It was early evening when they heard a knock on the door. “Are you expecting someone?” asked Johnny looking up from his book.
“No. It’s probably just Mrs. Pierri wanting to borrow something,” said Rona, referring to their elderly neighbor who lived in the basement apartment next door. Opening the door Rona was almost knocked over as Johnny’s mother pushed past her into the kitchen.
“I just heard today that you borrowed money from your sister last week. You know Katie needs to save her money for her wedding. And what are you planning to spend that money on anyway?” asked Annie Murray.
“I needed rent money. I’ll pay her back as soon as I get another job, or when my dole money comes through. I quit my job. I thought I had something lined up but it fell through,” said Johnny looking up at his mother from his chair by the fire.
Mrs. Murray, still in her coat and hat, plunked herself down in the opposite chair and turned to Rona; “And you should be more careful. You shouldn’t have gotten pregnant again. How do you expect to take care of another baby in the middle of this depression?”
Rona looked at her mother-in-law, then at her husband. She didn’t know what to say. Johnny spoke quietly to his mother, “I’ve got several leads for jobs. I’ll find something. I always have. I’ll pay Katie back, and I’ll take care of my family. We have everything under control. So you can go on home now and have your supper,” he said, essentially dismissing his mother.
“You bugger, don’t you tell me what to do. I’ll leave when I’m good and ready,” she announced leaning back in the chair and folding her arms across her ample bosom.
“Suit yourself,” said Johnny picking up his book and ignoring her.
It was an especially raw, rainy September in Scotland in 1937, and soon the cold from the stone basement floors started to seep through Rona’s slippers. Since Mrs. Murray made no move to vacate her chair by the fire, and their new sofa on the far wall was too far away from the coal fire to get much heat, Rona changed the baby’s nappie, tucked her into her pram with a bottle, and, still dressed, climbed into the double bed in the recess. Pulling the quilt up to her chin, she eventually dozed off.
Later she was awakened by Johnny climbing into the bed. The gaslight over the fireplace was out, but by the glow from the dying fire, she could see her mother-in-law still sitting by the fireplace in her astrakhan coat and hat. Rona started to speak, but Johnny kissed her then put his fingers over her lips, cuddled her under the quilt, and they both fell asleep.
In the morning nothing had changed. Rona pulled on a sweater and headed down the hall to the toilet. When she got back to their kitchen Mrs. Murray was awake and glaring at her son, but Johnny was very obviously ignoring his mother as he stoked the fire and got a flame going again.
Rona once more changed her daughter’s nappie and settled the little girl back in the pram with her bottle. Then, standing by the stove behind the armchair where her mother-in-law was sitting, she gave Johnny a questioning look and pointed to the frying pan. He nodded. Then she pointed to Mrs. Murray and held up three fingers. Johnny shook his head, so she set the table for two.
Finally, against her better judgment, Rona turned on the burner under the frying pan, and soon the air was redolent with the smell of bacon frying. She added two eggs to the hot fat then shut off the gas and walked over to serve the bacon and eggs onto the two plates on the table, “Breakfast’s ready,” she said quietly, cutting two slices of bread from the loaf on the breadboard.
Johnny’s mother jumped up from her chair, pushed past Rona and grabbed the bread knife; “If you buggers think you can get away with ignoring me you can think again,” she spat at them, walked over and very deliberately slashed the back of their new leather sofa from one end to the other.
She then calmly handed the knife back to Johnny, picked up her handbag and headed for the door. “Make bloody sure you pay your sister back,” she growled at her son as she pulled on her gloves and marched out, slamming the door behind her.
Arlene Murray Adelkopf joined two writing cafes in South Florida five years ago when she retired, and has helped compile, edit and produce two anthologies of the short stories, poems and commentaries by the writers of those groups. She writes short fiction, creative non-fiction and short biographies of interesting characters from history.