It started off as it meant to go on, our marriage. Not quite ordinary.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re not mutants from some distant planet masquerading as earthlings. It’s just, we have trouble doing what’s expected of us. Or perhaps I should say, I have trouble …
I blame my name, Mary and that nursery rhyme – the ‘how does your garden grow’ one. Everyone smiles indulgent smiles when you’re ‘contrary,’ so you grow up thinking it’s the best way to be. It’s not. It lands you in all sorts of puddles, trust me.
But back to the marriage.
Market day in south east London. In a church. Two of us, a priest and witnesses. One extra friend who’s snuck in – and my parents, because I relented, two days ago.
Outside, stalls are selling slippers and knickers. Strawberries, cauliflowers, cheap bags and nighties. Your average Saturday market.
Promises made, it’s back to our flat for a lunch of cold salmon.
We wave farewell to the parents and friends. Head for the park where I bruise myself, badly. Seems I can’t swing from my hands any more, like when I was ten.
Anyway. Fast forward a month. To the reception.
We party on a boat. Sail by the Tower of London on a beautiful, sun-washed day. Eating mango chicken, then raspberry Pavlova. Sipping crisp fizzy wine.
New husband kidnaps some classical buskers, on their very first busk. They play all the way for a nice fat donation. Generous, my new, American pa-in-law.
The upshot of this tale of one wedding and two events? We now have two anniversaries. Two dates to remember.
I’m not good at dates. As my nephews know all too well, I have a rather random approach to birthdays. So I’m not sure whether I really feel kind of – meh – about anniversaries or whether it’s just a cover story for incompetence.
But there’s more.
I married an archaeologist. He digs up old stones in Africa – it was Swaziland then, these days it’s Zambia [though he’s heading west next year, I’m anxious to say. Ebola’s not yet in Ghana. We’ll be donating to Medecins Sans Frontieres.].
Anyway. In summer, he’s usually to be found in some inaccessible, uncomfortable but utterly intriguing place.
For many years those places were also incommunicado. A letter that looked like it had been danced on by an elephant would arrive now and then – but that was it. No email. No phone. No texts.
I learnt. If I wanted to see him – and not be deeply envious – I had to go. So I did.
But we never seemed to be together on our anniversary – neither of them – inconveniently a month apart and me with an absolute max of three weeks holiday to take.
At last, though, the day arrived. Not only were we together, but we remembered.
And here’s what happens …
I’ve no idea what he’s wearing – probably much the same sort of thing.
We’ve been watching the sun set, but it’s dark now.
The night sounds are warming up.
The distant, hoarse cough of a lion.
The rustle of elephants pulling down branches.
The clatter of dishes in the tin-roofed kitchen where a fine-voiced cook is singing a hymn.
Our chairs, like old-fashioned deck chairs, are low-slung and old. Easy to slump into – hard to climb out of in a hurry.
Between us, on a solid, local wood table sits a bottle of the nearest thing to champagne the camp bar can muster. It’s white, cool-ish, has bubbles in it – and it’s sweet. But never mind.
Suddenly, spouse of 20 years yells and leaps from his chair.
I struggle, but it’s too late, the snake is rippling across the toe of my boot. Thankfully, heading away from me.
I finally make it out of the chair and realise anniversary spouse may have left me behind, but he’s saved the wine.
‘What took you so long,’ he hisses (husband, not the snake), waving the bottle.
I’m now hyperventilating. Staring, wild-eyed at the snake. Which turns out to be quite the wrong thing to do, with this one.
Our friend from behind the bar runs out, broom in hand.
The snake seems bewildered – I almost feel sorry for it.
But not really.
Maybe it mistook me for a sack of mealie meal.
Maybe my dirty smelly boots put it off.
Anniversaries. I spit in your eye. Pah.
[Written in response to WordPress Weekly writing challenge, Memoir Madness: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/memoir-madness/ ]