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The Bulldog

Mothers are known to think their daughters-in-law are evil, but I’m pretty sure they don’t go saying it to their faces. Especially mothers-in-law like mine: pre–Civil Rights era women who are always striving to keep the peace. So I was caught off guard when, seated side-by-side with my mother-in-law in a little café in preppy, posh Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard, she turned to meet my eyes and whispered, “You are evil.”

I started to laugh, but then stopped mid-HA! to defend myself. “It’s your fault,” I said in a tone I often use with my sister Jane. “You’re the one who brought it up. I never would have come up with the idea of giving you a mohawk on my own. You should know better by now than to put an idea like that in my head. And I can tell by the way you’re narrowing your eyes at me that you’re beginning to realize I’m not going to just let this go.”

One of David’s terms of un-endearment for me is “bulldog.” He wields the word like a bitch-slap whenever he gets frustrated with my focus on any one enterprise, be it making him watch a movie I’m dying to see or insisting we add my special yogurt dressing (my one and only recipe) to every meal we have at home. David says that when I decide there’s something I want to do, I badger and bully until I get what I want. I hate to admit it, but I know that he’s right. His poor mother had no idea how tenacious I could be, and I knew better than to bother with trying to subdue myself — Ency was about to suffer the full brunt of the bulldog.

I smiled inwardly as it registered that this was the first time I was messing with her in the way I mess with my own blood. It felt good to have reached a point in my relationship with my mother-in-law where I felt comfortable, safe, and secure enough to make her suffer. You only mess with the ones you love.

Ency and I had left David and Robert back at the house to go have a “girls’ day.” First we’d walked and shopped for skin products and souvenirs, and now, before running errands (to a jeweler’s shop to have Robert’s watch battery replaced, to the pharmacy to pick up Robert’s medication, and to the grocery store to replenish the potato supply), we were taking a moment to sit. We got coffee and a piece of fudge to share from the 125-year-old Murdick’s Fudge and pulled up a couple of stools facing the window so we could chat and watch the tourists pass by.

That was when Ency gestured to a salon across the street and told me how she’d been on that hair-color specialist’s waiting list for four months and how inflexible the salon had been when it came to scheduling an appointment. “That’s ridiculous,” I said. “You don’t want to feel like you’re putting someone out by giving them your business.”

“She’s supposed to be really good,” Ency said.

“I don’t care if she’s the hairdresser to the stars — you should go to a place where they actually appreciate their customers, where they’re aware that you’re paying them for a service instead of them making you feel like they’re doing you some sort of favor just by taking your money.”

Ency explained how she loves the guy who cuts her hair, but she has difficulty communicating to him just how she wants her streaks of blond to play out, hence why she had been interested in a “color specialist” in the first place. She was pointing out the bits she loved about her latest short pixie ’do when she unwittingly handed me my next obsession: “He says that because my hair grows upward here and down here, that I have the perfect hair for a mohawk.”

When she shared the tidbit, she did so in a conspiratorial, can you believe that? sort of way. Her eyes sparkled with mischief and I caught a glimpse of the carefree, pre–Hungarian Revolution girl hidden within her handsome septuagenarian features.

“You should do it,” I said. She laughed. “No, really, come on, how cool would that be?” I remembered who I was talking to and recalibrated my objective back to possibilities in the known universe. “We won’t cut it, we’ll just shape it. Just once — with gel, just to see how it looks. We could take a picture and you could send it to your granddaughters — oh, man, you’d be the coolest grandma ever.”

Ency sat up straighter. “It’s not going to happen,” she said in her best, this is ending now voice, which, with her accent, sounded more like, “Zis is ending now.”

But I only smelled a challenge. “Come on, it would be fun! Just ten minutes with me and some hair products, a quick snap, and it would be over. But the legend would live on.” This was around the time she called me “evil.”

I recognized that I was talking to the same woman who had come from a von Trapp–esque aristocratic background, a woman who, as a child, learned proper dining etiquette by having her elbows tied together at the table. But it was all that propriety that made the idea of her rocking a mohawk that much more hilarious, and, therefore, that much more necessary for the greater good of all humankind (or at least for my own amusement).

I gave the appearance of letting it go as we gathered our things and walked back to the car to embark on the errands. But as soon as we got back to the house, while Ency was unpacking the grocery bags and catching up with the guys, I turned to Facebook to begin mustering my forces. My first message was to my sister-in-law Michelle. On her timeline, I wrote, “I’m trying to talk your mom into letting me at her head with some gel to give her a faux-hawk so I can take a picture for the entertainment of the entire family. Can I count on your support at Thanksgiving?”

I scrolled through my friends list to find other potential allies. Even a bulldog knows how to play the long game.

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