“Myrtle Sue? Come here. Now!”
I jumped out of a sound sleep. My mother-in-law from hell, her voice as piercing as a jackhammer, yelled my name from down the hallway. I glanced around the small room with the cheerful yellow walls, and wished I could stay in bed just a bit longer. I glanced at the clock. Six a.m. Figures. Last time I got to sleep in was…never, come to think of it.
What was it now? Her toenails needed clipped? She wanted me to dial 1-800-psychic? Her TV fell off the dresser?
“Better see what she wants.” I eyed my white schnauzer with the bad haircut that made him look like a dirty old mop lying at the bottom of my king-sized waterbed. That’s what you get when you take your dog to a discount hair joint.
If I didn’t get going she was going to scare all the dogs in the neighborhood, or have a coronary. She’d been threatening to have one for the past 15 years. I should only live in hope.
I walked into the room to see my mother-in-law sitting on the edge of the bed. A pretty woman, slim and white-haired, Hazel had a flawless complexion with very few wrinkles. “What’s wrong?”
“Look at these walls. I hate lavender. I want this room painted something else, like a light blue.”
“You woke me up to tell me that?”
“Well, no, I had a dream,” she said softly. “I needed you to come in here and sit with me.”
“What? Did you dream the devil came to take you off?” This woman had weird dreams at least five days out of seven. Some were funny, others made her sound like a lunatic. Well, actually she is sort of loony.
“Myrtle Sue! That isn’t funny. You know I’m sixty years old and who knows how long I have.”
“Got news for you, Hazel, you’re eighty-years old.” Then I recalled my mama preaching to me that I had to respect my elders. But when she was alive, even she lost patience with my dead husband’s mother. “So, what did you dream?”
She smiled. “My father was here, you know. I saw him walking around. He said his sisters are coming to visit us. You must get the house straightened out and do some baking. We can’t have guests and not be prepared. So that’s why I wanted you to get up early. Get your shower and get busy.”
“You got me up to tell me that? What? You think I’m your servant or something?”
Then she lay down on her bed and promptly went back to sleep, pulling her flowered quilt over her. She looked so sweet lying there. But sweetness she wasn’t. More like an old cactus waiting to rip into your new pair of pantyhose.
I looked at the older woman and wondered why she still had so much affection for her father. She often said that he made her childhood a living hell. From what I’d been told, Hazel’s father had been an alcoholic who often beat her siblings, her mother and her when he tied one on. Yet, she spoke of his kindness when he was sober. Sam, my deceased husband, always said the old man was as mean as a snake. It seems the prickles of the cactus ran through both father and daughter’s veins.
Zeus and I walked into the hallway and I glanced down at him. “So what should I make that dead people will want to eat? How about some invisible food.”
The dog whined and jumped around doing his doggie talk. “Shhh. Nana is sleeping,” I said. “Come on, I’ll put you out.”
On my way through the family room, I glanced at the unpacked boxes stacked against the wall. Hazel insisted I should unpack her collection of one-hundred-and-sixty-two ceramic elephants and find a place to put them in my already overcrowded living and family rooms. But hey, if she was headed to an assisted living facility, why should I bother?
Come along Monday, I was calling DCF again and telling them they had to finish Hazel’s paperwork so I could get her out of my house. Twice I filled them out. Both times they said they didn’t get them.
One more week of living with this woman and I’d be in the loony bin. The more I thought about it, I realized at least that would be a vacation from Hazel.
I glanced at Sam’s photo sporting a new layer of dust, his trust-me grin hiding the fact that the man never did anything that could be put off until the next year or two. Like arranging for his mother’s care. Nope, Sam figured some other schmuck would take care of the messy details. And he was right. I picked up the picture and slammed it down—a bit hard. Glass tinkled. Another frame to buy. Another errand to run between work and running Hazel to her doctor visits. Another day to spend picking up the pieces. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have to dust Sam until I replaced yet another frame.
My gaze drifted to the fireplace where our family photo, taken two years ago, sat. Staring at me with that big grin on his face was my prankster husband with the warped sense of humor. Did he make those papers disappear thinking it funny to stick me with yet one more problem to handle?
During the week, I work at the high school cafeteria as a cook. When Sam died, I discovered I needed extra money to pay for his hospital and doctor bills since he opted to take the cheaper insurance policy that had limited coverage.
Cooking is about all I know how to do—that and be a maid to my husband and children. Before Hazel moved in, I had planned on saving part of my money to take that vacation my husband of twenty-seven years had promised to take me on. What a joke. Now I’d probably never get to Croatia to see the land of my ancestors. I’d even settle for a short cruise, or any type of vacation. Sam and I never took a vacation in our entire married life.
Two hours later, I had my mother-in-law fed and watching TV. I showered, knowing she’d have forgotten all about our dead company. But I decided to bake some chocolate cupcakes and banana nut muffins in case one of the kids stopped by. I got the house all straightened out and was about to sit down and pay the bills when the phone rang.
“Mother! Can’t you ever say Hello?”
My second child, Michelle, hated the way I answered the phone. “Hi, Florence Nightingale. What’s up?”
“I thought I’d stop by today and check on Nana if that’s okay.”
“Sure thing, Sugar. You can stop by and check on her anytime you want. In fact, have you ever considered having her come live with you? That would be one way of getting rid of your latest boyfriend, you know.” I grinned, knowing that Michelle actually wanted to keep this one. After four engagements and no wedding, she thought the fifth engagement just may be the one. For her sake, I hoped she was right.
There was dead silence on the phone. “Michelle? Are you there?”
“Yes.” I heard a whimper.
“What’s wrong, Honey? I was only teasing about Nana.”
“Matt left me for my friend, Lori,” she said. “I thought for sure he was Mr. Perfect.”
“Oh, Honey! I’m so sorry. I know how much you wanted this to work out for you two.”
“I really love him, Mommy.”
At that moment, I wanted to wring Matt’s neck. How could he hurt my baby girl after all she did for him? She cooked, cleaned, loaned him money and even washed his truck for him. And I never thought he was good enough for her.
Like a flash of lightning had just struck me, I had an ah-ha moment. I had set a terrible example for my girls. I had waited on their father in the same way they waited on the men in their lives. And just like their father, their men didn’t appreciate them anymore than he had me.
I thought about Michelle’s roommate, Justin. Maybe they could get together. I really liked him—more than I liked Matt. He had a sensitive side to him and often told Michelle that Matt wasn’t good enough for her. That boy knew what he was talking about.
“What about Justin? Actually, I like him,” I said. “Maybe you two could get together. I mean, he’s awfully kind and you two seem to have a lot of fun together.”
“Justin is a wonderful friend, but he’s moving out this week. It’s bad enough Matt is out of my life, but now I have to find a new roommate, too.”
“Oh? I’m sorry to hear that. Will he still help out with your grandmother?” Justin sat with my mother-in-law four hours a day while I worked my six-hour shift at the high school.
“I don’t know. He’s moving in with one of the guys from work. I don’t know what his plans are beyond that.”
“Well, I’m sure you can find a new roommate at the hospital. Someone’s always needing a place to live,” I said. “So what about Mr. Perfect? What happened?”
“Well, he is Mr. Perfect for Lori.” She sniffed and I heard her blow her nose.
“Oh my. Nothing like a traitor boyfriend and friend, is there?”
Then she wailed like she did when she was a little girl and her brother would take her dolls from her.
“Michelle, take a deep breath. And don’t drive until you calm down. Then I’ll have some nice comfort food waiting for you.” I looked at my body. Yeah, comfort food is what got me in this condition. If I didn’t watch it, I’d be as big as Sam had been.
“Okay, Sammy and I will be there in an hour or so.” Her voice shook and I knew she tried holding back her sobs.
“Please tell me he doesn’t hike his leg on furniture anymore?” But the phone disconnected before she answered.