The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

LIBBY’S LIFE #53 – Preserved on tape

I stare at the dark computer screen, wondering if my overactive imagination is misleading me.

Only one way to find out. An imagination doesn’t mislead twice. Not in the face of hard facts from a digital camera.

I hit “Play” on the screen again, and scroll through our unedited wedding footage until the time elapsed says 1 hour, 25 minutes.

Act 1:

The evening party at our wedding. To the left of the stage where the band is playing a particularly sickly version of  Stevie Wonder’s “I just called to say I love you” (look, my dad booked the band, OK?) a large clock on the wall shows the time to be 9:40.

At 9:40pm on our wedding day, Oliver and I were on the other side of London, in the bar at the Heathrow Hilton, ready for our flight to Ibiza the next morning.

This is all the stuff that happened after we left our party. It’s fascinating and morbid at the same time. Like watching your own funeral.

No one appreciates the band’s rendition of Stevie Wonder, and the only person on the dance floor is a little girl in a pink frothy frock — the daughter of Mum’s cousin. Yasmin, her name is. She  twirls around in circles, round and round and round again, until she is dizzy and falls down, laughing up at the camera. The camera zooms out, and to the right of the dance floor reveals a cluster of small, circular tables, covered with empty glasses and plates of half-eaten vol-au-vents. We were supposed to have had wait staff all night at the reception, but apparently they disappeared as soon as the Adorable Couple had left the bash.

At one of the small tables, on her own and nursing a glass of what looks like water but is most likely vodka, sits Sandra. She hunches to one side, leaning against the wall, a morose expression on her face as she swigs from the glass. She’s not happy that her little boy has another woman in his life.

The camera swings down in a jerky movement and drops its gaze to the floor. A man’s foot in a  scuffed black shoe — the videographer’s. (I’m guessing he’s had quite a bit of party bubbly and is merely filming for his own amusement, since the day’s main attractions are now propping up a different bar in a Hilton forty miles away.) Then up again, focusing on the little girl in the pink dress, who is dancing a ballet routine to the band playing a different song — a slow one by Journey, I think. A few feet behind the little girl, my mother comes into view. The mother of the bride is resplendent in a fuchsia pink wedding suit that would have been more at home at a wedding in 1987. She’s heading towards Sandra.

At the little table, Mum sits down and pushes some vol-au-vents aside. She smiles brightly at Sandra; they are related now, bonded by marriage and the mutual loss of their only offspring. Mum, though, is not as heartbroken as her counterpart, because she has not really lost a daughter. Daughters are never lost; they are merely loaned to their husbands.

Sandra, however is inconsolable. Her loss is total, and she is utterly bereft. Emotion runs deep in her veins. So does the vodka.

She says something to Mum which is inaudible above the strains of the Steve Perry wannabe. She waves her glass around, and speaks some more. I know that if I could hear her, the words would be slurred.

A look of concern crosses my mother’s face.

I recognise this look. It’s the look I used to see when I came home from school, slamming my book bag on the kitchen table and muttering dire, cryptic threats against whoever had happened to piss me off that day. A quick, sideways glance, sizing up the gravity of the situation: “Is Libby really going to slash that teacher’s tyres? Do I intervene or keep saying ‘Yes, dear’?”

Mum starts to speak, and Sandra’s face crumples. Mum takes her hand and squeezes it.

I want to know more about this little scene, but the videographer is intent upon capturing Second Cousin Yasmin  and her ballet routine whose tempo is too fast for this last-smooch-at-the-disco song.

The camera zooms in on the little dancing feet in their pink sparkly Mary Jane shoes, and the unfolding drama between my mother and Sandra is lost.

Act 2

I nearly missed this part, so intent was I upon the visual aspect of the film. My mother and Sandra do not appear on the whole of the DVD again, even though there is still another forty minutes of footage to go. My goodness, but we got our money’s worth from that videographer.

A tantrum on the dance floor.

Second Cousin Yasmin has exhausted her repertoire of dance routines but, undeterred, has dragged a chair to the middle of the floor so she can show off her barre exercises.

Battements tendus — un, deux, trois. To the side — un, deux, trois.

Pleasing, perhaps, to the eyes of fond mothers at ballet school, when set to the strains of Saint-Saens and Faure, but not so pleasing to the occupants of the dance floor who are trying to boogie to the band’s version of “Love Shack.” They keep tripping over the chair and Yasmin’s outstretched limbs.

Yasmin’s father, my mother’s cousin Ted, strides onto the wooden floor. He picks up the chair in one hand, and grabs onto TwinkleToes herself with his other.

“Bang bang, on the door baby,” sings the female vocalist in little more than a whisper.

The lull in the song is Yasmin’s cue to yell, very loudly. She calls her father a name that six-year-olds are not supposed to know, let alone use in the formal setting of a wedding reception. Uncle Ted is not impressed, and tries to haul her away. It’s well past her bedtime, anyway.

Yasmin, though, doesn’t agree with this sentiment, and sits down on the floor very suddenly, knocking her father off balance. He drops the chair, trips over his daughter’s leg, and sprawls in a most ungainly manner on the floor.

The videographer, who has been professionally quiet behind the camera until this point, lets out a huge snort of amusement and backs away, towards the cluster of tables, get a better view. The band has stopped playing; I can see them conferring on stage, wondering whether to ignore the little scene, or to play a noisy song to drown it out.

In the hush, close behind the camera, a voice.

Sandra’s voice, perfectly recorded for posterity.

“I was his third. If it hadn’t been for that car accident, when Oliver and I met his other wives in the hospital, we might still all be one big happy family.”


Next post: LIBBY’S LIFE #54 – Opening the cocoon

Previous post: LIBBY’S LIFE #52 – Life: A series of hellos and goodbyes

Click here to read Libby’s Life from the first episode

STAY TUNED for Friday’s post — another Displaced Q from Tony James Slater.

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Image: Travel – Map of the World by Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigit

4 responses to “LIBBY’S LIFE #53 – Preserved on tape

  1. Marion June 1, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    Kate, you’re a sadist!!
    Marion in Panama

  2. Janice June 2, 2012 at 8:16 am

    Third! Well, isn’t that a kick in the head.

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