Excerpt From Hot Island Nights
by Sarah Mayberry
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Elizabeth Mason stared at the wedding registry in her hand. Printed on expensive linen paper beneath the green and gold Harrods logo, it was a roll call of prestigious brand names: Villeroy & Boch, Royal Doulton, Lalique, Noritake, Le Creuset. There were two dinner sets listed—one for everyday use, one for entertaining—cookware, stemware, cutlery, a champagne bucket, various pieces of barware, vases, platters, table linens…
If their wedding guests bought even half the items listed, she and Martin would have a house full of finely crafted, beautiful things with which to start their married life. Their home would be a showpiece, perfect in every detail.
Elizabeth pressed a hand to her chest. The tight feeling was back. As though she couldn’t get enough air. She lowered her head and concentrated on regulating her breathing.
In, out. In, out.
A delicate piano sonata trickled over the sound system. A salesman brushed past, directing a customer to the Royal Worcester display. A bead of perspiration ran down Elizabeth’s side.
She had to get a grip on these panic attacks. This was supposed to be a happy time. In eight weeks she would be marrying the man she’d been dating for the past six years and starting a new life with him. She shouldn’t be feeling panicky or anxious.
“These are lovely, Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth looked up to see her grandmother holding a glass from the Waterford Crystal collection. Light fractured off the highly polished surface of a champagne flute that appeared to be an exact replica of the set her grandparents had at home.
“They’re beautiful,” Elizabeth said. “But I think Martin prefers a more modern look. He’s very keen on the Riedel flutes.”
She could feel heat creeping into her face. She’d always been a terrible liar. She was the one who preferred the more modern design—Martin didn’t give a fig about glassware. But she could hardly come right out and state her preference.
“Have a closer look, see how they feel in your hand,” her grandmother said, gesturing for Elizabeth to join her.
Elizabeth opened her mouth to reiterate her objection— then closed it without saying a word. She knew what would happen once her grandmother realized Elizabeth didn’t share her taste. Grandmama wouldn’t say anything, of course, because it wasn’t her way to express displeasure so directly, but her mouth would turn down at the corners and she’d be withdrawn for the rest of the day. She might not come to dinner, or perhaps there would be some mention of her heart medication.
It was emotional blackmail, of course, something Grand-mama was a master at. Over the years she’d shaped Elizabeth’s decisions and actions—major and minor—with the merest flutter of a hand or the mention of a headache or a doctor’s visit. Even though Elizabeth understood the manipulation behind the behavior, she’d always given in. It was easier that way—and, really, at the end of the day, did it matter if she and Martin drank from the Waterford glasses instead of the Riedels if it made her grandmother happy?
So instead of standing her ground, she joined her grandmother and held the glass and agreed that it had a very pleasing weight in the hand, perfect for special occasions. Her grandmother collared a saleswoman and began asking questions about the manufacturing process and whether it would be possible to order replacement glasses in the future should any breakages occur.
Elizabeth stood to one side with a small, polite smile on her face. Around her, sales staff glided amongst the displays, talking in hushed, reverential tones. Everywhere she looked there were exquisite, fragile, priceless things, arranged to appeal to even the most fastidious eye.
Her gaze fell on a nearby table of cut-glass whiskey decanters. She had a vision of herself grabbing the table and upending the whole damn thing, sending the decanters smashing to the ground. It was so real her hands curled as though they were already gripping the table edge, and she could almost hear the crash of breaking glass and the shocked cries of the staff and customers.
She took a step backward and gripped her hands together.
Not because she thought there was any danger of her actually upending the display. There was no way she’d ever do such a thing.
She took another step away.
It’s just prewedding jitters, she told herself. Nothing to worry about. Every bride feels this way before her wedding.
Except this wasn’t the only reckless, anarchic impulse she’d had to quell recently. At last week’s Friends of the Royal Academy luncheon she’d had to stifle the urge to throw back her head and scream at the top of her lungs when old Mr. Lewisham had droned on about the quality of the napkins in the Academy’s coffee shop and what it said about “society’s declining standards.” And yesterday she’d found her steps slowing outside a tattoo parlor near King’s Cross station, admiring the tribal rose motif snaking up the arm of the girl behind the counter. She’d actually taken a step inside the store before common sense had reasserted itself and she’d remembered who she was.
“Elizabeth. Did you hear a word I just said?” her grandmother asked.
Elizabeth snapped into focus. Both the saleswoman and her grandmother were watching her, waiting for her response.
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