1 June 1991
Julia Roberts is getting married. It's true: Her dress will be an eight-thousand-dollar custom-made two-piece gown from the Tyler Trafficante West Hollywood salon, and at the reception following the ceremony, she'll be able to pull off the train and the long part of the skirt to dance. The bridesmaids' dresses will be sea-foam green, and their shoes (Manolo Blahnik, $425 a pair) will be dyed to match. The bridesmaids themselves will be Julia's agents (she has two), her makeup artist, and a friend who's also an actress, though no one has ever heard of her. The cake will be four-tiered, with violets and sea-foam ribbons of icing.
"What I want to know is where's our invitation?" Elizabeth says. "Did it get lost in the mail?" Elizabeth --- Hannah's aunt --- is standing by the bed folding laundry while Hannah sits on the floor, reading aloud from the magazine. "And who's her fiancé again?"
"Kiefer Sutherland," Hannah says. "They met on the set of Flatliners."
"Is he cute?"
"He's okay." Actually, he is cute --- he has blond stubble and, even better, one blue eye and one green eye --- but Hannah is reluctant to reveal her taste; maybe it's bad.
"Let's see him," Elizabeth says, and Hannah holds up the magazine. "Ehh," Elizabeth says. "He's adequate." This makes Hannah think of Darrach. Hannah arrived in Pittsburgh a week ago, while Darrach --- he is Elizabeth's husband, Hannah's uncle --- was on the road. The evening Darrach got home, after Hannah set the table for dinner and prepared the salad, Darrach said, "You must stay with us forever, Hannah." Also that night, Darrach yelled from the second-floor bathroom, "Elizabeth, this place is a bloody disaster. Hannah will think we're barn animals." He proceeded to get on his knees and start scrubbing. Yes, the tub was grimy, but Hannah couldn't believe it. She has never seen her own father wipe a counter, change a sheet, or take out trash. And here was Darrach on the floor after he'd just returned from seventeen hours of driving. But the thing about Darrach is --- he's ugly. He's really ugly. His teeth are brownish and angled in all directions, and he has wild eyebrows, long and wiry and as wayward as his teeth, and he has a tiny ponytail. He's tall and lanky and his accent is nice --- he's from Ireland --- but still. If Elizabeth considers Kiefer Sutherland only adequate, what does she think of her own husband?
"You know what let's do?" Elizabeth says. She is holding up two socks, both white but clearly different lengths. She shrugs, seemingly to herself, then rolls the socks into a ball and tosses them toward the folded pile. "Let's have a party for Julia. Wedding cake, cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off. We'll toast to her happiness. Sparkling cider for all."
Hannah watches Elizabeth.
"What?" Elizabeth says. "You don't like the idea? I know Julia herself won't show up."
"Oh," Hannah says. "Okay."
When Elizabeth laughs, she opens her mouth so wide that the fillings in her molars are visible. "Hannah," she says, "I'm not nuts. I realize a celebrity won't come to my house just because I invited her."
"I didn't think that," Hannah says. "I knew what you meant." But this is not entirely true; Hannah cannot completely read her aunt. Elizabeth has always been a presence in Hannah's life --- Hannah has a memory of herself at age six, riding in the backseat of Elizabeth's car as Elizabeth sang "You're So Vain" quite loudly and enthusiastically along with the radio --- but for the most part, Elizabeth has been a distant presence. Though Hannah's father and Elizabeth are each other's only siblings, their two families have not gotten together in years. Staying now in Elizabeth's house, Hannah realizes how little she knows of her aunt. The primary information she has always associated with Elizabeth was acquired so long ago she cannot even remember learning it: that once, soon after Elizabeth became a nurse, a patient left her a great deal of money and Elizabeth squandered it. She spent it on an enormous party, though there was no occasion, not even her birthday. And she's been struggling to make ends meet ever since. (Hannah has been surprised to find, however, that her aunt orders takeout, usually Chinese, on the nights Darrach is gone, which is at least half the time. They don't exactly act like they're struggling to make ends meet.) It didn't help, financially speaking, that Elizabeth married a truck driver: the Irish hippie, as Hannah's father calls him. When she was nine, Hannah asked her mother what hippie meant, and her mother said, "It's someone fond of the counterculture." When Hannah asked her sister --- Allison is three years older --- she said, "It means Darrach doesn't take showers," which Hannah has observed to be untrue.
"Would we have our party before or after the wedding?" Hannah asks. "She gets married on June fourteenth." Then, imagining it must appear on the invitations like this, all spelled out in swirly writing, she adds, "Nineteen hundred and ninety-one."
"Why not on the fourteenth? Darrach can be my date, if he's here, and Rory can be yours."
Hannah feels a stab of disappointment. Of course her date will be her eight-year-old retarded cousin. (That's the final piece in the puzzle of Elizabeth's financial downfall, according to Hannah's father: that Rory was born with Down's. The day of Rory's birth, her father said to her mother, as he stood in the kitchen after work flipping through mail, "They'll be supporting that child all the way to their graves.") But what did Hannah think Elizabeth was going to say? Your date will be the sixteen-year-old son of one of my coworkers. He is very handsome, and he'll like you immediately. Sure, Hannah expected that. She always thinks a boy for her to love will fall from the sky.
"I wish I could find my wedding dress for you to wear at our party," Elizabeth says. "I wouldn't be able to fit my big toe in it at this point, but you'd look real cute. Lord only knows what I did with it, though."
How can Elizabeth not know where her wedding dress is? That's not like losing a scarf. Back in Philadelphia, Hannah's mother's wedding dress is stored in the attic in a long padded box, like a coffin.
"I gotta put the other load in the dryer," Elizabeth says. "Coming?"
Hannah stands, still holding the magazine. "Kiefer bought her a tattoo," she says. "It's a red heart with the Chinese symbol that means 'strength of heart.' "
"In other words," Elizabeth says, "he said to