My mother-in-law's place is so neat I feel my cells rearranging themselves guiltily whenever I step over the threshold.
My mother-in-law's place is so ordered that I'm never sure if its ok to put my bag on the floor. So colour coordinated, I feel as if I should get changed immediately to fit in with the scheme: plum cushions and cream backgrounds, russet and wine red detail and a thin line of black sewing it all together. Beaded mandalas in gold, silver and black on the cushions, matching the coasters that I'm afraid to put my coffee cup on, in case I leave a stain.
My mother-in-law's place smells so clean I'm scared to poo in her guest toilet, where the lavender-sprig toilet paper looks like it's been published by a reputable printing press.
My mother-in-law collects winged beings made of china, glass or wood. She has ducks frozen in flight across the wall, guinea fowls looking less ruffled than I've ever seen them, doves, hornbills, necking swans, gaggles of pert geese. There's a rooster nesting in a pot plant on the top shelf, and a pair of very satisfied looking ducks on either side of the bath salts. Only the teddy bears are wingless, huddling on top of the bookshelf in the guest bedroom, looking vertiginous.
My mother-in-law's little lawn is an extract from the oval grounds. Adventurous blades of grass would get snipped by nail clippers. Perfect ferns convene next to polished elephant ears, and wide-eyed pansies nod with neighbourly grace at the gentle cactuses. These plants love the Durban climate and never get that ragged brown thirsty look that Joburg plants get. The cactuses were her husband's. They have outlived him by 20 years.
My mother-in-law has a board near the phone, set about with oval frames. Each frame hugs something we have never quite managed to give her. Wedding photos and baby pics. Her other children have knitted the family lines together nicely, with their coiffed wedding hair and cute round offspring. This reveals the fact that strictly speaking, I cannot quite call her my mother-in-law. She's been decent about it these last 13 years, but it must niggle her pastor's wife sensibilities. We sleep in one room, dorm-style on single beds.
My mother-in-law's place is so neat that every time her youngest son crosses the threshold, he makes a spectacular mess - accident with coffee machine sprays grounds across white kitchen. Exploding coke bottle makes rorschach test on pale carpet. A display shelf knocked sideways - see those geese fly!
A pair of owls frown down at him as he spills his peas. This son-of-a-preacher-man is neither tidy nor punctual. He suffers from alarming bouts of lateness. I have seen him make snowstorms in his sock drawer, pant over missing keys, daily. When it's sit-down-meal time he's nowhere to be found, still fleeing the Sunday morning bells of his Lutheran childhood.
My son-of-a-preacher-man has taught me stuff, though, I can tell you. Well. Not here I can't. It wouldn't be polite.
His Mama is a wonderful woman by the way. She is devout and kind. It's just that, well, generally I'm more comfortable with a lot more chaos around me. Luckily, I have her son for that.