The old woman did not seem to notice the panty hose wrapped down around her ankles.
“Mrs. Deaton, we have to pull these up.” C’mon now, let’s get them up!” The short, stocky nurse’s assistant kneeling before Mrs. Deaton grabbed at the nylon waistband and heaved upward, a snarl of hosiery in her hands.
The old woman did not help her. Indeed, Lynn noticed that the old woman didn’t move much at all. Mrs. Deaton swayed almost dreamily as she stood in the sunlight and looked out the window until the assistant had succeeded in pulling the panty hose snuggly underneath her blue-flowered dress.
Lynn felt relieved her charge carried one of those silver, three-pronged canes. Even with this help, Lynn and the older woman had to negotiate carefully the steps to Lynn’s car, and then the steps from the car up to the luxury inn where this afternoon’s wedding was being held. A courtyard wedding, temperature 101 degrees Fahrenheit.
“You’re here!” Mrs. Carlton, mother of the bride and daughter to the more elderly Mrs. Deaton, somehow spotted them. The banquet hall was literally lined with gifts. Gifts were piled beside the door. Tables were loaded with packages. They spilled off onto the floor. The table at the far end of the hall flashed silver. Punch bowls and liquor bottles glittered.
A college temporary, often used by the nursing home’s customers as a companion, Lynn reminded herself not to gawk. She would get paid by the hour by the ostentatious Mrs. Carlton, she reminded herself. Paid by the hour because she’d brought Mrs. Deaton, Mrs. Carlton’s mother, to attend this wedding. Plus gas.
“You’re here!” Mrs. Carlton rushed up to lay a hand at her mother’s cheek as if to check for a fever. Mrs. Deaton backed into Lynn’s arm, but her daughter was persistent. Mrs. Carlton firmly set the old woman’s wiry curls straight at her temples, and then she brushed her mother’s shoulders as if for dust. She straightened the old woman’s skirt.
“Mother will be escorted by an usher,” Mrs. Carlton indicated the rows and rows of folding chairs spread outside across the lawn. “You’ll sit in attendance with her, of course, Lynn—down there, second row on the right.”
Lynn caught Mrs. Carlton’s meaning, “girl dismissed.” An usher, lavender-tipped carnation in his lapel, appeared, and then Mrs. Carlton hurtled through the door and into the shimmering sunlight. Lynn thought the mother of the bride resembled a large, lavender dumpling.
“You’ll be all right,” Lynn patted Mrs. Deaton’s arm before transferring it to that of the usher who had come up beside them. A clean-cut young man, college-aged like herself, he offered his arm to the older woman.
“Well yes, I think I’ll certainly be just fine,” Mrs. Deaton raised her eyebrows in answer. Lynn looked at the older woman, now intent on the young man. These had been the first words the woman had spoken all afternoon.
Mrs. Deaton now walked carefully away with the usher. The young man flashed a grin back at Lynn, who looked away and tried to keep her mind on tuition money, money for books, lab fees, and such. She tried always to be serious about life, serious about her future. Meanwhile, Mrs. Deaton looked, Lynn thought, quite coquettishly up at the younger man.
The CNA at the home had reported to Lynn that she’d heard that old Mrs. Deaton had been “committed” not all that long ago, and not so much due to any serious medical problems, so much as what had been reported by her children as “an inability to organize herself.” Also, they’d said they didn’t want their mother to be alone. Of course, the Carlton family had a bit of money too, the assistant had also knowingly informed Lynn. Not that this particularly mattered in the “quality of care the old lady gets, mind you,” the CNA had continued to Lynn. “Lordy, the woman can be a case, though,” the assistant had chuckled. Seems Mrs. Deaton did “have her days.” Seems the “old lady” did “have her moments.”
Lynn found her own seat among the folding chairs and carefully considered her charge. Mrs. Deaton was being led down the aisle to sit beside Lynn now, and she sat down carefully. The older woman certainly looked clean and respectable this afternoon, though, pantyhose all pulled up, Lynn considered.
Lynn noticed that her own panty hose were beginning to feel like armor in today’s heat. Like some kind of uncomfortable second skin. Mrs. Deaton held herself erect in the chair by hanging to her cane. She stared straight ahead. Lynn considered the old woman’s profile, her hawk nose and intent gaze.
Lynn suddenly realized that the singers down front were off key. Mrs. Deaton swayed with the music as the whole scene seemed to sag in the heat.
Probably a young friend of the bride or groom, the soloist was all flowing hair and struggling soprano voice. The band was composed of young men whose hair stood on end. One played an electric organ, one drums, the others electric guitars. The guitars were hooked to outside garish orange power cord after power cord, running off through the trees.
Lynn thought the young bride must have pictured a garden wedding, and her mother, Mrs. Carlton, some more splendid affair. The soloist sang some sort of rock version of “Oh Promise Me.” Bright reflections glared off the guitars.
“I can’t hear at all well,” Mrs. Deaton remarked suddenly and smiled. She tapped her three-prong cane and sat up even straighter. Lynn would’ve sworn then she caught the old woman peeking at her out of the corner of her own eye. However, when she tried to catch her, Mrs. Deaton turned away. Cat-and-mouse.
“Mint?” Mrs. Deaton fished a Kleenex wad from her blue silk jacket. “Mint?” she repeated to Lynn and unfolded first one corner, and then another of the crumpled tissue. “Take a mint,” she instructed Lynn then, who had decided she’d do anything rather than insult an old woman. She chose a green mint.
“The yellow ones are better,” Mrs. Deaton popped one of the evidently stolen wedding refreshments into her mouth and then sat back as if to enjoy the whole affair. “No, I just can’t hear a thing anymore!”
The drummer smacked the cymbal. A screaming child appeared to scatter rose petals down the aisle. The green grass shone brilliantly. Off to the side stood a grove of trees with waxy flowers, a brilliant red. Lynn sucked at her candy and tried not to get a headache. Her blouse stuck to her back. A wonder they all didn’t melt into one huge sugar drop!
Then the twins appeared. They were ministers, or rather both were prominent local judges; Lynn now remembered having had the family connection explained to her. One judge was the bride’s father, Mrs. Carlton’s husband, and the other, the bride’s uncle. The bride, tiny in a huge dress, wafted down toward the men.
The twins were both dressed in flowing black robes. They each leaned on very elaborate, carved wooden canes. Also, each twin was completely bald. Lynn had to search alertly to even find the tuxedoed groom, the groomsmen.
As if trying to be identical Buddhas, the two judges even spoke in unison. They led the young couple, who could not speak in unison, stumbling through the wedding vows. Nearby, the mother of the bride sobbed. The shoulders of Mrs. Carl, the lavender dumpling, shook.
Lynn couldn’t help grinning. She clapped her hand to her mouth to cover a snicker.
“My daughter’s always been such a climber,” Mrs. Deaton confided to Lynn.
Lynn tried to bury a snort in her hand. “And,” Mrs. Deaton whispered quite loudly, “she gets so angry that I absolutely cannot keep straight now which judge it was that she married!”
Lynn laughed aloud.
Mrs. Deaton pulled a Kleenex from up her sleeve. She offered, “The judges do look just alike don’t they? Sound just alike? It’s not just that I’m old now and losing my mind?” The two women sat giggling in the middle of their row of folding chairs.
“Oh, yes. No,” Lynn put the Kleenex to her mouth. “They do look alike.” Lynn asked Mrs. Deaton for verification though. “You can see the two of them, right?” She began to snicker again. “You’re not losing your mind, Mrs. Deaton.
“I do quite like my granddaughter though,” the old woman informed Lynn as the new husband and wife turned to face the audience. The young couple stepped forward and plunged down the aisle, as if meeting the waves on a sweltering beach. Lynn smothered a hiccup. She struggled to regain control.
Mrs. Deaton grabbed Lynn’s arm then and pulled the two of them up from the folding chairs. “All that talk up there about ‘cleaving’ to someone, and here’s me not knowing if there’s anyone left who’d let me cleave, even for a moment!” the old woman declared.
Lynn patted at the tears on her own cheeks, while the old woman tapped impatiently. “Not that I ever got to cleave to anyone anyway, even in the first place. So who cares?”
“Mother?” Mrs. Carlton flew up behind the recessional. She eyed Lynn pointedly. “Mother, are you all right?” she asked.
Mrs. Deaton was suddenly busy struggling to remove her glasses though. The older woman produced yet another Kleenex and tried to wipe the lenses off, while still holding tight to her three-pronged cane.
“Mother, please—I haven’t the time!” Mrs. Carl’s voice finally betrayed anger.
Mrs. Deaton gave no sign of hearing the complaint. Rather she let Lynn help her on with the glasses. Then the older woman shook her three-pronged cane from where it had become snarled in one of the electrical cords. The thick cord wound around like a snake on the path before it disappeared off between the trees and into the garden.
“What is the meaning of this?” Mrs. Deaton shook the tangle at her daughter. “What is the meaning?”
“Oh, Mother, here are Dick and Pat!” Mrs. Carl exclaimed. “Mother, you do remember Dick and Pat?”
“I’d like to get out of these clothes, wouldn’t you?” Mrs. Deaton demanded of the couple.
Dick, a man in an expensive suit, stepped in and hurriedly offered an arm. His wife, Pat, furrowed her brow. With a warning glance at Lynn, the mother of the bride turned up the path. She dashed toward the glittering banquet hall.
“You don’t remember cleaving to anyone. Is that what you were saying, Mrs. Deaton?” Lynn tried to glance appreciatively at the newly solicitous Dick and Pat, while resuming the conversation. “Surely you remember your own wedding, Mrs. Deaton. You remember your husband,” Lynn helped Mrs. Deaton step free of the cord.
The four of them then made their way haltingly up the path to the foot of the steps to the party, Mrs. Deaton grumbling, “My daughter will pay you. Don’t worry, girl. My daughter will pay you anyway.”
“You don’t remember ‘cleaving’ to anyone, Mrs. Deaton?” Lynn tried to tease her and change the subject. “Surely you remember your own husband’s name!”
Surely, Lynn was telling herself, weddings didn’t always have to be like this. An anxious bride and groom moving as if moving in a script, led by some sort of dream-hypnotized judges, not to mention the lavender dumpling and an abomination of gifts. Lynn also wondered if anyone would really notice her bare legs if she excused herself momentarily and actually removed her own panty hose!
“Of course, I remember their names!” Mrs. Deaton snorted. She drew herself up and placed her prongs firmly on the step before her. The older woman ignored Dick and Pat and pulled Lynn up the stairs after her toward the reception. “I remember all of my husbands’ names!” The woman harrumphed. “Each and every one of them. Go ahead. Ask me. I can tell you every single one of their names!”
With Mrs. Deaton already on the first step, Lynn found herself below by one. Now the little old lady and the young girl could look at one another eye to eye.
“What’s your name, ma’am?” Lynn asked Mrs. Deaton. “What’s your first name?”
The old woman’s grip on her cane loosened. Her eyes softened. The older woman then pulled herself up quickly though, “Well, I can tell you, Missy,” she replied as she turned to resume her climb. “If you and I are allowed to continue our as-so-ci-a-tion,” Mrs. Deaton drew out the word deliciously. “My name‘s not going to be ma’am!”
Dick, of the still hovering Dick and Pat, then interrupted the two women. He resolutely maneuvered between them to ask what it was they’d each like to drink once they got inside the banquet hall.
The old woman stopped and turned, causing Lynn to hurriedly volunteer, “I’m twenty-two.” Lynn also reassured Dick and Pat, “I’m old enough. I swear I am.”
Mrs. Deaton took Lynn’s hand into her own then and patted it reassuringly. She draped her other bone-thin arm, as lightly as a wing, over Lynn’s shoulder. “Champagne then.”
The older woman repeated the word like a litany as she climbed toward the banquet, tugging her charge after her. “Champagne. Champagne. The girl and I, we’ll drink champagne.”