Prerequisites for Sleep

It rained through the night and early morning, tearing the petals from the lilies in the garden. They lay on the ground like pieces of satin tinged with rust. The sky looked bruised, as if it had more crying to do. Anita stood in the kitchen looking out at the day through the screen of the back door. The thin lines of mesh made everything appear slightly out of focus.

“Some people believe that it is good luck to have rain on your wedding day,” Judith said cheerfully.

Anita poured coffee into her favorite mug, a black one with a large white A on the side and a chip in the rim, then sat down at the table next to her aunt. Lately, she thought of her aunt as Saint Judith, Saint Jude for short. What else could she be after taking on the responsibility of raising Anita when her mother and father died? Judith had given up the career of an overseas correspondent to become a weekly columnist and an instant parent. In fourteen years, she had never heard the woman complain. Any regrets, if she had them, were not voiced.

“Kevin’s mother has rented enough tents to create an upscale refugee camp,” Anita said, scooping two heaping teaspoons of sugar into her coffee.

“It is nice of the Sinclairs to host the wedding.” Judith ventured. “Kevin’s a dear, but you know we would have never been able to put on a spread for that family. Oh, they are always pleasant to everyone and not snobby by any means, but they are used to certain things. Do me a favour, don’t get so used to certain things that you won’t eat my macaroni and cheese casserole.”

“Well Kevin is her only child,” Anita said. “Some women like taking care of such details. I’m not one of them. The things I decided to take care of are more than enough wedding details for me. And I don’t think you have to worry about the casserole. It’s still my favorite.” The spoon, hitting the mug as she stirred, underlined her words with porcelain-steel music.

“I know what you mean about wedding details,” said Judith. “They aren’t my forte, that’s for sure.”

“Do you ever wish that you had married?” Anita said. She searched her aunt’s face as she posed the question. Up until she was sixteen, Anita would look for her mother in Judith’s face; but the more she had looked the more she noticed the differences between the two sisters. What she saw these days was that the years had been good to Judith. Her mother, no longer accumulating time, existed only in the photo albums and old videos stored in the hall closet.

“Oh, I think if the right person had come along, I would have married,” said Judith, “but who’s to say that the right person still can’t show up. Fifty-two is not that old you know.” Her voice shifted and she leaned back in the kitchen chair to look directly at her niece. “Don’t go thinking that you’re the reason I didn’t get married. I had plenty of offers, just none that I could live with.”

Anita brushed her teeth and jumped into the shower, surveying her body as she adjusted the water temperature. She had put on a few pounds since they announced the engagement, but not a noticeable amount. At her final fitting last week, the dress was perfect. How lucky she had been to find one she liked that was on sale.

It was at a little boutique that Kevin’s mother had recommended, located in Barberry Market, an area of old stone houses that had been turned into upscale businesses. The signs hanging from each were understated and catered to a clientele that didn’t need to be screamed at. She drove down with Judith one afternoon, thinking they would just look. They found a parking spot on the other side of a street split by a median with a couple of benches and some annual beds. It was the end of April and the empty gardens filled the air with an organic smell of damp soil.

They looked at several dresses, but she kept coming back to the same one. “Go ahead, try it on,” the woman said, unzipping the clear plastic so the gown could be viewed better.

Her reflection: auburn hair, freckled skin, white dress, shouted at her without words. Was she ready for this? She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

“It suits you,” Judith said.

“This particular gown is part of a special promotion,” the salesclerk said. “Reduced because of the arrival of new stock.”

Today that special promotion was hanging on the back of her bedroom door.

They met the rest of the girls at the beauty salon at eleven, Ingrid and Wendy, Anita’s friends and Kevin’s cousin Michelle, since he didn’t have a sister.

Ingrid greeted them with over-exaggerated hugs and kisses that made Anita feel like a plush toy that had been returned after an unplanned absence. “You do realize,” Ingrid teased, “that by this time tomorrow you will no longer be a single entity but part of a pair.”

“Like shoes,” laughed Wendy.

“Or salt and pepper shakers,” said Michelle.

“I don’t know if I should be jealous or relieved,” said Ingrid.

By the time they left the salon, the sky was clear, the sidewalks, nothing but strips of glare. Anita wondered whether or not this had any bearing on her luck, now that both the sun and the rain had made an appearance on her wedding day.

“Just in time for photos,” Judith said. Leave it to Judith to say the right thing.

Judith excelled at saying the right thing. After the funeral, she and Anita had returned to the house, which was empty for the first time in days. Someone had tidied up, depriving them of the much-needed busy work. Anita flopped down on the sofa, no longer feeling like the preteen who, just the previous week, had gone to a sleepover with her friends. She had returned the following morning to find a police car waiting in the driveway. Anita resented that loss almost as much as she resented her absent mother and father and the stoned kid who ran the red light. Judith came in and sat down next to her. “I always wanted to learn how to play one of those things,” she said, pointing to the Nintendo system on the shelf below the TV. “How bout we order a pizza and you can teach me?”

That night they slowly allowed themselves to laugh, and yell at the characters that jumped across the television screen, and then to slip into a realm where silliness prevailed. Afterwards they slept, waking late the following day with a new understanding of the roles they had inherited in each other’s lives, knowing that anything either one of them did from now on would impact the other.

Judith gave her away. That was something that Anita insisted on and Kevin agreed. It was only right. They walked down the aisle arm in arm amidst harp music and the rustle of satin and silk, neither one shaking or teary eyed, no mention of what Anita’s mother or father may have felt, no need to, they had stopped dwelling on the past years before.

“Kevin’s uncle Gerald would be glad to walk you down the aisle,” his mother had suggested along with several other options, all male as dictated by tradition. His mother was not one for altering institutions. But she was also not one for fighting small battles so in the end she concurred.

Mrs. Sinclair liked Anita and thought of her as hard working and smart, not some spoiled bimbo who couldn’t see past her next visit to the spa. Although she had always been comfortable, the older woman had learned the same lessons that Anita had at an early age; that nothing was to be taken for granted and that important things can disappear, the way her brother had disappeared into the river; and afterwards, the way her mother had disappeared into the bottle. Of all the girls that Kevin had been involved with, Anita had the most substance. The least she could do for the girl is give her a beautiful wedding. And a beautiful wedding dress for that matter, no one needs to know of the arrangement made between her and the owner of the boutique.

I think I’m switching to autopilot,” Kevin whispered in her ear part way through the receiving line.

Anita smiled. She could think of nothing better than sitting down and putting her feet up. “Tell me again why we didn’t consider eloping,” she retorted while waiting for his grandfather to close the gap in the stream of people. Kevin laughed and bent to kiss her enthusiastically on the mouth. The room burst into a round of applause.

“Okay break it up,” said Kevin’s grandfather leaning forward to peck Anita on the cheek.

Next in line was Richard. His face, like a statue with stone eyes and a rigid jaw, moved towards her. “Will you be going by Mrs. Sinclair now, or do you intend to keep your own name?” His question surprised her.

At dinner, Judith had made a speech that was both happy and sad. She talked about their life together and about new beginnings, the one they undertook fourteen years earlier and the one that Anita and Kevin were now embarking on. “I believe that Anita can manage anything that comes her way, including you Kevin,” she quipped. A statement that was followed by laughter, along with whoops and whistles from Kevin’s friends.

The rest of the day went off without a hitch. Everyone would remember it as a lovely event. Mrs. Sinclair had taken their wishes and transformed them into a choreographed work of art. Anita tried to imagine how Kevin’s mother would use those skills on the many committees and boards that she was a member of.

She was curled up in the king-size bed next to Kevin. He had slipped quickly into sleep after they had made love. To her, it doesn’t arrive as easy so she slid out from under the covers and grabbed the complimentary terry robe. The hotel room was on the top floor, overlooking the harbour. A fog rolled above the water looking pinkish yellow from city lights that never allow darkness to settle or stars to shine. Standing in the window, Anita continued to revisit the day in her thoughts. For her this is a nightly habit, rehashing the events of her life in twenty-four-hour segments, one of her prerequisites for sleep.

Richard had come to the wedding. Richard who managed university the way she did, on part-time jobs and student loans, barely making ends meet as he worked his way towards being a heart specialist. She knew he would be excellent, he had already filled a hole in hers.

“It’s up to you,” he had said to her, “but I think you should go. Why stay home all alone when you can go out and enjoy yourself?”

So she decided to go, taking transit to the closest intersection then walking the rest of the way. The music could be heard all the way down the street, mostly bass, turned up and throbbing like a heart. It started to rain and she was without an umbrella so she ran. A little later, when she was standing in a crowd chatting and sipping a rum and coke, she felt two hands rest on her shoulders and heard a voice from behind. “Even soggy, you’re a sight for sore eyes.”

That night with Kevin was a fluke. Who would have thought they would run into each other at a party that Richard couldn’t attend because he had to work. She and Kevin had been together several years earlier, the summer she was eighteen. No commitments, there were universities to attend and careers to secure. Sex was something that had happened between them. It happened again, aided by memories and alcohol.

There was the baby to think about. She had been on antibiotics at the time, for an ear infection. A warning came with her birth control pills. She had read it only once in her teens when she first started taking the oral contraceptives. She considered an abortion, discussed the option with her doctor. He told her she needed to make a decision quickly, but she let the deadline pass. It wasn’t that she was religious or that she thought it was wrong. Some days it seemed perfectly right: other days, not right for her.

The child could belong to either of them; both have similar features. Kevin was so excited when she told him. “We’ll get married,” he said. “I hope it’s a girl.”

Anita had weighed her options and made her decision. It was a decision she would consider every time she handed over her baby to the nanny that Kevin’s mother offered to procure, and when she returned to university to continue her education debt free. Later she would consider it again when her daughter walked down the aisle as flower girl at Judith’s wedding and upon seeing a photo announcing that Richard had become Head of Cardiology. She would consider it every night for the rest of her life. This was something she knew for a fact while standing in the window watching the shoreline become obscure.

Jennifer Stone lives in Mineville, Nova Scotia, with her husband and son. Her fiction has appeared in Other Voices, FreeFall, the Fiddlehead, the Wascana Review, and upcoming in the Antigonish Review. She received an honourable mention in the Autumn 2008 competition held by Short Story Radio in the UK.