garden. Harry wasn’t home from work yet, and I didn’t know when he would be. I’d stopped waiting up for him a long time ago.
I remembered the way Harry and I had danced, awkwardly because neither of us were dancers, but laughing because we were in love and together. And when we’d driven off in his shiny new car, their future had seemed as bright as a new penny. We’d laughed and giggled and talked excitedly about silly, trivial things. We had just enjoyed being together.
When had it changed, I wondered. When had we stopped talking to share love and ideas, and when had it become about business and work and who needs to do what? I leaned my forehead against the window pane. When had things changed? And could they change again?
“Meredith, my girl, you’re looking sad.”
“Harry, you’re back.”
“So I am.” Harry smiled tiredly and dropped a kiss on my forehead, as he always did.
I watched as he shed his suit jacket and loosened his tie. “Harry…”
“Do you remember our wedding?”
“I’m not likely to forget it. It’s the only one we’ve had.”
“I know… but do you really remember it? Do you… look back on it.” I knew I sounded silly. What did I expect him to say? That he thought of it fondly every night before bed?
Harry glanced at me, clearly puzzled. “Think of it? Not really… I don’t need to.”
Of course not. Why should he? Still, I was stupidly disappointed. “Why not?” I whispered.
“Because I have you.” Harry came over to me and dropped to his knees, his face close to mine. “I don’t need to think of our wedding, wonderful though it was, because I can think of all the things that happened after it. The day we were married, we were full of dreams and hopes for what would be. And now, I look back on all that… all that was.” Harry smiled softly. “I look back on you holding Johnny in your arms for the first time, and teaching him to walk. I remember my thirtieth birthday, when you planned a surprise party and then were too excited so you told me about it a day early. I remember when I lost my job, and you didn’t say a word, you just held your arms out to me. Those are the things I remember, Meredith. The dreams we made.”
“Oh, Harry.” I’d never expected him to say so much. Maybe we didn’t have that early spark, but we had something better. The steady glow it had lit.
Harry just smiled. Silently his fingers found my own and gave a gentle squeeze.