Out-laws by Marion de Booy Wentzien




Marion de Booy Wentzien

My in-law support group just happened to fall on Halloween this year. I’m a county social worker and I started this private group four months ago after a jealous sister-in-law held my two-day-old baby upside down and then pretended to my husband that she hadn’t. For nights afterward I woke up and found myself wondering who else had in-law problems. Almost immediately I found three other women who did. We bonded very quickly and have been meeting weekly ever since.

“Turn out the lights and we can sit in the den at the back of your house,” Marta suggests. Marta’s particular pain-in-the ass is her father-in-law who is showing all signs of a split personality, mean one minute and overtly sexual toward her the next.

“Can’t do that,” I say. “I have candy. I don’t want to eat it all. Besides I know a lot of the kids and they will be disappointed if I don’t see their costumes.”

Beatrice smiles her toothy smile. “I agree with Susan. I don’t want to get any fatter. Besides, since we spend a lot of time talking about people who aren’t who they’ve pretended to be, I think celebrating Halloween is perfect. Bring on the freaks and monsters.”

“I’ll tell you when my mother-in-law arrives–all three sides of her, bitch, whore and witch.” Red-haired Patsy laughs.

The doorbell rings. “Let me get it,” Patsy says, “I want to grab a couple of Butterfingers, before they’re all gone.”

It’s a dad dressed as a Rastafarian, standing beside two small angels and a miniature Batman.

“I wish my father-in-law was a Rastafarian,” says Marta after Patsy shuts the door. “That would solve a lot of my marital problems.”

“I’ve been thinking about your father-in-law,” I say. Marta lives five houses down from me and I’ve met her father-in-law briefly a couple of times. I’d seen him a week ago while grocery shopping. He walked with a cane and looked pleasant, although I know looks can be deceiving. “Is it possible you’re too quick to perceive insults from him and that’s he’s just cranky because he’s old?”

“Do you think you could have been standing on your head and just imagined your sister-in-law held your baby upside down by her feet?”

We all laugh. Nothing like raw fighting back. That’s the trouble with in-laws. They are so devious, subtle. And even if they say or do something mean, they lie like bandits when you confront them. “Hand me that basket of candy,” I say. I dig through the contents until I find a Hershey nugget.

“Have you confronted your sister-in-law about what she did?”

“No. The closest I’ve come is mentioning upside-down cake in her presence at Labor Day and there wasn’t any on the table.”

We all laugh and pass the candy around.

The doorbell rings again. This time I get it and smile when I see a neighbor child dressed as a sunflower. Her brother is a tiger. Their mother is behind them carrying the baby who dressed in a yellow bunting and is fat as a buttercup.

In between rings, I check on my baby who is asleep. She smells like baby lotion and my milk. The rainbow colored blanket Mom made her is clutched in one fat fist.

The doorbell rings again as I pass out coffee.

“I don’t want coffee, “ Marta says. “I’ll be up all night. Why don’t you turn off the front light, get some wine and pass that candy again? After we eat ourselves sick we can relive all the offending moments that brought us together. Who wants to go first?“


MarionMarion de Booy Wentzien was a recipient of the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award (twice) and The New Letters Literary Award. The Chicago Humanities for the Arts presented one of her stories in their Stories on Stage. Her stories have appeared in Seventeen Magazine, Blue Penny Quarterly, The San Francisco Chronicle (twice), Scholastic Books, Story Magazine, On the Page, Big Ugly Review, The Quotable, Prime Number, The Sonora Review, Bareback Lit, Tattoo Highway, Red Fez, Cossack Review, Citron Review, Extract(s), Drafthorse, Solstice, ROAR, Spry, Literary Orphans and other literary journals.

She was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2013 as well as for Best of the Net.

She lives in Saratoga, CA with her husband and some formerly stray animals.