Grandma Lucy Will Not Be Visiting Riley In Prison So Don't Ask Her
“I will not be visiting Riley in prison,” Grandma Lucy called over her shoulder to her exhausted daughter-in-law, Kyle. Riley was not in prison. Riley was three and playing outside with her two older sisters. To Grandma Lucy, this was beside the point. Kyle was folding the 400th basket of laundry, on the phone arguing with her insurance company over benefits, and had just stepped in a hairball from the feral cat her eldest daughter had brought home… well, no one knew when the cat officially became part of the family but Kyle was sure the feline had some kind of IBS. Did it even have its shots? She wondered silently as she tried not to vomit in her mouth while cleaning the bottom of her foot.
“I will love her until the day I die,” continued Grandma Lucy who was clearly fine talking just to hear the sound of her own voice, “she’s my flesh and blood, of course I’ll love her. She’s a beautiful girl. And smart. Too smart. That’s going to be the problem.”
Kyle heard more rattling in the kitchen and wondered if she should engage in this inane conversation. She took the bait.
“Well she hasn’t graduated preschool so I don’t see how a felony is in her immediate future,” Kyle called back. The insurance operator was confused.
“Ma’am? What felony?”
Kyle turned her attention to the phone. “No, I’m sorry, not you. See, I was in the hospital for two nights. You charged me for six and an appendectomy. I was there to have a baby…”
“Thank you for that information. And did the baby have an appendectomy?” Kyle clenched her jaw and tried not to scream at the woman at the end of the line.
Kyle had just had her fourth baby, another girl with dark hair and mischievous eyes. A year earlier, the family lived in a three-bedroom apartment in Chicago, and, like so many, Covid had scared them out of the city, searching for greener pastures, smaller towns, and more square footage. Kyle had never thought of herself as a country girl. She’d grown up in the city. She’d started taking the EL, an elevated train, the crux of public transportation around Chicago on her eighth birthday. She couldn’t fall asleep without the sounds of the city below her. But here she was, not even in the suburbs, but in a small town in Illinois with a population of less than ten thousand.
It took about eleven seconds to fall in love with having a backyard for the first time in her life. Her anxiety levels dropped noticeably when she saw dozens of neighborhood kids running around the quiet streets together and then hearing the porch bells ring at suppertime. She and her husband, Mark, had even decided to have another child now that they had so much more space. This is how she found herself home on a gorgeous June day, as a happy but tired mama to four girls, with her very opinionated mother-in-law in the kitchen, who’d insisted on coming “to help.”
"Grandma Lucy means well." Kyle wasn’t sure she believed this statement but it was the last thing that Mark had said to her before he left for work. Lucy had brought “real food” from the city and had spent the morning preparing her “famous” meatloaf and commenting on every item in Kyle’s pantry. The laughter and giggles emanating from the yard made Kyle momentarily forget her annoyance. She was so happy to have some space for the kids to play, for them all to be healthy, that she wasn’t going to let anything spoil her gratitude.
“You can tell right away when they’re going to be trouble,” Lucy continued from the kitchen. “From the day he was born, I could tell that Mark was going to be the perfect son.”
Kyle momentarily lost her self-control and took the bait.
“He’s not perfect, Lucy.”
Grandma Lucy slammed the meatloaf into the oven and marched into the living room and aggressively perched her still pot-holder-ed hands onto her hips.
“He was when I gave him to you.”
Kyle couldn’t help but snort. She’d thought that she’d done an excellent job dealing with her husband's mother. At the beginning of her life with Mark, she brought the girls over to her in-law's apartment almost every Sunday for “tea.” She genuinely tried to do something thoughtful for birthdays and holidays but with the demands of daily life, now four children to keep up with, her own skyrocketing career as the small hospital's sole anesthesiologist, she simply didn’t have the time to make Lucy a priority. And Lucy let her know exactly how she felt about this new arrangement. Lucy went back into the kitchen.
“Statistically speaking, having the number of children that you do, there’s no way all of them will turn out fine.”
Kyle finished with the laundry pile, hung up on the insurance company, and checked on the newborn fast asleep in her living room bassinet.
“Lucy, she will be fine. They’re all good kids. And, statistically speaking, I really don’t think that 25% of children wind up behind bars. Riley has an adventurous streak, sure, but that’s why I have her in Taekwondo.”
Kyle cringed at her own lie. She had accidentally missed the deadline to sign up for martial arts but she wasn’t convinced that it was going to drastically alter the direction of her three-year-old's life. But Grandma Lucy was on a tear and not letting up any time soon. Kyle could hear her opening and closing cabinets, clearly looking for something that she couldn’t easily find.
“I’m assuming that you have yeast in here somewhere? How am I going to make my famous bread without any yeast? I’m not, is the answer. You need yeast to make bread. Everyone knows that. Probably even Riley.”
Kyle felt her blood begin to boil. Grandma had been there for six days already and was planning on staying another week. Kyle just wanted to enjoy the new baby, the girls playing in the yard, the maternity leave that had so nicely coincided with the summer break, and here was the human equivalent of the feral cat’s hairball who also talked loudly in her sleep.
“I don’t have any yeast, Lucy,” Kyle called through gritted teeth. “We have a perfectly good bakery a five-minute walk into town. In fact, why don’t you take a break from all this and go get some? That’s why we moved here. Safe, easy, and everything is super convenient.”
All of those things were true. Kyle grabbed her wallet to give Lucy some cash while trying to restrain herself from literally pushing the septuagenarian out the door and into the rose bushes.
“I just think the girls deserve homemade bread,” Lucy raised one eyebrow. Kyle glanced briefly at her liquor cabinet.
“They do,” Kyle’s face now had the smile of a serial killer, “the bakery has homemade bread. It’s bread made in someone else’s home. Here,” Kyle pulled a few bills out.
“Why don’t you take a little walk too? There’s a coffee shop on the other side of the police station. They have excellent drinks.”
Lucy flared her nostrils and wiggled her shoulders, accepting the money from Kyle, desperately looking for something to be right about.
“Your generation and your frappa-macha-chinos. It’s getting a little out of hand, don’t you think? It’s why you can only afford houses this size.”
Kyle had had it. She was done with this woman. She was exhausted and hormonal and the smell of meatloaf was now making her stomach churn. She wanted some peace and quiet. She’d finally moved to a place where her days weren’t filled with constant worrying about the safety of her children. She was happy to not hear emergency sirens at all hours of the night. She had really embraced the simple life and having Lucy in her home was bringing back that pit in her stomach, that anxiety and tension that she didn’t miss at all. She tried to take a deep breath, to picture waves rolling in and out of the beach, just like her new meditation app suggested. But all she saw was Ursula, the sea witch from The Little Mermaid, with Lucy’s face on top of the ginormous tentacles, washing up on shore.
“Please, Lucy, go now. And you have to stop criticizing everything about my life or you can go back to the city tonight. I’m so sick of your worst-case scenario BS. My girls are fine. They’ve got a great life. They’re all healthy and smart and, God-willing will be just fine.”
Grandma Lucy’s eyes doubled in size. She gasped at the pushback. Her dead husband probably rolled over in his grave. And then he probably applauded Kyle’s soliloquy.
“All I want is what’s best for my family. I can’t help it if you don’t. In fact, why don't you just go and-“
But Kyle was interrupted by red and blue siren lights beaming in the kitchen. Kyle put down her wallet and ran to the door. There, on her front step, she saw the last thing she could possibly have expected.
Walking up her path to her porch, towards the rose bushes, were two on-duty police officers. In between the officers was… Riley. “Curious” neighbors poked their heads out of their screen doors to see what was going on. Kyle blinked her eyes rapidly, not sure how she could be hallucinating since she was sober and well-hydrated. Maybe she’d forgotten to take her vitamins? Great, she thought, I miss one day of B6 and now I’m having visions. She was about to laugh to herself over the absurdity of it all but she was interrupted by the 35-inch human standing next to the cops.
“Mommy!” Riley yelled happily. Kyle just stood there, mouth open, immobilized by sheer confusion. She opened the door, ran to the steps, and knelt down to her knees as Riley leaped into her arms. She picked up her third daughter and stared at the cops.
“What, what-“ she couldn’t get out a sentence. That’s when Grandma Lucy jumped in. She cleared her throat, making Kyle jump.
“What seems to be the issue here, officers?” Lucy’s voice was sweet like molasses and made Kyle want to punch her in the throat. Considering the circumstances, she knew that was a terrible idea.
“Oh, we were just doing our rounds and found little Riley down the street taking herself for a walk,”
“A treat!” Riley yelled, holding up a plastic penny from her cash register play set. Kyle looked into her daughter’s plotting eyes, a knot forming in her already tight stomach.
“She showed us to her house, it’s all good. Happens all the time.”
“I got to ride in the police car!” Riley exclaimed with pure joy. Kyle stole a glance at Lucy whose day - if not year- was clearly being made by being way, way, way too right.
“Well thank you so much, officers,” said Lucy while shaking her head, “I wish I could offer you some homemade bread. But we don’t have any yeast. It’s one of those houses.”
The officers didn’t seem to mind the bread-less situation. They tipped their hats, high-fived Riley, and went along their way.
Lucy, Kyle, and Riley shuffled back into the house.
“Riley, please go play with your sisters in the yard until lunch is ready.”
“Ok, Mommy!” Riley beamed. Kyle clenched her teeth so hard that one might have actually chipped. Great, another insurance call to make... “That was so fun! I want to ride in the police car again. Wee-ooo, wee-ooo, wee-ooo,” She wailed, skipping through the living room.
Riley ran out to the swing set, leaving Lucy and Kyle alone, shaken, still processing the last five minutes of their lives. Lucy looked at Kyle for a bit too long. Kyle’s knotted stomach took a deeper twist. She braced herself for the inevitable I-told-you-so and wondered if the same officers would take pity on her when she was booked for assaulting her mother-in-law. She doubted it. She stared at her mother-in-law, bracing for it.
How would she keep calm when those four words inevitably shot out of the woman, like recently sharpened daggers wrapped in barbed wire and dripping with cyanide? Then, out of Lucy’s wrinkled mouth, came a different combination of words that would bond the two of them together for the next week. They were the last words that Kyle was expecting to hear.
“Let’s not tell Mark about this.”
The next day, Kyle bought yeast.