Thursday, 18 September 2014

Virgin Bride

The parish priest gave a short address and then the final blessing, “Guard this place and this house and the souls of those who dwell there.” He made a sign of the cross in the air and sprinkled holy water on the virgin.
The virgin this year looked a little worn and pale with her delicate, blonde colouring, but still resplendent. Everyone knew the service was drawing to a close as the eldest woman rose to bathe the virgin's feet. The congregation fidgeted and audibly sighed as the smell of cakes and pies wafted in from the adjacent room. Their ears tuned to the rehearsal of the band so that rows of legs bounced with uncontrolled jigging.
The whole of the house blazed with candles, electric lighting, and mantelpiece fires. The congregation were rosy-cheeked and sweating; some men were mopping their brows with their striped handkerchiefs, while the women took to fanning themselves with the printed order of service sheet. The virgin bride was starting to look bored and other members of the congregation were beginning to fidget more and more.
Finally, the cleansing of the virgin's feet was complete and the signal was given for all to rise. The priest, the deacon and the sub-deacon led the bare-foot bride down the centre aisle, the eldest woman followed with the bride's pearly slippers and the rest of the red-faced congregation filed behind.
The priest positioned the anointed virgin bride at the door into the Great Hall, the eldest woman bearing the slippers beside her. The deacon and sub-deacon in their flowing surplices stood like sentries either side. The priest mumbled a few words in Latin and swept down a long corridor to a cramped vestry to conduct confession; a room which once had in fact been part of the kitchen and had a disused serving hatch. The hatch on the other side now gave onto the drawing room with cosy armchairs and a glowing fire. The priest reached through and helped himself to the ruby-filled decanter and a wine glass. It was going to be a long night...
Meanwhile, the virgin bride was rapidly shaking hands and accepting kisses of congratulations. When she came to the end of the line, the eldest woman helped her put her newly-washed feet back into her slippers, whereupon she paraded herself around the ballroom on the arm of a non-existent groom and performed a rather balletic first dance. All the while, her blue eyes were trained on a single spot: the roasted suckling pig, which unfortunately with her many leaps and turns made her feel sick, so that her finishing pose was a dramatically clutched stomach.
The wedding feast was in full swing; some of the assembly were moving out of time with the band to their own rhythm, but most were stuffing food into their gaping mouths. The virgin bride was forbidden to partake, apart from a slice of cake which she had yet to cut, because at present she was still being claimed by numerous dance partners who twirled her exhaustively about the sprung floor.
The last partner on her dance card twirled her to the ivory tower. She cut herself a generous wedge, revealing the Victoria sponge, and stretched her small mouth around it. The raspberry jam oozed like blood and left a sticky mess on the front of her brilliant white wedding dress. Then, still chomping she was unmercifully grabbed and dragged out of the house and down a rocky pathway towards the shore. The crowd unleashed her on the edge and retreated to a safe distance, clamping their hands over their ears to drown out the eerie whistles of the wind and the wails of the sea. In the moonlight, the trembling virgin bride prepared to be whisked into the crashing tide, married as she now was to the darkest depths beneath.
*Inspired by the vision of Edvard Munch and Penelope Fitzgerald's The Beginning of Spring