Six-year-old Tessie held a basket of deep-red rose petals in hands so moist the wicker handle almost slid from her grip. Mommy was a breath behind.
“Don’t let me down, now,” Mommy said before giving Tessie a push forward. But the girl’s feet dragged, heavy as boulders; her arms stiffened like petrified wood. She willed herself to lift the petals and drizzle them as she walked—just like she’d done during rehearsal—but she could not.
Nor could she look ahead or even to the side. She could only peer down at her pink Mary Janes, as she thought of the last time she saw her daddy. They were at a bus station, she with nose to pane, he waving from the sidewalk as the bus pulled away, Mommy beside her saying, “It’s just us now. Be a big girl. Don’t let me down.”
Her lips puckered at the memory as she trod down the aisle. She knew she was doing it wrong, knew the petals were supposed to be in a trail behind her. Knew she was letting Mommy down. She glanced at the man whose eyes she’d been avoiding. The man at the altar. New person. New daddy. New smile not meant for her. Not really.
She pressed on. The white teeth, the kindly eyes, the immaculate tuxedo growing closer, larger. Still she could not move her arms. Until, finally, inches from the alter, her arms took control, turned her burden upside down, and dumped the petals in one quick cascade of red headed for the carpet. She threw the basket to the side and dashed to her assigned seat in the front pew. An auntie she barely knew pulled her close, wrapped long arms around her, and said she’d done a fine job.
Tessie sank into the folds of the woman’s satin dress and peeked out at Mommy, a vision in an off-white gown with a border of tiny violets. She knew better than to make eye contact. Mommy’s beautiful face would say it all as she stepped over the red pile on the carpet, red as Tessie’s sorrow, red as her love for Daddy, red as her flushing cheeks.
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