People keep passing me with broad beaming smiles and telling me how happy I look. I can't see the smile I flash back in response, but I know the flesh at the corner of my mouth, where the dark hue of the lips gives way to the lighter pigment of the face, crinkles desiccatedly. I have no handbag, so I have neither moisturiser nor salve to hand. I need a drink. But it's champagne only for my wedding reception and I don't think that's going to rehydrate me somehow. Besides I have a sweetly-sick taste coating the membranes at the back of my throat.
And now spun on to the dancefloor. Again those gleaming smiles detonate around us like paparazzi flashbulbs. My husband of ninety minutes takes my hand. We pause frozen in motion, like the two figures atop our tiered wedding cake. Waiting for the band to strike up. The miniatures cresting the cake await the sharp knife. For the spongy ground to be cut away from under them. Of course they don't, they're made from marzipan and have no thoughts at all.
In the stasis he clasps both his hands loosely round the nape of my neck. My lone island of exposed flesh adrift from the copious swell of fabric of the backless dress. (Actually it's not the lone flesh promontory, but he could hardly cup my cleavage in front of so many eyes). I had been rash in discarding my veil, for its train had at least filigreed my nape when pushed back from occluding my face. Another, gossamer membrane. My husband has strangler's hands. Big, clubby appendages that can entirely cincture my neck. Those bulbous fingers impressing their livid rage on my quivering, rasping flesh. The band hit the first chord.
I am whirled through a succession of sheepishly lupine grinning dance partners, as if I am a lot at a benign slave market. Naturally, none dare to embrace my neck. Settling instead for just above my waist with one paw, and either my shoulder, or hand linked in hand outstretched before us like the prow of a ship. Or an antenna. I scan each consort's clasp of me. For some reason I'm reminded of Ingrés' sketches of hands. But none of the mercantiles here possess artistic mitts. None of them are exactly callused either. No horny handed sons of toil in this gathering.
My father-in-law of one hundred and forty minutes cuts in for the next dance. His grip is encased in leather gloves. To conceal or cushion fingers curled by arthritis. Our dance too is emotionally stiff and painful. His leather cracks with each motion as we alter our bearing on the dancefloor. I hear this above the din of the music since his hand cups where my clavicle meets the shoulder close to my ear. Or do I only conceive that I can hear it, because its menacing appearance strikes a resonance that plucks at me like a harp string? I scrutinise the wrinkles in the animal hide and imagine the cracks in the human flesh they house beneath. I wonder if they mirror one another. Like the impression of a death mask. I know arthritis to be a degenerative disease.
My husband of one hundred and fifty minutes has the hands of a strangler. But for how long I wonder?