In-Laws and Outlaws

By: Kate Fulford


“I’m a writer.” I said in reply to Marjorie’s enquiry. I’m not, but I have done the occasional bit of copywriting. I once did a poster for a friend of mine who has a fruit and veg stall on Chiswick High Road. It said ‘Mangoes Bananas’ next to a picture of a man who clearly had mental health issues. Alf thought it was very funny and put it on the side of his van. Unfortunately the Advertising Standards Authority found it rather less amusing but for a while I was one of the most widely read writers in that neck of the woods.

“Anything I might have read?” Marjorie asked, although not with any particular enthusiasm. I had the distinct impression that, despite her follow up question, Marjorie wasn’t in the least bit interested in my answer. She had asked me all sorts of questions in the short time I had spent with her but she did so, I felt, more in an attempt to unsettle me and not because she had any desire to get to know me better. I should explain that I was a few months into a relationship with Marjorie’s son, Gideon (excellent name, excellent man), and this was my first meeting with his parents.

“Oh, I doubt it,” I replied, “my work is very . . . niche.” I like to keep things quite vague, too much certainty not being a good thing in my view. People who are very certain about things aren’t usually very interesting, as Marjorie was in the process of proving.

I had been in Marjorie’s house, which I had thought was in Sheen, for about half an hour by the time of this exchange, and I felt as if I were lurching down one disastrous conversational cul-de-sac after another. The first had involved, as it happens, the location of Marjorie’s house. It wasn’t, she had assured me and in contradiction to all the available facts, in Sheen at all.

“Richmond borders,” she had said in a way that brooked no opposition. “We have a Sheen postcode because of those idiots at the Post Office, but it’s actually Richmond borders.”

“Is that an official place then, like the Scottish Borders?” I had foolishly thought she was making a joke and responded in kind.

“No.” Marjorie replied, without even the merest hint of a smile. She was, it would seem, in deadly earnest.

“Oh, I see.” I didn’t see at all. I had ended up in this position due to a clearly futile attempt to ingratiate myself with my boyfriend’s mother. Having believed myself to be in Sheen I had told Marjorie that I had once had a friend who lived there, to which she responded with an icy “and what has that got to do with me?”

I had soldiered on, not having encountered such a response before and therefore not having seen the warning signs that indicated I was digging a hole for myself. I had told Marjorie that I knew Sheen quite well on account of this friend that had lived there. I had embellished the story of my friendship somewhat (I hadn’t known the subject of my story since primary school for example, and neither had we ever gone to Zumba classes together) but I was simply trying to find some common ground, as one does in conversations. The whole exchange had left me wishing I had never heard of Sheen let alone had a passing acquaintance with someone who had once lived there. And now I was burbling on about being a writer. Would I never learn? Luckily I was saved from having to conjure up answers to any more of Marjorie’s questions by Gideon’s father.

“Drink, anyone?” asked Malcolm. He was standing in the doorway of what Gideon’s mother, I had learnt, called the lounge shaking a bottle of sweet sherry at us. He had taken Gideon off somewhere not long after our arrival leaving me alone with Marjorie, so I was inordinately pleased to see him back as it presumably meant Gideon was not far behind.

“Lovely,” I heard myself say, despite never having been especially fond of sherry, sweet or otherwise.

The house in which I found myself sitting, very uncomfortably at that moment, was a half-timbered, mock Tudor beast in a street of similarly beastly houses. It had, as Marjorie had been quick to point out, five bedrooms and three (count them!) bathrooms. She had imparted this information as we made our way from the front door to the lounge, and in such a way that one might have assumed I was an estate agent or even a prospective buyer. I half expected her to give me a brochure so keen was she to extol the virtues of her home.