by Orman Day
When she bent over to take a closer look at the thread work of the bath towels spread across a table at Linens 'n Things, Meredith held the flat of her left hand at the high neck of her pink flowered dress, lest Jordan try to steal a glance downward at the bounteous cleft of her bosom and the beige cups of her brassiere. "What do you think?" she asked, fingering the nap of the towel with her free hand.
"You're going to be my wife," answered Jordan, "you get to choose. Whatever color you want."
"Red then," said Meredith, "to remind us every day of the blood He shed for us on the cross."
She was going to be shedding blood herself. In two months. On her wedding night.
Jordan captured the bar code with his portable scanner, adding red bath towels to their computerized list in the bridal registry. The bedspread was red. The king-sized sheets were white. The pots and pans were the color of nails.
"The wash cloths too?" he asked. "Do you want the red ones?"
She paused. Washcloths bespoke of modesty and intimacy. Draping one's nakedness in the bathtub. "Green," she answered. Fig leaves.
- - -
Her gray sweat suit stained with perspiration, her face aglow, her light brown hair moist and tangled, Meredith slogged up the dusty band of her treadmill, nestled to one side of her apartment front room. Jordan had told her that he liked women to have meat on their bones, but in five weeks, he was going to be the first man to see her undressed and she didn't want him to be disgusted. The act, itself, would be embarrassing enough.
As her torn sneakers slapped the treadmill, she listened through earphones to her "God's Property" tape. Gospel by Kirk Franklin's Nu Nation. She prayed to Jesus to burn away her dimpled flesh and defeat her cravings for tapioca pudding, hash browns fried in bacon grease and shakes blended with whole milk, ice cream and peaches pulled from a tree in the apartment courtyard.
In the brief moment separating "Stomp" and "My Life Is In Your Hands," she heard her doorbell trill and turned off the treadmill and the tape player. She patted her forehead with a ragged dishtowel and opened her door.
"Meredith," said Mom, speaking without the usual inflection. "We need to talk." Her eyes were red and her face looked puffy, ashen and lined. Even her brown wig was askew.
"Mom, you all right? Take the easy chair." Meredith kneeled to angle the breeze of the electric fan toward her mother.
"My hands are shaking, Meredith."
"What's wrong? You don't have Parkinson's, do you? Walk across the room. Remember how Aunt Rachel used to shuffle?"
Mom sagged into the easy chair with a sigh. "How could you let me find out that way? Meredith, I've never been so humiliated. Your father and I were shocked. And the sales clerk just made a joke out of it. She said that's the way things are in the '90s. You know my feelings about right and wrong. Morality has nothing to do with the calendar."
"Wait a minute, Mom. Catch your breath. Start from the beginning."
"You treat me like the village idiot, Meredith."
"Dad's not cheating on you, is he? Not with that flirt next door? The one who picks up the morning paper in her negligee."
"You're not making this easy on me, are you?" Mom took a deep breath. "I wanted to get you a present for your bridal shower and I went to Linens 'n Things..." She stared into Meredith's eyes and crumpled the lace doilies pinned to both arms of the chair.
Meredith felt like her mother expected some sort of reaction, but she didn't know what it should be. "And?"
"Your father wanted to come with me for this conversation. But I don't trust his temper in these situations. He wants to call off the whole wedding. Says it isn't worthy of the name. Not in a church anyway."
"You went to Linens 'n Things. You looked at the items in the bridal registry. Do you think I was too greedy? We don't expect to get everything on the list. They're only recommendations."
"How could you put them in the registry? Lion King night lights. Winnie the Pooh bottle warmers. Pocahontas bumper pads. That's how you want your parents to find out? From a snotty clerk with a pierced tongue?"
"Baby things? You're kidding!"
"The sales clerk asked how old you are and I said, 'Thirty-one,' and she acted like it was all right for you to announce to the world that you're going to walk down the aisle...in the white gown I'm sewing you...in a pregnant condition. I didn't let on that I was your mother, that I was just finding out for the first time. I acted like a friend of the family. A distant friend. Do you know what that was like, denying my own flesh and blood?"
"Pregnant?" Meredith looked down at her stomach. "I'm plump. I climb on the treadmill twice a day...but pregnant? We're talking immaculate conception. It's embarrassing to even discuss this with my own mother...but I'm a virgin and I always have been. Isn't that what you wanted me to do...save myself?" All those kitchen conversations about how you'd be disappointed to death if I got a French kiss from Billy Brophy."
"You didn't put those things in the registry? For all of your guests...the congregation... your aunts and uncles...to see?"
"They printed it out. Two pages. With the baby things. In black and white. I had to see the words for myself. Your name and Jordan's right at the top."
"I can't believe this is happening to me."
"I walked around in a daze out front. It took me a half-hour to ring my own daughter's doorbell. I kept remembering what you said about the rehearsal dinner. That you wanted it to be intimate because you and Jordan were going to say something that was important to all of us."
"How could you think I was...one of those girls?" Meredith leaned against a bar of the treadmill for support. "And if I was, how could you think I'd be so cruel to you and Dad! Haven't I honored my father and mother? Didn't I obey you when you said you'd be shamed to death and Dad would be stricken with a coronary if you found out I was one of those naughty girls? I can't believe this conversation."
Her mother looked deflated.
"Did I ever come home reeking of cigarettes?" asked Meredith with growing fury. "Did you ever find me drunk on the porch at 1 a.m.? Did I ever cut a single period of school to go to the beach? When a bad boy invited me to go hiking along Lytle Creek or share a bottle of cheap wine on the Palisades, what did I do? Did I climb into their truck or did I invite them to church and pray for their souls? When Billy Brophy...who I loved like no boy before or since...asked me to prove my love...did I break off our engagement? And quote scripture as I did it? Mother...you've crushed my heart. How could you believe..."
"Meredith..." Her mother was weeping.
"I teach Sunday school, remember? Don't you think I can say 'no'? I don't even wear tank tops."
"We better go to Linens 'n Things and straighten this out."
"'We' doesn't mean you and me anymore. I'm going to cleave unto a man, remember? Jordan and I'll go to Linens 'n Things together. We're going to wring a few necks. You don't have anything if you don't have a good reputation."
- - -
Outside the machine shop, Meredith was waiting inside her yellow Saturn when Jordan rapped on the window and let himself into the passenger side. She allowed him a peck on her cheek. No deep kisses, no caresses until the wedding night. The experience with Billy Brophy had been warning enough.
"Dinner at Omega Burger? Chilidog, onion rings...the works? I just put in eight hours of pure overtime. I feel rich."
"You're not helping me lose weight," she said. "I told Mom to make the wedding dress a size smaller to give me incentive."
"I told you not to worry about a few extra pounds." Jordan was thin himself.
"We've got a problem. Mom came by..."
"She's just like every mother when her daughter's getting married. My mom's getting antsy about the whole thing herself, me being her only son."
"There's been a major mix-up at Linens 'n Things." She had yet to turn the key in the ignition. "I'm so mad I can hardly see straight."
"What happened, honey?"
"Our bridal registry...I don't know if the sales clerk looked at my stomach and assumed I was pregnant or what, but somehow baby things were put on our list."
"I never trust computers," he said. "Scan the bar code of a bed spread...type in the quantity on the keypad...there's bound to be screw-ups. Why can't they give you a pencil and paper?"
"Don't you get it, Jordan?"
"A typographical error...no biggie."
"Baby things...bottle warmers...night lights...with the Lion King and Winnie the Pooh plastered all over them. People are going to think I'm walking down the aisle in white..."
"With a baby in the oven?"
"Jordan, all our guests from the congregation...Pastor Reynolds...will be looking at that list...or have looked at it already. What are they going to think? I teach the scriptures to their seven-year-olds. They used to stone harlots to death."
"Meredith...honey. No one's calling you a prostitute. This is the new millennium."
"That's what the clerk told my mother. But virtue's never out of date."
A cluster of oil-smudged co-workers ambled out of the machine shop and to Jordan, they winked and flexed their muscles. One pushed his right index finger in and out of his fisted left hand.
Jordan responded with a wide grin and gave them a thumb's up. "They're scheming a bachelor party for me, but they won't tell me when or where. They want to catch me off guard. When it was Josh's turn, we tied his wrists with a bra, blindfolded him with a pair of panties and marched him into a topless bar."
Meredith sighed. "Jordan, Jordan...you promised not to do those things anymore. Remember our counseling session with Pastor Reynolds? You've been born again. When they dunked you in the baptismal tank, your past was washed away."
"You're my princess...I won't forget that." he said. "I'm not gonna let you down. What about La Salsa? A chile verde burrito. Wash it down with cold horchata, the rice drink."
She started the car. "First, we're going to raise a fuss at Linens 'n Things. Get that registry straightened out. Whoever messed this up is going to pay." Both were quiet for a few minutes until she said, "My poor mother..." She shook her head. "It's going to take a lot of prayer to forgive her for what she accused me of."
After they parked in the structure next at Metro Pointe, Jordan pressed his hand to Meredith's shoulder. She flinched at the touch and he pulled his fingers away.
"It's very important that we discuss something before we go in," he said.
"You're the man," she said. "I'll be quiet, you explain the problem to the manager, tell him we want an apology by him typed on company letterhead. We should get a hundred dollar credit too. But the letter's the main thing."
"Remember how Pastor Reynolds passes the basket around for the missionary fund?"
"There are people wondering right now where their next cup of water or bowl of rice is gonna come from. That slide show Wednesday really woke me up. The missionary woman who came back from Africa. Those big bellies on those little kids. The flies. Their lives ruled by graven images and mean dictators. People sick and starving...dying...too weak to hear the Word. Now those people have real problems, don't you think, Meredith?"
"We skipped dinner last Saturday," she said, "and put the ten dollars in the basket instead."
"What I'm saying is that those people are suffering from genuine problems...life versus death...everlasting salvation versus eternal damnation. This registry problem is a speck of dust to Jesus. Let's let it go. We can stop at the liquor store. Buy some bread and bologna. Feed the homeless at the park. Pass out Bible tracts."
"You don't get it, Jordan. I've saved my most precious gift all this time for the man anointed by God to be my husband. I prayed and prayed and reminded God that I've kept my promises and now He should keep His...and then I met you at my window at the bank. Meeting you was the Lord's will. You proved that by joining my church and being a true gentleman...not like Billy Brophy. He danced in the Holy Spirit, but then my parents left us alone in the front room so he could court me and suddenly he couldn't control his hands."
"We've never talked about this virgin thing," said Jordan. "I knew you were one, you made that clear up front, but I thought you were afraid of catching a disease."
"Herpes and AIDS and all that are warnings from God, but I'm saving myself out of love, not fear. On our wedding night, I'm going to offer up my womanhood to you, my husband...all to the glory of God. So, yes, it's a big deal that our guests not think I'm pregnant...especially after all the teasing I've taken about being a goody-goody from the girls at the bank. Let's straighten things out in Linens 'n Things and then go eat at La Salsa. And I don't want a burrito. I want a chimichanga...dripping with lard...and then let's wolf down a sundae at 31 Flavors." She opened her door. "Let's go!"
"Wait!" said Jordan. "Just a minute. I appreciate the fact that you're a virgin. I'm honored, in fact. I've always been careful with virgins because I know that trust is very important in these things."
"I can't take the baby things off the list."
"You're the head of the family," said Meredith. "We established that with Pastor Reynolds. Why not?"
"Because I put them on the list."
"A few days after we went to the registry," said Jordan, "I called up and added the baby items."
"I may be born again," said Jordan, "but I guess I'm just the same ol' asshole."
"The guys were ragging on me at the machine shop. They've been calling me a Holy Roller and a Mama's boy because I still live at home at twenty-six and when I told them you didn't put out, they called me a puto...a fairy. One day I snapped and said we were getting married because we had to."
"They bet me a hundred bucks I was lying."
"So you changed the registry to win the bet?" asked Meredith. "You sold my reputation for a handful of silver?"
"If it makes you feel better, I put every cent of that money in the church offering. Right now it's feeding famine victims in the Sudan. A hundred bucks is a lot of dinero in a place like the Sahara Desert."
"How many virgins have you had before?" she asked.
"Three, that I know of. The Rodriguez girl, Stacy what's-her-name and my cousin Regina. But those sins have all been washed away. Pastor Reynolds said so."
"And I was to be Number Four? How wonderful for me." Meredith felt the words throbbing up from her throat, "Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit!" She pointed at the door. "Get out! And scratch my name out of the bridal registry!"
As she drove her Saturn down the street, Meredith hummed the "Wedding March." Louder and louder. The Devil be damned, she was driving to Billy Brophy's house. And she was going to let him unwrap a wedding present.
About the author:
Orman P. Day works as a public relations consultant in the land that exemplifies Social Darwinism: Orange County, Ca. His short stories, essays and poetry have appeared in such publications as Zyzzyva, Creative Nonfiction, Spectacle, Bitter Oleander, Flyway, Aura Literary Arts, Portland Review and Red Cedar Review. Right now Orman is writing a book about his backpacking experiences in 90 countries and the 50 states. In his travels, he's hopped freight trains, been jailed at Mardi Gras, watched as a few hundred vultures gave "sky burials" to two Tibetan corpses, fed dying destitutes at Mother Teresa's, played Frisbee with Masai warriors, and bungee jumped off a New Zealand bridge.