And You Call Yourself a Diva?!

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Eli was standing in the bride’s gazebo, checking herself out in front of the huge mirror brought there earlier by the staff. They closed the gazebo using white impenetrable sheets, enabling the bride the privacy she needed before the ceremony. It was late afternoon on a late August day and the air stood still. It must have been at least thirty-two degrees outside. Her pearl-white satin dress stuck to her breasts and her stomach. She grabbed two small pieces of the shiny fabric enveloping her waist, shaking it gently and hoping that it would cool down her sticky skin, but the dress was just too tight.

“God damn those lace sleeves!” She tried remembering whose bright idea it was adding those short lace sleeves to her dress, knowing it’s going to be an August wedding. Was it her idea? Her mother’s?

She had barely eaten that day. There was no time. From the minute she woke up at seven in the morning, people were fussing over her, suffocating her with flashes of cameras, high-pitched screams — her girlfriends’ and Rick’s sisters; makeup artists tyrannizing her, forbidding her from eating or drinking, or moving or even breathing, all so she won’t mess up her perfect makeup; hairdressers working almost three hours on her hair, turning her brown curls into something that resembles a flower, spraying ten different hair sprays, which are most likely deadly to the environment — idiots — and worst of all, the mothers. Not one but two! Rick’s mother and her mother. Just for that day, the two of them pretended to like like one another, complimenting each other on the hair-do and the outfit. Eli preferred seeing them go at it, as it usually was.

But now she was finally alone, thank god! It was almost 4 p.m. and she had waited for this moment all day long. A few minutes alone away from the insanity waiting for her outside. She felt dizzy and hurried sitting down on the folding chair. Her purse was on the gazebo’s wooden floor and she reached for it, spilling its entire contents anxiously and picking up the small granola bar she would usually carry for emergencies and ooooh boooyy, was this an emergency! She swallowed the miserable granola bar in two famished bites. God, food! How amazing it felt having something in the stomach! She noticed a single mint candy among the scattered contents of her purse. She had forgotten about that mint. This meant only one thing…She stood up, placing her long leg on the chair and reached for the hip-flask attached to that wretched white and blue wedding garter. She hated these things. At least now it came in handy in her time of despair. Eli took big sips of the Vodka, willing to forgive the burning sensation in her throat, knowing that in a few minutes everything would look nicer, brighter and prettier. She held tight to the bottle and stood in front of the mirror again. The confused blushing bride staring back at her from the other side of the mirror seemed like a complete stranger, with the excessive makeup and that expensive dress. What did they do to her? They turned her into one of those brides she hated so much. In fact, this whole thing, this entire day was plain torture. This was exactly why she hated these stupid ceremonies so much. This commercialized day which usually drives people insane, making them spend too much money and time, and not too mention the stress it causes. And for what?

Eli held her dress up, protecting it from the dusty floor as she bent down, picking up the scattered contents of her purse with her free hand and putting them back where they belong. She started chewing the mint candy, hoping it would do its magic on her Vodka breath while holding the two sheets forming the improvised entrance of the gazebo and peeking outside. Hundreds of people were walking in the garden, enjoying the appetizers placed on the white wooden wagons, sipping champagne and choosing a place to sit under the shaded tent facing the ceremony’s platform.

“Oh, my darling, you reek of Vodka.”

Eli released her grip on the sheets and turned around. Catherina D’angelo was standing there, holding her usual jade cigarette holder and blowing a scentless white smoke out of her mouth.

“And here I thought you’ll never show up,” Eli said, trying really hard not to show her excitement. She hadn’t seen Catherina for nearly nine months and didn’t want to seem desperate for her attention.

“What did you think, dear? That I will not be there for your wedding?”

“Ah, well, I don’t know. I haven’t heard from you for so long, I assumed that you’re too busy; that you might never come back.”

“Never coming back? Why on earth would you think that? Besides, I’m never too busy for the most important day of my Eli’s life.” Catherina opened her purse and took out her red lipstick. She stood in front of the mirror, renewing it.

“Great, why not make me more nervous than I already am?” Eli forced an artificial laughter, which sounded more like the sound a wounded animal would make. “By the way, you look beautiful, Catherina, you always do,” Eli added, trying to change the subject. She wondered if Catherina could recognize the jealousy springing out of her eyes. The beautiful Catherina with her red and white polka dress; with her perfect waistline; with her long slim neck and her black shiny hair, held together in the typical 40s victory rolls hairdo.

Catherina walked back and forth in the gazebo in her slow elegant movements, making it seem as though she was born on her pointy red high heels. Eli could never walk like that. She was so awkward in high heels.

“You’re the one to talk, my child. You look like a dream,” she touched Eli’s hair, although Eli couldn’t feel a thing. “Don’t worry, it’s not like I can do anything to destroy it, right?”

Eli laughed bitterly. “Oh, Catherina, what the hell am I doing here?”

“I would say that you’re getting married, dear.”

Eli could never tell when Catherina was serious and when she’s being cynical. Her voice always sounded the same — soft and nonchalant.

“Come on, I am serious.”

“So am I”, Catherina said, pointing at Eli’s cleavage.

“What?” Eli looked down, expecting to see some stubborn stain, but there was nothing there, just her boobs, hidden under a slightly loose piece of white fabric.

“They seem smaller to me. Have you lost weight?” Catherina examined Eli closely, making some suspicious “hmm” sounds.

“Smaller? Oh, god, my boobs shrank! My boobs shrank! No! That explains why the dress isn’t sitting on me as good as it did three weeks ago, at the fitting.” Eli sighed and touched her breasts while shaking her head from side to side. “And I haven’t even noticed!”

“Now now, it’s not the end of the world.” Catherina reached for her hairdo, taking out a small pin hidden somewhere inside, and used it to tighten the loose fabric.

If only she could fill out a dress the way Catherina could. Unlike her, Catherina’s cleavage was on the verge of exploding. Her dress sat perfectly on her body and emphasized her full round feminine figure. Eli felt like a skinny dull girl compared to her. “But it is the end of the world! You haven’t been here for so long and I didn’t know what to do.” Eli sighed, stumbling all the way back to the chair, and sat down. So yeah, she was a bit tipsy, so what?

“What are you talking about, kiddo? I was here a few weeks ago.”

“No, you weren’t. You left nine months ago. You said that you had a concert in Paris. That you would be back soon. I needed you and you left me. Now look at me!” Eli inhaled what little warm air was left in this unbearably hot late summer afternoon, savoring the subtle hints of jasmine that sudden breeze had brought in. She tried swallowing that big lump stuck deep in her throat. She couldn’t afford to cry — it would destroy her makeup and might result in a very vindictive makeup artist.

“Oh, I guess I lost track of time, Eli. I do apologize. You know time works differently where I come from, don’t you? Hey, cheer up. I’m here now.”

“Too little too late.”

“You know what I say — it’s never too late.”

“Yes, it is. Look at them. They are all sitting out there, waiting for me, but I don’t want to go outside. I want to stay here. Forever.”

“Sounds like a reasonable plan to me. Hiding inside this gazebo for all eternity, why not?”

“I might be able to pull it off,” Eli mumbled, not really sure who she’s trying to convince.

“So why did you agree to marry Rick in the first place?” Catherina took a small breath-freshener bottle out of her purse. “Open your mouth dear.”

“You’re so bossy, gosh!” Eli opened her mouth obediently, letting Catherina spray it. She couldn’t taste or smell it, of course, but she played along, not wanting to hurt Catherina’s feelings.

“Because he put me in the corner. He gave me an ultimatum. Either you marry me or we each go our separate ways. These were his exact words. Then he apologized and explained that he’s only pressuring me because of his parents. Some romantic proposal, eh? He proposed two weeks after you left.”

“Oh, Eli. I didn’t know! I’m so sorry. What a bastard!”

“I didn’t want to lose him. He had been working really hard to convince me that he’s the love of my life.” Eli felt surprisingly relieved. It was the first time in a long time she had the courage to say what was really on her mind. Too bad she couldn’t find the courage of doing so in front of people who were actually there there and alive…

“Oh nonsense,” Catherina said in her nonchalant voice, as if they were talking about the weather rather than about such a big deal like a freaking wedding. “You don’t want to end up with seven husbands like me by being with the wrong guy, do you?” she laughed. She had the laughter of a heavy smoker. “Trust me, Rick isn’t the love of your life. The love of your life would never have put you in this position. I say get rid of him!”

“Seven husbands? Wow, you never told me that. That’s crazy!”

“Yes, it was. But back then it was different. The 40s and the 50s had their own rules and when you’re an international acclaimed singer you are expected to live a scandalous life. You don’t think about what’s wrong or what’s right.”

“So you think I should call it all off?” Eli managed to smile for the first time that day. A real smile and not one of those fake ‘smile-to the-camera’ smiles, that is.

“Yes, I do, my dear. You are still young. The world is out there, waiting for you. What about your travel dreams, eh? Forget about that spineless boy of yours. He doesn’t deserve you.”

“But what if I regret it later? This whole thing is too complicated.”

“Life is simple, my darling. Only people are complicated,” Catherina said, grinning. “One of the advantages of being dead for forty years is that it puts everything in perspective,” she added, winking at Eli. “Besides, you usually regret the things you hadn’t done, rather than those you had.”

“So now what?” Eli asked, her soft brown eyes looking for answers where only questions lay.

“Now? Now it’s time to embrace the diva within.” Catherina guided Eli to the mirror. They stood next to each other, only Eli’s reflection looking back at them.

“I’m no diva.” Eli giggled awkwardly. She was one of those beautiful women who were oblivious to the extent of their beauty; she could never just take people’s word for it; she had to see it with her own eyes, trying eagerly to recognize the beautiful woman they tell her she is. Instead, she would usually see a shy, insecure, and clumsy skinny girl. With trembling hands, Eli started taking the pins out of her hair, one by one, letting the brown curls fall down on her shoulders.

“Oh, yes you are, my dear, yes you are.” Catherina brought her cigarette holder closer to he lips, inhaling its delicate smoke, and blew it out of her nostrils. “Trust me, after five years of haunting your apartment, I think I know what you’re capable of.”

“It’s the first time I’ve heard you admitting that it’s my apartment! Who would have thought?”

“Have I? God, I’ve gotten soft.”

“And you call yourself a diva?! Divas are supposed to be cold-hearted bitches!” Eli took a napkin out of her purse and left a short message for Rick, using her lipstick. Not very original, but then again, Rick was so mainstream, she just had to “punish” him with one of those Hollywood-made clichés.

“Don’t tell anybody about this, understood? I still have a reputation to maintain…” Catherina said. She leaned forward and kissed Eli on the cheek. “I’ll be in Paris if you feel like visiting me there. There are wonderful theaters I can haunt there.” She laughed and vanished into the mirror.

Eli took off her high-heel shoes and sneaked out quietly through the back side of the gazebo, running barefoot in the direction of the main road. The awful wedding music was swallowed by the noise of the cars; of the life, waiting for her, out there.

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