The closer we got to the church, the further away from the right one we were going. A solitary car drew up behind us. A lone driver looked over quizzically before emerging to unlock the gate. At ten past one, I knew this wasn’t a place where being late is fashionable for anyone; be it one of the spectators, or either one of those taking up vows in full view of them. A rolled-down windowed query and ten-point turn later, we were headed in the right direction.
I should’ve read the invitation properly but took the location of her birthplace for granted. The rest of it, I studied with a smile after it took a moment to register her name. Ah. Of course it would arrive late. She was still living life by the seat of her pants. There they were pictured, he with his hands in his pockets, she beaming out of over-sized glasses, hand on hip, the other looped through his arm. Above their heads, individual letters erected across the cinema board with the aid of a ladder spelled out the date of their wedding. No wonder he couldn’t contain his grin.
It went up on the fridge with the other reminders as I immediately composed a regret in my head. Her face now covered by a green and black magnet revealing a blotchy Che Guevara to the trained eye.
A heave of relief broke five miles further up the road. The vintage bus took up half the street halving the number of lanes available. This would only matter when the children were flushed from school at 3pm. By then, our hosts had traded promises and we pocketed the birdseed not thrown on them due to hostile weather that forced everyone to run in an undignified manner onto the bus for the stone’s throw journey to the pub for chicken and chips and elbow room only.
By the time the empty paper cones were collected and the bar counter strewn with half-eaten cup-cakes, I had congratulated the bride eleven times, and her cousin double that on the birth of her baby boy following a rocky road to getting her fertility on side. I caught myself almost doing it again and blushed with embarrassment. There was even less customary repartee on offer from my companion. She had gone on charm strike for the afternoon, resolute in her concern that we had deserted the sweet cart prematurely. We circulated the room; I struggling to remember the names of half-colleagues I avoided in a bygone era, she picking her nose and checking out her reflection wherever there was a chance of catching it. We made it to the car intact where I threw my eyes up at my reflection in the rear-view, my rosey cheeks burning a hole in my relief.
A week later on the station forecourt, I studied the same mirror hoping to catch sight of someone half approachable to help re-start the damn car. The battery had also expired along with my energy. My companion lay asleep in the back, her Grandmother texted to check the estimated time of arrival. My response was to recline with my nose in the problem page while thinking over the next move in mine. A woman wrote of her husband’s porn addiction. With a new-born baby, she feared for their future now he had started to repulse her with his relentless habit. Not for the first time I wondered what Patricia Redlich would say. She was one of the few voices of perceptiveness and wisdom ever to adorn the pages of the Sunday Independent. Agony Aunt too lowly a title for the woman whose finger deftly wagged folk towards the right direction. This usually commenced with an invitation to correspondents to square up to themselves.
What would she make of a 40-something cursing the need to pull-up on the hillside like she was walking naked through her hometown? The man with the jeep cheerfully latched on the jump-leads, warning of the need to park it so in preparation for jump-starting the next day when the garages re-opened. With an appreciative beep of the horn, we pulled out and parked up in front of my folks’. Conveniently, they bicker away their days at very top of a hill. The rain runs down it at enough speed to hypnotise the occupant of the rocking chair gazing out the corner window. As a main arterial route to town, the traffic rarely abates, and even then cars and lorries will try to put up a good fight against snow and ice. Few make it undefeated.
The cursing was vindicated by the beep of the phone. “Is that your car? Are you home? Let’s meet up!” I half-smiled at her thoughtfulness, then deleted the message as I composed an excuse in my head. Two more messages from other spontaneous visitors followed. We couldn’t engineer this if we tried.
The Cork reg in the car park confirmed we were late. Second-hand batteries aren’t so easy to come by. My companion hesitantly stepped away to join the other two on the slides while I overpowered their mother’s cash with my card to pay for the coffees.
Two hours later I waved them off in the rear-view before they turned the other way; imploring my backseat companion to agree with me on how good it was as I was struck by a fleeting thought. I didn’t really take in the other parents dotted and hunkered about the place, and was unable to recall seeing any sitting on their own hiding behind a Sunday supplement. So this is what it’s like.