Prologue: Wedding Bells
Wedged into the trunk of a dirty Volvo, Rachel felt her consciousness fading. Soon the loss of blood combined with the motion sickness would lull her into a deep, dreamless sleep. Her body felt hot and ached with infection. That's not how she'd imagined her wedding day.
A painful image of her now husband, Mike, flashed painfully through her mind. Rachel was almost certain that she would never see him again. The crumpled satin and lace of her dress stuck to her feverish skin. A streak of hair had come lose and attached itself to her cheek which was crusty with dried blood, sweat and tears. Her legs itched underneath the expensive polyester tights she'd bought thanks to a saleswoman with a purple blouse.
Her hands were tied behind her back, her arms, were swollen and numb. A dull pain pulsed in her right calf. Her ankles had been stuck together with half a roll of duct tape. Fighting to stay present, Rachel's delirious thoughts jumped to her childhood, when she'd been a flower girl at her aunt May's wedding.
Walking down the aisle, scattering petals at the age of 7, Rachel had decided to grow up fast so that she could be wearing the big dress, cut the cake and dance in the arms of her perfect partner all night. She could still smell the pink roses. Sipping orange Fanta at the wedding party later that evening, Rachel had set the standard for the happiest day of her life.
The image of herself as a bride, had nested in her brain over the years and become part of her identity. Rachel had started to believe that she'd be nothing unless she got married. The more teenage boyfriends had taken advantage of her desperation, the less the 'perfect partner thing' had seemed to matter. In the end, that part of her dream had been savagely torn from Rachel's vision in her early twenties.
Panic-stricken with the thought that nobody might ever want to marry her, Rachel had allowed Mike to take advantage of her at the end of a foam party in London. They'd both been soaked, drunk and lonely - perfect victims of happen-stance. Not particularly good looking, with large ears and an even larger nose, an average body and a modest penis, Mike had been thrilled to attract Rachel's attention. Stroking her long chestnut brown hair, her slender waist and firm breasts, Mike had allowed himself to become obsessed with her girlish beauty which had made him overlook her insecurity, co-dependence and other character flaws, leading to the big day at the altar of St. Martin's Church.
The nauseating rocking of the car reminded Rachel of being rocked in a cradle. No, that was impossible. Her earliest memory was at the age of 3...or was it 4? Rachel could feel her heart beat in her forehead. The fine line between memory and imagination was beginning to blur. A bad sign.
She thought about how happy she'd felt standing next to Mike on top her wedding cake...no that was ridiculous. Suddenly Rachel could remember distinctly walking through butter cream with her expensive satin shoes getting stained and sinking into Victoria Sponge. Strawberry jam was staining her dress and Rachel saw herself flailing her arms to retain balance whilst shouting 'My dress! My dress!' at Mike who was staring in horror but not helping at all.
Her hallucinations began to shorten. Soon only vague images and impressions flashed through her mind as the Volvo turned corner after corner as though it was driving through a maze. Church bells were ringing in Rachel's ears. This was her wedding day. This was her funeral.
A glass of champagne fizzed through her mind. A crowd of happy faces. A sputter of blood on a white table cloth. A pair of glassy eyes. The touch of Mike's hand. Darkness.