Ariana

© 2010 by Sue Campbell   (Inspired by this photo by Bob Towery.)

Nobody noticed when Ariana slipped out of the party that evening. That’s what they had all reported, but someone had seen her go. Someone had to have seen her.

She was hard to miss, so her disappearance was doubly mysterious. It had been a dreary, foggy, and unseasonably cool afternoon. The day of the wedding arrived and everyone involved had fretted over the weather—amending their plans to include wraps, coats or even raingear should that calamity befall them. Everyone except Ariana.

In usual Ariana style, she made a dramatic entrance, making her anonymous exit that much more unbelievable. Late, and inappropriately clad, either for the weather or the occasion, as always all eyes were on her, when they should have been on the bride.

In the midst of his homily, for which the clouds thankfully withheld their burden, the Reverend Johanssen’s words stalled on his tongue. He stared silently through the nuptial couple down the white cloth aisle to where Ariana seemed to have sprouted and bloomed like a gauzy lily. Following his gaze, the crowd gasped audibly when they caught sight of her.

Then of course the bride and groom turned to look. Rachel’s gray eyes clouded over like the leaden sky, and her wedding day radiance vanished as she recognized her fraternal twin sister. Her uninvited sister.

She stood as if rooted to the spot, in what looked to be a length of white, transparent chiffon under which, and plainly visible, she wore skimpy white underwear and thin strappy sandals. Her skin was unnaturally ashen, no doubt due to her recent and long confinement, and it made the brilliant fuchsia coloring of her hair stand out all the more. Her expression was unreadable — somewhat ethereal — maybe just dazed.

Speculative murmurs rippled through the gathering, How could she have come after all she’d already done? How gauche to wear white to your sister’s wedding! Why, she’s barely dressed at all! She’ll freeze in that get up. What happened to her hair? I thought she was … you know … locked up.

Meanwhile, Ariana scanned the crowd for an empty seat, and a gust of wind lifted her transparent dress revealing that her pale skin was not even affected by the cold. Her eyes pinned, not on Rachel’s stiffening form, but on Andrew’s broad shoulders and tanned, handsome face. He stared back, expressionless. The Reverend cleared his throat and continued, while Ariana slid sideways past the penetrating gazes of male guests, and the disgusted sneers of their wives, to an empty seat in the middle of the second to last row. It was at this inopportune moment the Reverend was obliged to utter the question, “Does any person have cause to object to the marriage of these two …?”

On cue, Ariana stood and opened her mouth to speak, but the sturdy matrons sitting to either side of her each grabbed an arm, pulled her back into her seat, and shushed her. Ariana complied but giggled softly. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief and managed to ignore her during the remainder of the wedding ritual and Ariana, to her credit, stayed quiet. Until the reception.

The wedding supper was disrupted briefly while the errant twin was accommodated at a table near the bridal party, where the bride herself turned away and refused to look in the direction of the uninvited guest. This didn’t stop Ariana from staring intently at Andrew, who tried unsuccessfully to pretend his new sister in law wasn’t there. Ariana ate nothing of the feast, but finished glass after glass of champagne, and was noticeably unsteady when she brazenly approached the newlyweds to cut in on their dance. She had at least waited until the floor had filled with other couples, but when Rachel flounced off in a huff, Ariana and Andrew had the floor and the audience that she had desired.

Rachel retreated, accompanied by her ladies in attendance to the bride’s chamber, but she was by no means retreating from the fray. Instead she steamed, and had the good sense not to show it in public. She preferred not to acknowledge her sister’s existence.

In the din no one could hear what passed between the dancers, but the watchers speculated amongst themselves. Had she come to take him back? What was Andrew thinking? What was Rachel doing? Were the rumors true? It was tragic about Rachel’s and Ariana’s parents. How else can you explain her confinement? Why did she come back, and why now?

When the song ended, Andrew still holding her hand, escorted Ariana from the floor and firmly back to her table. She promptly poured herself another glass and sat dourly as the groom exited the room in search of his bride.

It was a large party, and having been forced inside by the inclement weather had spread out into all the available entertaining space. The celebrated couple made the rounds through each room greeting their guests and some of the well wishers tended to follow along, so that the mix of people in each room stayed in flux. By the time they had made the entire circuit of the downstairs Ariana had slipped out, seemingly unnoticed.

The party was winding down and Rachel had gone to change into her trousseau to depart for the wedding trip. It was about then that Ariana’s absence had been noticed, or at least that’s what folks recalled. Andrew also had excused himself from his guests. But the party was far from over, and would likely continue even after the couple left. Their friends drank and chatted while they waited patiently to see the newlyweds off on their honeymoon.

A few minutes later the bride and groom, ducked and weaved under a shower of rice to the waiting limo, and in the drizzling overcast, friends and family shouted in celebratory glee as the big black car crunched down the gravel drive, over the stone bridge and away from the troubled memories of the past, hurrying into an unknown future.

The same could not be said for Ariana, whose body washed up downriver from the old stone bridge a day later. Her shock of fuchsia hair had been the first thing the old fisherman had noticed, and then the semi-transparent cloud of white chiffon, puffed up with trapped air on the surface of the cold, clear stream.

“She looked like a flower. A lily on the water, but there shouldn’t be any lilies this time of year,” he said.