Janice waited nervous by the door. When the bell rang, she took a quick scrutinizing look about her and determined everything was in order. She stood up, smoothed her dress and opened the door.
“Hello darling!” Caroline, her mom, gave her a kiss and a hug and stepped into the hall. Bruce, her dad, followed in with a kiss on the forehead. Janice welcomed them and closed the door. Martin, Janice’s husband, greeted his in-laws in the living room.
As she turned the doorbell rang again, and Janice fixed her concerned expression before opening the door. Martin’s parents, Fred and Mamie, greeted her warmly. They were more effusive towards Martin, but Janice did not miss the cool greeting of the parents.
“So it begins,” muttered Janice.
This was the first dinner party she and Martin, recently married, were hosting in their new home. They invited both sets of parents to avoid rumors and misunderstandings; the in-laws had not gotten along since their introduction. In fact, the couples had avoided one another at the wedding. It was also a last resort to bring, if not friendship, then cordiality to the two united families.
“Caroline, darling, how well you look, and what plump cheeks, how I envy you!” Mamie smirked.
“Yes, Mamie, you look wonderful yourself, I love that blouse, it brings out the lovely yellow in your teeth.”
Caroline smiled while Mamie scrunched her face. Janice shook her head and sought to smooth things over while Martin offered drinks.
The jabbing, tongue-lashing and criticism continued as Janice brought out the hors d’oeuvre. The fathers said nothing to one another; they sat and looked up from their drinks occasionally. Janice tried to keep the women’s insults to a minimum, while Martin tried to converse with the men but received only grunts, ahems and one-word answers.
Janice excused her self and fled to the kitchen. She leaned against the counter and took three deep breaths. She lifted the lid off the big boiling pot and stirred the contents. The soup was ready. It was her grandmother’s tomato, leek and potato soup recipe and her favorite. The aroma brought her memories of frosty winter days in the warm kitchen while she sat and listened to Grandma tell stories about the Old Country. The soup was not the star of the night—Martin’s grandmother’s pork ribs were—but it was a dish made with love. She hoped to bring together the two most important sides of her family.
“Ahem,” Janice, standing by the kitchen door, said over the bitter gabble of the two older ladies, “let’s all have dinner now.”
They moved to the dining room; Martin winked, smiled and gave her hand a slight squeeze as they sat at the table. Despite the name cards, the couples faced one another at either side; two factions across a battlefield. Martin shrugged and offered to help with the soup. Janice shook her head and disappeared into the kitchen, cheeks burning. She turned off the stove and lifted the big pot with both hands, fighting back tears. Martin had joked it would feed an army, and how right he was.
She approached the door to the dining room like a queen presenting her crown jewels, her walk slow, her head held high and her gaze above the lid. The queen forgot that Mischief the cat lurked around hoping for another feeding. He rubbed himself against the wall and mewled, but Janice, unaware, stepped on his tail. Mischief yowled and sprang a foot in the air. Janice, surprised at the squishiness underfoot, jerked, lost her balance and pitched forward, tripping over her feet.
The pot flew out of her hands and the dinner party watched as the pot tumbled in the air and spilled all its contents on the white tiled floor. Mischief scampered off to the living room.
“No!” Martin yelled, unsure whether to help Janice who’d regained her footing, or try to save the soup, managing neither.
The soup lay on the floor, like the bloody remains of the hero soldier; the pot rolled on its side, empty and round as a dark cave. Mischief had vanished.
Janice covered her mouth with her hands, her eyes brimmed with tears and met her dad’s gaze. He snorted, chuckled then burst into roaring laughter.
“We’re in the soup now!” Fred chortled and soon all four elders were hooting and howling with hilarity. Bruce held his sides and Fred slapped his knee. Tears rolled down Mamie’s cheeks and Caroline forwent her usual close-lipped giggle and guffawed, her mouth open wide and her head thrown back. Martin and Janice watched aghast.
When the laughter subsided, Mamie turned to Caroline and said,
“Come, Caroline, let’s clean this.”
Caroline smiled. They fussed over Janice and brought out the mop and bucket.
“Don’t you worry dear, let us handle this,” Mamie smiled at the stunned Janice.
“Yes, it’s easy as duck soup!” Caroline joked and both ladies dissolved in a fit of giggles over the spillage.
Bruce and Fred patted each other’s backs and went in search of Mischief.
“Too bad about the soup,” Martin smiled at Janice, “but at least it lightened the mood and brought us all together.”