“What, you’ve got cat bells on a dress?”

This story came to me just before COVID, following a conversation with a lovely couple with whom I was sharing a table in my local micro pub The Dog and Rabbit. I later became good friends and was sad to lose Ian last year. I’ll publish it today to remind me of him and his inspiration and for Chrissy, who misses him, as we do, every day. We’ll share a drink or three in the ‘Cat to celebrate the day and Ian’s life.

It reminded me of an experience I’d had at a family wedding many years ago when I was tricked by an uncle into missing the occasion. I have combined both stories and added a bit of romance, which also may or may not be true. The meaning of the title, apparently, is a wedding at which the bride is, erm, in the family way.

I must admit I had never heard of the expression a quiet wedding in the context in which it was explained to me at the time. There is no sign of it on Google, other than the 1951 film starring Margaret Lockwood and the obvious definition of a wedding without fuss.

Happy Celestial Birthday the original Giant Guy ❤️❤️❤️

***

We sat on the wooden floor of the village hall with our backs to the stage, our legs stretched out in front of us. Christine’s, long and slender, were at least a third longer than mine, clad in worn 501’s, her immaculate Nike trainers standing upright. We were both twenty-three and hadn’t seen each other for over five years, brought together by another wedding, which we both wanted to avoid.

Looking down at the two pairs of uneven denim draped legs took me back a further ten years. That day two eight year olds occupied the very same spot only this time the legs were the same length, ending in one pair of patent leather slingbacks and a pair of tiny polished brogues. Her legs were bare and mine dressed in foul brown corduroy.

***

I eased the can of Stella from its plastic ring separating it from its five siblings and flicked the ring pull. The distinctive sound never failed to get the saliva running. However, I handed the full can to Chris while I pulled a long white toke out of my shirt pocket, the size and shape of a small trumpet. As she gulped down the cold beer, I lit the joint and the papery end flared up in a white flame. Holding it up to her, I allowed Chris to extinguish the flame with one damp beery puff and the reefer settled into a slow burn.

Again I gave her first dabs and relieved her of the can, like a proper gent. The end of the roller glowed ruby red as she inhaled the sweet sickly smoke way down into her trainers. As I sucked on the tinny, the cold beer went straight to my forehead in an attack of brain freeze. The mixture of Belgian beer and Lebanese Black took me back to our first of the three encounters.

***

It was a week before that first rendezvous and were both sitting on the fence outside her house. Chris was swinging her legs back and forth and I was attempting a backward roll, the blood rushing to my head.

“Are you coming to the wedding?” I heard her say just as I was about to black out. I let go of the railing and crumpled to the grass in a heap.

“Err, yes it is my cousin after all,” I groaned holding back the puke.

“Yeah but its my brother who’s marrying her,” she snapped like it was a game of family Top Trumps. ” My granny has made me a new dress, it has bells sewn into the hem. You know crotal bells like on a cats collar?” She continued, stifling a laugh at my predicament.

“What, you’ve got cat bells on a dress? That’s gonna be a bit noisy, they’ll hear you coming before the bride,” I laughed as my head stopped swimming. With that she jumped from the fence and ran indoors. I spat out the bitter taste of bile from my mouth and went home for my tea.

***

Sucking on the joint the hot smoke burned my frozen throat before the gear kicked in sending the room spinning,.

“Hey do you remember the last time we were here?” I wheezed, forgetting to take a breath. As I inhaled half the room, she turned on me like a vicious cat.

“What, Christmas ’76 when you tried to get my knickers off you dirty bastard!” she hissed, her grimace turning into a grin.

“No man, the wedding, you know, your Raymond and my cousin Eunice” I said relieved at her sudden change of mood. She hadn’t forgiven me for that episode, being the main reason for the five year separation. She changed university at the last minute and my heart was broken for the first time. All because of a drunken grope. “Oh yes, we ended up here, the two of us and said our wedding wouldn’t be a quiet one” a faraway look in her eye as she said it.

“Aye how were we to know what a quiet wedding was. I hadn’t a clue that it meant she was up the duff” I breathed in between drags.

“Spare a thought for me, I imagined my gran had put those bells in my dress on purpose. That’s why I ended up here. You didn’t help with your smart arse comment that day on the fence.” she moaned indignantly.

“Yes and I ended up here next to you remember?” I replied

“How was that, you never did tell me” she said taking another swig of the wife-beater. I cracked open the second can and helped myself to another dose of brain freeze.

“You know Eunice’s dad, my uncle Eric?” I asked and she nodded. “He told me that if I was offered a piece of wedding cake, I would have to make a speech like the best man”, I reminisced, still recalling the terror his comments instilled in me.

***

I sat at the long table in the marquee that had been erected on the village green. On my left was my Dad and on my right my older brother John. I was sipping my glass of orange when I spotted my aunt approaching with a plate piled high with small squares of fruit cake topped with yellow and white. Glancing up at uncle Eric at the top table my heart sank as he winked at me nodding at the offending plate in his wife’s hands. Placing my glass carefully on the table, I slid under it and crawled its full length past the pairs of alternating trouser and stocking clad legs. Slipping under the canvass flap of the tent, I ran like a boy possessed towards the deserted hall. As I crawled into the familiar gap in the tongue and groove wall I saw the bare legs of my fellow sufferer. Taking her tiny hand in mine we hugged like only eight year olds can and made our pact.

***

As I siphoned the last ounce of escape from the papery tube and she knocked back the dregs of can number two, our hands met. For the first time in fifteen years, our fingers locked together and we turned to face each other.

“What now?” we both said with perfect synchronicity.