I could tell when Susan walked in the door after work. She knew something was different. She usually came in warily, looking around to see where my mother was, or what had changed during the day. Today, I saw the carefully controlled look of surprise on her face. Nothing appeared to have changed. But everything was different.
Mother was gone.
Mother and Susan never really hit it off. After years of urging me to “find a girl” and coaching me while I courted Susan, Mother did a 180 after Susan and I got married. Whereas before, Mother was full of praise for Susan, after the wedding, Susan couldn’t seem to do anything right.
Mother lived only a few houses away from us, and every day she spent more and more time at our house. She watched Susan like a hawk, passing judgement on everything she did.
Susan would cook a meal, and mother would complain that it was overcooked, undercooked, too bland, too spicy. Sometimes Mother would barge into the kitchen and tell Susan she was preparing something the wrong way, and Mother would take over the meal prep.
Susan was a good housekeeper, but Mother thought she was slack. Mother would drag her finger across some obscure surface and hold her slightly dusty finger up accusingly for Susan to see.
I recognized Susan was trying to keep the peace. But it was a strain on her—and on us. I knew I should take Susan’s side and stand up to Mother. I meant to, over and over. Truly. I would just tell Mother she could only come over when we invited her. But I never could do it.
As the months went by, Susan started staying later and later at work. Mother had all but taken over the meal preparation by that time, and Susan had given up trying. I usually got home from work a couple hours before Susan. I should have been doing more. At least I should have learned to cook.
Mother, it seemed, spent most of her days at our place. To fill her idle hours, she took to re-arranging. Kitchen cupboards, bathroom cupboards, even the clothes in my closet. She rearranged the furniture in the living room once, but I managed to put it all back before Susan got home.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when Susan gave me an ultimatum. And Mother shouldn’t have been surprised by my choice.
So, when Susan came home from work that day, everything had changed. Nothing was out of place; the house was in the same order as it had been that morning. The aroma of supper wafted out from the kitchen.
But the chef had changed. I found instructions online for a special stew. I’d taken the day off work so I could gather all the ingredients and dice everything to bite-sized cubes. It’s easy once you get going. I was really pleased how it turned out.
We sat down for supper, just the two of us. I’d even put candles on the table. I poured Susan and me some wine, and then ladled out the stew. I watched Susan’s face carefully as she tasted her first spoonful.
“Did you make this, Bill?” she asked. “It’s delicious.”
I think that was the moment I knew everything was going to be okay. We’d made it through a difficult situation but everything was resolved satisfactorily.
As I ate, I watched Susan attack her stew with gusto. She even smiled at me a few times. It was so nice to just have the two of us—the way it was surely meant to be.
“Bill, this is the best meal I’ve had in months,” said Susan, between mouthfuls. “The meat is so tender. Where’d you get it?”
“Oh,” I gave a vague wave. “It’s from my mother.”