The bride’s full length white dress swished gently in the heat of the English afternoon as she entered the cooler enclave of the village church. She began walking down the aisle as the organ played, a knowing smile playing at her lips.
There he was. Her English gentleman. Tall, dark and handsome. His morning suit cut flawlessly to reveal his strong frame. When he caught her eye he smiled widely, encouragingly … but not quite flawlessly. There was something in the tightness at the corners of his mouth, an uneven intake of breath, his eyes betraying a pain, deep in his soul. Something was wrong.
Such tell-tale signs would be noticeable only to herself, she realised. Thirteen years together, the last two engaged. No one on earth was closer to him. Her eyes fluttered closed for a moment as she thought of the promise of lifelong happiness, contentment and companionship, by his side.
Each step was taking her closer to him, and each moment taking him closer to the two things he wanted today more than anything. Not that he realised it yet. Because she knew exactly where the tightness in his smile was coming from, the pain in his soul. Her smile broadened as she envisaged her impending surprise.
She looked left and right. Such a small perfect village church, of which he had such fond memories from his childhood. He spoke of village fetes in the church hall, May Day celebrations, and summers watching cricket on the green. It was his dream to be married here. Just not today.
In looking around she noticed her family and friends, his family and friends. Many smiling broadly and joyously. Some smiling a little less enthusiastically. And some with the beginnings of a grimace forming on their facing before quickly attempting to hide it as they caught her eye.
Five minutes until kick-off, she estimated.
Less than a minute until her marriage began, she knew, as she reached the top of the aisle.
She gave the minister a knowing nod. Of all those relieved by her plan, he was almost the ecstatic. She turned to face her betrothed. That would be second-most ecstatic soon, she thought.
She turned further to face the congregation. The organist finished. There was silence throughout the church. A faint murmur could be heard from the pub over the road, permeating even these thick old stone walls. At least half the congregation glowered inwardly at the sound of the festivities outside.
“Ladies and Gentleman” she began, to a slightly stunned congregation. She smiled more warmly “friends and family.” She paused. “We all know that our marriage is not the only event on today, albeit the one you have all loyally chosen to view.”
There were a few random coughs. Some embarrassed faces surreptitiously replacing phones in pockets like naughty school children.
“By my reckoning, we are about 4 minutes to kick-off, yes?”
She looked for confirmation. Many were nodding. Some more vigorously than others. She noticed his Granny smiling and nodding too. But that was the dementia.
“We have a beautiful ceremony planned. Readings, hymns, vows, reflections … solemn and important moments…”
She left these images hanging in the air for a moment.
“But, our kindly minister here” she gestured to the man beaming behind her “has promised he can get through the marrying part in just 3 minutes, leaving us all 1 minute to walk through the side doors there to the church hall where he has personally placed and tested his 60-inch TV, and the bridesmaids have kindly stocked the tea and coffee counter with cold beer on ice.”
Shock was turning to smiles. Smiles were turning to cheers.
“So that’s a yes?” she asked unnecessarily.
She turned back to her beloved husband-to-be. He was crying.
“Yes?” she asked again, smiling.
He nodded vigorously, unable to talk.
“Do you take this woman…”
[3 minutes later]
“…husband and wife.”
The cheers that echoed through the church had never been rivalled in its 400-year history.
The organist struck up an enthusiastic hymn-like melody. As they filed from their pews towards the side door recently opened by a beckoning church warden, the congregation caught on and joined in “It’s coming home….”
With the newly-married couple in the lead, the jubilant congregation entered the church hall decked out with crosses on every wall: red and white on one side, blue and yellow on the other.
The groom turned to his new, beautiful, wife.
“I will love you through thick and thin, in sickness and in health…”
“My darling husband” replied Annika with the barest lilt of an accent still perceptible after 15 years in London, as she popped open a beer and flicked her long blonde hair over her shoulder “in 90 minutes I expect we will have beaten you 5-nil. Let’s see if you love me through that first.”