Ménage á Trois

“Martin’s always been impulsive,” she says, as if this is a natural progression of our conversation. It’s not.

I glance at her, taking in the purple polyester trousers and baby-pink jumper hanging stiffly from her narrow shoulders. It’s hand-knitted, seemingly possessing a mind of its own. Her narrow lips are set in a newly-stitched operation scar, and her freshly-permed hair is practically buzzing with chemicals.

“So,” I continue, undeterred, “we’re thinking perhaps next Valentine’s Day for the wedding.”

“So soon?” she murmurs, giving the dog another peppermint. It won’t help, I can smell the dog’s breath from here and it’s practically toxic.

“It’s six months away,” I protest, “hardly what I’d call soon.”

“I’ve always thought autumn is a nice time for a wedding,” she says innocently, as if I’d never spoken. As far as she’s concerned, anytime that isn’t soon would be a nice time for my wedding to her son. She needs time to weave her vitriolic magic, to drive a wedge between us.

It’s not me, of course, it’s anyone who attempts to prise her only son out of her clutches. Martin’s sister, a former school friend, has warned me. “She’s seen off at least half a dozen,” she once confided, “so I hope you’re up for this.”

Armed with this information, I’ve parried several of her manoeuvres, but I’m getting fed up now, wondering if my feelings for Martin run so deep that I’m prepared to commit to a lifetime of nurturing this witch.

Martin comes in, and her face lights up.

“Shirley was just wondering whether autumn might be a better time for the wedding,” she says, lifting her face for a kiss that lasts just a fraction too long. Uncomfortable, I look away.

“That’s fine by me,” he says, stroking her triumphant face “as long as you’re happy with it, Mother.”

So autumn it is. Another round to Martin’s mother, and she’s flushed with pleasure as we leave.

“I was wondering,” Martin’s mother says, as my early warning system kicks off, “whether a church wedding might not be a better idea?”

“But neither of us are church-goers,” I say, “that would be hypocritical, surely.”

“I go to church,” she says, as if that makes everything alright.

“It’ll cost an arm and a leg,” I say, “and we just don’t have that kind of money.”

“Well, save up then,” she says, as I sense the trap closing around me. “I don’t know what all the rush is about anyway.”

She looks down, smirking, and I know the final salvo is about to be fired.

“You’re not frightened he’ll change his mind are you?” She flashes me a look of malevolence so intense that I almost recoil under the impact.

Martin comes through the door and blanches when he sees the envelope I’ve left on his mother’s coffee table.

“Grief, I’d forgotten all about Valentine’s Day” he stammers, looking to his mother for help.

“Oh don’t you worry, Martin,” she coos, “Shirley understands — you don’t want to be throwing money around on that rubbish, not when you’ve got a proper wedding to save up for.”

His face clears and he leaves without picking up my card.

“I can’t understand why we’re not managing to save more than this,” I say, “we’re both on good salaries.”

When I start checking the savings account I can see that Martin’s contributions have diminished. He’s now only saving half of what we agreed when we opened this account for the church wedding, which has now been postponed until a year next autumn.

Martin flushes when I confront him. “I’ve had some unexpected outgoings,” he says. “Mother’s struggling to pay her rent, what with the costs of heating and the recession and everything…” His voice tails away.

She’s won again, I think. This wedding will never take place.

I’m in the card-shop, choosing a Valentine’s card for Martin when I get a call from his mother. She wants me to call round on my way home from work. When I get there, I find Martin is sitting by her side on the couch, nervously fingering inside his collar.

“Martin’s been thinking,” she says, as I resist the urge to remark on the novelty of this occurrence, “that it might be better if you both moved in with me, what with the recession and everything.”

I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Something snaps.

“I don’t think so,” I say, standing up, noticing that the dog is about to start dry-humping my leg. I take a deep breath. “This relationship is over Martin.”

“But … I need you Shirley,” Martin pleads, plucking worriedly at his mother’s sleeve.

She’s uncomfortable. She doesn’t seem quite so much in control as usual. She must be in more of a financial mess than I thought.

“We both need you, Shirley dear,” she says, “Martin’s been made redundant, and things are going to be very tight for a while. For all of us.”

“Not for me,” I say, shaking the dog off my leg. I rummage in my bag for my car keys. There they are, beneath the valentine card.

The dog follows me hopefully to the door.

Martin’s mother doesn’t seem quite as victorious as I’d anticipated. In fact she looks a bit put out. Clearly I was meant to assume the role of breadwinner in this dreadful ménage a trois, or quatre if you count the dog.

I hear her reedy voice as I leave.

“See, Martin…I said all along she was only after you for your money… manipulative little madam.”

There’s a litter bin right beside my parked car. I retrieve the valentine card from my bag and walk towards it, glancing back at his mother’s front window. They’re both standing there, looking worriedly out at me.

I smile sweetly at them, hold the card above my head and tear it into half a dozen pieces before dropping it in the bin.

I feel so good … positively heart-free in fact.


About Sandra Crook

Sandra Crook writes fiction, non-fiction and occasional poetry. When not cruising the French waterways with her husband in their dutch barge, she fosters rescue dogs at her home in Cambridgeshire, UK. Links to her published work can be found at her blog, where she will also take the opportunity to remove your will to live with her photographs and cruising reports.

>> Sandra Crook's author page

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