Sunday, July 24, 2011

Canary Island Song - Chapter 1

Canary Island Song
Howard Books; Original edition (July 5, 2011)
Robin Jones Gunn

Chapter 1

“Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres.”

“Tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are.”
The wedding coordinator calmly placed her hand on Carolyn’s back and whispered, “Not yet. Wait for your song.”

Carolyn lowered her chin and listened. All the planning, all the stress, all the tiffs with her twin sister fell away. She drew in a grateful breath and listened. This was it. The long-awaited moment had arrived.

Self-consciously fingering the nape of her neck, Carolyn checked to make sure her coffee-colored hair still complied with the hairpins holding her French twist in place. All was as it should be. She was ready—more than ready—for this day and all the changes it would bring.

The airy-fairy harp music that had subdued the guests as they were being seated came to a resonating pause. From the balcony the first decisive notes of “Air” from Handel’s Water
flitted about the cavernous space of the beautiful, landmark San Francisco church.

“Okay, this is it.” The wedding coordinator nudged Carolyn forward. “This is your song.”
Carolyn squared her bare shoulders. Inwardly she corrected the wedding coordinator. No, this is not my song. This is my sister’s song.

Leading with her left foot, Carolyn trekked down the white runner, keeping pace with the song Marilyn had insisted be used as the processional music. The seventy-five guests, who were gathered in the first twelve rows, turned their heads. Carolyn was aware of their gaze as she made her way forward in her tight-fitting satin dress.

Larry, the perspiring groom, stood by the altar with his hands firmly clasped and his quivering smile fixed in place. Carolyn gave her soon-to-be brother-in-law a confidence-boosting grin, and he responded with a nod of acknowledgment.

From the end of the second row, Carolyn’s twenty-three-year- old daughter, Tikki, leaned out into the aisle with her camera ready. She gave her mom a wink and snapped a picture.
Carolyn smiled back and noticed that Tikki’s boyfriend wasn’t with her. Where’s Matthew? Why isn’t he here?

A familiar ache and longing came over Carolyn as she thought of Jeff. He should be here today too. But he was gone. The weighted memories of Jeff’s death threatened to take Carolyn into a deep, dark place. She refused to go there. Not today.

Casting aside all thoughts except the ones essential for the moment, Carolyn took the next few steps slowly and reverently. She found her masking tape mark on the burgundy carpet. She pivoted toward the congregation just in time to see Marilyn’s two teenage daughters making their way down the aisle in their bubble-gum pink bridesmaid’s dresses. Once again Carolyn was aware that her forty-five-year-old figure didn’t pull off the ensemble the way her nieces’ adolescent bodies did. But this was Marilyn’s day, and all the choices were hers, as they should be.

The Water Music faded. The organist took her cue and played the familiar bridal march as Marilyn came into view. Her sequined wedding gown caught the light and shimmered. Marilyn promenaded down the aisle, every inch the stunning bride she had worked so hard to be.

The congregation came to their feet and turned toward the bride. With a full-lipped smile, Marilyn came forward beaming. She placed her hand in Larry’s and proceeded to the altar.

As the vows were recited, Carolyn bit the inside of her cheek. She couldn’t stop thinking about Jeff. During the exchange of rings, she curled and uncurled her toes. When the soloist sang out from the balcony in clear soprano notes that pierced the air, Carolyn blinked back the tears and swallowed several times in quick succession. Larry and Marilyn kissed, and the organist played the recessional march, going after the keys and foot pedals with gusto as the newlyweds stepped forward into their life together.

Carolyn took the arm of her assigned groomsman and proceeded down the aisle with the broadest smile she could muster. Her heart was pounding fiercely, and her throat was tightening. She pushed against the intense feelings with well-disciplined determination and reminded herself that this was a celebration.

Marilyn and Larry had stepped to the side, where they posed for the photographer. Carolyn wanted to slip away to the hidden refuge of the restroom so she could give way to the tears that kept rising up in her with such a bittersweet persistence. But she wasn’t allowed the luxury. The photographer’s assistant directed Carolyn to take her place beside her sister, lean in close, and lift her bouquet up to her chin.

With a resolve that had grown in her spirit over the past seven years, Carolyn folded her private grief the way her mother used to fold her valued linen tablecloth. All the corners matched neatly. All the wrinkles were smoothed away. Then, in the same way that her mother would place the tablecloth into her bottom dresser drawer, Carolyn tucked her personal pain back inside where no one would see it. She smiled for the photos and whispered to her sister, “I’m so happy for you. You look radiant, Marilyn.”

Marilyn turned to her and lowered her chin. “How’s my eye makeup? Did I smear it?”

“No. You look good.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Would you mind clearing out things from the bridal room before you leave for the reception? And bring my purse, will you? We’re going to dash for the limo now before everyone comes out.”

“Sure.” Carolyn trotted down the hall in her not-so comfortable shoes, ready to dutifully fulfill another errand for her twin. This was good. As long as she was busy, she felt balanced.
Using a trash bag as a catchall, Carolyn cleared their belongings from the bridal room. She was just gathering up the last sweater and a pair of her niece’s flip-flops when Tikki appeared.
“I thought I’d find you here.” Slim, vivacious Tikki looked around the room. “Do you need help with anything?”

“No, I’m done. I just need to put this in my car and head for the reception. Remind me to take Marilyn’s purse in with me when we reach the restaurant.”

Tikki took the trash bag from her mom. “Just think, you won’t be cleaning up after the little princesses anymore.”

“Tikki, be kind. They’re your cousins.”

“I know. I’m just saying that, when Aunt Marilyn returns from her honeymoon, they’ll all move into Larry’s town house, and you’ll have your home to yourself finally after . . . how many years?”

“They moved in about six years ago.”

Tikki opened her hazel eyes wide in response to her mother’s reply. “Has it been that long?”

Carolyn noticed the way the thin February sunlight coming through the thick-paned window rested a moment on Tikki’s face, touching her eyes with flecks of amber. Years ago, on a golden beach far away, Carolyn had been told that her hazel eyes did the same thing—they captured the sunlight and “were sprinkled with gold dust.”

With a gathering boldness in her voice, Carolyn said, “We are Women of the Canaries. And Women of the Canaries stick together.”

Tikki laughed. “Now you sound like your mom or Aunt Frieda.”

“Well, it’s true. I was there for Marilyn when she needed me, and one day, if I ever need her assistance and support, she’ll be there for me.”

Tikki gave her mom a skeptical glance and flipped her long brown hair over her shoulder. She gripped the trash bag and linked her arm through Carolyn’s. “I wish your mom could have come today. I know it’s a long way from the Canary Islands, but it felt as if someone were missing without her here. When it was time for Aunt Marilyn to come down the aisle, it didn’t feel right seeing Aunt Frieda stand instead of Abuela Teresa.”

Carolyn was glad Tikki felt that way. She was also glad that Tikki still referred to her grandmother by her Spanish title of “Abuela Teresa,” complete with the proper accents. It had been
more than three years since Abuela’s last visit to California. She had planned to come to the wedding up until a week ago, when a virus got the best of her and settled in her ears. Her trusted doctor in the Canary Islands advised her not to fly because her eardrums might burst.

“I wish she had been able to come too. I really miss her.” Carolyn tried to make a smooth transition to her next comment. “What about Matthew? I was looking forward to seeing him today too.”

Tikki pulled her arm out of her mother’s and put a significant amount of muscle into opening the door that led to the church parking lot. “He had to work. He tried to get off, but it turned into a mess. I told him I understood, but now I’m not feeling quite so understanding. I wish he were here.”

As they drove across the Golden Gate Bridge on their way to the reception in Sausalito, Carolyn found it difficult not to ask questions about Matthew. Tikki’s relationship with Matthew had seemed strong for so long. Carolyn adored the twenty-five year- old self-starter and had thought, from their first date more than two years ago, that he was an ideal match for her only daughter. Tikki chatted about her job the whole way. Thoughts of Matthew and Jeff were neatly put aside. This was a good thing.

Carolyn turned into the parking lot of Sadie’s Garden Restaurant and walked toward the awning-covered front door.

Tikki asked, “Has this been hard for you, Mom, watching your sister get married?”

“No, of course not. I’m happy for Marilyn. Why? Am I coming across differently?”

“No, you’re coming across as your normal gracious self. It’s just that she’s married now, and I know you’re a strong woman, like Aunt Frieda always says. But I wondered if it was hard on you, or if you’re eager to move on. Because it seems to me you’re in the perfect place to make a fresh start. With Marilyn and the girls out of your house, you can focus on your own life and future instead of theirs.”

Carolyn felt her defenses rise. She would be the first to admit she had spent the past few years conveniently hiding behind her twin sister’s slightly chaotic life. It was a large enough life to hide behind. But Carolyn could admit that truthful fault only to herself. She didn’t want to discuss it with Tikki or anyone else.

They were almost to the restaurant’s door when Tikki stopped and placed her hand on Carolyn’s arm. “Mom, I hope you’re not taking any of this the wrong way. All I’m saying is that it’s time for you to get a life. Your own life.”

Tikki opened the door and entered the restaurant, leaving Carolyn alone with the uncomfortable implications of her daughter’s brashly delivered insight. Keeping her expression fixed, Carolyn entered Sadie’s Garden and made her way to the reception being held in the expansive, covered, back patio area. The walk through the restaurant allowed her time to regain her composure after Tikki’s pointed comments. She knew her daughter’s motivation was born of kindness, even if her tact was a bit undeveloped.

The wedding reception was in full swing as the two of them entered the area reserved for their private party. Carolyn smiled when she saw the beautifully decorated patio.

Everything had turned out even lovelier than she had imagined. Marilyn had left all the details of the reception to Carolyn, explaining to anyone who asked that parties weren’t her thing and that her sister had much better instincts when it came to decorating.

Carolyn had enjoyed the assignment. She had assembled a binder, complete with garden party pictures from magazines and oodles of printed-out ideas she had found online. The patio was garnished with enormous hanging baskets of white flowers. Cutout white lanterns hung from every pillar, sending out firefly twinkles as the sun set. Space heaters warmed the enclosed area on this cool February afternoon, and the cushioned chairs around the elegantly set tables invited guests to sit, relax, and enjoy.

“Wow! This is beautiful,” Tikki said. “You did this, didn’t you, Mom? You helped Aunt Marilyn pull this together.”

“I did. It was fun to work on. Marilyn wanted an enchanting ‘fireflies and fairy-tale’ reception. So what do you think? Did I capture it?”

“I think you captured it perfectly. You could do this for a living, Mom. You’re a natural.”

“Thanks.” All her earlier frustrations toward Tikki and her “get a life” comment dissolved.

Joining other guests in the buffet line, Carolyn and Tikki leisurely helped themselves to the assortment of appetizers artistically arranged on fluted seashell serving platters. Happy conversations started up as Marilyn flitted from table to table with her much more relaxed groom in tow.

Spotting Carolyn and Tikki, Marilyn made a beeline for them. Carolyn anticipated hearing her sister rave about the decorations and how everything had turned out. Instead, Marilyn said, “I’m having a lipstick crisis here. My lips are so dry they’re cracking. And I need a breath mint something terrible. Where’s my purse? You didn’t forget it, I hope.”

“No. It’s in the car. I’ll get it.”

“I’ll go, Mom.” Tikki gave Marilyn a smile before dashing off. “Don’t you think my mom did a great job with the decorations?”

“Of course she did a great job. She always does.” A tinge of adolescent envy clung to Marilyn’s words. Turning to Carolyn, her expression softened and she added, “It’s exactly what I wanted. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Can you do one more favor for me?”

“Sure. What do you need?”

“When Tikki comes back, would you put my purse over by the cake table? We’re going to have our first dance and then cut the cake. They’re ready for us to cut the cake now, but I don’t want another picture taken until after I reapply my lipstick.”

Marilyn became the center of attention as she and Larry hit the dance floor. This was their debut performance after an eight-lesson crash course in ballroom dancing. The guests gathered around as the newlyweds swayed to their song, “Let It Be Me.” Carolyn knew that Larry wanted to go with the original version recorded by the Everly Brothers, but Marilyn’s preference prevailed. And here they were, dancing to David Hasselhoff crooning the lyrics.

The song concluded, and Marilyn led Larry by the hand to the cake table. Carolyn had everything ready—the purse, the lipstick, the breath mints. Tikki stood beside her, snapping pictures as the couple linked arms to sip their toast and politely offer each other their first bite of wedding cake.

The DJ turned up the volume, and the bass tones caused tiny ripples in the water in the crystal goblets around the table. Marilyn raised both arms in the air like an Olympic champion and pointed. Her gesture seemed to be a universally understood indication that the dance floor was now open for everyone to join in the fun.

Tikki was among the first to take Marilyn up on the invitation. Carolyn returned to her place at a table where she unstrapped the narrow band on her high heels and tucked her bare feet under the long white tablecloth. It felt good to wiggle her toes and stretch her arches. Her days of traipsing around in stylish but agonizing shoes had come to an end. Her duties for her sister were about to come to an end too. Carolyn drew in a deep breath.

Aunt Frieda came toward her carrying a piece of cake. Before taking her seat, she tilted her head at Carolyn and said, “I don’t know if anyone else has mentioned this to you, Carolina, but you should know that that shade of pink you’re wearing is not your best color.”

“I would agree, Aunt Frieda. It’s not my best color.”

“You look like you’re wearing undergarments.”

“I am wearing undergarments.”

“No, I mean the dress looks like an undergarment. If you didn’t have such nice legs, that outfit would be a complete disaster.”

“Thank you, Aunt Frieda. I’ll take that as a compliment.” Carolyn had a special place in her heart for her orange-haired aunt. Frieda insisted her stylist had done her a favor years ago by “coaxing out her inner redhead.” She refused to believe the shade was more on the orange side than the red side of the color spectrum. She also refused to believe that the quips that came out of her mouth were often more on the offensive side than the helpful side. Aunt Frieda was always herself and Carolyn liked her. Very much.

“Aunt Frieda, I’m surprised you’re not out there dancing your little heart out with Tikki and Marilyn’s girls.”

“I’m waiting for them to play the real music. Then I will show you what real dancing looks like.” Frieda lifted her arms over her head and snapped her fingers as if she were clacking a pair of castanets.

“I don’t think Marilyn requested that the DJ play any flamenco music.”

“No? Such a pity. You know, if it were not for the obvious fact that the two of you are identical twins, I would think Marilyn was your sister from another mister. You have the heart of a
Woman of the Canaries, but Marilyn . . .” Frieda gave her wrist a dismissive flip in the air.

“She’s not been there yet. She didn’t have the same advantage I did.”

“That was her choice. You know she could have gone with you and your mother the summer you were eighteen, but she refused. Refused! What teenage daughter would refuse the gift of such a trip? There is nothing of the Canaries in her spirit. But you! You are the favorite. You always have been.”

Carolyn never enjoyed being compared with Marilyn, even if she was the one coming out ahead. Even so, she offered a faint smile of appreciation for the compliment.

“Now, dígame, tell me,” Frieda said. “What do you have to say of your romantic interests?” She leaned back, poised to receive all the pertinent details, her eyes fixed. She reminded Carolyn of a cat sitting in front of a fishbowl, swishing its tail, waiting for just the right moment to make its move.

No comments: