The Wedding of Her Dreams

a short story by

Loretta Slota Marshall

© Loretta and William E. Marshall, 1983

Elaine splashed the water left in the kettle from last night's tea into the spindly scraggly row of rose geraniums and scented herbs that lined her kitchen windowsills and brushed a limp dark lock of hair out of her face with the back of her other hand. She felt as bedraggled and wilted as what was left of her once lush little fragrance garden.

It had been a sweltering restless night for both the baby and her two-year-old son, Billy, and to top off a miserable night, she had had that dumb dream again. She and Edward had been married for four years, but in the dream she was still waiting for him, still achingly longing to be his wife.

When she met Edward for the first time ten years ago, Elaine had known and loved him for a long time, because he was literally and figuratively the man of her dreams. Elaine put great store by her dreams, and so once she had found him in the real world, her faith in their future together never wavered. The waiting stretched out over six years. Edward's first marriage was over before Elaine met him, but it died a slow agonizing death. Then he spent three years honoring a commitment he had made to an educational project in Central America while he tried to get his life back together.

To weather some of the hardest of the many bleak lonely nights, Elaine had found solace in planning their wedding. She considered everything down to the last perfect detail. And so weighing the merits of Vivaldi over Bach or selecting the style of engraving for the invitations, she would drift into sweet comforting dreams.

Actually, Elaine had started planning her wedding when she was four and her mother made her a ruffly yellow organdy dress embroidered with primroses and butterflies to wear to a cousin's wedding. Through the years, the details altered to parallel the changed in her tastes, interests, and fantasies. When she finally wed the man of her dreams, the wedding was a masterpiece. From the ancient traditional herbs that she had twined with pearls into her long sable hair to the little vellum boxes of Jordan almonds tied with gold cord handed to the guests as they left, it was exactly as she had planned, had dreamed. The minister said (after a simple but sumptuously elegant breakfast inspired by the wedding feasts of the Renaissance) that the whole event made him feel like he had stepped into a fairytale.

Now as Elaine plucked away the dead leaves from her plants (which seemed to outnumber the living leaves two to one), she remembered the dream that had awakened her on her wedding day. Wandering into an English cottage kitchen, she had come on two homey matrons having tea. On the table was a most luxuriant rosemary plant, its branches frosted with sticky redolent blossoms. She begged a branch for her hair explaining that it was an herb used by brides since ancient times and today was her wedding day. That thought had bridged her joyfully from sleep to waking, and her wedding day began with a smile and a lingering fragrant memory of rosemary.

The neglected rosemary plant Elaine groomed this morning bore little resemblance to the one in the dream, but its scent brought a smile with it nonetheless.

It troubled her that whatever part of her was responsible for dreams didn't remember that lovely day nor recognize her happy marriage. Elaine was truly happy, although sometimes her days left little time for her to enjoy her new life. She had quit her job as a graphic artist when Billy was born, and now with little Ryan, even the free-lance work was too much. In fact, she had a hard time just dealing with the seemingly unending needs of her two little boys with barely enough of herself left over to assure Edward of her love for him.

Time and energy weren't the only scarcities in her life. The combination of less income, more expenses, and higher costs had made luxuries of many of the things she used to take for granted.

Having spent most of the night up, the boys were sleeping a little late this morning. Elaine looked forward to having a few quiet moments with Edward. Over bowls of cold cereal, she told him about having the annoying dream again. As he left for work, he kissed her softly and said, "Well, the important thing is that we know we have each other, and you can just tell your dream self that I married you and I'll marry her too if that's what she wants."

"Do you suppose that's it?" she asked. "I don't think I ever actually dreamt of the wedding--right up to it, but not the wedding itself!"

All day she thought about it, and when the boys' naps overlapped for a few minutes, instead of collapsing on the couch, she pulled out her file marked "spectacular recipes to try" and began to plan the wedding feast.

Elaine thought that the menu for the original wedding was just about perfect. After all she had spent six years working on it. But there was one thing that she had wanted to serve that was obviously impractical, if not outright impossible--individual baked souffles. No one in the world would attempt simultaneous service of hundreds of souffles. But--this wedding wasn't in the world.

After dinner while Edward was playing with the boys and Elaine was cleaning up the kitchen, she tried one of her recipes for Grand Marnier souffles. Although it was a little overcooked and didn't pouf quite right, Edward was delighted. Even Billy, who usually disliked eggs, said it was yummy.

That night Elaine dreamt that she met with James Beard and Craig Claiborne about the menu. While they snacked on a perfectly ripe Camembert accompanied by a bottle of fine Meursault, they discussed the souffle challenge. Craig said he thought there was a chef, who had a little restaurant outside of Chicago, who might be able to pull it off if he knew exactly the recipe she wanted him to prepare.

In the days that followed, her family was treated to a succession of golden puffs with a trifle more or less of this or that. She had almost forgotten how much she enjoyed her culinary experiments. So while she was perfecting the souffle recipe, she tried some innovative versions of their old favorites. Billy got quite expert at breaking eggs and stirring sauces, and he looked forward to both the cooking and the eating of their inventions.

As for the souffles, Edward and Billy agreed that she had reached perfection with "Orange Blossom Souffle," a delicious orange cloud she created for breakfast the second Sunday after the experiments began.

That night Craig, James, and the Chicago chef were equally impressed, and Elaine explained that a whiff of orange flower water made the difference. The finishing touch on each souffle was to be a fresh spring of orange blossoms. They agreed that was an inspired idea and continued their planning of the wedding feast over second helpings and champagne.

In the morning while she was nursing Ryan and Billy was watching Sesame Street, Elaine flipped through some of her old wine books. Her notes in the margins and various labels stuck between pages reminded her of what fun their wine tastings had been. Not only the big festive parties but the impromptu occasions when she had savored a special find with a few close friends like Diane and, of course, Edward. She remembered with what ceremony and sense of light-hearted adventure they had smelled the cork, read the fine print, and coined adjectives to describe each wine. Now Diane and her family lived a thousand miles away, and most of the wine Edward and Elaine drank came in a box. It occurred to Elaine that it was pretty hard to be ceremonious about a box, and she started giggling when she thought about smelling the plastic spigot. Ryan giggled too. Actually, the box wines weren't half bad; she wondered if Elaine had tried them. So when Ryan changed sides she propped a notepad on his tummy and wrote a cheery letter to Diane.

As she fell asleep that night, Elaine decided that she still liked the idea of serving only champagne. They had selected a really nice though inexpensive domestic champagne for their original wedding (come to think of it, it was made by the same vintners as the box wines), but since money was no object...

Peter Ustinov poured her and Edward a little more of the Moet et Chandon, and Diane said she just couldn't decide whether she preferred it or the Dom Perignon, but that they were both absolutely "ethereal." The polished mahogany table reflected light bouncing from the tall candelabra off a dozen champagne bottles and a sea of sparkling crystal champagne flutes. Edward said he still liked the Korbel Natural, but maybe he was just being sentimental because they had so much enjoyed their visit to the little stone winery in the Russian River Valley on their honeymoon. Peter added, "What a marvelous bubbly dilemma!"

When Ryan cried for his pre-dawn feeding, Elaine awoke feeling decidedly heady, but not the least bit hungover considering how she had spent much of the night. Elaine continued the discussion of the relative merits of the champagnes over breakfast, and Edward got so engrossed he was almost late leaving for work.

He brought home a bottle of Korbel Natural. Elaine put it to chill in the silver wine bucket Diane had given them as a wedding present, polished two of their best crystal glasses, and, when the boys were asleep, they sipped champagne while they looked at slides of their wedding and honeymoon. Hand in hand, as they had walked along the beach at sunset, they went to bed.

The slides refreshed Elaine's memory of the details of her wedding, and they still seemed just right to her. At first she thought there wasn't a thing she wanted to change. On the other hand, she really should keep an open mind about this. So item by item, like the checklist in a bride's magazine, she started to review her choices.

First of all, there was her dress--an exquisite Edwardian sweep of lace and pearl-embroidered satin, now carefully packed in tissue for some sentimental future generation bride to wear. Elaine had wished that one of her ancestors had done the same for her. But perhaps that could be arranged this time.

In the afternoon, Elaine took Billy and Ryan on a visit to the art museum. Billy liked the knights in shining armor (so did Elaine), and Ryan seemed to recognize himself in a playful statue of a Roman cupid. Elaine found what she was looking for in the "Frills and Furbelows" exhibit--a lovely ivory silk dress from the turn of the century, all tucks and puffs and lace medallions. Though Elaine's waist was decidedly not "waspish" these days, she knew the dress would fit perfectly. Nevertheless, Edward found his family doing Yoga stretches on the floor when he came home from work. When she explained about the dress, he informed her, "This time I'm planning on coming in my shirt sleeves."

"You can come in your skivvies if you like, darling. Just so you're there," she teased back.

Next on the list were flowers. Besides the herbs, Edward and she had a thing about roses, so the flowers at their wedding had been simple sheaves of roses for her and Diane, with more roses massed in crystal vases everywhere. Even the towering Sicilian cassata they had served as their wedding cake had been decorated with clusters of fresh roses. It was all very beautiful, but since they were married in November, they had been limited to the usual florist varieties--beautiful, but not very fragrant.

"Billy and Ryan, we are going to find the best smelling roses in the whole world," she announced during one of their afternoon walks. Elaine and the boys began to seek out every yard in the neighborhood that had a flower in bloom. Edward joined them as they sniffed their way through three city parks and the botanical garden. Billy was fascinated with the search and soon was finding "gardens" everywhere--a clump of clover near the trash cans, a stalk of Queen Anne's lace in the alley, a patch of sweet alyssum in a windowbox.

"Mommy, how do the plants bloom?" he asked one day as he helped her water her rejuvenating herbs.

"With lots of love and care, " she replied with a smile.

They discovered the world's best smelling rose on a family outing to a Victorian rose garden at the old Bloom House. It was called the Rose of Four Seasons, a gorgeous old Autumn Damask that looked like something Fragonard or Boucher would have painted garlanding a plump nymph, and it smelled like Joy.

In her dream that night Elaine and Botticelli strolled through an incredibly verdant garden. At each turn of the path, they were greeted by a vista more beautiful than the last. Flowers of every variety perfumed the air. Coming to a gazebo she sat down on a carved stone bench, and Billy filled her lap with lilies of the valley and white lilacs. Little Ryan twined jasmine and tiny fairyslippers in her hair, while Edward brought her armfuls of the fragrant damask roses.

"Yes, yes," said Botticelli, "these will do wonderfully."

While Elaine was reading up on old roses the next day, she came across a passage describing the damask rose: "....divinely fragrant flowers with the power to create visions that somehow seem to be the essence of all the romances of a thousand years." Her reverie was interrupted, but not broken, when Billy returned from a friend's house with a fistful of pungent marigolds for her.

On one of those September days filled with the clean cool promise of autumn, Elaine and her sons walked slowly back from the library. Billy led the way pushing the stroller filled with books on Italian art and architecture, albums of chamber music, and every children's picturebook they could find about birds. Elaine followed carrying a package of posterboard under her arm (the librarians at the small branch library near their home had been so helpful these past weeks that, in gratitude, she had volunteered to make the posters for story hour). Ryan rode in a pack on her back grabbing at low hanging leaves and playing with her hair. As the little caravan wended its way down the street, Elaine and Billy sang a lusty duet of "Greensleeves," while Ryan's jabbering and squeal of delight provided the harmony.

Elaine thought it was perhaps the loveliest music she had ever heard. "Eat your heart out Beverly Sills, " she chuckled to herself.

Edward found his troubadours dancing around the living room when he got home. "Well, who are we considering tonight?" he asked as he picked up Ryan in one arm and whirled him into the kitchen.

"Mozart and Haydn's Scottish songs," she called to him. "But I've left the final decision up to Vivaldi and his girls' orchestra."

In fact, the planning for the wedding of her dreams was really finished. Some decisions had been made by day (like the choice of the old Romanesque stone chapel in the Molise countryside). Other details had come to her by night (like having the invitations delivered by doves).

"I picked up the diapers and milk," Edward said, unpacking the sack with one hand. "See the pretty flowers, Ryan?" he whispered as he placed a pot of dainty miniature roses from the supermarket on the windowsill garden. The herbs were flourishing and, although it was September, several were in bloom, including the rosemary plant.

Opening the refrigerator, he saw a bottle of champagne, a white frosted Sicilian cassata, and a small bottle of orange flower water.

"Is tonight the night?" he asked as she and Billy danced into the kitchen.

"I think so," she replied and they kissed across their sons like French lovers over twined glasses.

"Is Daddy going away?" asked Billy.

"No, sweetie, not ever," he answered. "I wouldn't dream of leaving you or your beautiful, beautiful Mommy and her shiny eyes."

Elaine's cheeks flushed, and Billy patted them and said, "Roses."

After dinner they took a long walk. It was a gentle evening--the sky Maxfield Parrish blue with peaches and golds tingeing the horizon, the only sounds in the stillness the soft hum of mourning doves flying to their roosts and the rumble of the stroller on the rough pavement. Several times Edward started to say something, then stopped. Finally, Elaine broke the silence.

"Where would you like to go on our honeymoon?" she asked.

Edward laughed a sigh of relief. "Anywhere in the world is paradise with you. Why don't you look into a 'round the world cruise?"

She came to bed smelling of Joy, her silky hair swept into a Gibson girl coil. She lay on his outstretched arm, and as he curled her to him, they both said, "See you in my dreams, my love."


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