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Mother Trouble

by gemini 

Posted: 19 August 2005
Word Count: 2355
Summary: love interest story

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Mother Trouble

Things started to go wrong quite early in the week and, as usual, it was all my fault! Yes, I had been spending too much time at work, and no, I hadn’t been taking as much notice of Mother as I should. And of course I should never, ever, have told her about the nice new chap at work.
At first I ignored all the familiar signs but by Wednesday it was impossible to keep up the pretence. Yet again, Mother was off on one of her little attention seeking escapades. Apart from anything else, and after a lifetime on the stage, Mother needed a complete new wardrobe for each role she designed for herself.

I phoned Margot. She was clearly busy and sounded distracted. (Margot is my younger sister but she has a way of making me that I’m a nuisance whatever time of day I ring.) I explained the situation – that I had met a nice man at work and had foolishly asked him to supper. And not only that, but I had told Mother about him.
‘Now, she locks herself in her room every morning and has been down to the Oxfam shop about ten times. She’s been carrying BAGS of old clothes home.’
‘I’ll be over later’ sighed Margot in a martyr-ish voice. ‘You’d better ring the doctor.’

This was not exactly what I had in mind. For one thing it was playing right into Mother’s hand. Ringing the doctor, and summoning Margot, would be just what Mother wanted. I knew from experience that ignoring whatever devious little plot she’d dreamt up was the only solution. However, Margot, once galvanised, is not easily deflected.

I knocked on Mother’s door. There was a scuffle and a rustle of clothing. After a while her voice answered from just inside, somewhere about knee level.
‘Mother? Are you all right? What are you doing on the floor?’
There was silence.
I tried the handle but although the door wasn’t locked it only opened half an inch, pushing against the soft cushion of Mother’s bottom.
More silence.
‘Mother please let me in. I want to talk to you.’
‘I’m not your mother. Go away!’
Oh dear, I thought. It was like dealing with a five year old.
‘O.K. If you’re not my mother, who are you?’ I was getting déjà vu.
‘Moses’ came the emphatic answer.
‘Moses as in Israelites, and baskets, and bull rushes?’
‘And plagues.’
‘Oh Christmas!’ I spluttered
‘And don’t blaspheme’ retorted Mother, pushing the door to with her fist.

It all seemed so unfair. The minute I stepped out of my role as the unmarried, stay-at -home daughter, everything went wrong. But when Clive, the eligible, sharp-suited, smooth talking Clive was courting Margot, Mother couldn’t have behaved better! She did everything she could to further the romance. In fact, I don’t suppose he would ever have got around to proposing if Mother hadn’t been lurking in the wings with her little bow and arrow just nudging things along. But when it came to me, things were very different. I only had to swivel in the driving seat, or put my lipstick on to go to the shops and her antennae would be twitching like the aerials on a squad car. At the first sniff of anything resembling interest in the opposite sex, Mother would be there, flinging her metaphorical (and sometimes actual) spanner in the works and producing the sort of quantities of flies in the ointment that Pandora could only have dreamt of.

As promised, Margot arrived clutching a bottle of Chablis. She looked slim and fit and opulent. (Everything Margot wore seemed to fit; none of her clothes pulled, or sagged or looked uncomfortable like mine.) She sat down at the kitchen table and motioned for a corkscrew with a little rotary swivel of her right hand over the neck of the bottle. I found some glasses and sat down opposite her.
‘When did it begin?’ she asked.
I sighed. ‘It’s really just he same old story. I met this quite nice chap at work. He’s called Stephen. He’s a bit older than me. He seemed sort of lonely so I asked him for supper. When I told Mother, she went all quiet - you know - like she does - and then started being weird again.’
We sipped in silence, or to be more precise I swigged, Margot sipped.
‘Do you remember how she disposed of the dentist from Bexhill?’ she asked at length. I shivered, remembering that unfortunate little exploit. Consummate actress that she is, Mother had chosen to impersonate Lady Penelope from Stingray. I defy any psychiatrist to have seen through her act – it was dementia at its most endearing and beguiling. What should have been a romantic supper for two had degenerated into Bedlam. Mother had spent the evening drifting round the table wearing a long blond wig, telephoning for her Rolls Royce, and humming the theme tune from Thunderbirds. Occasionally she’d waft out of the door and have a pretence conversation with Captain Kirk, who, talking in a gruff American drawl would say things like ‘Anything can happen in the next half hour!’ Of course nothing ever did happen in the next half hour, or even the next half-year. In fact the poor dentist was never seen again.
‘The trouble is’ I began, ‘this time she really seems to be going for gold. I can’t tell you how much stuff she’s hoarding in there. There must be about ten costume changes. She says she’s Moses and keeps talking about plagues.’
‘Plagues? Like in locusts? And frogs? And rivers of blood?’ We looked at each other in horror.
‘I don’t suppose she’ll go as far as the rivers of blood, and I’m not sure where she’s going to get the locusts, but I bet she’ll have a jolly good try’ I said.

I have the sort of job I can either tackle from home or take to the office if Mother and I needed some space. I weighed up the pros and cons. If I went to work the next day perhaps I could warn Stephen about Mother, but that would mean leaving her un-chaperoned for far too long. Goodness knows what mischief she might get up to. Telephoning was out of the question – this just wasn’t the sort of thing you could explain to someone on the phone: ‘Oh by the way! Although I’m forty I live with my mother. She doesn’t like me having boyfriends so she pretends to be mad. She’s quite harmless really but come armed and wear protective clothing!’
I decided to speak to her. She was in the kitchen doing a dear-little-old-lady-with-a-silver-bun impersonation. She must have been watching The Waltons I thought nastily. Any minute now she’s going to start baking cookies.
‘Mother. About Saturday night. You know I’ve asked someone to supper?’
‘Oh! She gasped in wide-eyed surprise, her hand fluttering helplessly in front of her mouth. ‘ Why ever didn’t you tell me?’ So we’re going down that path, I thought with resignation.
‘I did tell you Mother. You must have forgotten.’ I always found it best to humour her – direct confrontation had not effect at all – it was like stamping on a lilo.
‘I suppose I shall have to stay in my room. Alone.’ She picked up the corner of her gingham pinafore (which incidentally I hadn’t seen before) and dabbed the corner of her eye. I couldn’t help admiring the performance.
‘Mother. You love eating in your room. You love the telly on Saturday nights –Blind Date - Lottery Roll Over. I’ll make your favourite fish pie and I don’t want ANY trouble! OK? NO Moses! NO plagues! NO boils or gnats! NO parting of the Red Sea or Pillars of Fire! NO slaughtering of Pascal lambs and NO frogs! Is that CLEAR?’ She hung her head and folded her arms in a parody of submission. Unimpressed, I left her to her Machiavellian plotting and went to work.

Saturday evening arrived. In my mind’s eye I’d pictured a scrubbed pine table like Elizabeth David’s. I’d imagined a rough country pate, and then something delicious roasting in a cast iron stove. (It was going to have to be roasted because our only large saucepan had disappeared.) I was to look causal but sexy, intelligent but not intimidating. I wanted the lighting to be flatteringly low but not inky dark. Roses in huge cracked china jugs would spill over my country dresser, filling the room with the scent of summer.
But reality wasn’t like this. We have a practical but unromantic Formica kitchen, no cast iron Aga and I was half hoping Stephen might bring the flowers. All the same, my hair was looking quite nice for a change, M & S had come up trumps with the supper, and best of all, there had been no sign of trouble from Moses.

Stephen arrived clutching wine, and roses from his own garden wrapped in dripping newspaper. I wondered why I had never noticed his smile before.
‘Stephen?’ I began, when we were sitting with our drinks. ‘I don’t know if I mentioned my mother?’
I did know of course. I knew full well, but I’d rehearsed the speech so often there was no altering it now. ‘She lives here with me. She’s in her room at the moment, watching Blind Date. It’s just that she gets rather strange ideas. She …plays tricks…’
‘What sort of tricks?’
‘Well not exactly tricks…’ I lowered my voice. ‘ She sort of - pretends. She was on the stage you know - she dresses up and behaves oddly and …puts people off.’
‘What does she pretend? ‘ asked Stephen, looking interested.
‘Well once, Margot fixed me up with a blind date. He was an admiral, or nearly an admiral anyway. But Mother came to the dinner party as a U-boat commander, with a blond beard and brass buttons everywhere. She kept asking him for the ‘brot’ and barking orders at him. She made him sing Lilli Marlene. He didn’t even stay for the pudding! Oh and then there was that awful time she was Cleopatra. She sat on the sofa all night, between me and the poor young man with her arm in the fruit basket. By the time he left we both wished there had been an asp in it.’
Stephen laughed and got up to pour more wine. ‘I miss my own Mum – she died a few years ago’ He was just about to add something interesting when there was a strange banging noise in the garden. My heart sank. He opened the French windows and peered out.
‘There’s rather an odd looking person walking round the house in a brown dressing gown with a tea cloth over it’s head’ he reported. ‘It’s banging a large saucepan.’
We waited curiously while the noise circled the house and approached the window again.
‘I definitely recognise the saucepan’ I said.
Stephen sat down beside me and offered me one of my own Twiglets. ‘Do you think it might have anything to do with the battle of Jericho?’ he asked.
‘She was muttering something about Moses earlier’ I answered. ‘She might have changed the script.’
‘Lets wait till she’s walked round seven times and see if the walls come tumbling down.’
‘If my walls so much as TREMBLE…’ I began but at that moment the banging stopped and Mother crashed into the sitting room with a horrible shriek. She was certainly milking this one for all it was worth.
I said ‘Mother, this is Stephen. Stephen, meet Mother.’
‘Moses’ said Mother.
‘Moses. Joshua. Whatever’ I said spitefully. Despite the wine I was suddenly filled with a sense of foreboding, and real sadness. This was never going to work. I could just see this lovely man disappearing out of my life as quickly as he’d arrived and I knew exactly who to blame.
‘Come and have supper’ I said with a sigh. ‘Moses. Can I tempt you to a little manna? A quail perhaps? Some locusts and honey?’
Mother glared at us haughtily from under her headdress and stomped off to her bedroom.

As it happened we were eating lamb with mint and cumin. I suppose subconsciously I’d been playing along with Mothers Old Testament theme. The bread was unleavened, if you count the flat Ciabbatta, and the couscous was definitely Southern Mediterranean. We had Greek yoghurt and spiced apricots for dessert, and pretended that the wine and the coffee were Greek. We left the French windows open and watched the gentle breeze tease and flicker the candles. With a small leap of the imagination we could have been on the banks of the gulf of Aquaba, or dining under a lapis Babylonian sky.
I spotted her first. To begin with I thought I was seeing things - she was so still. Even her long flowing garments hardly moved in the warn night air. She was standing by the gate in an attitude of flight with her head thrown back as she gazed back at the house.
‘I didn’t notice that statue before’ said Stephen.
‘It wasn’t there before’ I said bitterly. ‘It just walked there. I think Lot’s wife reckons this is Sodom and Gomorra. Just ignore her.’
‘I’ve had an idea’ said Stephen. ‘But just for now, what I recommend for that interfering old bat is a nice cup of tea and a hot bath.’
‘You don’t suppose she’d dissolve do you?’ I asked. ‘I mean, it’s one thing to wish her out of the way, but to turn her into a strong saline solution and pull the plug is quite another.’
Stephen knelt down conspiratorially. ‘Now, I haven’t told you about my father!’ he said. ‘Dreadful old reprobate! Never remarried. At the moment he’s playing Falstaff – And Stratford’s not too far…is it? I’ll get three tickets for tomorrow night. It’s a match made in Heaven!’
And then he closed the French windows and drew the curtains tight.
2350 words

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Comments by other Members

joolsk at 13:43 on 19 August 2005  Report this post
Hi Kate,

I loved this story and enjoyed the Biblical parody. I thought the ending was very finely turned out.

Just one typo that I spotted:-

‘It’s really just he same old story' is missing a t in the.

I thought your characters were very well described and turned a simple plot into a real feast.

Keep it coming!


Becca at 21:46 on 19 August 2005  Report this post
Hi Kate,
Did you change the title from 'Girl in the Park' to 'Mother Trouble'?

Well structured story, and I only noticed one typo, at least I suppose it to be one? 'She has a way of making me that I'm a nuisance.' Of making me feel that I'm a nuisance?

And it's the mother saying 'Plague' isn't it, so tack it onto her line of dialogue above.

I was intrigued by how old the sisters were as I was reading the first couple of paras, Margot seemed like an oldish name and the phrase 'a nice man' felt like an older woman speaking, and sure enough they were around that age. Neat.

The only jarring bit to my reader's eyes was when Stephen calls her an interferring old bat. I didn't feel he'd known the MC long enough to say that, although he did offer her one of her own twiglets and draw the french curtatins, so?.. But if he's not as nice as she thinks him, it leaves his position a bit unresolved in the story.
I thought the mother character absolutely believable!

gemini at 18:10 on 21 August 2005  Report this post
Thankyou Joolsk so much for your comments. Boulstered by these, I may even try submitting this piece.
And thankyou Becca very much as well.I will correct the typos and I'll change the 'old bat' to something slightly less derogatory. I didn't change the title, I lost my nerve and deleted 'Girl in the Park' but perhaps I'll put it back up incase anyone comments.

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