Among all my posting about fat acceptance and various social justice issues, I’m hard at work on my second book, “Lake Effect: Voices of Toronto’s History”, a book of short stories about historical Toronto. Here’s a sneak peek of one of the stories that will be published in that book. It’s set in 1951, a book about a woman who broke out of society’s role for her and followed her dreams. Enjoy!
1951, Toronto, Ontario
The careful smoothing of the white dress was something that Anna remembered the best about the day before her wedding. It was huge – full of ruffles and frills and waterfalls of lace. It wrinkled so easily – she only had to move the wrong way before there were tiny wrinkles in the skirt and train. It wasn’t something she could keep perfect, but she tried.
Maybe it was a pretty day in May. Maybe it was the type of day where things happened. Where she’d get married and live happily ever after in the apartment above the Wash-N’-Fold that David’s family owned. Oh, there’d never be any problem with money, he assured her. There’d always be money for whatever she needed. Whatever their kids needed. She’d never have to worry at all. He’d take care of her.
And Anna smiled tightly, sitting in his parents’ living room holding a cup of too-hot tea, because this is what she wanted. Right?
There was a time she thought she’d go to university, and not the stupid Domestic Sciences building. It doesn’t matter how pretty it was. Is, she corrected herself. It’s still beautiful. It’s perfect.
But it’s not what she wanted. Anna wanted to be a doctor. And she studied in high school, ignoring David’s incredulous expressions, ignoring his hand on her shoulder, trying to distract her. She got the highest marks in Biology and Chemistry. She got the second highest mark in Calculus. And she only had to get the principal’s approval on her university application form. She only had to get that signature and she could go and study with the rest of the medical students. She could be a surgeon.
Whether the principal was in a bad mood that day or simply hated the idea of women pursuing higher education, Anna could never tell. But she was gently and sweetly dissuaded from medical school by the simplest flick of an eyelid. She knew going in he was going to say no. And he did. He refused to sign her application.
So she put it away, with the rest of her high school papers with gold stars and high marks, and turned to David, who was there, always, waiting with open arms. And through the tears of disappointment, somehow he proposed, and somehow she said yes.
Anna got lost on her wedding day. It wasn’t really her intention. She just forgot to tell the limo driver the right way to the church, assuming he knew. They drove through the quiet streets at nine a.m. on the Saturday morning, watching the mothers and fathers come out with stiffly-dressed children, on their way to Grandma’s for brunch or some kind of family outing. And Anna smoothed her white wedding dress and pretended she was somewhere else.
They, of course, held the ceremony until she got there. And she got there. She was only ten minutes late.
She stood there in her wrinkled dress, all the eyes of the church glued on her back, and whispered the words that sealed her fate.
“If there is anyone who has an objection to this marriage, speak now, or forever hold your peace,” intoned the priest.
“I have an objection,” whispered Anna, and dropped her eyes to the satin of her shoes – those too-high heels she’d protested against and her mother had insisted on.
Maybe it could have been perfect. Maybe she would have learned to love being David’s wife. To watch their children run on the back lawn in Mary Janes and starched pastel dresses. To push a pretty pram under the cherry blossoms in High Park. Maybe it was perfection and she was stupid to deny it. Maybe it was the real thing, the learning experience she needed to learn to be happy.
But at eighteen years old, is your fate really decided for good? Do you have to follow the status quo just to fit in?
Maybe perfection is only perfect until it’s not. Maybe there’s more to this life thing after all.
Now, ten years later, Anna’s hands, unadorned with any wedding rings, centre over a patient’s heart.
“This surgery is uncomplicated,” she says. “You should have a fair chance of recovery.”
And when she smiles, there’s no tightness to her face at all.
If you want to read more of my work, you can buy my book, “Break for Beauty”, on ebook or in paperback!