Mother-in-Law’s Tongues

by Jennifer Walmsley

On his fortieth birthday, his mother gave Dave a house plant. Strange gift, you might think, but there it is in prime position on the lounge window sill looking very green and proud after fifteen long years.

‘It should go out into the garden for the summer,’ I suggest, inwardly hoping for a rare frost.

He looks up from his jigsaw and smiles at the plant. ‘She’s a house plant, Angela.’

‘But it’s beginning to block out sunlight,’ I tell him.

‘Mum always loved house plants,’ he says. ‘That one, she claimed, is like her, indestructible.’ A tear now courses down one chubby cheek. ‘Mum had green fingers,’ he adds with a choke of emotion.

To match her green envious eyes, I think, but keep my lips buttoned shut.

‘Please pass the paper, Angela.’ Dave sets aside his jigsaw, another of his mother’s gifts and his request is answered by a exaggerated hard-done-by sigh as I grab The Herald off the coffee table and toss it onto his lap.

He opens the paper and finds the obituaries section. ‘It’s here,’ he says for what seems the hundredth time that morning. ‘Freda Alicia James died…’ I snatch up a duster and continue to polish trying to block out those sanctimonious tones.

‘Pity Mum and you didn’t get along,’ Dave says when he’s finished reading his mother’s obituary. ‘She tried you know.’

‘She hated me.’

‘No, Angela,’ he interrupts. ‘Mum only wanted the best for me and gave you advice which you threw back in her face.’

‘I spent thirty years trying to prove to that woman I was a good wife.’

He smiles a sad smile. ‘My mother had such high standards.’

As he speaks, that plant seems to grow taller and wider as if soaking up his words of praise. Suddenly, an awful scream fills the lounge and I’m rushing towards the plant and, picking it up, I stagger under its weight out through the French doors.

‘Angela!’ Dave’s too obese to move quickly.

‘Good fucking bye, Freda!’ I shout, hurling the plant down onto the patio.

‘Angela!’ I don’t know whether Dave’s cry of horror is due to the F word I’ve just yelled or because he can see Mother-in-Law’s Tongues lying scattered amongst compost and terracotta, but he howls like an injured dog when I jump up and down on those thick green leaves.

Then, exhausted, I crumple to the ground and wonder if my husband will have the plant’s remains interred with his mother next Wednesday.

Jennifer Walmsley was born, brought up and still lives in Wales. After years of writing long short stories, flash fiction became an obsession after joining a writer’s forum. Now poetry has now become another addicition.

  1. #1 by The Malt House on June 26, 2011 - 8:09 am

    An excellent read again Jennifer! How far would we put up with the intrusion of the Mother Out Law before snapping? I think you addressed this beautifully! Well done!


  2. #2 by Sandra on June 26, 2011 - 11:00 am

    I felt for your narrator. I’ve always hated those plants. A great read Jennifer, enjoyed it.

  3. #3 by jennifer walmsley on July 4, 2011 - 2:01 pm

    Thank you Malt House and Sandra. Sorry I’ve not commented sooner. I’ve spent 3 lovely weeks in Cornwall.

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