Olivia Hopkins meandered through the Botanical Gardens. The manicured lawns were dotted with wedding parties. Brides and grooms overjoyed at the opportunity to have their pictures taken on the unseasonably warm February day. The bridal ensembles were overdone compared to Olivia’s day. Outlandish designs and colors — one set of bridesmaids was even attired in garish red. All this effort to preserve a moment that would be meaningless not too long after the ink dried on the marriage license.
Olivia had eschewed a fancy wedding in favor of a marriage. Unlike her sister Sue — and over her vocal objections — Olivia had eloped to the mountains with her beau. Their special place. Fat lot of good that had done her. She and Sue had ended up just as divorced as each other, and at least Sue had a wedding album to show for it all.
“Mrs. Hopkins! Hey, Mrs. Hopkins!” An excited voice cut through her reverie. She turned to see one of her recent graduates, Rebecca something-or-other, clad in tight jeans and a light angora sweater, clutching an older woman by the arm. “Mom,” Rebecca beamed, “Mrs. Hopkins was my English teacher. Mrs. Hopkins, this is my mom.” Instinctively, Olivia offered her hand to the older woman, noticing the ostentatious engagement and wedding rings shining on the other woman’s finger. Some of her generation was still married, so it seemed. Of course, this could be a second marriage — or a third.
“It’s so great to see you, Mrs. H. Mom, she was the best teacher.”
An uncomfortable silence ensued which Olivia eventually felt compelled to break. “So what are you two doing out today?”
“I’m getting married!” Rebecca could hardly contain her excitement as she flashed her own shiny diamond at her ex-teacher.
“Oh, congratulations.” Olivia couldn’t help thinking how young Rebecca was, only in her early twenties. Shouldn’t this child get to know herself before she gave her life over to another?
Rebecca continued, “We’re scoping out the grounds. Planning the photos, you know. Would you like to see the cake?” Before Olivia could respond, Rebecca was pressing a tiny mobile device into her hands, the screen illuminated by an image of a large tiered cake embossed with chocolate hearts. Pink lace rimmed the lower border.
“Rebecca really knows her own mind.” The mother spoke up finally. “She didn’t want the little bride and groom on top. Thought it was too old-fashioned.”
“It is old-fashioned, mom.”
“You young folk.” The mother smiled indulgently.
“You and your traditions, mom! Anyway, we agreed to smash the glass. Isn’t that enough for you?”
“We’re Jewish but the groom isn’t,” the mother explained to Olivia. “We’ve decided to keep the religious rituals to a minimum, but…”
“I understand,” said Olivia, not wanting to prolong the discussion. A mixed marriage, she thought. If only her own mom had been around to warn her about the dangers of that — as well as marrying too young.
“Mom! Look at that fountain! Wouldn’t that be the perfect place for a photo shoot?” Rebecca charged forwards, pulling at her mother’s arm and waving a hasty farewell to Olivia. Olivia watched them leave, thinking how young Rebecca was to be contemplating marriage. She and Sue had married young. Too young.
Preparing for bed that evening, Olivia rubbed her hand lotion into her wrinkling fingers. She used the same jasmine-scented cream her mother had always used. It was usually comforting, but tonight it made her sad. She hated to admit it but she was jealous of the indulgent smile on Rebecca’s mom’s face, the cheery mother-daughter banter: as if they were best friends instead of mother and child. Olivia hadn’t had anyone to banter with about her wedding. She hadn’t been able to argue good-naturedly about what the cake looked like, or the color of the flowers. Heck, she hadn’t even had a cake or flowers. She had snuck off into the woods with her ex like a pair of outlaws concealing a crime. And hadn’t her sister had something to say about that! Olivia had never forgotten Sue’s words: A wedding isn’t about you. It’s for your family!
What Olivia had failed to appreciate was that all of Sue’s own obsessive wedding planning was missing one essential ingredient too — a loving mother. Olivia had resisted all pressure to take on the motherly role for her younger sister, sneering at Sue’s attempts to obtain her opinion on flowers, dresses and other nuptial detritus. She even refused Sue’s invitation to give a reading at the ceremony, saying it was stupid because they weren’t religious. The thought of that particular fight brought tears to her eyes. Without conscious thought, Olivia reached for the phone on her bedside table and dialed the number she had memorized a long time ago, but hardly ever called. “Hello, Sue? It’s me, Olivia… No, nothing’s wrong… I just wanted to see how you were doing.”
Kaleigh Castle-Maguire has won the August, October and November 2011 flash fiction awards at WritersType.com as well as a memoir/vignette award at MidLife Collage. She has work published and/or forthcoming in Black Petals Magazine, Six Minute Magazine, Tough Lit V, Darkest Before the Dawn, Delta Women, and The Daily Flash: 366 Days of Flash Fiction (Pill Hill Press, 2012). She is currently working on her first novel and is a student in the fiction writing certificate program at UCLA.