Greetings, Libby fans! If you’ve been following The Displaced Nation this week, you’ll know that we hashed our Halloween post because the writer — Libby’s creator, Kate Allison — went mysteriously missing. Thankfully, she hasn’t done an Agatha Christie, as Libby had feared, but is the victim of a freak snowstorm that left her without power. In a short communication of yesterday (from a McDonald’s near her house), Kate requested that we rehash Libby Life #9 because of the rather garish outfit sported by Libby’s mother-in-law. She thought it might compensate in some way for the post she was meant to do on “Halloween costumes for expats.” And perhaps it will also be a good chance for new Libby fans to catch up with what her life was like before she reached Woodhaven, and for her older fans, to indulge in some nostalgia?
The story so far: The Patrick family — Libby, Oliver, and their three-year-old, Jack — are in the process of moving from England to Massachusetts. Libby is now looking forward to the move but Oliver has developed cold feet, although he hasn’t been brave enough to tell his employer’s HR department — at least, not yet. Meanwhile, Libby has horrible suspicions that her nutty mother-in-law, Sandra, is about to move into their neighbour’s house. If Libby needs to pull out the stops to persuade Oliver that a transatlantic move is a good idea, now might be a good time.
To Sandra’s for tea.
We do this regularly. I don’t mean afternoon tea with fairy cakes, or mid-morning tea with a biscuit, but tea as in beans on toast, or egg and chips if she’s feeling ambitious. Oliver likes going to his mother’s for tea, even though I’m quite capable of rustling up beans on toast, but apparently there’s something about his mother’s cooking that I can’t compete with. I don’t know what it is. Maybe I don’t buy the same cheapo brand of baked beans, or maybe it’s because I’m left-handed and open the tin the wrong way. It’s a kitchen mystery that not even Miss Marple or Gordon Ramsay could solve.
Still haven’t voiced my suspicions to Oliver about his mother’s impending move to number sixteen. Although it’s my nightmare, I have a horrible feeling Oliver would like the idea and we’d be forced round there four times a week for school lunch.
The good thing is that he hasn’t said anything to his employer about his own doubts over our own move. I suppose if he comes out and says he doesn’t want to go, he will appear to lack company commitment, and look like a big wuss into the bargain, so for the moment, everything’s going ahead, even though Oliver is regretting his initial gung-ho spirit and fresh-lobster-worship .
So, off we went to Sandra’s. We took Boris The Spider with us, his little glass cage sealed in two black dustbin bags in case he escaped into the car boot. He’s been living behind the sofa where I can’t see him, and now I need to Hoover behind it because Jack’s been sprinkling squashed digestive biscuits all over the spider tank, so it’s time for Sandra to repossess him. Oliver started to object, saying it would hurt Sandra’s feelings, but stopped when I said that if the arachnid stayed, I’d see to it that he ended his days Cambodian-style, deep-fried, in the local Chinese takeaway that keeps getting prosecuted for dodgy hygiene standards. So Boris came along, without a murmur from Oliver.
It was all so easy that I’m considering making similar threats about Fergus.
When we arrived at Sandra’s house, the whole street was shaking. Not from an earthquake, but from Sandra’s hi-fi. She plays it loud. Sometimes it’s Mahler, sometimes it’s the Rolling Stones, sometimes it’s the Grateful Dead.
Today it was Lady Gaga, and Sandra was dressed to match.
If you’ve never seen your mother-in-law frying eggs while she’s dressed in hooker heels, Marks and Spencer’s bikini, and makeup that’s less Lady Gaga than Alice Cooper — think yourself very, very fortunate.
No wonder she’s moving house. Her present neighbours must have clubbed together for the deposit.
Oliver raised his eyebrows, but carefully avoided looking at me. Jack gawped at his granny, then buried his face in my neck and refused to let me put him down.
“Are you going to get dressed, Mum?” Oliver asked. “It’s probably not a good idea to fry eggs if you’re only wearing a swimming costume.” He gestured at his own midriff. “Hot oil splashes round there – it might sting a bit. The weather’s cooling off outside, too.”
Oliver’s a big noise in Customer Relations at his company, and I can see why. You don’t live thirty-four years with Sandra for a mother without learning something about tact.
Sandra beamed at him and pinched his cheek, then Jack’s, who had lifted his head to see if the apparition in streaky eyeliner was still there.
“I’ll just pop upstairs. Back in a minute.”
Oliver crossed the kitchen to the cooker and removed the frying pan from the heat.
“Do you think she’s…?” He jerked his head in the direction toward the stairs, where Sandra had gone. “You know. Going prematurely senile?”
I’m not in Customer Relations, and never could be. “She’s always been like that, Oliver. There’s no ‘going’ about it.”
He chewed the inside of his cheek. He does that when he’s worried. Bless him. I know I moan, but he only wants the best for everyone.
“I worry about what will happen to her when we go to America. I keep thinking I agreed to this move without thinking about it.”
Like mother, like son.
“You’re not your mother’s keeper, love,” I said, trying to find the right words. “She’s a grown woman, more capable than you think. And there are worse things than us moving to Boston for two years, you know.”
“Such as what?” Oliver asked, but was interrupted by Sandra coming back to the kitchen wearing a denim mini skirt and a T-shirt from French Connection that said FCUK on the front.
“What that say?” Jack demanded, pointing at Granny’s chest.
I’ve been teaching Jack his letters. He likes copying words around the house, like “Sony” from the TV, or “Dell” from the computer. Quite often he gets the letters mixed up, but he likes to treasure his masterpieces and show them to Carol Hunter at playgroup.
I rummaged in the drawer where Sandra keeps her tea towels and aprons, and handed her a PVC Union Jack apron. “You don’t want to get oil splashes on your nice T-shirt, either,” I said.
“We brought Boris The Spider back,” Oliver said over our egg and chips. “Jack’s allergic to him.”
Jack’s nothing of the sort, of course, but Sandra can’t dispute it one way or the other. All children have allergies now. It’s the law.
Sandra waved her hand dismissively. “I’ll give him back to Petra. Not to worry. I’ve got bigger things to think about.”
Oliver and I exchanged glances. Normally she’d have had a meltdown at this point and we’d have to reassure her that our rejection of her gift was not a rejection of herself.
“Is this the surprise you were talking about the other day?” he asked.
Sandra leaned toward us over the kitchen table.
“I’ve been trying to keep it a surprise until everything’s signed and sealed, but you know me. Can’t keep good news to myself.” She paused. “You know that house near you? Number sixteen? I’ve bought it.”
Silence from Oliver. Silence from me, as I wondered what Oliver would say. Squelchings from Jack as he picked up a cold chip and squashed it.
“Really?” said Oliver. “Wow. I mean, wow. That’s terrific news. Only…” He stared at the FCUK T-shirt, again on display, and at Sandra’s makeup. “Only I wish we’d known earlier. You see, we’ve got some news of our own. We’re moving too.”
Later, much later than we had planned, we left Sandra’s house to go home and put Jack to bed. We’d already put Sandra to bed, with some hot milk and Valium.
“We are doing the right thing, aren’t we?” Oliver asked for the fourth time.
“Oliver,” I said, barely holding on to my patience or elation. “I said there were worse things than moving to Boston. Your mother moving to Acacia Drive is one of them. Of course we’re doing the right thing. In fact, ” I said, turning around to adjust the blanket over a sleeping Jack, “I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life.”
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Image: Travel – Map of the World by Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net