2nd Place Winner in Fiction: Just for the Weekend

Posted on: August 13, 2012
1 comment so far

 
 
By Helen Cooney
 
 
She peered over my shoulder as I pushed the carrots around the skillet. The meat was on, the veggies were there, my homemade gravy was simmering—the whole meal was right there in front of her.
 
 
“Well, we can always order in if it doesn’t turn out, dear.”
 
 
This was the type of comment I had expected. She delivered her insults underhandedly, a slow lob that flew through the air in her Minnie-Mouse voice but nevertheless landed squarely on my head.
 
 
I forced a small laugh. “Hopefully we won’t need to.” I tried to sound cheery.
 
 
“Yes, hmmm…” she mused, taking one last glance at the meal before walking away. A year ago, when it had been so important to me to have my mother-in-law approve of me, I would probably have been fighting tears. Now, I knew better. I had a quick fantasy of throwing the spatula in my hand at her plump little face, and then turned my attention back to the stove.
 
 
It was a strange change that went on with her once I married her son. While Will and I had been dating in college, she had loved me like I was already a member of the family. She would ask Will how I was doing and always buy me little gifts when Will and I would visit on holidays. She at least acted as if she had liked me, back during the time in a relationship when Will and I would lay in bed talking about all the things we would have together in the future.
 
 
As loving as she appeared, her expectations for us both were extremely high, so we felt the need to put up a perfect front whenever we saw her. I remember one weekend in particular when his parents came to visit in our little college town, even though we had fought like cats and dogs the day before, we were both on our happiest, best behavior the next day when we took them around town.
 
 
So when we decided to get married right after graduation, we donned our armor and set to work to convince her that this was truly what we wanted.
 
 
“I have this terrible feeling that everyone knows,” I remember saying to Will late one night, days before we went down to city hall to sign our marriage license. My hands drifted to caress my still flat stomach without me even being aware of it.
 
 
“No one knows, I promise you. And after we are married, we’ll call up my parents and surprise them. They love you, they’ll be thrilled. And your parents…”
 
 
“My parents,” I laughed. “God, I don’t even want to think about them. If my mom knew the spot we’re in, she’d probably just tell me she expected it sooner.”
 
 
Will shook his head. “We’ll deal with them after. And then in a month or so we’ll tell them you’re expecting.”
 
 
“And law school?” I asked, feeling a throb of guilt in my chest.
 
 
He shrugged. “Plenty of people take a year or two off.”
 
 
I knew he was putting up a front for my benefit, and it made me love him even more. I tried to let myself believe it. As genius as we thought our plan was, I know Will’s mom saw right through us. Never, even for a second, do I think she believed we just simply wanted to get married for the sake of love. And that’s when her feelings toward me completely changed—after that first phone call.
 
 
No more gifts, no more checking up on me—she didn’t even hug me when we saw each other. Now it was that affectionless, kiss on the cheek during which she leaned forward awkwardly to avoid touching me with any other part of her body.
 
 
At first she was just cold, letting us know through her sighs and sad eyes how much she disapproved. But I guess when she realized that was getting her nowhere (though I’m not entirely sure what she had wished would happen) she decided to up her game. That’s when the insults started.
 
 
Usually they were small jabs at our young age or my lack of experience in the home-making department. She also never asked about us having children. Truth was, I was glad. We never made that second phone call, to tell her I was expecting.
 
 
“Babe, I’m home!” I heard Will call. But I didn’t yell back. I was on the bathroom floor, shaking. I couldn’t find my voice to answer—to tell him to stay
 
 
He finally found me, the floor slick with blood.
 
 
“Oh my God,” was all he said.
 
 
All I could think about was divorce. He had no concrete reason to stay with me now. I was ashamed and scared and most of all, angry with my body.
 
 
I think Will’s mother was counting on a divorce, and children would certainly complicate that. Either by stopping it altogether, or hindering Will from making a “clean break” when we came to our senses and realized she had been right about us all along. So we never heard the normal “When am I going to get a grandchild?” line from her. Which was good. Will and I didn’t talk about kids now, either. He was probably afraid to upset me (I spent a lot of time in tears after that day) and I was afraid of failing again, if we did try.
 
 
I had to tell myself to stop thinking about it and pay attention to browning my pork chops. In another minute or so, I would dish up our meal, and call everyone to the dinner table. And the passive aggressive butchery of my cooking skills, or lack of.
 
 
My mother-in-law put down her fork daintily, but purposefully.
 
 
“What’s a matter, Mom?” Will asked.
 
 
She shrugged and made a small disapproving sound without really moving
 
 
“What?” Will asked again.
 
 
“Well, I just don’t care for it. That’s all.”
 
 
“What, are you kidding?” Will’s father said incredulously. “This is—”
 
 
She shot him a glare, and he dropped his eyes to his plate. “I suppose it’s a bit
 
 
“I’m so sorry,” I said flatly, reaching for my wine glass. I took a big gulp.
 
 
“Don’t worry, dear,” she said. “It all takes practice. In a few years—”
 
 
“Mom, she’s a great cook. She’s already been cooking for me for years,” Will interjected. I smiled, but I wished I could just hide under the table. Here comes my husband, to the rescue, not realizing he’s about to lose his temper and make
 
 
“Yes, I don’t doubt it, honey. I’m just saying, like everything else, practice makes perfect, and a little experience—”
 
 
“Is this the age thing again, Mom? Really?” Yep, here it comes.

 
 
“William, you know how I feel. I’m simply—”
 
 
“Oh for Christ’s sake mom, give it a rest! I’m so tired of—”
 
 
Will’s father chose this moment to try to change the subject. “Darling, did I see some pie in the kitchen earlier? It looked great.”
 
 
“Yes, you did!” I said, jumping up so quickly I knocked the table and shook everyone’s wine glasses. I was just so thankful for an excuse to leave the table. “I’ll go heat some up. Coffee? Will, come help me?”
 
 
He got up, his agitation clear in his movements.
 
 
In the kitchen, he leaned against the counter, watching me get out the plates. “I hate when she talks to you like that.”
 
 
“I mean, it’s not like her feelings are a surprise.”
 
 
He shook his head. “Bitch,” he mumbled.
 
 
“Will! Don’t call her that, come on,” I said.
 
 
“She’s still your mother.”
 
 
“And you’ve never called your mom a bitch?” he asked skeptically.
 
 
I stopped what I was doing and smiled at him. “Not out loud.”
 
 
He grabbed me around the waist and gave me a quick kiss, that stupid smirk
 
 
I had no qualms about serving the pie. I hadn’t made it; therefore Will’s mother would mostly likely have nothing to say about it. I cut slices on the table and passed out pieces, trying my best to look sophisticated at the same time. She stared at me, hard, and I had to stop my hands from shaking. She really was a bitch.
 
 
“That’s enough, dear,” I heard her laugh. “There are only four of us, unless you have some children hidden in the basement.”
 
 
I realized I had almost cut up the whole pie. I smiled rigidly. “Oh, right.”
 
 
“Since we’re talking about children, I want to ask you two something that’s been on my mind for a while now.”
 
 
She was trying to sound casual, but the hint of excitement in her voice made me suddenly realize that this was probably the whole reason she had wanted to come for a weekend visit. I held my breath as she continued.
 
 
“I want to be blunt with you. I’ve been racking my brain for reasons why you wouldn’t wait to get married, why you wouldn’t want a wedding! And I—Amy,
 
 
“What?” Will almost growled.
 
 
“Excuse me for a moment,” I said hollowly.
 
 
I walked out of the kitchen and into the hallway, leaning my back against the wall. I heard some low grumbling voices, but after a moment, Will was in front of me.
 
 
“Don’t tell me to breathe, I know how to freaking breathe.”
 
 
“Whoa,” he said. “Babe, relax. My mom doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She’s just…” he shook his head.
 
 
My voice came in a whisper. “It feels strange to hear it come out of someone
 
 
“We don’t need to tell her.”
 
 
I took a deep breath and nodded.
 
 
“It’s been almost half a year, everything will be fine. Right now, just try to
 
 
I looked up at him. “Chill? Okay, bro,” I said mockingly. “Do you hear yourself?” I closed my eyes and said through clenched teeth, “And yes, it’s been a while. But not that long. And I still think about it all the time.”
 
 
“I’m sorry, Amy. I know you do.”
 
 
“Just another thing I couldn’t do right,” I mumbled.
 
 
“Don’t say that. Don’t—don’t,” he said, forcefully.
 
 
I sighed. “We’re real people now, Will.”
 
 
He hesitated. “Wait, what?”
 
 
“We’re married. We have an apartment together and a car. We’re adults.”
 
 
This thought suddenly made me a little panicky. Getting engaged, married, setting up a home—it all happened so fast and…now what?

 
 
He rolled his eyes at me. “I don’t know about you, but I’m only 22.”

 
 
“Can you be serious for like one second? That’s what you’re mother keeps reminding us of, Mr. 22. I mean, she’s right, Will. We are really young.”
 
 
Will put a hand lightly on my cheek. “We get older every day. So, in her eyes, she should be happy we’re moving in the right direction.”
 
 
It was a joke, but I didn’t laugh. I was looking at the ground. “What if—”
 
 
But he cut me off. “Do you love me?”
 
 
I rolled my eyes, knowing where this was going. “Yes,” I said.
 
 
“Do you like this ring on your hand?” He took my left hand in his and held it
 
 
He smiled. “Then suck it up and say forget them.”
 
 
I couldn’t help but smile back. “That’s your solution to everything.”
 
 

“Yeah,” he shrugged. “And I have a lot less stress in my life than you do, so I don’t know why you’d argue with me.”
 
 
I shook my head. “You’re a nut.”
 
 
He kissed me and said, “You’re doing great. I love you.”
 
 
“Thanks,” I half laughed, and he started kissing me again.
 
 
“Two more days, baby, then we don’t have to see them ‘til Christmas.”
 
 
“Ok, ok,” I said, pushing him back towards the kitchen. His parents had quietly placed their dishes in the sink and were now watching television in the other room. I headed for the sink and was about to start loading the dishwasher, when his words actually registered with me. “Wait,” I called after him, my voice hushed but urgent. “We’re seeing them at Christmas?!”
 
 
He smiled back at me over his shoulder. “Yeah, but by then, we’ll both be 23.
 
 
“See? Progress. And we don’t even have to try.”

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One Response to “2nd Place Winner in Fiction: Just for the Weekend”

  1. Colleen Sullivan Says:

    Helen Cooney, you’re on your way to greatness!
    You touched every emotion in my heart.
    Congratulations on this superb tale of family angst, guts, and glory!

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