Lester Finch hated his Mother in Law. To him she was a mean ole bitter divorced hag who had driven her husband away years ago and made up for it by taking it out on every living man in the world she met. Not only was she mean but spiteful as well, and she took great pleasure in making them feel inadequate or insecure.
Not that she was successful in making Lester feel that way, but he felt sorry for the poor schmucks she had punished this way in the past, including her own son who he had watched her drive to drink and nearly destroy.
Now that wasn’t why Lester hated her, he didn’t like the impact that she had on his wife. She was not really controlling, but had an intense emotional hold that often made his lovely Claire a bit unstable.
When they first met and had decided to start dating, she had taken him home to meet her mother. He was polite and courteous, but she had only sneered and made rude comments about his clothes, his hair, his way of speaking, and any other external characteristic she could find to criticize, Lester had smiled and dismissed her comments. He would have laughed, but that might have been considered rude and then she would have given him an even harder time when he wanted to see Claire.
Lester’s Parents had loved Claire from the moment they met her and had done everything they could to make her feel welcomed in their home and lives. Not having had her own father around growing up Claire grew very attached to Lester’s father who doted on her as if she were his own daughter.
When they went away to college, he gave them both a fabulous send off to which they had invited Claire’s mother. She attended, but the entire time she whisper negative comments to Claire about how Lester’s mother allowed his father too much freedom, and how she was trapped in the house. Though she had only been to the house a few times she knew that Lester’s mother worked as a caterer and that she had chosen that as a profession so that she could stay at home and raise her four children. In their early years this was difficult, but as her children grew up she was able to run her own business and eventually had a large clientele which earned her a nice salary yearly.
“Not exactly a trap,” thought Claire, but she had learned over the years not to voice her thoughts to her mother. However on this particular occasion Claire’s mother could see the obvious admiration she held for Lester’s mother. Though she didn’t get loud or make a scene, she somehow managed to have a kitchen knife end up lodged in the meat of her palm and had to leave for the hospital. Claire spent the remainder of the evening fretting and fussing over her, and was stressed out and running around in a panic the following day trying to pack to leave for school.
That wasn’t the first or last time something odd like that had occurred to ruin an outing or event, and it always left Claire in an agitated unpredictable state. Lester had thought this would happen less once she was no longer at home, but now that Claire was on her own the incidences seemed to increase.
The year Claire’s brother was hospitalized to help with his addiction to alcohol, their mother nearly sent him on a bender, yelling, ‘I can’t believe I pushed a weakling like you out of my loins, don’t you think it’s time for you to grow up and stop this nonsense!”
“Mother, are you out of you mind?” Claire shouted, “We are supposed to be here to support him, You can’t possibly think that this is helping him.”
It was too late to take it back. “I knew you’d take his side, that’s how you are, stuck on these men, unable to think for yourself. That’s why you’ve got a loser like that Lester always hanging around. He’s going to leave you just like your father left me.”
Of all the negative things that her mother had to say to her often, this was the one thing that drew her up into a ball inside and made it impossible for her to function. Of course she wasn’t to blame for her father leaving, but her mother put a spin on it that made her feel guilty about it even when she knew the truth.
The year they got married, Lester had taken every precaution to avoid incidences and injuries; short ceremony, plastic ware, background checks, EMS on standby, he was determined not to have anything upsetting his bride. The table was round and everyone was seated together and the seats were chosen by lottery so no one could complain about who got a better seat.
Claire’s mother had said Lester would get cold feat and not show up on the wedding day but he greeted her at the door and escorted her to her seat. He gave her her own wait staff, all female, and made certain that though she could see her she could not talk to Claire. He wanted no negative whispering in her ear on that day.
The wedding went off without a hitch, but during the reception after a few too many glasses of champagne, Claire’s mother whispered to the girl next to her that Claire would be stuck as a house wife and unable to finish college now that she was married to “that Tyrant”.
The girl turned out to be Lester’s first cousin and knew Claire well and answered, “If she doesn’t finish school it won’t be due to her marriage to Lester, but from the emotional meddling of her mother.”
Claire’s mother was shocked but could not reply. She did not know who the girl was, or how she knew Claire.
“How are you acquainted with the bride?” she asked.
“I’m a classmate at her college.” his cousin replied in truth, “and you?”
Claire’s mother was too ashamed to tell her the truth though the girl was aware. “I’m a member of the brides family,” she said and tried to smile.
Though Claire did not hear of it on that day, some weeks later the rumor of it reached her at school. It was the week of exams and she was already a wreck. The last thing she needed was drama from her mama. So After her exams she went by to visit her brother. He was still staying in the program but he was better by leaps and bounds as long as his mother didn’t come by.
“She gets worse as she gets older. Are you sure she doesn’t have some type of mental condition?” he asked.
Claire laughed, but lately she was beginning to wonder the same thing. She was even starting to wonder if it was hereditary.
Lester had long since tired of her follies, but he too had begun to think there was some codependency. It took Claire many days to recover from her drama, and when he would not allow her mother to visit she became maudlin and sullen, withdrawn. He compromised by encouraging long phone conversations. She was still able to manipulate but Claire seemed in greater control and could end things when she liked.
This worked well all through the first eights years of their marriage. It helped them manage graduation, the birth of their first child, a girl thank goodness, and Lester’s first job promotion. But at the end of the that year Claire’s mother suddenly got sick and passed away without any warning. They hadn’t any money for large proceedings so Claire and her brother had her cremated and stored the ashes in a big beautiful urn.
Months had passed since then but Claire had not returned to her radiant self and Lester was beginning to worry. She had seen doctors, therapists, and even tried some holistic treatments, but she did not seem to be coming out of her depressed state. Lester was ready to try anything.
A man at his job approached him with a card held out in his hand. “Hey this may sound strange, but there’s this mage who has a wife that does potions. They might be able to help you.”
“A what, we don’t need a magician?”
“His name is Harlo, he’s a mage, not a magician. They do real magic, trust me. You don’t have to go if you don’t want to, but believe me it’s better than just letting your wife slip away.”
Lester pocketed the card. After seeing his wife’s state that evening he decided to pay them a visit. It wasn’t as crazy as it sounded. Harlo had a clinic, nicely set up with a waiting room, a lab, and an office. His wife was a spiritualist who dabbled in the arts and she was good at potions.
After describing his wife’s state the beautiful young spiritualist went into her lab and after twenty minutes came back with a tear-shaped bottle capped with a dropper.
“This only works for twelve hour at a time. This bottle holds about two ounces and should last a long time if used correctly.”
“What does it do?” Lester asked.
“You put one drop in the ashes of the deceased and a spirit of that individual will manifest for twelve hour. She will be able to talk to her and see her, though she will not be able to interact with her physically, but this may help her adjust and after a time maybe she will not need it as much.”
“You mean a Ghost?”
“No, it is actually a reconstituted spirit, a part of the essence of the remains, unable to be destroyed by the fire. A ghost would be the entire spirit of the person, this spirit water will not call up the entire spirit, only a passing glance. No matter how much you use, you will never get more than a small piece. remember that and use it sparingly.”
Lester couldn’t wait to tell his wife and try it to see if it really worked. He hated Claire’s mother, but if having her around in spirit form from time to time was going to help his wife he would endure her negativity for twelve hours at a time.
When he got home he explained the process and the instructions and warnings to his wife.
“Remember 1 drop only, this is all you’ll ever have.”
Lester sat the opened urn on the sofa and added just one drop to the ashes. In moments the spectral form of Claire’s mother sat with the urn placed as if it were in her lap.
“Well just don’t sit there,” she scowled, “Get this damn box out of my lap.”
“Mother must you always give Lester a hard time?” Claire asked immediately as if she had just awaken out of a deep reverie rather than having been deeply depressed for months. She talked with her mother as if nothing had happened and it was completely natural to have conversations with a spirit.
This went on for several months before her mother began suggesting that she increase the drops so that she might have more substance.
“That’s not how it works Mother, you will never have more ‘substance’ you’re dead don’t you remember?” Claire responded. Claire might have said that substance wasn’t something she had when she was alive, but she thought that might have been a joke in bad taste.
But her mother didn’t dissuade easily and finally Claire agreed the next time to put in two drops instead of one but reminded her that it would lessen the time she would be able to see her and that once it was gone she would never have the opportunity to see her again.
“That’s what that bird brain told you isn’t it? It’s a wonder he made it through college.” her mother replied. “I bet that’s just what he said because he’s afraid I might come back permanently.”
It was true that she seemed more visible when two drops were added, but even after two drops promptly at twelve hours she faded from existence. Claire was disappointed though not surprised.
Just as Lester had thought she was slowly growing use to the idea that one day her mother would be gone permanently, until then she talked and laughed and ignored her rude comments just as she had when her mother had lived.
By the end of six months the bottle had reached the half empty point. Claire’s mother had on several occasions convinced her to add a few more drops to “give her a little more life’, but no matter how many drops she added twelve hours was all she had. Claire had also begun to notice that the ashes in the urn seemed fewer as if each drop of the spirit water melted away a portion of the remains. Her mother’s insistence on being a little more had made what was left of her a little less. Eventually even if Claire had spirit water left nothing would remain of her mother’s remains, she would truly be gone.
On a night eight months after her passing, Claire’s mother’s spirit stormed around the house in an alarming manner, shouting about how unfair they had been to keep her around but not allow her to return to true flesh and blood. Claire tried to assure her that that was not an option.
“Out of fairness mother, it has given me the opportunity to have you around just a little while longer, but I am not God that I could bring you back. It may be selfish to be unable to let you go, but I do not have the ability to keep you permanently.” Claire insisted.
“Nonsense, just empty the whole bottle in at once.” answered her mother.
Unable to make her mother listen to reason, Claire promised the next time to empty the remaining water into the urn. She waited several months before actually doing so, hoping to experience what she would feel like after her mother was gone for good. She was sad but no longer depressed.
She emptied all except a drop hoping to have enough to see her one more time. Upon emptying the bulk of the water into the urn, a steam or smoke billowed up, Claire could not tell which, but when it cleared a nearly opaque vision of her mother stood before her and the urn stood empty.
Claire gasped in panic. There was not even enough ashes left to use the drop she had saved.
“We now have only twelve hours left. She announced,”If there is anything you would like to say to me beyond all the negative you managed to fill my youth with, or the cutting remarks you’ve had for me regarding my husband, you should say them. I have listened to your advice, followed your requests, and fallen for your dramatic schemes nearly always to find that they suited only you. But this time you have robbed us both. After today, we will truly never see each other again” she cried.
For the first time in Claire’s life, her mother didn’t have anything to say. She looked over at Lester without her usual sneer and asked,”Why did you do this?”
“It could be that I wanted Claire to be able to delay losing you, to help her adjust to being unable to talk to you, or just selfishly wanting for her to get back to normal and cope in the world she is forced to live in without you. As usual all you could see was what you wanted. But no matter what my reason, the benefit to Claire was always the same, I love her and wanted her to be stable, and happy despite how much I always hated you.” Lester answered.
Claire had not expected this revelation, though she knew exactly how her husband felt, she had never expected him to reveal the truth, he had never done so in life.
“I’m sorry.” her mother responded,”It was already too late to change the direction things had taken. Like many I gave up the opportunity to say and do the things that might have been done and said trying to manipulate and maneuver things in a direction that suited me. I died never thinking I’d ever regret any of the things I’ve missed. Tell your brother I’m sorry.” she said and reach to touch her cheek. “I forgot, I can’t touch anything. My one regret, I should have given you affection, I’ll never know now what that was like.”
Claire smiled, “No, I suppose not, but it’s nice to know you wanted to give it.”
They talked and laughed and exchanged secrets. Ten minute to the hour before her last departure she glanced at Lester and said, “Look in the bottom of the box in my right dresser drawer. There’s an envelope with a bunch of things you may need to address. I love you Claire”
That was the last thing they ever heard her say.
All of her mothers things had been sitting in storage for nearly a year while Claire languished. Now she thought she would be ready to tackle the task of sorting and deciding what was to be done with everything. When they finally found the box in the bottom right drawer they discovered along with a last will and testament, assorted pieces of jewelry, a beautiful old fashioned handkerchief, and an envelope marked for my son-in-law.
Lester opened it.
I know that you hate me and I have probably given you every reason to do so, but despite what I have always said to you, know that I have always been grateful for the way you have treated my daughter. If I had married a man like you maybe I would have been a better mother to my daughter, and a less bitter person to everyone else. Though I know this won’t make up for how I’ve treated you, I hope it will make it easier for you to continue to be good to my daughter.
Lester had tears in his eyes as he stared in disbelief at a insurance policy to which he was beneficiary. The other papers had a policy which covered Claire’s mother’s debts and other family members, but what she had left for Lester was intended just for him. It wasn’t a vast fortune, but it was more than he had ever expected from someone who had treated him so terribly.
In the end Lester realized that she had never really hated him, just had been too bitter to see that things could have been different between them.
Cherish people when you have them, love like so many things cannot be reconstituted once they have departed this world, no matter how often we just add water (tears).
Just Add Water © DJuna Blackmon 2015, All Rights Reserved