Choosing Christmas gifts for most people on my list is a joy. From time to time, though, I confess to a little resentment. Not at all the right spirit, I’m afraid.
So for all of you a forced to shop for someone you’re not feeling too warm toward, hear’s a little short fiction to let you know you’re not alone.
And let me emphasize the fiction. My actual mother-in-law died before I ever met her.
What do you give the person who has everything? You know the type, the person who always shows up with the latest shoes and wouldn’t be caught dead in anything more than two seasons old. And even then, it’s most likely her I’m-cleaning-the-house outfit.
My mother-in-law. She’d always looked down on me. She walked around with a perpetually curled lip whenever I was around. No matter what I did, she could do it better. Or it wasn’t worth doing at all.
Things really went south the first time I went to visit her without my husband. She grudgingly agreed to pick me up at the bus station.
She was horrified. “The kind of people who ride the bus, really,” she said.
Can I help it that her son needed a job, and money was tight? He’d lost his job through a merger. So we cut expenses to the bone. But I couldn’t skip my trip to the in-laws, not when I promised I’d be there after my mother-in-law’s surgery. Just so she wouldn’t be left to the mercy of “the hired help,” as she put it. If she treated them the way she treated me, well, she’d be lucky if I didn’t look the other way if they chose not to be so merciful to her.
In the end, she agreed to pick me up. As long as I came out to the street, so she didn’t have to get out of her car. “So we wouldn’t have any problems.” I couldn’t fathom what problems she had in mind. That one of her friends would see her there?
I also couldn’t imagine what could really go wrong. I’d get off the bus, walk outside, get in her car. Simple.
Can I help it there was a problem at the bus station?
No, nothing like a mugging or robbery or suspected act of terrorism. Those, at least, would have given my mother-in-law a story to tell, one with her as the heroine. No, the problem that just gave her further proof of my complete unsuitability to be part of her family.
Was it really my fault an old boyfriend happened to be there, the one I met when he worked at the shooting gallery in a carnival? I was 16 and gawky, he was 18, cute in a bad-boy kind of way, with big brown eyes, longish curly hair and a smooth way with words. We’d had a teenage summer fling. Then he joined the Coast Guard and I never heard from him again.
Ten years later, he shows up at the bus station. The one time I rode the bus in all those years. He appears on the scene just in time to escort me outside to the curb where my mother-in-law was waiting. The fact that he reeked of beer and had stains on his shirt didn’t help.
Nor did his insistence on introducing himself as “the love of my life.” Awkward.
I did my duty by her that time, nursing her through the woes of her nose job.
And swore never again.
Which didn’t solve my problem of what to get her for Christmas. Have you noticed how it’s hard to choose a gift for someone you resent?
The desire for revenge made me want to find the ugliest, tackiest Christmas sweater I could find. Maybe even one that lit up. Perhaps the one with a big fireplace on the front, that had a clear pocket for your cell phone right in front, right in the middle. Then you could use an app to have flickering flames right there on your chest.
No. Too obvious.
The Pokemon cookbook? The diver tea infuser? Cute, but not her style.
The festive toilet plunger? Now we were getting somewhere. I could say even Martha Stewart has one, with directions for making it on her website.
Hope burned for just a moment. Then I remembered. Ever since Martha went to jail, she was persona non-grata in mother-in-law’s eyes.
How did that woman ever produce such a humble and down to earth son? I wondered for the 1,837,493,572th time.
An umbrella for her dog? That met the snobby factor. But would she actually use it? I doubted she was the person who took her prize Bedlington Terrier for a walk, anyway. I couldn’t stick the dog walker with having to use the dog umbrella. She was probably humiliated enough by her employer.
Then I found it.
The perfect gift.
Something her snootiness would have her actually use. She’d buy whatever story I told her about its health value and how it would make her look younger. And how frightfully expensive it is.
A bottle of spring water infused with fulvic acid. The acid makes the water black.
I imagined her trying not to wince as she poured some out into her prize crystal, trying to look sophisticated. “It will defy your expectations,” I’ll tell her, quoting the advertising. She’ll worry if it will stain her teeth, but in the name of being in on the latest thing, she’ll drink it.