I will tell you a story about a mother in-law told from two perspectives by the same mother in law. I will show you how we play to the tunes of our egos. Ready?
On days like these, only Robert could make me smile but even he I despise. How could he allow such a thing to happen? He promised me he would always take care of Serena. Is this what he meant?
I walk over to the old drawers and open the bottom one. Inside, two black notebooks and an album lie like rotten pieces of carcass. I grab the sky blue album and take weary steps toward the bed plummeting on it like a tired cow. I can hear whispers in the living room downstairs.
“Madeline is not doing too well. She had to lie down. There was no choice.”
I married a good man. He lies for me. I could care less about pleasantries.
“Tell me you’ll come down to see the Williams, even for five minutes darling?” he’d wined earlier in the morning. I wish I could love him how he ought to be loved. I told him I’d try but we both know what that meant. I needed to grieve. My Serena and her plastic boy had just driven away from home six days ago. She has only given her mother the courtesy of a call one time. I’m sure it has nothing to do with her. Only a man could make you not talk to your mother in spontaneity. She had always been clever. I wonder what happened.
I flip through the album, drowning in baby teeth and prom dates gone wrong. The good thing about pictures is the quality of preservation they bring to life. A lover never forgotten, a child immortalized, a friend lost too soon but not really, for they live forever within the confines of a frame. I envy frames. They hold so much yet mean so little in the long run.
I stop when I flip to the last picture and eight pairs of eyes glare back at me. Most of them are fair lads, Serena fairest of all. Her hand is intertwined with Mark’s. She is so taken by him she doesn’t even look at the camera. The side of her face lights up the picture but Mark’s gaze is fixed on the lens. You can tell he was running cunning calculations in his head. What sort of man does not at least pretend to melt into his lover’s gaze when such a gathering comes together? He could have pretended. He really could. His jaw is too sharp, I fear for Serena’s delicate face. He has decided to grow a ghastly looking mustache on top of the beard mess. Glasses the size of my fist swallow his ludicrous face. Only people with secrets wear glasses. Never trust a man with thick glasses. If you are anyone but someone who has birthed and breathed another human, you would look at them and admire the hypocrisy. I should have slapped Serena back to reality before this picture was taken… I wonder what gossip the town swims in.
The album makes me tired. The walls of my house echo with Serena’s laughter, now only a distant memory. She said she did not want to disturb me with queries about flowers and cakes. In two weeks’ time, all I would need to do was show up dressed in anything but white.
The stairs creak as I painstakingly move through the house like the shadow I have become. Robert had insisted we hang a picture of Serena and Mark on the stair wall. Later on that evening, the picture was broken and no longer on the wall. There must have been an earthquake or some catastrophic event of similar nature. Or maybe a stray cat sneaked into our house, jumped on the wall, dropped the picture and run away. I could not stand his mocking gaze eyeing my movements, peeking under my skirt –those shameless eyes-.
I simply couldn’t.
Robert forgave the cat. The picture was never hung in the house again.
At the bottom of the stairs, I pop my head to the left where the ghosts chat away in the living room. The blank hallway to the kitchen welcomes me and I dive inside the fridge. I bite away at empty calories of a croissant, and anything with extra calories.
I will get fat. I will expand. I will not fit in my carefully selected attire for the big day. It will be too late to buy another dress in time. Tractors and cranes will be hired to lift me out of this house. I will burn all my colored clothes to ashes. I will have to wear white. The mayor’s office will receive an anonymous tip about a wanted criminal hiding in one of the boutiques in town. Every clothing store on the 23rd of May will have to be closed. After all, it will be police business.
Serena could never possibly want her mother to walk her down the aisle naked or in white. It will be until September 16th when the Church will have an opening again. By then, I might have Ebola. Surely who can think of bachelorette parties and fine china when their mother is dying?
I close the fridge with the last remaining croissant in my hand. Serena’s toothless smile shines back at me on the fridge. I run my hand through the picture but the touch is cold as ice. I retreat to the sink. Every step feels like an empty drawer, every conversation like an Irish reel. I walk through the scrambled doghouse of misery, up the conspiring stairs and back into my empty cabinet of grief. The duvet swallows my frame, drowning and suffocating me.
I grab a card from the bedside table and stare at it for a while. Gold lace has been sewn into the ivory white card. There are black and gold jingle bells on the top right side of the card with my daughter’s name painted over it like a piece of fine art. Mark’s must be somewhere here too. I tear the frustrations out of me but even as I stare at the debris on the duvet, my heart remains heavy as ever. I grab the pieces of paper and hide them inside my pillow, turn it around and slump my head against it.
I spotted some kimchi in the refrigerator. Robert can have those for dinner if he pleases. He is so taken by Mark he might as well call him over this very minute. They can eat the kimchi together and listen to Irish reels all day long.
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THE MOTHER-IN-LAW 2
My baby did it again. You have to practice in such matters. It is not easy to love. I only have a few boxes left to carry to the attic. My heart is heavy at the thought that I will see Serena only once a week. A mother deserves more courtesy. I pick up a bare looking brown box and start my way up the attic. You could say our house, Richard and I, is throwing up with pictures of Serena. She is our only child, and dare I say, her choices so far in life up to an hour ago, when we last spoke, have been stellar. Like her hand is being led by God himself.
I pass some pictures hung on the wall in the hallway of me and Richard, twenty-seven years ago, mad and in-love as all lovers are. He was carrying me inside a trolley with red wheels, a funny looking thing that gave us memories of a lifetime, a funny looking thing that witnessed Serena’s conception. I stand still as seven pairs of eyes stare back at me on the wall. Sunflower smiles and laughter veins like lightning impregnated the faces of the photographed – good fellows the whole lot of them. Serena has her gaze shifted to Mark. As the fine gentleman Mark is, raised right by his mother, his dazzling dark eyes burn brightly at her sight. The smile on his face screams and sings of an electric charge shared only by those of intimate relations and this portion of a spell called love. There was never anyone so lucky as to fall into the arms of Mark – if I were to be young and childless, I would have scooped young Mark up myself. He is a fine man, upright in his stance, with commanding eyebrows and an authoritative jaw. His glasses do you in real good- they let you peek through a more gentle side of him. Happiness never parted its legs like that there before.
Richard did try his best in giving me a day I would remember, but let’s be honest, it’s Richard. He is a simple man with simple wants whereas I only want the best, especially for Serena. I approve of Marks’s knowledge. He knows better. In two weeks, I envision that Serena, as per her strict instructions to all, will be the only most beautiful white rose floating its way across a garden to its gardener. I see it, how these two hold hands now in the picture, Mark looking like a protective gentleman with a reassuring smile.
I grab the box I had put down and, as I walk to the attic, I hear voices of the Johnsons as they walk in. Of course, she has come for her fair share of gossip, as all ladies in this town do. And, I shall give it to them with pleasure. It is a matter of pride where we stand and I will go downstairs once I’m finished with these boxes and remind the Johnsons not to wear white. We can’t afford a mistake of such kind.
A few minutes in and I walk downstairs, past more pictures of my Serena and her Mark, to the kitchen. I reckon Richard forgot to offer some tea and even if he did, a second pouring of a hot one is always a welcome idea. I open the fridge, take out some milk and begin with the preparation. Now that I do not have Serena’s company, I will host more often. We talk with her almost every other day and I’m inclined to believe that Richard and I have done a fine job of being parents, and Serena has done her part in being a good daughter.
My eyes move to the picture of a six-year-old Serena with a gaping mouth and three missing front teeth stuck on the fridge. My heart warms at her small silly self. I pour the tea into the thermos and walk into the living room with four cups on a tray. As I suspected, Richard with his simple ways forgot something as simple as tea. Still, he means well. Mrs. Johnson smiles an anticipatory smile and I can’t wait to give her all the nook and cranny of the 27th- a perfect date predicted to be summer-like in spring.
The town’s gossip never bothers me. We have done well in life. I can’t help but smile as I hug Mrs. Johnson. At that moment, I feel so warm and yellow. I move to Richard and whisper in his ear, “Shall I invite Serena and Mark for dinner today?”
His magnetic eyes pull at my heartstring- twenty-seven years and my heart still beats like a wild thing for him. “Why not. I have a word or two for Mark after all, but I suppose I always will for Serena’s sake.” Richard’s low and modulated voice is a song to everyone’s ears.
“So I suppose Serena is off the market for good? I’ve heard some praise ring about the town of Mark and his farm of horses. Serena is well taken care of, then?” the curiosity in her voice cannot be hidden, even if Mrs. Johnson with her misplaced manners tried.
“You suppose all that, and much more, correctly.”
I gather her up, and we move to the backyard with our cups in hand, leaving Richard and Mr. Johnson drinking tea but wanting beer instead.
“I shall tell you all about it,” I whisper to her and we both giggle as we turn left and disappear.
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