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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

A Startle Is Born

I just scared the bejeesus out of my mother-in-law.

It wasn’t the worst fright I’ve given her, of course. It was no, “I’d like to marry your daughter” horror show. I think we nearly lost her after that fiasco.

But she was pretty wigged out tonight, too. And it was purely accidental. I swear.

No, really. For true. Cross my heart.

Here’s what happened:

My wife’s mom is staying with us this weekend. She usually comes to visit for a few days in the summer; I think it’s to verify that there really are hot, sticky days in Boston.

“Some of our visitors from down there expect us to all be wearing tri-cornered hats and soaking in baked beans.”

(She’s from the South. They have a few odd notions about what goes on here. Some of our visitors from down there expect us to all be wearing tri-cornered hats and soaking in baked beans. It’s a thing, apparently.)

Her flight arrived in the early afternoon, and my wife picked her up and brought her to our condo. I was at the office, and returned near dinnertime to find the two chatting away in the kitchen. Only they didn’t find me. And that was a problem.

I walked in the front door, closed it, dropped off my keys no more silently than usual, and approached the kitchen, from whence their voices wafted.

(Or whooshed. They can get a little chatty, now and then.)

I approached the kitchen and stood in the doorway. My mother-in-law was sitting on a stool just inside the door, facing into the kitchen. She was talking, and I didn’t want to interrupt. Because that would be rude.

I’m told.


She didn’t see me, and kept on conversing. In front of her was the stove, where tasty morsels were being prepared, and past the stove a counter will more morsels in various states of choppedness, measured-outness and strewn-about-messiness.

(As an aside, my wife and I have somewhat different philosophies when it comes to preparing a meal. She’s happy to leave the messes and scraps of each individual step lying around until the end, when she cleans them up all at once.

My strategy is completely the opposite. What I do is keep my damned fool mouth shut and stay out of the kitchen as much as possible, because nobody in there wants my advice on when to clean shit up, thank you very much.

Different approaches. But as it turns out, completely complementary. Who’d have known?)

As I stood in the doorway, I realized that neither my wife nor mother-in-law had seen me yet. This posed a dilemma, as I pondered the correct way to proceed. I was no more than two feet from my mother-in-law — too close to gently make my presence known with, say, a touch on the shoulder or a “hello“. Or, say, a scream of “you in the jungle, baby!

That’s the wrong approach. I’ve learned that. She might go crashing through the cabinetry or smack me with a hot pan full of dinner. So much for Plan A.

I considered leaving the room and making an, I don’t know, more conspicuous entrance. But that seemed pretty forced, and what was I supposed to do? Retreat to the hallway, and then stomp in, banging the walls and singing “I Love a Parade“? They’d probably think I was drunk.

Which I wasn’t. Yet. But they’d think so.

Also, this is one of those awkward situations where, if one were to leave, one would probably retrieve one’s keys and hop back in the car and just drive away, the better to prevent a repeat of the awkward situation later on. One’s just saying.

So I tied my fate to my wife, and her peripheral vision. She was listening to her mother, who was right beside me. She was transferring food from the counter to the stove, which faced her in the same direction. And if she was timing anything in progress, the kitchen clock is above the doorway, two feet over my head. At some point, surely, she’d glance over for some reason and see me out of the corner of her eye, and then we’d all have a nice dinner. No problem.

Except for two things. My wife has this odd sort of beeline focus. Some people go off into their own little world. She apparently has an entire universe reserved for her personal use, and she’s tinted the inside universe glass so she can’t see outside. She wasn’t daydreaming, there in the kitchen. She was cooking and listening and having a conversation — but that was all she was doing, hell, high water or pondering husbands be damned. She wasn’t looking up. She was locked in.

Also, she has the peripheral vision of a crosseyed flounder. Clearly, I’d hooked my wagon to the wrong set of peepers. I considered that, and pondered on whether-


That was my mother-in-law, finally turning her head slightly and finding six feet of unexpected person looming overhead.

Though to be fair, I wasn’t “looming”. I was pondering. I think I’ve made that abundantly clear.

The distinction was lost on her, of course. Luckily, she didn’t crash through the cabinet, and the pan full of dinner was too far away to use as a weapon. I was roundly accused of “sneaking up” on the girls — largely because I’d taken off my shoes, which was purely circumstantial. And anyway, they were barefoot. It’s ninety degrees, for crissakes. No jury would convict me.

Well, none with decent peripheral vision, anyway. But if the court is loaded with flatfish, I’m probably SOL.

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