Imelda loved the atmosphere of a wedding day, especially the fashion when everyone makes an effort to spruce up and look grand. Men seem to be stuck with suits but ladies can be as extravagant as they dare, and a wedding is one of those rare occasions when hats can be worn without the wearers becoming too self-conscious. Imelda’s headgear was a yellow pillbox number and her adjacent friend Penny sported a crimson fedora with an enormous spider brooch pinned to the left-hand side. The whole thing was perfect, a beautifully turned out congregation in a delightful old village church on a wonderful summer’s day. Perfect, perfect, perfect, thought Imelda, except for the groom standing up near the altar waiting for his new bride to arrive. He was facing away from the pews, straight ahead towards the stained-glass window of the Resurrection, as well he might.
Charlie MacIntosh was the human resources director for a large retailing company, successful in his career, fun-loving, wine buff and general all round good egg, and very, very handsome to boot. He was, as the kids say these days, fit. There he was on this special day waiting for his gorgeous wife-to-be. “She is the luckiest woman in the world, Penny”, whispered Imelda. “The only trouble is, dammit, she’s not me.” Penny looked at her friend, grimaced a little and whispered back, “Oh Immy, you are a one. Anyone would think you have the hots for old Charlie.” Imelda let out a tiny chuckle to give Penny the impression that she was only joking.
Charlie and Imelda had shared an apartment for a couple of years, a purely platonic, best mates kind of arrangement. They lived their own lives but often spent evenings together watching television, listening to music, occasionally wine tasting and chatting about everything and anything. Imelda had introduced Charlie to a couple of boyfriends, although she was now free and single, and Charlie had done the same with his girlfriends. But his latest squeeze, Helen, seemed to be a bit more special than the others. She enchanted him and when she came round for dinner for the first time, Imelda could feel the intensity of their relationship by watching their body language and eye movements. This pairing was serious.
Imelda had never let on to Charlie that she was falling in love with him. She feared rejection and didn’t want to risk upsetting their relationship with the apartment arrangements and certainly didn’t want to ruin a great friendship. In any case, it was Charlie who rocked the boat, the night before the wedding. In the tradition of the husband-to-be and wife-to-be spending their last pre-wedding night apart, Charlie had opted to stay at the flat. Imelda cooked a spaghetti bolognese and uncorked the first of a few bottles of Chianti. It was a nice evening. They talked and laughed for hours and Charlie seemed relaxed. Imelda kept trying to resist any amorous feelings or any drunken slips of the tongue that might ruin the night. But when Charlie said: “Immy, I have something to tell you, something I need to get off my chest.” Imelda raised her eyebrows and wondered what was coming next. Charlie said, “I need to whisper it in your ear.” Imelda laughed: “You’re a right Charlie, Charlie, there’s no one else here but us chickens.” Charlie moved over and sat down next to Imelda on the sofa. “I know that but I need to whisper it because it’s a secret and I can’t say it out loud.” Imelda waited for Charlie, at last, to declare his undying love for her and then kiss her for hours. “Imelda,” breathed Charlie, “Helen, my soon-to-be-wife, has been having an affair.” Imelda recoiled and her head hit the wooden corner of the sofa. “Ouch! What? Are you mad? Do you know what you are saying? How do you know she’s been having an affair?” “Crikey,” inhaled Charlie, “so may questions but the real question is should I go ahead and marry her?”
They talked about Helen for a while longer before Charlie declared that he had forgiven her and that his love far outweighed any feelings of betrayal. He hadn’t and never would let her know that he knew what she had done. The wedding would go ahead as planned, a past indiscretion would be erased as a new future beckoned. Over coffee at the flat the next morning, Imelda gave Charlie a friendly hug and wished him good luck for the ceremony. She felt sorry for him. But she knew it was none of her business.
The organ heralded Helen’s arrival at the church and Imelda thought for a cheating two-timing bitch, she looked stunning in every way. She was indeed the luckiest woman in the world. As Charlie waited for her to walk the aisle, he was still staring at the Resurrection window, maybe thinking that he had risen above a potential disaster.
The service washed over Imelda and she didn’t hear most of it because her mind was distracted. She was wrestling with her conscience. She was trying to be rational and not feeling spurned. Yes, she was jealous but her next actions required a cool head and a huge gulp of courage. When the minister addressed the congregation and said: “If any person here present knows of any lawful impediment to this marriage they should declare it now.” As usual, at this point, heads swiveled as people glanced about looking for any takers but all seemed to be well, except for some movement from a lady in a yellow pillbox hat. Imelda stood up and there was an expectant gasp or two from the congregation. Charlie, aware of something going on, looked around and saw Imelda standing nervously about halfway down the church. He mouthed “no’ at her but Imelda took a deep breath and started to speak.