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in-law from hell

by Shani 

Posted: 30 January 2008
Word Count: 661
Summary: This is piece should really be part of Its always worse for men bit I havent got round to blending them yet. You can decide whether it's the mother or daughter who deserves the title of in-law from hell
Related Works: It`s always worse for men • 

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The conversation in the hospital cubicle had reached an all time low. The Essex Bird and the Cockney Sparrow had broken world records for clichéd chitchat as they hovered at the dying swan’s bedside. His mother had gone into full fussing mode having brought her own damp flannel for her wet blanket son. She was now performing the brow-mopping hand patting waltz: mop 2 –3, pat 2-3, mop 2-3 …

“He don’t look well, do he?” The mother inferior announced to the cubicle. “I done ‘im something to eat earlier ‘cos’ you wasn’t around”, she announced to me. I registered the insult but what upset me more was the grammar. Within the space of 2 hours I’d gone from Chomsky and Transformational Grammar to the mal-formed vernacular of the Ilford food Nazi. I was hoping that my train painted face wouldn’t crack under the effort of biting my tongue as I tried to focus on my mantra: play the part-do the right thing-play the part-say the right thing.

“Thanks so much for being here,” I heard myself say, “it’s at times like this it’s really good to have family around”. I was trying really hard to ignore the sarcastic subtext that was playing in my brain and to at least hit a score of 50% on the sounding sincere scale.

“Like I say, I done him a bit of fish ‘cos’ I know you won’t cook it, some spuds and cauli too to help his strength.’

Steamed fish, cauliflower and boiled potatoes – the white dinner – all flavoured with … nothing. Sunglasses would be needed as protection against the white glare but they were no defence against the woman who consistently proved that not all Jewish mothers were great cooks. The white dinner was one of the things we’d used to laugh about in the early days when we’d traded stories of family foibles to cement our relationship. I wanted to laugh at how little this mother knew about her son and the disloyalty he’d shown and I was working very hard to suppress it. I also wanted to be able to care about him and actually do the right thing but that emotion seemed a non-starter.

I tried to remember why we’d gone out together, got engaged and married. At some point he must have made me laugh enough to fancy him, I must have believed that we’d have a happy future together. Had I really been so focussed on being a princess with a dress and list at Selfridges that I’d forgotten about the happily ever after?

I tensed as the brow mopper continued to massacre tenses and exterminate auxiliaries, the grammatical ones not the hospital staff, and I tried to compose my face into an expression that combined concern, interest and interjections. Chomsky might be therapeutic; I glazed over and rewound my brain to that evening’s lecture on government binding theory, constraint based processing and mother-daughter relationships. Chomsky might need therapy – I might join him.

At some point in my mental lecture notes recap I realised that I’d started hand wringing. I hadn’t expected that. Maybe I was starting to worry about him. Then I realised that my fingers were interlocked for reasons of safety – his mother’s. I was less likely to throttle her this way. I gave up trying to do and be the right thing and convinced myself that she talks like this it because she knows it upsets me, just as I knew that doing a masters degree in linguistics, rather than opting for motherhood, would upset her.

‘Oh, you remember’, she twittered inanely, ‘they done that to me when I was in here last time’. That’s it I’m about to lose it. Is it really too much to ask for just one utterance with all parts of speech in tact? Thank god the doctor came in when he did I was nano-seconds away from giving the world’s most aggressive grammar lecture.

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Comments by other Members

P.J. at 15:12 on 20 February 2008  Report this post
Sorry to be so late with this. Personally, I would hate to be an in-law to either of them, but I was so busy nodding - yeah, yeah - in recognition that it was only at the end that I wondered why the male of the species was in a hospital bed?

apcharman at 23:22 on 08 April 2008  Report this post
Hi Shani,

I'm not quite sure what's going on with this posting, dates and so on, but I only just got notified about it, even though it says it was posted in January.

Anyway; the language you are using is ABSOLUTELY sparkling.

The list of snippets I adored is almost as long as the posting. The bird theme in the opening sentence was lovely (but quickly discarded). I liked the walz (2-3 comment; 2-3; submit 2-3), and even little phrases like the "Ilford Food Nazi" had a lovely ring to them. This is the only metaphor that gets picked up and continued; we see the Holo-caustic theme reflected with the genocide enacted on grammatical elements, although nothing much is made of it or any of the other linguistic flourishes.

In isolation, this doesn't work anywhere near so well as in the context of "It's Always Worse for Men." Without the context to show that the husband is really being pathetic, it seems as though he might actually be dying, in which case the wife's response is not adequately explained.

Why pull this out separately?


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