Spring 2006

It was a warm, spring day towards the end of April. I remember it as one carrying a premonition of summer. I had been helping our gardener trim the bushes and plant roses. The magnolia tree was in full bloom, scattering white and pink petals across the newly cut grass.
I spent the afternoon sprawled on the lawn reading a book. The house was quiet, Carl having left earlier for a midday appointment. I must have dozed off in the sun because I woke up to a shadow blocking the warm rays that had moments earlier lulled me to sleep. Carl was standing over me with a bottle of Dom Pérignon and a picnic basket. He sat down, unfurling a blue and white tablecloth and unpacking a selection of mini pies, sausages and deep-fried shrimps, spring rolls and calamari.
“What’s the occasion?” I asked, squinting my eyes against the sun.
“Well, the occasion is this.” He took out a little black box and kneeled down on one knee.
“Justine, there is something I have wanted to ask you for a long time now. You are my love, my life. My everything. I once made the terrible mistake of letting you go — under atrocious circumstances I know…but I soon realised how much I truly love you. I love you so much, Justine. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. So…” He faltered momentarily before regaining his composure. “Will you marry me?” He opened the box and looked at me, smiling nervously as if hoping for the best but fearing the worst.
I can’t recall exactly what went through my mind during those few seconds. I remember I looked at the ring, a solitaire diamond with an inlay of brilliants around a band of white gold, and wanted to try it on. So I said yes. Not because of the ring, not because of anything really, apart from buying into the dream of married life until death do us part. We toasted, and kissed, and talked about our budding future. I looked at my calendar and we decided on August 19 as the date. As our finances were still under strain, it had to be a small and intimate wedding for our closest friends. I appointed myself to be in charge of the project and set out with great excitement to orchestrate the nuptials.

Just as any bride, I soon became engrossed in the whole affair, finding very little else mattered. Carl continued to work long hours, and I suppose he was happy to let me run the show. Occasionally I would come to him for a budget approval as costs were rising well above what we had originally agreed upon. The wedding dress was from a small atelier in le Marais, but expensive nevertheless as I sought to recreate the classic, demure style of Grace Kelly. Our wedding invitations grew too until we had well above a hundred guests. We had decided on having our wedding and reception at Château d’Esclimont outside of Paris, and with a lavish reception, dinner and party, our budget had nearly tripled, and the nuptials were threatening to financially cripple us.
I called Carl to report my findings as I was sitting at the computer shifting around numbers in spreadsheet cells in a bid to minimise the damage. Carl flew into a rage, which was both rare and unexpected, when he received the news.
“It’s not really as if it’s that bad. Eric and Marlene’s wedding was well above a hundred thousand euros,” I retorted.
“You gotta be kidding. And go figure, they both have parents…parents who can pay. Remember, my family isn’t exactly as wealthy as yours, and with you choosing to…to fritter away your inheritance on furnishings, we don’t exactly have a buffer. Jesus, Justine. What were you thinking?”
I didn’t answer. I didn’t have an answer. He was so right. Instead of living frugally I had spent all our savings, all for living the Parisian bourgeoisie dream.
“I don’t care what you do, but you have to stop this now. Cancel it all; we can get married in the town hall. There is no need for all this fairy tale bullshit.”
His words angered me, so I hung up on him. He didn’t call back and neither did I. Instead I went to my mother’s jewellery box, which I shoved into a sports bag before leaving the house for the nearest antique jewellery store.

It was a small shop on a backstreet not far from where we lived. The window was dressed in gold pendants, rings and earrings. I also noticed several silver and gold-plated menorahs, which together with the name Isaac Leibowitz denoted a Jewish ancestry. I stepped inside. A bell jingled as I closed the door. An old man, well into his seventies, came out from a pantry concealed with an Afghan rug.
“Bonjour!” I greeted him.
“Bonjour,” the man replied, his voice rough and metallic. I suspected he might have suffered from throat cancer.
“What can I do for you?”
“I would like to sell some of my jewellery.”
“Fine, you know you are required to ID yourself.”
“Yes, sure. That won’t be a problem. Let me see here…” I picked up the jewellery box inlayed with mother of pearl and placed it in front of the man.
“I have several necklaces, rings and brooches,” I said as I laid them one by one on the glass counter. The man picked up a magnifying glass and started to examine a gold watch before replacing it for a diamond and sapphire ring. I tried to analyse his face for any evidence of interest or enthusiasm. But he remained stern, showing little emotion at all. After five minutes of silence, he stopped.
“I think I have seen enough. Do you want to sell individual pieces or everything?”
“Everything,” I replied succinctly.
“Very well then. I am actually only interested in the diamond and emerald collar, which I can offer five thousand euros for.”
“Five thousand!” I exclaimed. “It must be worth at least three times as much. This is well below what I expected.”
“Well, this isn’t a seller’s market. You are more than welcome to go elsewhere, but I can assure you, you won’t get a better price.”
“And what about the rest?” I queried. “How much will you offer for that?” He did some calculations based on the weight he had noted down.
“Well, I can only sell a few as pieces. The rest will have to be melted down. Twelve thousand euros.” I stood there, stunned by his offer.
“I’m sorry, this is well below what I was hoping for.”
“And how much was that?”
“Well, about fifty thousand,” I snipped haughtily.
He sneered, as if this were the reaction I would get at any place I went. I started to sweat profusely and noticed my cheeks rouging as I sought to handle the situation with dignity.
“Thirty thousand?” I tried.
“Twenty,” the man countered.
“Twenty-five?”
“You are one persistent lady.” He released a sigh. ”I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you twenty-two, and that’s it. Take it or leave it.”
“Fine,” I conceded. I handed over all the jewellery that was in the box, which he placed on a silver tray and stashed on the other side of the counter. As he took my passport and personal details, I watched the heap of precious stones and metal glimmer under a spotlight. It was the last time I would ever see them, and I made an effort to imprint the vision in my memory before it was lost to posterity.

I emerged outside, and despite the sun shining, and despite knowing that the funding had mostly been secured for my dream wedding, I registered little else than the bitter taste of regret. I didn’t tell Carl what I had done until after dinner. Perhaps it was in an attempt to break the silence that had driven a wedge between us. When I told him, he remained quiet for a few minutes before leaving the table and walking upstairs. He came down with the empty jewellery box and placed it in front of me, then he took his keys and his helmet and walked out the door. Moments later I heard the rev of the motorcycle engine. I listened to it fade away as it sped down the street.

Carl didn’t come home that night, and I didn’t even bother to call. I rationalised my actions as being far greater and selfless than his.
He reappeared in the early dawn, kissing me on my forehead. I lay my head in his lap, playing with the buttons on his leather jacket.
“I will get your jewellery back. I promise,” he swore. He looked stern, but I knew it was out of kindness and compassion.
“It’s fine. I’d rather get married to you. We only have two months left, so let’s not look back from here on.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” I whispered. He kissed me on my head again. Then he lied down next to me and we fell asleep.

We got married eight weeks later. It was drizzling as I made my way to a nearby church in a rented Rolls Royce. We had to circle several times around the village as we were told some of our guests were late. Robert, a very good friend of mine, was my companion and would lead me down the isle in lieu of fatherly support. He kept telling me how beautiful I looked and that I shouldn’t be nervous, but most of his wisdom was lost on me as I sat watching drops of rain trace winding trails down the passenger-side window. I breathed on the glass and drew a heart in the condensation. Someone must have seen it and decided it didn’t belong there, because it was gone when we came out.

I walked down the isle to Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major. Carl was standing to my right with his best man and male entourage. With every step I took, I felt a faint flutter in my heart, making little leaps in harmony with the peaks of the violin. I turned to reciting silly jokes in my head to counteract the tears I felt welling up behind my eyes. I looked at Carl, beaming with happiness, as I was about to become his wife. Carl returned my gaze, and overcome by emotion I saw a single tear run down his cheek. He didn’t bother to wipe it away. Instead, he took my hand and we walked to the chairs placed in front of the altar.

I can honestly say I don’t remember much of our wedding. The priest might as well have been reciting in Greek, because I can only recall repeating the marriage vows and his subsequent blessing of our rings. When the ceremony was over and I was about to walk out, Carl stopped me, whispering that we were supposed to walk out last. I’ve been pondering this ever since, as I am sure the wedding couple always walks out first, followed by the congregation. Or perhaps I’ve watched too many royal weddings. Nevertheless, whoever was erroneous, we came out to the decidedly un-regal sound of plastic trumpets and paper confetti.
The weather had cleared up as we received the wedding guests on the lawn in front of the chateau. I had been on a starvation diet for months and ate several pieces of marzipan-wrapped wedding cake to compensate for my voluntary hunger strike. After wedding pictures and a short recess, we proceeded with a lavish dinner where our friends and Carl’s family gave speeches. Lastly, as coffee was being served, Carl stood up, directing his attention to me.
“Dear family and friends. I am — or shall I say, we are — so happy to have you here with us on this truly special day. It’s three years since I met this wonderful and very special woman. She walked into my life — or rather, sat next to me in a café, both of us minding our studies, when at some point I looked up and noticed this beautiful girl with her red curly hair. I’ve always been biased when it comes to redheads, so I knew it was my lucky day when she looked right back at me.” There was a burst of laughter before he continued. “As you all know — some more intimately than others — we had a whirlwind romance, which came to a brief end, before I came to my senses and came back for her.”
He paused and took a sip from his Champagne. Noticeably nervous, he licked his lips.
“Justine, you are my one and only woman. My true love, and the one I shall spend the rest of my life with. I love you so incredibly much for the warm and sensitive person you are. I love your wicked humour and funny French accent. You make my heart leap, and I honestly thought it might stop all together when I saw you in your wedding dress today. A more beautiful sight cannot be found. Justine, this song is for you, for us.”
He stretched out his hand and I stood up and went to him as Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” started to play. He wrapped me in his arms, and we danced slowly and intimately, as if there were no one else in the room. I put my head on his chest, smelling his cologne and sweat, wishing the party would come to an end.Spring 2006

It was a warm, spring day towards the end of April. I remember it as one carrying a premonition of summer. I had been helping our gardener trim the bushes and plant roses. The magnolia tree was in full bloom, scattering white and pink petals across the newly cut grass.
I spent the afternoon sprawled on the lawn reading a book. The house was quiet, Carl having left earlier for a midday appointment. I must have dozed off in the sun because I woke up to a shadow blocking the warm rays that had moments earlier lulled me to sleep. Carl was standing over me with a bottle of Dom Pérignon and a picnic basket. He sat down, unfurling a blue and white tablecloth and unpacking a selection of mini pies, sausages and deep-fried shrimps, spring rolls and calamari.
“What’s the occasion?” I asked, squinting my eyes against the sun.
“Well, the occasion is this.” He took out a little black box and kneeled down on one knee.
“Justine, there is something I have wanted to ask you for a long time now. You are my love, my life. My everything. I once made the terrible mistake of letting you go — under atrocious circumstances I know…but I soon realised how much I truly love you. I love you so much, Justine. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. So…” He faltered momentarily before regaining his composure. “Will you marry me?” He opened the box and looked at me, smiling nervously as if hoping for the best but fearing the worst.
I can’t recall exactly what went through my mind during those few seconds. I remember I looked at the ring, a solitaire diamond with an inlay of brilliants around a band of white gold, and wanted to try it on. So I said yes. Not because of the ring, not because of anything really, apart from buying into the dream of married life until death do us part. We toasted, and kissed, and talked about our budding future. I looked at my calendar and we decided on August 19 as the date. As our finances were still under strain, it had to be a small and intimate wedding for our closest friends. I appointed myself to be in charge of the project and set out with great excitement to orchestrate the nuptials.

Just as any bride, I soon became engrossed in the whole affair, finding very little else mattered. Carl continued to work long hours, and I suppose he was happy to let me run the show. Occasionally I would come to him for a budget approval as costs were rising well above what we had originally agreed upon. The wedding dress was from a small atelier in le Marais, but expensive nevertheless as I sought to recreate the classic, demure style of Grace Kelly. Our wedding invitations grew too until we had well above a hundred guests. We had decided on having our wedding and reception at Château d’Esclimont outside of Paris, and with a lavish reception, dinner and party, our budget had nearly tripled, and the nuptials were threatening to financially cripple us.
I called Carl to report my findings as I was sitting at the computer shifting around numbers in spreadsheet cells in a bid to minimise the damage. Carl flew into a rage, which was both rare and unexpected, when he received the news.
“It’s not really as if it’s that bad. Eric and Marlene’s wedding was well above a hundred thousand euros,” I retorted.
“You gotta be kidding. And go figure, they both have parents…parents who can pay. Remember, my family isn’t exactly as wealthy as yours, and with you choosing to…to fritter away your inheritance on furnishings, we don’t exactly have a buffer. Jesus, Justine. What were you thinking?”
I didn’t answer. I didn’t have an answer. He was so right. Instead of living frugally I had spent all our savings, all for living the Parisian bourgeoisie dream.
“I don’t care what you do, but you have to stop this now. Cancel it all; we can get married in the town hall. There is no need for all this fairy tale bullshit.”
His words angered me, so I hung up on him. He didn’t call back and neither did I. Instead I went to my mother’s jewellery box, which I shoved into a sports bag before leaving the house for the nearest antique jewellery store.

It was a small shop on a backstreet not far from where we lived. The window was dressed in gold pendants, rings and earrings. I also noticed several silver and gold-plated menorahs, which together with the name Isaac Leibowitz denoted a Jewish ancestry. I stepped inside. A bell jingled as I closed the door. An old man, well into his seventies, came out from a pantry concealed with an Afghan rug.
“Bonjour!” I greeted him.
“Bonjour,” the man replied, his voice rough and metallic. I suspected he might have suffered from throat cancer.
“What can I do for you?”
“I would like to sell some of my jewellery.”
“Fine, you know you are required to ID yourself.”
“Yes, sure. That won’t be a problem. Let me see here…” I picked up the jewellery box inlayed with mother of pearl and placed it in front of the man.
“I have several necklaces, rings and brooches,” I said as I laid them one by one on the glass counter. The man picked up a magnifying glass and started to examine a gold watch before replacing it for a diamond and sapphire ring. I tried to analyse his face for any evidence of interest or enthusiasm. But he remained stern, showing little emotion at all. After five minutes of silence, he stopped.
“I think I have seen enough. Do you want to sell individual pieces or everything?”
“Everything,” I replied succinctly.
“Very well then. I am actually only interested in the diamond and emerald collar, which I can offer five thousand euros for.”
“Five thousand!” I exclaimed. “It must be worth at least three times as much. This is well below what I expected.”
“Well, this isn’t a seller’s market. You are more than welcome to go elsewhere, but I can assure you, you won’t get a better price.”
“And what about the rest?” I queried. “How much will you offer for that?” He did some calculations based on the weight he had noted down.
“Well, I can only sell a few as pieces. The rest will have to be melted down. Twelve thousand euros.” I stood there, stunned by his offer.
“I’m sorry, this is well below what I was hoping for.”
“And how much was that?”
“Well, about fifty thousand,” I snipped haughtily.
He sneered, as if this were the reaction I would get at any place I went. I started to sweat profusely and noticed my cheeks rouging as I sought to handle the situation with dignity.
“Thirty thousand?” I tried.
“Twenty,” the man countered.
“Twenty-five?”
“You are one persistent lady.” He released a sigh. ”I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you twenty-two, and that’s it. Take it or leave it.”
“Fine,” I conceded. I handed over all the jewellery that was in the box, which he placed on a silver tray and stashed on the other side of the counter. As he took my passport and personal details, I watched the heap of precious stones and metal glimmer under a spotlight. It was the last time I would ever see them, and I made an effort to imprint the vision in my memory before it was lost to posterity.

I emerged outside, and despite the sun shining, and despite knowing that the funding had mostly been secured for my dream wedding, I registered little else than the bitter taste of regret. I didn’t tell Carl what I had done until after dinner. Perhaps it was in an attempt to break the silence that had driven a wedge between us. When I told him, he remained quiet for a few minutes before leaving the table and walking upstairs. He came down with the empty jewellery box and placed it in front of me, then he took his keys and his helmet and walked out the door. Moments later I heard the rev of the motorcycle engine. I listened to it fade away as it sped down the street.

Carl didn’t come home that night, and I didn’t even bother to call. I rationalised my actions as being far greater and selfless than his.
He reappeared in the early dawn, kissing me on my forehead. I lay my head in his lap, playing with the buttons on his leather jacket.
“I will get your jewellery back. I promise,” he swore. He looked stern, but I knew it was out of kindness and compassion.
“It’s fine. I’d rather get married to you. We only have two months left, so let’s not look back from here on.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” I whispered. He kissed me on my head again. Then he lied down next to me and we fell asleep.

We got married eight weeks later. It was drizzling as I made my way to a nearby church in a rented Rolls Royce. We had to circle several times around the village as we were told some of our guests were late. Robert, a very good friend of mine, was my companion and would lead me down the isle in lieu of fatherly support. He kept telling me how beautiful I looked and that I shouldn’t be nervous, but most of his wisdom was lost on me as I sat watching drops of rain trace winding trails down the passenger-side window. I breathed on the glass and drew a heart in the condensation. Someone must have seen it and decided it didn’t belong there, because it was gone when we came out.

I walked down the isle to Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major. Carl was standing to my right with his best man and male entourage. With every step I took, I felt a faint flutter in my heart, making little leaps in harmony with the peaks of the violin. I turned to reciting silly jokes in my head to counteract the tears I felt welling up behind my eyes. I looked at Carl, beaming with happiness, as I was about to become his wife. Carl returned my gaze, and overcome by emotion I saw a single tear run down his cheek. He didn’t bother to wipe it away. Instead, he took my hand and we walked to the chairs placed in front of the altar.

I can honestly say I don’t remember much of our wedding. The priest might as well have been reciting in Greek, because I can only recall repeating the marriage vows and his subsequent blessing of our rings. When the ceremony was over and I was about to walk out, Carl stopped me, whispering that we were supposed to walk out last. I’ve been pondering this ever since, as I am sure the wedding couple always walks out first, followed by the congregation. Or perhaps I’ve watched too many royal weddings. Nevertheless, whoever was erroneous, we came out to the decidedly un-regal sound of plastic trumpets and paper confetti.
The weather had cleared up as we received the wedding guests on the lawn in front of the chateau. I had been on a starvation diet for months and ate several pieces of marzipan-wrapped wedding cake to compensate for my voluntary hunger strike. After wedding pictures and a short recess, we proceeded with a lavish dinner where our friends and Carl’s family gave speeches. Lastly, as coffee was being served, Carl stood up, directing his attention to me.
“Dear family and friends. I am — or shall I say, we are — so happy to have you here with us on this truly special day. It’s three years since I met this wonderful and very special woman. She walked into my life — or rather, sat next to me in a café, both of us minding our studies, when at some point I looked up and noticed this beautiful girl with her red curly hair. I’ve always been biased when it comes to redheads, so I knew it was my lucky day when she looked right back at me.” There was a burst of laughter before he continued. “As you all know — some more intimately than others — we had a whirlwind romance, which came to a brief end, before I came to my senses and came back for her.”
He paused and took a sip from his Champagne. Noticeably nervous, he licked his lips.
“Justine, you are my one and only woman. My true love, and the one I shall spend the rest of my life with. I love you so incredibly much for the warm and sensitive person you are. I love your wicked humour and funny French accent. You make my heart leap, and I honestly thought it might stop all together when I saw you in your wedding dress today. A more beautiful sight cannot be found. Justine, this song is for you, for us.”
He stretched out his hand and I stood up and went to him as Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” started to play. He wrapped me in his arms, and we danced slowly and intimately, as if there were no one else in the room. I put my head on his chest, smelling his cologne and sweat, wishing the party would come to an end.