The next morning I sat tense at the breakfast table, nursing my paranoia that my life would always be the same. Merv had taken the boys to a football game, leaving me and Mother Sumeria alone for what Merv loved to call ‘female bonding’.
How do you tell a man you hate his mother? Not with music hall comedy mother-in-law joke hate, but with real gut wrenching, face crunching hate. How could I tell him that whenever I saw her I used the powers of visualization, that he had taught me, to envisage her screaming in agony, engulfed in a ball of flames. Even the sound of her shuffling about upstairs made me feel ill; I wanted her to die, or move out. Preferably die.
Suddenly there was a clatter from upstairs, promptly followed by a loud howl. I sat still, I wasn’t running to her beck and cat-call. I had noticed that the howling was reserved for when she knew that she and I were alone in the house.
After what she no doubt saw as a suitable pause, there was another howl. Inside I screamed, ‘Shut up you old bat. Choke on your phlegm and suffer!’, out loud I shouted, “What is it Audrey?”.
“You must come here Vanessa. Hurry darling, there’s a terrible mess.” My whole body sagged as I stood up and collected a well used dustpan and brush on my way out from the kitchen. Once a day, there was a ‘terrible mess’, either she smashed something with liquid in it, or got the boys excited and painting and then wandered off, or tried to empty the vacuum bag. She always caused a terrible mess, and I always cleaned it up. It was not even midday, it was definitely going to be a long one.
I trudged up the stairs and was passed on the way by a small pink pill bouncing down. I rolled my eyes, after cleaning, I’d be on my way to the chemist for the replacement of the pills that she just couldn’t swallow from the filthy floor.
“Oh, Audrey.” I say weakly as I come to the bathroom door. She is standing in her nightgown surrounded by a sea of multicoloured pills. It looked like she’d drop kicked her whole personal pharmacy of drugs all over my bathroom. I thought, ‘I wonder if you can kill an octogenarian with a dust-pan.’, I said, “What happened in here?”. There’s a long story, there’s always a hefty explanation, and I no longer have any interest in hearing them. I know when she’s finished because her catch phrase pops out; after about five minutes, I’ve finished cleaning the pills and I hear the famous words.
“…. shoddy workmanship. I’ll say it again, it was not like that in Ancient Sumeria.” I look up at her from the floor. My visualization is in full force, she is engulfed in flames. Something is different, there is a loud brushing sound, the colours of the visualization are so much brighter than ever before. My rage at her burns within me, feeding out to the fires surrounding her. I vaguely hear her ask what is wrong with me. I loathe the sound of her voice.
“Do you know what else wasn’t in ancient Sumeria?” My voice is a snarl as I rise up from the floor. For the first time in the decade she had lived with my family I was going to be rude to her; the flames licked high around her.
“What on earth has gotten into you Vanessa? You look half crazed. Where’s Mervin? I feel nervous.”
“You Audrey. You weren’t in Ancient Sumeria. And if you had been, you’d be dead! They didn’t have blood pressure pills, or chemists that I could run to at all hours because you throw medicine on the floor!” My voice was raised.
“Vanessa, really I don’t feel well.” He face was white against the red and orange flames dancing around her, through her; the fire seemed more real than she did.
“You should be dead.” I said this quietly but the words boomed around my head, she was looking me in the eye, her hand flapping for something to hold on to. “You are dead.” I uttered almost silently, but she heard. On the final sound of the sentence she fell, with no attempt to stop herself, directly towards me.
I caught her in my arms and I knew she was dead as I laid her on the bathroom floor. I ran to the phone and called an ambulance and then returned and sat next to her corpse. The flames were gone, and I felt exhilaratingly calm.
I looked at the body of my mother in law. My life had changed, and I couldn’t help thinking that I had been the one to change it.