“It’s her birthday tomorrow,” Jerry said.
“What should we do for her?” asked Suzie.
“We could go to her favorite restaurant,” Jerry replied.
“We can’t afford it. Could we invite her over to our house for dinner?” Suzie suggested.
“That’s a great idea!” Jerry exclaimed. “We’ll have to invite everyone else too.”
“That’s ok,” Suzie said. “I can handle it.”
Suzie grabbed her notepad and started to make a list. She didn’t have much time. What would she prepare for dinner? Something easy but impressive. Suzie thought hard. Chicken? Lamb? No, that would take too long. Hmmm, she thought, maybe fish? Fish didn’t take too long. Yes, she was going to make a fish dish.
Tomorrow was Suzie’s mother in law’s birthday. It was a big deal. Her mother in law, Jackie was a larger than life figure. She was adored by her husband, her children and their spouses. Jackie ran an event planning company and was known to host lavish and memorable parties. Jackie was also intimidating. She did not suffer fools and spoke her mind. If she was pleased with someone or something, she spoke with glowing praise. If she was displeased, she was quick to set the offender straight and she did so unsparingly. Jackie was both loved and revered.
Jackie’s birthday was a big deal. It was an even bigger deal because Suzie was a newlywed. As the newest member of the Rooley clan, Suzie was eager to make a good impression. Though eager to please, Suzie was not overly intimidated. She was a foodie and watched cooking shows regularly. It’s true that she watched more than she cooked, but she was confident in her culinary skills.
I’ll use tilapia, Suzie concluded. It is versatile and I can bake, pan sear, fry or coat it in breadcrumbs.
“Pan seared tilapia in white wine sauce,” she said out aloud, “it sounds fancy!”
What accompaniments do I make? Suzie wondered. Rice, baked potatoes or mashed potatoes? Maybe garlic mashed potatoes. They were easy to do. She was loath to forgo dessert, which she always viewed as the climax of any meal, but she did not have enough time to make dessert. Perhaps she could pick up something from the store.
Suzie wrote out her list of ingredients. She also made a note of the expected guests. The guests included Jackie and her husband, Jack and George (Jerry’s older brothers) and their spouses. Jack’s three year old daughter would also attend. Nine people in total would be present for dinner, including Suzie and Jerry.
Suzie put her pen down and looked around at their living room. It was tiny. There was a small two seater couch and two armchairs, designed for practicality and not comfort. There was a small coffee table and two end tables. She let out a sigh. There was nothing she could do about their modest abode. The guests would just have to make do. Suzie looked at her watch. It was already 7pm. She would have to shop and prepare everything tomorrow. She hated doing things in a rush and at the last minute, but she had no choice.
The next morning, Suzie woke up early and in a panic. Was she ready to host Jerry’s family, just weeks after their wedding? Worse still, this was their beloved mother’s birthday. What if she ruined it? Suzie took a deep breath.
“You’ll do just fine,” Jerry reassured her. “Mom was pleased with our invitation.”
“I’ll try to leave work early to come and help,” Jerry said, giving her a hug as he walked out the door. “I’ll pick up a birthday cake from the bakery.”
Suzie had a busy day ahead of her. She tried to reschedule her clients, but her 1pm booking insisted that she could not postpone her appointment. I hope she’s had a good week and doesn’t have much to say, Suzie thought. Suzie was a therapist and loved helping people on most days. Today was not one of those days.
All morning, Suzie worked with an eye on the clock. She was the one who eased clients' worries, but today she was distracted and worried. At 1pm, Maureen was ushered in looking downcast. Oh no, Suzie thought, it’s going to be a long one! Maureen took her usual seat and paused before speaking, “It’s over! My husband’s family despises me. They urged him to leave me.” Maureen burst into tears.
Two and a half hours later, Suzie ran to her car and off to the grocery store. She zipped through the aisles, throwing items into her cart as fast as she could. Traffic wasn’t too bad and she got home an hour before the guests were set to arrive. In Suzie’s world, this was a disaster. She was a good cook, but not a magician.
She took out the ingredients and laid them on the counter. At least she hadn’t forgotten anything. Suzie began to chop, slice and dice as fast as she could. Everything was a blur. 40 minutes, 30 minutes. Every time she looked up at the clock she felt nauseous. She felt like a participant in one of those brutal cooking show contests, the one who was doused in sweat from fear and stress as the clock counted down.
At some point, Jerry walked in and said, “They are almost here.” Suzie did not respond. She couldn’t. The potatoes were almost ready, fish almost done and the wine sauce in progress. There would be no dessert. “I picked up the decadent chocolate delight cake,” Jerry said.
Thank goodness, Suzie thought, all was not lost.
Suzie barely had time to dash through the living room and tidy up, though there was not much to tidy. She dashed back to the kitchen, when the doorbell rang.
Jerry answered the door. Usually, Jerry’s family was tardy, but today they were all right on time. One by one they came in and soon the room was filled with voices and laughter.
Suzie took a deep breath and smiled. “Hello and welcome!” she said with a confidence she did not feel. Hugs and kisses were exchanged and everyone found a spot. Nine people in this tiny space, Suzie thought, if nothing else, that was a miracle right there.
“Thank you for having all of us over,” Jackie said.
“You’re welcome,” Suzie replied.
“Dinner is ready!” Jerry announced. “No need to hurry to the table, there is none!”
Suzie returned to the kitchen. The main course was all done and she had made a quick arugula salad in under 5 minutes. She had done it. She was Food Network worthy!
Suzie doled out the food, as Jerry went back and forth serving the guests. Every dish was received graciously and Suzie received praise on her culinary skills. Jackie appeared quiet and content, seeming to enjoy the presence of her family around her.
With every forkful, Suzie calmed down and by the end of the evening, she was relaxed and happy. The birthday cake was brought out and the birthday girl toasted. Shortly thereafter, the guests took their leave.
On her way out, Jackie hugged Suzie and said “Thank you!” Jackie had been subdued all evening, but clearly Jackie was pleased. Suzie was elated. She had hosted the queen of parties and succeeded. She was also exhausted. “Thank you!” Jerry said.
The next day, Jerry needed to drop off a package at Jackie’s house. Pleased and confident by the previous night’s outcome, Suzie went with him. When they arrived, Jerry rang the doorbell. No one answered.
“They must have forgotten to tell me they wouldn’t be home,” Jerry said, referring to his parents. He picked his phone and dialled. “Hi Dad,” he said. Jerry listened to his Dad for a few minutes then hung up.
“Mum is at the hospital.” Jerry said.
“Oh no!” Suzie exclaimed. “What happened?”
“She has had a severe allergic reaction. Apparently, she is allergic to fish and white wine!”
All Suzie could think of was her client, Maureen and the words she had spoken, “It’s over! My husband’s family despises me. They urged him to leave me.” Suzie burst into tears.