A loose thread catches my attention. Tugging on the fiber, I test to make sure it’s not attached to anything important. My sister would never forgive me if I pulled the hem out of my jacket two minutes before I finally get to walk down the aisle. My fingers quiver as I free the pink strand from my suit, release it, and watch it float to the stone floor.
Florence begged me to buy a white wedding dress. First marriage or not, I told her I couldn’t spend money on a frivolous, one-time outfit, not with war on the horizon. The Nazi’s advance into Russia has everyone on pins and needles. My fiancé, Frank, is sure the U.S. will officially enter the war before the end of the year. And when war comes again, so will rationing. I made a practical choice and purchased a rose-colored suit in rayon—an ensemble I’ll be able to wear time and again. I did take my sister’s advice and splurged on a hat. Florence suggested a matching fascinator with a detachable face veil. And she was right. As soon as I put on the hat and pulled down the veil, I felt like a bride—a forty-three-year-old bride, but a bride at last.
I fiddle with the brooch on my lapel. Mrs. Henderson let me pick something from her jewelry box this morning. The box itself was exquisite with little gold feet and a painted scene of courtly lovers on top. When Mrs. H lifted the lid, I gasped at the contents. The blue satin-lined interior overflowed with gemstone rings, pearl necklaces, and diamond earrings—finery I’d never seen Mrs. Henderson wear in the twelve years I’ve lived at her boardinghouse. I browsed through her treasures until my hand hovered over the brooch—the carved image of a woman’s head and shoulders surrounded by a gold filigree oval. The cameo is my something old and my something borrowed. I reposition it again.
“Stop fussing,” Florence whispers, straightening my jacket. “You look beautiful. Pink, but beautiful. Try to relax and enjoy your special day.”
Florence adjusts my veil and tucks in a few wayward strands of my hair. Looking at my sister is like looking in a mirror—same round face, same untamable mousy brown hair. When we were little, people mistook us for twins, but I’m the older sister by fourteen months. You’d never guess it from the way she loves to boss me around. I let out an audible sigh.
“You’ll be fine, honey,” she says, patting my shoulder. For someone who intentionally tried to derail my romance with Frank, Florence has been a wonderful matron of honor today. Helping with the flowers and my hair. Reassuring me at every turn.
I stare down the aisle and survey the endless sea of vacant pews. Given our brief six-week courtship, Frank and I thought a small wedding would be best. The list grew to sixty people overnight and while sixty people looked like an army on a piece of paper, they barely make a dent scattered across the first few rows of the Baptist church. Then again, once the music starts, those sixty guests will rise, turn, and stare. . . at me. My heart beats faster and I clutch my bouquet with both hands. The distance to the altar grows longer before my eyes and my stomach flutters in response.
I didn’t ask my daddy to give me away because Florence can’t stand to be near him. I couldn’t imagine the three of us waiting in awkward silence at the back of the church. My sister doesn’t understand why I invited Daddy at all. I don’t love him the way most people think about daughters loving their fathers, but I don’t despise him the way Florence does. Forgiveness has never been her strong suit. Frank and I discussed asking my brother, Eddie, to give me away, but we decided it was better for Eddie to serve as Frank’s best man.
“I’m a grown woman and perfectly capable of walking down the aisle by myself,” I told Frank when we were planning.
My legs tremble. I may have overestimated my newfound, almost-married-lady confidence. Truth is, I’d be happy clinging to my brother’s arm right about now. Unlike my sister, I’ve never craved the spotlight. The queasy, sinking feeling running through every limb of my body right feels a lot like stage fright. I was a jittery wreck every time I sang a solo in church when I was a teenager. At this moment, I’m not sure my legs would move if I asked them to and it’s—
“Almost time,” Florence says, completing my thought and causing my top lip to quiver.
Mama gave me some tips to combat stage fright when I was younger. What were they? My mind wanders back to the kitchen where I grew up. Daddy used to run a general store in Indian Territory. The kitchen ran along the back of the building, and we lived upstairs.
I close my eyes and picture my mother. She’s ironing. Blue and white checkered curtains billow in the open window behind her. “Breathe in deep from your belly,” she tells me as she adjusts a long calico skirt on the ironing board. “Stand as tall as you possibly can and imagine a successful performance. Then blow all the butterflies out with a long breath and set them free.”
Mama’s voice rings in my head, crisp and clear as if she’s standing with me and Florence at the back of the church. We lost Mama and my baby sister, Mae, to the influenza epidemic more than twenty years ago. Breathing from the very center of the butterflies in my belly, I square my shoulders and pull up through the crown of my head, rising taller than my five-foot frame. I imagine walking with grace and confidence down the aisle to join Frank, to join our lives together here in the presence of God, our friends, and our family. I open my eyes and exhale, blowing the butterflies up into the rafters of the sanctuary. And they fly away.