Carol was so transformed by her wedding attire – swamped in her heavy bronze foundation, fake eyelashes fluttering like butterfly wings – that her three-year-old daughter, Allison, no longer recognised her.
Just before the ceremony had begun, Carol heaved Allison onto her grandma’s lap, and Allison, squirming like a toad, was unable to extricate herself. However, her gran soon became so moved by events, falling into floods of tears, that she loosened her hold on Allison, allowing her to scramble free.
Allison searched for her mum in the rows of guests seated in the church, then lost her balance and toppled to her knees, landing on the weathered stone floor. A giant cross loomed before her. She could sense the pain radiating from the eyes of the hanging man and she was transfixed and repelled in equal measure.
Once the vows had been exchanged and everyone was filing out of the church, a heavyset woman, squeezed into a purple bridesmaid dress, hair wrapped high into a bun, grabbed Allison by the hand. It was her aunt Rose and Allison had no idea who she was either.
“What are you doing here all alone, darling?”
“Mummy?” said Allison.
“No, dear, no I’m auntie Rose, remember? Praise Jesus, it’s ok, auntie Rose is here now.”
Rose led Allison into the giant reception room, a short walk from the church down a gravel path fenced-in by large juniper bushes. Rose caught sight of a waiter carrying a tray of champagne flutes, and she cornered him. She knocked back a few drinks, and feeling light-headed, demanded the waiter explain why she wasn’t married already. The fact was, she remained a proud virgin at the age of thirty-three, and loved the lord far more than Carol. Oh, how she’d suffered! But the waiter had no answers and as she reached for yet another drink, she let go of Allison’s hand and the child quickly slipped out of sight, becoming lost in a posse of distant relatives, thrashing about on the dance floor like they were drowning in choppy waters.
More confused than ever, Allison stumbled outside, leaving the blare of disco music behind her, and found a young man standing beneath a sycamore tree in full bloom. He was dressed in a rental tuxedo and shabby sneakers, smoking weed with serious intent.
“Allison? Is that you?” he said, instinctively hiding the joint behind his back, revealing a yellow-tooth smile, “I almost didn’t recognise you. Damn you’ve grown!”
He waved her over and she toddled towards him.
“I won’t hurt you, I’m your uncle Eric, yeah? Come, take a seat beside me sweetie.”
Allison did as she was told – after all the man seemed slightly familiar and she had nowhere else to go.
Eric couldn’t resist taking another quick puff of his joint, and as he exhaled, a giant plume of smoke got caught in the wind and swamped Allison’s head. She blinked and swallowed hard.
“Now you’re here, little Allili, let me tell you something that’s been playing on my mind today, because I need to set the story straight while I get the chance.
“Once upon a time, your mum and dad had a child – you – and they quickly got engaged to cover their shame. Now don’t get me wrong, I love your mum – she’s family – but your dad is something else. He’s a gambler and a fraud and he owes me money. He certainly is no God-lover. The truth is he’s a terrible dad and, let’s face it, your mum is way out his league. I mean, why should the two of you be subjected to a life with this man, just because of one drunken night fumbling in the backseat of his Ford Mondeo. Of course, you don’t understand, little Allili. But it’ll sink into your synapses and one day you’ll thank me for it…”
Then out of nowhere, Carol swept into view and scooped Allison off Eric’s lap.
“What toxic thoughts have you been filling my baby with?” she demanded.
“Nothing but the truth in a sea full of lies, big sis.”
“I’m trying to raise an honest, God-fearing child here and you are nothing but poison, you…you drug addict. Come Allison.”
Allison’s eyes were bloodshot and she had a glazed distant stare, rocked by the contact high.
“Mummy?” Allison said. But as rain dabbed at her cheeks, everything glowing like a turquoise fish tank, she was beyond caring who was who or what was real, and was just happy to be taken for the ride.