My mother studied me through narrowed eyes, but didn't actually squint—she wouldn't want to crease her makeup or, God forbid, create wrinkles. She examined me like a doctor would, evaluating each part without regard to the whole. I wanted to cover myself, as if the yards of white silk weren't already doing the job, but I wasn't going to let her see me squirm. The walls closed in; the silence stretched out.
Just say something, I wanted to scream, though I don't know why I was in such a hurry. It was probably better if she didn't say anything at all.
I had never been good enough for my mother. I remembered the major events in my life by the put-downs that went with them. So-called constructive criticisms that had left me destroyed. But tonight had to be different. Tonight was the night of my dreams, my own personal fairy tale. I had the ball, the dress, the hair, the makeup and even the prince. I hoped against hope that my mother wouldn't take it upon herself to play the part of the wicked stepmother.
She opened her mouth. Please tell me I'm beautiful, I thought, and I leaned in to hear the verdict.
I couldn't believe my eyes. My daughter stood before me in her wedding dress and she was exquisite, full of life and love and hope. I wanted to hold her, to let her know how proud of her I was, but she didn't need me breaking down in front of her. And she certainly didn't need me wrinkling her dress. She needed me to look out for her, to make sure that everything was just right on the biggest day of her life. So I bit back my tears, swallowed around the lump in my throat and kept my distance while I looked her over. She needed to be picture perfect for the photographer waiting outside.
More than anything else I had wanted to be a good mother. My own mother had been more interested in raising her glass than in raising me, and my wedding had been more about liberation than love. I was determined things would be different for my daughter. From day one I had made sure I was actively involved in her life and took every opportunity to show her how to be the best she could be. And as I stood before her, moments before she was to walk down the aisle, I allowed myself to admit that I had done a good job.
I caught her eye and noted she looked nervous, which made me more determined than ever that nothing would ruin this day. It was the last day I would be the one who was responsible for her happiness. I took a good, long look and tried not to miss anything. She was lovely. Just one small thing.
"You have lipstick on your teeth," I said.
MICHELLE BARON is a former marketing executive and
has an MBA from The Wharton School. Her flash fiction is forthcoming in The Spillway Review. She currently lives in New Jersey with her husband, three children and a cat. She plans to add a dog to the already chaotic mix.