It was the worst roast beef I had ever eaten in my life. What did she do, incinerate it? But you would never know from the smile plastered on my face that I’d just bitten into a piece of over-cooked tree bark. I needed to grin and bear this shit because if everything went according to plan, Sheila Thorne would soon be my mother-in-law.
Sheila was an impressive woman, tall, dignified and beautiful. She ruled the roost, that was for sure, and had an unwavering dedication to Danny. It was borderline pathological, but I knew Danny wouldn’t marry me unless Sheila gave her approval. So in my desperation, I was on my best behavior, hoping Sheila would give us her blessing.
Danny kept saying, “Mom, dinner is delicious. Really, one of your best.” Maybe he was delirious from all the chewing or had simply lost his sense of taste growing up in a house where the meals were this atrocious. The truth was Danny was terrified of his mother; she could’ve served him a rubber boot and he would have thought it the most delicious dinner ever.
Somehow I managed to get that roast down. It’s amazing what several glasses of water and steely determination can do. I just hoped the meal wouldn’t make a return appearance.
“Did you two enjoy dinner?” Sheila asked.
“Of course, Mother, it was delicious,” Danny replied.
I nodded, still trying to choke down that last stubborn piece.
After dinner, we were treated to the musical stylings of Danny’s father, Basil Thorne. To say the man was eccentric was unfair to the truly eccentric—by all accounts, Basil Thorne was a full-fledged nutburger. On this night, clad in his favorite doggy pajamas, Mr. Thorne brought out his bagpipes and treated us to a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” which he dedicated to his “lovely” wife Sheila, who stood by his side beaming.
They were an odd pair for sure, Sheila with her statuesque beauty, and Basil, short fat and bald. They were the equivalent of a modern-day Laurel and Hardy. Seeing them, some might guess she married Basil for his money, but he had none; Sheila was the one who came from the wealthy family. I couldn’t make heads or tails of their relationship, but they seemed to adore one another—and their only child, Danny.
* * * * * *
Tonight was the night that Danny was going to tell his parents that we were getting married. At least that was the plan. But on the drive over I could sense he was getting cold feet.
“Danny, you’re still going to tell her, aren’t you?”
He paused for a long time before saying, “Of course dear.”
It wasn’t exactly a reassuring response.
* * * * * *
With dinner thankfully over, we settled in the library with a cup of scorched coffee and burnt chocolate chip cookies. I was relieved when Danny cleared his throat and stood up to make the announcement.
“Mom, Dad.” He took my hand. It was sweaty and he was shaking. “Chloe and I are getting married.”
Sheila and Basil said nothing.
Eventually, Sheila smiled, or maybe it was a grimace, I wasn’t quite sure. “Danny dear, we talked about this already. It’s only been seven months.”
“Mom, Chloe is the one.”
Sheila looked at her son. I couldn’t quite read her expression, but it appeared to be a mixture of pity and rage. “You said that about the last fiancée.”
Last fiancée? Well, that was news to me.
Danny looked panicked. “Mom, you’re not going to stop me this time. I’m marrying Chloe.”
“Whoa, wait. What’s going on here?” I asked. There was obviously some history that I knew nothing about.
Sheila Thorne looked at me like I was an intruder. She was always a little cold to me, but now the bitch was downright frigid.
“I’ll tell you what’s going on . . .” she said.
“No, Mom.” Danny was pleading with her, but there wasn’t much fight behind his words. He had the look of a man who was defeated.
Basil just sat back and smiled in that crazy way of his—all teeth, no lips.
I said to Danny, “You have a say in how you want to live your life. You don’t have to listen to her.”
But who was I kidding? Deep down I always knew I was in competition with Sheila Thorne—and that I would lose.
“She’s right, Danny, it’s your decision.” Sheila said, “So what are you going to do?”
Danny looked at me, and I knew what his answer would be. “I’m sorry, Chloe,” he said. “Mom’s right, it’s not time to take a wife.”
Sheila looked at me triumphantly, and Basil decided it was time to play another song on his bagpipes. This time he chose “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang.
I wasn’t so desperate that I still wanted to be with Danny the man/boy, so I stood up to leave, but Sheila’s voice stopped me. “Did you enjoy dinner tonight Chloe?”
“No, Mom, don’t!” Danny said. He looked tired.
But I was happy to finally tell her what I really thought about her cooking. “No, Sheila, I didn’t enjoy it at all. It took every ounce of strength I had to choke down that dried out, burnt horror that you called dinner.” Now it was my turn to act triumphant.
That victorious feeling didn’t last long, though, not when Sheila began giggling. It was so uncharacteristic of this normally dignified woman that it unnerved me. “I wanted to laugh,” she said gasping between each word, “when . . . when I saw you trying to eat that awful dinner.”
I turned to Danny. He couldn’t even look at me—fucking coward.
Sheila continued, “Oh I know it was awful; do you think I would waste a good meal on the likes of you?” She cocked her head to one side. “Did Danny ever tell you about Lillian?”
“Mom . . .” Danny’s voice trailed off, and he sat down. Sheila’s victory was complete.
“Danny didn’t talk about her, did he?” Sheila moved slowly towards me.
“Well, Danny may not have mentioned her, but you have met her, Chloe.”
I looked at her confused.
“Of course there was no formal introduction, it’s hard to introduce someone to a side of meat.” Basil laughed, and Sheila stroked his head. “She was crass and pushy, just like you, Chloe. That’s why she tasted so dreadful.”
“What?” was all I managed to say. I tried to leave, but Basil blocked the door, and placed a cloth over my face—then everything went black.
* * * * * *
So here I am, probably in the same position old Lillian found herself in, on a night she also thought would be a happy occasion. I wonder if I’ll be served to the next sucker Danny brings home for Sheila’s approval.
If my eminent demise wasn’t bad enough, Sheila decided to hurl one last insult at me before the end. “My dear Chloe,” she said, displaying a wicked smile, “you shall make a nice plump roast.”