The Young Mother and her Mother-In-Law

 Prompt: Rewrite one of Aesop’s Fables in a new, contemporary context in 500 words or fewer.


I’m done telling her. It’s your turn. She’s your mother. I can do this without her. Sheila’s right thumb hovers over the blue “send” icon on the screen before Nina bumps her arm as she rolls around on the couch, egging on their Golden Retriever, Teddy. Sheila just painted her nails a soft green two days prior, but as she sees her thumb rebound off her phone and a little “delivered” notification appear below her text message, she wishes she lacked the time to ever paint them again.

For the 137th Wednesday in a row, Bernadette was over to help raise her granddaughter. This, despite Bernadette’s youngest of five—Sheila’s brother-in-law Steven—being only 17 and still at the house for another 8 months before heading to Truman State to play baseball. Couldn’t she raise her own kids before taking Sheila’s first from her? It wasn’t as if Sheila had no experience with young kids: her sister had her babysit her first two kids—now four and seven—after she went back to work, and her brother’s two sons dirtied their grandparents’ white carpet with floral accents whenever they ran back inside following a wrestling match out front at every family party. Sure, she’d seen the innocent, glassy eyes and gummy smiles, she’d felt the delicately tight squeeze of four little fingers around her pinky; but she’d also wiped shit that had spewed down their thighs, ignored the wretched pleas of a hungry-but-fed four-year-old, and rocked her afternoons away at the crib side rocking chair. She needed no mentor.

“Oh, Nina, come here you sweet girl!” Bernadette smiled a too-big-smile and waved Nina’s stuffed horse at her in a hypnotic rhythm, begging her to come nearer.

Nina instead grabbed Teddy’s face. Lucky for her that he’s past that critical age of four that separates puppies from dogs; who knows what bite marks might have scarred her hands otherwise.

“Nina! Teddy doesn’t want your hands shaking his face round-about!” Sheila reminded her daughter. Nina laughed, her hands unmoved.

“Yes, Nina, that’s right, come over here to Jackie the Horse instead!”

“Bernadette, that’s okay, she doesn’t want to play with Jackie.”

“I’m sorry, Sheila, I thought you’d want me to distract her,” Bernadette said as her smile briefly faltered before an invisible force swooped the corners of her mouth back up. “With Teddy being irritated, and all. Keep them both safe.”

“No, no, I know,” Sheila said as she brushed a strand of her straight, dark, brown hair behind her left ear and glanced at her phone screen. No reply from her husband.

Silence filled the air for the next three and a half minutes before Bernadette jumped up, her face stricken with shame and fear. “I’ll be back,” she announced.

Glad to finally have Nina to herself, Sheila waited an hour to check her phone. When she did, her husband had finally replied: Steven was selling weed. Busted at school. I need to check on him. Be home late.”

This story is based on Aesop’s “The Young Crab and His Mother”