Keeping Up Appearances

An older short story, recently revised for an upcoming collection.

Jane awoke with that familiar knot in her stomach. Every day was the same. Her husband sighed and rolled over, silencing the alarm. Jane pretended to sleep through it so that he would be quiet as he readied himself for work. Then, just before he left, he would softly kiss her cheek and whisper, “I love you.” She’d murmur her response and wait until the door closed behind him. Today was just like every other day.

She ran her fingers through her short hair and stepped over the dog as she climbed out of bed. Then after using the toilet, she washed her hands, swapped her glasses for contact lenses and stared at herself in the mirror. The strain was starting to show. Dark circles and fine lines framed her haunted blue eyes. She turned away and shuffled to the kitchen for coffee.

While the Breville heated, she fumbled in the liquor cabinet for just the right bottle. Bourbon? Yes. A shot of Woodford to kick start the motor. Perfect. With a healthy dose added to her mug, she ground the beans, packed the filter with the grind and set the mug beneath it to fill with the extracted coffee.

Rain battered the windows. Her daily walk would be impossible —only a zealot would be out exercising in this weather. She’d be trapped inside. Maybe a double shot was in order. With a heavy sigh, she splashed a little more bourbon in the mug and stirred. Taking the coffee with her, she sat on her sofa and tucked her feet beneath her. How had things gotten to this point? She used to be happy, used to leap out of bed in the morning. When had that changed? She laughed wryly, knowing the answer. Was it already ten years since she’d been manipulated into moving her elderly parents into her home? Her father was gone now and just Mother now occupied the apartment on the ground floor. Jane and her husband had been pushed upstairs into the smaller of the two spaces. Her reverie was broken when her mother hollered up from the bottom of the stairs. “Janie? Are you up yet?”

Jane muttered a curse under her breath. “Yeah, Ma. I’m up.”

“So what’s on the agenda today?” her mother asked, increasing her volume to be heard through the closed door.

“None of your damned business,” Jane muttered. If only she had the guts to say that out loud. “Nothing. Why? You have big plans?” she asked, sarcastically.

“Well, I need some things from the store and the drug store and…” her mother droned on and on, missing the sarcasm. “I was hoping you would go for me.”

“I have clients today, Ma. And it’s pouring. Can it wait?”

“Not really,” her mother whined. “Besides, you aren’t seeing clients ALL day, are you? You’re never that busy…”

“Fine,” Jane replied, ignoring the barb. “I’ll go at lunch.” She sighed. “As usual.”

“Did you hear the news?”

Jane rolled her eyes. Her mother seemed to think she was uninformed just because she didn’t watch the nightly news and the morning news and the noon time news as religiously as her mother did. “No, Ma. What happened?”

“A water main burst in Center City. It flooded an entire neighborhood!”

And this impacted our lives, how? “Oh yeah? That’s too bad.”

“You should see the pictures. It was terrible.”

“I’m sure it was, Ma.”

After a brief rundown of the rest of the broadcast, her mother toddled off to get her breakfast, leaving Jane to her thoughts. She missed her father. He had been the only reason she’d agreed to this badly thought out plan. She’d had three extra years with him and that was a blessing wasn’t it? Jane sighed and drained the last of her spiked coffee as tears filled her eyes. She looked heavenward to keep them from spilling over. “Pull yourself together,” she said to herself.

After she showered and dressed, Jane wandered downstairs through her mother’s part of the house to reach the basement office where she saw clients on most days. Another mistake —they should have devised some way for her to reach the office without having to pass Mother on the way. She was in the kitchen fixing breakfast as Jane strode past.

“You’re not going to let people see you like that, are you?” she asked, turning at the sound of Jane’s footsteps.

Jane looked down at her jeans and black pullover sweater. “What’s wrong with this?”

Her mother sniffed. “It’s awfully casual, don’t you think?”

“I want my clients to feel comfortable with me, Ma. Not intimidated by a business suit or dress.”

“You could at least put on some lipstick,” she grumbled as Jane walked away.

The irony of being of family counselor struck her every time she flipped on the lights and turned on the soothing music in her subterranean work space. Jane checked the time. She had ten minutes before the Hedbergs were due. They were easy. All she had to do was sit and listen while they got their grievances off their chests. After each session, the couple left smiling and holding hands. Jane was nothing more than a means to get them talking.

At lunchtime, she trudged up the two flights of stairs to eat and let the dog out. As she passed through the first floor, she heard the noon news broadcast coming from the TV in her mother’s bedroom. Jane rolled her eyes. She would get a full report when she got her mother’s list of errands.

Lunch was a vodka martini with extra olives and a few slices of cheddar cheese. Just a little something to take the edge off before facing the dragon again. When she descended the stairs, she was surprised to find the living room empty and the sound of the TV still blaring from the sitting room. Jane went to investigate.

“Ma?” she called out.

No answer.

She peeked in the room. Her mother sat in the recliner with her eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling. Jane knew without checking that the old woman was dead. She picked up the remote and lowered the volume. Then closing the door to the room behind her, Jane exhaled slowly and tried not to laugh out loud.

27 thoughts on “Keeping Up Appearances

  1. Wow, I have mixed feelings about this fiction because its so true to life it’s scary. Jane was blessed with the opportunity to spend quality time with her parents before they died, yet she seems to resent her mother. Booze at every meal? I see no reason to be depressed, after all, she has a supporting husband and she works from home, a win-win. Her laugh must have been the feeling of the end of parental care, but at what cost? I think she needs a counselor.
    Nice job Meg. Your writing stirs me up for discussion. 🤔

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, yes, Jane is a mess. In my head I imagine the mother – daughter relationship much more dysfunctional than I portrayed it. Maybe some flashing out or background is in order. Anyway, I see Jane as being completely domineered by her mother and getting crushed under the weight of having her constantly criticize her. That probably doesn’t come through clearly enough in this short piece… Thanks so much for reading, Darnell! I always like getting your feedback! 🤟

      Like

    1. I’m pretty close to having enough stories for a collection of my own. I do think some of them need to be expanded a little bit. I’d like for the collection to amount to at least 200 pages. Thanks! I’m glad you like it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What…

    That was sudden..
    A woman so full of life just hours before.. just sit down and die..

    Can’t wait to find out how…

    That was really a surprising twist.

    Let see how Jane will actually deal with this now…

    All the more reason to drink 🍹 I guess..
    And lots of regrets…

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I sensed the realism in this piece right off, with Jane pretending to be sleeping. The mother is probably like many. Jane perhaps goes a bit far with the booze, particularly if she’s going to be seeing clients, but it’s not entirely unrealistic. I’m sure her laughter at the end is tinged with some bitterness and regret. Regret because a family therapist should have found a way to deal with the situation more productively. But you know what they say about the shoemaker’s kids! I really liked this story and the surprise ending!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Eilene. Yes sometimes a situation in one’s own life is impossible to overcome even with professional training. Jane needs her own counselor! I’m glad you enjoyed the story. I am putting together a collection so I’m revisiting some older pieces with an to revise them!

      Liked by 1 person

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