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The Silent Wife

By:Kerry Fisher

1

MAGGIE, Brighton Registry Office, 15 January 2016

The words ‘Would everyone be upstanding for the bride?’ made me want to look around for the woman in white.

My wedding day took place on a non-descript afternoon in the middle of January, well away from any big deal occasions like Christmas or Valentine’s Day. I was thirty-five and I’d never even lived with a man before. Not because I was the last nun in the convent – too late to pull that stunt with my ten-year-old son, Sam, in tow – but because I was addicted to wrong ’uns. The sort of men who would have dads bundling their daughters into basements and throwing burning oil out of the top window.

But I’d never had a dad, just my mum who saw the good in everyone. The broken, the dreamers, the unhinged – Mum just made cheese on toast and let them park their feckless backsides on our couch. When she should have been hightailing it for the broom, she grinned instead and said, ‘His heart’s in the right place, love, just a bit wild. He’ll grow out of it.’

But they never did. And then I met Nico, who didn’t need to grow out of anything. After all these years of dredging around in the bargain bucket for the most ridiculous of men, I’d found someone who didn’t need fixing. Someone who could get up in the morning, hold down a job, deal with disappointment and frustration without leaving a trail of beer cans, debt and bewilderment in his wake. A bloke who turned up on time, who never smelt of booze or burglaries, who didn’t call my son, Sam, ‘the kid’. Plus – big bonus – he thought I was amazing or ‘incredibile’ as he sometimes said when he was rocking his Italian heritage.

And instead of him finding me less incredibile as time wore on, he’d asked me to marry him. Which for a woman in the Parker family was as rare as knowing for certain who your father was.

So as I walked in on Sam’s arm, as ready as I’d ever be to take my wedding vows, I should have felt like a mountain climber finally bursting onto a craggy peak after years of standing at the bottom, asking, ‘How the hell do I get up there?’ Instead I felt more like a failed football manager carrying the weight of the fans’ woes upon him.

I tried to catch Francesca’s eye as I came down the aisle. I wanted to show her I understood, that it wouldn’t be as bad as she feared; that we could make this work. But she refused to look up, her teenage face pointed to the floor, her body locked in a fragile battle between antagonism and anguish.

I wanted to pause, to ask the tiny group of guests to trot off for a minute so I could put my arm round those defiant but defeated shoulders and tell her I was on her side. Once again I wondered if Nico’s strategy of getting married, leaving his daughter without any other option but to accept me as a permanent fixture, was the right one.

Too late now.

I squeezed Sam’s arm, trying to transmit that I’d made this decision not just for me, but for him. My mum, Beryl, adored Sam, but he was going to need more to make a success of his life than lessons in how to hide from the landlord on rent day.

For the last jolly bars of ‘Chapel of Love’, I tried to block out everything other than Nico. I wanted to savour this moment, when the man who not only complemented me, but completed me, was prepared to make a leap of faith and marry me. A first in three generations of Parkers.

I looked at the back of his neck, his dark curly hair still scruffy despite his attempts to tame it, and felt a great surge of delight. For one dangerous moment, I considered finishing off the few metres between me and the registrar with a cartwheel. I decided not to push it on my first day as a member of the Farinelli family. Judging by the look on most of their faces, they’d barely done a subdued skip in their whole feather-dusted lives. I clung to the hope that with a bit of patience and luck, we’d merge ourselves and our offspring into something approximating a ‘normal’ family. Though one man’s normal was another man’s cuckoo.

Normal ‘for us’ would have to do.

And then, the song clapped to a close, my desire to swing my hips and snap my fingers faded and the big grown-up thing that was getting married took off. The registrar was lisping her way through the ceremony, asking whether anyone knew of any reason we shouldn’t marry. I held my breath at that bit, braced for a shrill teenage voice to ring out around the room, loud enough to reach the hotel bar and cause everyone to leave their pints on the table and scuttle in to see what was going on. I tried to block out all the fidgeting I could feel behind me. I didn’t want to second-guess the expressions on his family’s faces – the sneery distaste pinching his mother, Anna’s snooty features, his older brother, Massimo, standing with a fat grin on his face as though Nico was off doing something silly… again. I had hoped making our love official would tip them into a grudging sense of rejoicing that Nico was happy and settled after all he’d been through. Instead, for all the joy evident in the ‘ceremony’ room, we could have been gathered for a collective colonoscopy.

I glanced behind me for moral support. My mates from the estate gave me a thumbs-up. I looked away quickly in case they started whooping as though a horse they’d bet on had come up trumps. I’d already seen my soon-to-be mother-in-law eyeing up the cleavages and sequins with disapproval. God knows what Anna thought of my best friend’s hat, sitting on her head like a feathery Walnut Whip. Instead, I looked to my mum for encouragement. She didn’t disappoint, grinning away, a jolly rhododendron bush in a room full of austere alliums. I replayed her words from earlier. ‘Hold your head up high, darlin’. You’re the best thing to happen to that family. Give his daughter some stability and love.’

For once in my life, I wanted to surrender to romance, to believe love was sparkly and special and not something that made you look in the mirro

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