Janet closed the oven door and hurried to the front door of the house to welcome in her afternoon guest, Carol.
“Carol, so good to see you. Thanks so much for stopping by. It’s been ages since I’ve had a free minute to invite you over.”
“I know Janet, it has been a while, hasn’t it? The house smells so good.”
“I just put in some apple crisp. It should be ready in a half hour.”
Carol slid out of her shoes and handed her coat to Janet who hung it up in the entry closet. As Janet invited her into the living room, Carol took in a deep breath and recalled the last time she had sat in the very couch she was about to sink into.
Janet’s living room furniture was always surprisingly comfortable. To the eye, stiff and unwelcoming. But, once you sat, cozy. Sort of the opposite of Janet who was pleasant at first, but surprisingly bitter and unmoving once you got to know her.
Carol had found this out seven months ago. That was the last time she’d been in the living room.
“Are any of the kids home? I’ve been seeing all your updates on Facebook. They’re getting so big,” said Carol as she got comfortable on the couch.
“They are aren’t they. No, they’re not here. They’re all off at their different after school activities. Grace has kept up with her gymnastics. Ryan is at basketball practice and Lynn joined the robotics club this year,” said Janet, walking into the kitchen.
“Oh wow, you must be running around like crazy this time of year then,” Carol called out, finding herself immediately renewing her appreciation for the comfy couch.
“Yes, sometimes I feel like a regular taxi driver. The kids don’t tip though, ha!” Janet returned to the living room and handed Carol a coffee with two creams.
“You remembered the cream. Thank you. It’s good to see you’re all doing so well then. Is Reggie still at the same job?”
“Yes, yes he is. I think it’s going well for him. He hasn’t complained about it for a few months so I just assume everything’s all right. They really like him there so that’s good.”
“Good to hear.”
Carol remembered that she wasn’t sure why she’d been invited over. Janet hadn’t told her.
“Oh, I don’t think I mentioned this before, but Reggie’s mother moved in with us about four months ago,” said Janet.
“Really? No, you hadn’t mentioned that. Boy, that must be a big transition for you guys.”
“Yeah, actually it really has been. The kids have loved it, but to be honest it’s been a little difficult for me.”
Carol wondered if Janet was just going to bitch about her mother-in-law and pass over the messiness of their last visit.
“Well, that is quite the change. Can she still take care of herself?” asked Carol.
“Physically, she’s alright. Except for driving. She can’t drive anymore. That’s one of the big reasons she moved in…oh I hate to complain. I feel bad.”
“No Janet, you don’t have to apologize.”
She could apologize to me, Carol thought.
“It’s not the extra help she needs. I don’t mind taking her on errands or helping her pick up groceries…it’s…well…”
“What is it Janet?” Carol feigned sympathy.
“You know. Reggie didn’t exactly grow up in a home like we did. His mom has always been a little rough around the edges. Before she moved in, I always kinda chalked it up to ‘it taking all kinds” and such, but now it’s having a direct affect on my family.”
“What do you mean when you say rough around the edges?”
“Well, the drinking for one. I’ve seen her go through a bottle of bourbon in a day and a half. And the horror movies too. She has her own room but her hearing isn’t very good so she turns the volume all the way up. After dinner, the kids will be doing their homework and they can’t focus. Literally, we’re hearing shrieks coming from her room at full blast.”
“Can’t you ask her to turn it down?”
“Reggie has and she complies at first, but ten minutes later she turns it back up. I think she gets too drunk to remember what Reggie or I say.”
“Maybe you could ask her to watch her movies during the day while the kids are at school?”
“Oh, it’s not just the movies. I’ve never heard a fouler mouth. At dinner, she swears in front of the kids.”
At this point, Carol had to exert every ounce of her self-control to keep herself from erupting in Janet’s face. Janet was misdirecting the conversation. Carol thought they she had been invited over to receive an apology. Apparently that was not the case.
Suddenly, a cold and calm “Fuck you” came from the bedroom adjacent to the living room.
Although those exact words had been on the tip of Carol’s tongue, it was not her voice that uttered the expletive.
“Fuck you and your horseshit complaints,” said Grandma. Her name was Ruth but everybody had called her Grandma since her husband passed away 15 years prior.
“Excuse me?” Janet sputtered out, her cheeks flush with embarrassment.
“You heard me,” Grandma said. “How dare you slander me in the presence of company.”
Carol held back a smile. Grandma’s steely gaze fell on the living room. Janet’s mouth, which normally never stopped moving, froze shut in quiet fear.
Emboldened by Grandma’s forthrightness and given the opportunity afforded by Janet’s newfound silence, Carol unleashed the monologue that had been pent up inside of her.
“I can’t believe you invited me over here and had the audacity to whine about your circumstance. Janet, you’re crazy for thinking we’d still be friends. You’re one of the most manipulative human beings I’ve ever met. To think that’d you’d accuse me in front of the whole book club of sleeping with Ramona’s husband! You made me out to be a regular slut. The last time I sat in this couch, Ramona spat in my face from across the room. Sure, you confided in me, shared the group gossip with me, invited me in when I didn’t have a lot of friends. You were a big part of me getting over my divorce. All of that, only to turn around and screw me over. You lying bitch. You come off as so holy with your church lady activities and bible studies. I hope you burn in the hell you scare your own children with. I promise I won’t see you there.”
Shocked, Janet stuttered, “I-I-I…don’t know what you mean. I mean…”
“Oh shut up,” spat out Grandma.
Carol, who was slightly shaken up by her own forwardness, leaned back and hoped the pleasantness of the couch would overcome the awkwardness of the situation she had just created.
Grandma continued, “You torture those women in your book club. With your nagging and gossip and accusations.”
“I do not,” Janet maintained. “I…I open my house to them. I opened my house to you, Carol. And in return, you come over here and accuse me?”
“You invited me here, Janet. I guess it was a mistake to come. It definitely was a mistake to expect an apology from you.”
“She’s never apologized for a thing in her life,” Grandma stated flatly.
The three women sat in silence for what seemed like minutes, not sure exactly how to proceed. A beep from the oven cut through the quiet. Janet started to get up before sitting back down once realizing it was just a preheat signal. The apple crisp was not ready.
“Well then. I suppose we’re done here. Sorry for inviting you over, Carol. Grandma, can you let me show Carol to the door?”
“Somebody needs to drive me to Blockbuster,” replied Grandma.
“Blockbuster went out of business years ago, Grandma. Why don’t you see if you can find something new on Netflix.”
“I’ll take you to Blockbuster,” Carol butted in.
“I’d like that,” said Grandma. “I don’t care if it’s closed. It’s better than hanging around here all day.”
Carol rose from the couch and walked with Grandma to the door. Slightly stunned, Janet remained seated, not sure what to do.
“Want to grab coffee?” Carol asked Grandma.
“Yes, I’d love that,” replied Grandma. “Maybe we can be friends.”
“I’d like that. Yes, maybe we can,” said Carol, closing the door on Janet and her comfy couch.