Five-minute memoir: Helen Mort remembers being a fake bride

 

Iwas 16 when we sneaked into the bridal shop. I was wearing denim flares twice as big as my legs and a T-shirt with Kurt Cobain's face on it. I kept my hair in a bob so short the lads at school called me 'Harold'. As we approached the glass front door, passing under a sign that said 'Virgin Brides' in red and gold, my friend nodded at it and sniggered, "Ask them if you get a discount".

Upstairs, we put on accents softer than our own: we were the son and daughter of a well-known composer, in Manchester for the day, planning my wedding – could they possibly squeeze me in for a last-minute dress fitting?

The receptionist was manicured, with red corkscrew curls. In the window behind her head, I noticed a spot flaring on my chin. I became aware of how damp my chest was, remembered I hadn't washed this T-shirt in days. I didn't smell like a bride-to-be. Perhaps it was just as well I wasn't.

As I scrawled a fake name on the register (someone from school I didn't like) and followed the receptionist into a larger room, stuffed with cream and off-white satin, I tried to remember whose idea this had been. The four of us were on a day trip out from Chesterfield; me, my boyfriend and two friends. We'd been to Pizza Hut and cheated the all-you-can-eat buffet. We'd seen the underside of every railway bridge in town. The novelty of chasing Piccadilly's oily pigeons had worn off after the second hour. We were looking for something we could get away with.

In the white, jewelled room, a second woman took me by the arm and steered me down an aisle of huge gowns, pointing out features of each. I remember thinking there was something about the bodices that made them look like suits of armour. I wondered how people managed to walk in them. Some were dazzling, the colour of hardening snow. Others were almost pink, as if they were embarrassed by themselves. As she ushered me into the dressing room, the dress assistant asked questions about "the big day". I lied effortlessly: I told her I was a freelance athletics journalist and my partner was a lawyer. I invented a spring ceremony in a Derbyshire country house I'd been to once. I muffled my accent. I kept saying "of course".

She went to fetch the first dress, a simple, tapered kind of thing, and I stripped in front of the mirror and stood in my uncoordinated underwear, looking critically at myself: the strange shelf of my shoulders, the bra I hardly needed, my kneecaps swollen from too much running. I usually avoided mirrors at home. I was still cutting the crusts off bread, the rind off meat, still leaving potatoes untouched. Perhaps it was something about the size of all the dresses on the rails, but today, I saw myself the shape I really was. I felt dwarfed by the changing room. My heart was knocking against my ribs, and I was suddenly obsessed by the idea that the assistant had gone to tell the police we were liars.

When she came back at last, she was kind and she didn't seem to mind about my pale, strange body. She helped me into the dress, holding the net skirts gently, fastening each hook and eye. She didn't ask any more questions. She tightened the bodice behind the small of my back and made sure it sat right on my hips. She accidentally stroked my neck. Then she smiled at me, pulled back the dressing room curtain and led me out to where my friends were waiting, furtive in their chairs, trying not to giggle. I saw James putting his fist to his mouth and biting the knuckles. They all stayed very quiet as the assistant helped me up on to a kind of podium.

It was higher than it looked. I glanced down at my friends. I'd thought I'd get the giggles too, but I suddenly felt very serious. I had a lump in my throat and my eyes stung. I wondered if we should own up now. I was gripped with a strange, superstitious feeling. Very quietly, the assistant reached up and placed a small, ornate tiara on my head, perched it on top of my short hair. Everyone was silent for a long time. Then, the assistant said, "Doesn't she look beautiful?". "I feel like a meringue!" I said, so they wouldn't have to answer. In that awkward silence, I realised I wasn't a child any more. But I wasn't an adult either. I stood there, in between things, not exactly happy but briefly content to be the age I was, to stand in my own skin, however ridiculous.

I've been to weddings since, and when I see the bride in her slow procession down the aisle I always think about that afternoon, the sense I had of taking something that wasn't mine.

Helen Mort is five times winner and now judge of the Foyle Young Poet of the Year Award, organised by the Poetry Society and supported by the Foyle Foundation. To enter, visit foyleyoungpoets.org

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
    RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

    RuPaul interview

    The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
    Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

    Secrets of comedy couples

    What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
    Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

    Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

    While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
    The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

    The best swimwear for men

    From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
    Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

    Mark Hix goes summer foraging

     A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
    Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

    With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

    Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
    Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

    Aaron Ramsey interview

    Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
    Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

    Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

    As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
    The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

    Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

    Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms