There’s a knock at the door, and my heart drops into my stomach. I knew, with it being Christmas, that she’d have to come round at some point, feel obliged even, to grace us with her own unique brand of season’s greetings and goodwill to all men.
But what I wouldn’t give to avoid another visit.
I turn to look imploringly in my husband’s direction, wondering if perhaps I can convince him to turn off the lights and hide behind the settee. However, he’s already halfway across the room, throwing one last admonishing glare my way before his hand closes around the door knob and flings it open to let the devil in. My mother in law.
Now, I know it’s a cliché – hating your mother in law that is – but, you haven’t met mine.
The door swings open and five painted fingernails curl, one by one, around the corner of the frame. My grimace becomes an unconvincing smile as a wrinkled face comes into view, beady eyes affixed on my grinning husband.
“Pete”, she says lovingly, beaming at him adoringly. “Mum! It’s been too long!” he gushes, placing an arm around her waist to help her up the porch steps.
She huffs and struggles for a minute, then in a flash of evil inspiration, places one boot in my hydrangea patch nearby to give her purchase – hauling herself up and obliterating my flowers in her wake. I can’t have been imagining that vengeful twist and stomp before she stepped inside. I scowl. Her eyes take in the room and then land on me.
“Annie” she croaks, a faint smirk on her lips. Probably mightily pleased at the destruction she just caused. Her eyes linger on my belly. “Still no grandchildren?”
I plaster a smile on my face, and move in to hug her before it falters. She smells of cod liver oil and something else, something foul hidden under a heady layer of perfume.
Over the next few days, she insists on cooking every meal, using a strange combination of spices and a pocket recipe book she brought with her in her handbag. Pete would make a show of undoing his belt afterwards, stretching dramatically and exclaiming “Mum that was fantastic, I’m stuffed!”
I, on the other hand, had started to feel ill after every meal – each mouthful harder than the next. One night, I got in from work and sat at Pete’s usual place at the table, only to find her standing above me, glowering.
“No dear, you’re not sitting there tonight.”
Paranoia began to set in, and after I began to throw up on a regular basis, I ushered Pete into the living room one evening.
“She’s trying to poison me!” I hissed
“Annie, that’s absurd!” Pete reprimanded me, shocked at the suggestion.
“No? Then why am I sick after every one of those meals she’s been cooking for us?” I asked.
“Well I’ve been feeling fine!” He growled, and then in a more conciliatory tone “Annie, love, It’s probably just a coincidence, I’ll bet you have the flu.”
A frail “Tea’s ready!” Came echoing down the hallway. Pete looked at me pleadingly. “Come and sit with us, Annie, you’re imagining this.”
I headed for the bathroom, throwing a “give me five minutes” over my shoulder.
Once inside with the door locked, I sat down on the edge of the bathtub and sighed. My eyes travelled up to the cabinet opposite and an open box caught my eye. Reaching across, I picked it up for closer inspection.
A forgotten pregnancy test.
I smiled wistfully, Pete and I had been trying for a baby for years with no luck.
But wait, sudden unexplained sickness? Was it worth a try? I took the test out of the box with trembling fingers.
5 minutes later I had my answer. Maybe my mother in law wasn’t quite as dastardly as I thought.