The wedding was a disaster. I always knew it would be and I said so.
Alice was too young. I was not the only one who thought she was immature and needed to learn more about the world. And Pat! Or Patsie as she called him in her babyish way was, quite frankly, a twit. He couldn't hold a job; lacked intelligence; had a foghorn of a voice; complained long and loud about anything and everyone; yet thought he was the hunk a girl was waiting for. And Alice fell for everything he wasn't as well as what he was. Maybe no one had ever shown much interest in her before he came along. He probably thought she'd do anything he commanded. But in no time they told everyone they intended to marry. Not even a trial run seemed to be on the cards. Someone said they should put a notice in the paper. Can you believe:
Patsie and Alice are to be wed on January 28th
on the Fair View river bank. 3pm. All welcome.
"What sort of a wedding party will that be?" I said to her mother. "She's no saint, is she? It'll be a disaster. I mean, how are you going to cater for an unknown number of hangers on? You'll have every tom and dick there, just for the grog if word gets around. And it will."
"Oh, I expect we'll just go round to Macdonalds when it's over," she said.
"And what plans has she made for the ceremony?" I asked. "You have to have a celebrant. Has she got one?"
"No, not yet. I think she's expecting Patsie to arrange that."
"He's thick as a brick," I said. "He won't have any idea. He only knows about drink. And what's she going to wear?"
"I thought she could use mine. It's only been worn once."
"You're joking, aren't you? She is a size 22, or haven't you noticed lately."
I thought George and I would give the wedding a miss. I could see it would be a real embarrassment to everyone. But George said that since we were long-standing friends it would be wrong not to appear. And whatever we thought now, the younger generation did things differently and perhaps we were a bit medieval in our thinking. I said that even in the Middle Ages they had to do some planning for weddings and that hadn't changed, had it?
Come the day and it was raining. Great start. I said to George: "What d'you think they'll do now?"
"We'd better take an umbrella," he said.
It rained all morning. When we got down to the river the water was lapping up and over the grass. Alice was already there; quite unperturbed. I'll give her credit for determination. Under a multi-coloured parasol, which her mother was holding in a vain attempt to shield her from the heaviest raindrops, Alice stood, clutching a bunch of garden flowers and looking excited. She'd found the full length peach-coloured pseudo ball gown she'd worn to her Leavers' Party several years before. But she'd put weight on since then and it showed. The steady rain was splashing around her feet and the dress was starting to look as if it was getting the measles. Rapidly. A few of the family had braved the rain and stood nearby huddling under not-enough umbrellas.
George and I and others kept our distance under a nearby gum tree. No sign of Pat. We waited. Five minutes. Ten minutes. The officiating minister looked at his watch and shuffled the papers tucked into his book. Two more minutes.
And then he arrived. A revved up Holden charged through the mist and rain, screeched to a halt in a flurry of spray and Pat got out. Fell out would be a more apt description. Five others untidily followed. For the most important day so far in his 22 years Pat had chosen a long black tee shirt with some words on the chest which are not repeatable here and jeans with holes in the knees which he was wearing the first time I saw him six months before. He lost his footing on the wet grass and the jeans were baptised by full immersion.
Alice screeched with girlish giggles; there were guffaws, sighs and ohs. Pat picked himself up rubbed muddy hands down his thighs, looked through the rain at the company and boomed: "Great way to arrive, eh? How are yer everybody. Sorry we're late. Think the clock behind the bar must have been slow or summat." His mates stood rather sheepishly in a huddle near the car.
The celebrant, seizing the moment, holding his umbrella in one hand and book in the other said in a strong Irish accent, "Yes, well, let's begin shall we?"
Now if I'd been Alice's father , I would have called the whole thing off then and there. But he didn't. Alice seemed excited about what she clearly didn't understand she was letting herself drop into. Pat had no idea at all; probably thought he was acting a part in a school play. They repeated the vows. Then the celebrant asked for the ring. Pat put his hand in his wet jeans pocket and pulled it out again. Plunged the left hand in on the other side. Nothing there either. He turned towards the car.
"Hey, Charlie, look for the ring will ya. I must have dropped it when I slipped over."
The five of them searched frantically. "Found it." It was Pete, another of his best mates. "It's a bit muddy."
"Never mind. Give it 'ere." Pat took the narrow band of metal, obviously the cheapest he'd been able to find, turned towards Alice and attempted to push it on her finger.
"Ooh," she squealed, "be careful will you. It's muddy and it won't fit!"
"Never mind," said the Irishman. "We'll just imagine it's on. And now I declare you man and wife."
The rain was now coming down in torrents. Alice escaped from her mother's protective brolly and clinging on to Pat sloshed through the saturated muddy grass towards the car. But she didn't make it. His strides were bigger than hers and in her attempt to keep up with him and to keep hold of his hand she lost any foothold she had. The grass did the rest. Her belly dive was beautiful to behold.
"Come on," I said to George. "We're going home."