A shower just as the twilight began to darken, heavy enough to send the cattle lumbering toward the shelter of the tiny remnant forest of hoop pine, the kookaburra’s usual evening call abbreviated—whether by the early and rapid dusk or by the shower, nobody could have said—left John feeling dispirited and thinking of an early night and fresh start.  The earlier than usual hour meant he didn’t feel sleepy, and he thought perhaps a cocktail of norepinephrine, serotonin, dehydroepiandrosterone, oxytocin, vasopressin, and prolactin might ease him into the land of dreams.

            He had just begun working toward stimulating his glands to produce the desired blend of chemicals and hormones with a light massage of the relevant part of his body, when his neighbor Diane opened the door and stepped inside as she called, “John, are you home?”  John felt embarrassed but didn’t have time to cover himself before the dim light allowed Diane to see what he was doing.  Rather than turning away in revulsion, she surprised him by saying, “Oh, John, let me help you with that,” as she knelt beside his bed.

            John liked Diane but had not felt physically attracted to her.  He thought her a truly sweet person but also a married person.  John considered Kenny, Diane’s husband, a friend, and no way would John get involved with the wife of a friend—or any other married woman, for that matter.  Diane’s obesity made resisting lustful thoughts about her easier, too, because John preferred slender—some people, including his ex-wife, said “skinny”—women.  John’s almost-two-years of celibacy since his wife moved out juxtaposed with Diane’s gentle caresses almost overrode his resistance, but he was determined not to cuckold Kenny, both his friend and his neighbor.

            Struggling to think straight, to think at all, John expressed his concerns to his new admirer.  To his surprise, Diane said, “Kenny wouldn’t care.  He doesn’t want it and he wouldn’t mind if I got it from someone else, especially someone he likes.  We haven’t done that in almost three years—no!  More than three years.  He just isn’t interested anymore.  When he goes away for work, like this month, he always says, ‘It’s OK if you have a little fun with somebody else, just don’t fall in love and leave me, ‘cause I still love you.”

            As she spoke, Diane removed the top of her dress with her free hand.  She then did the same with her bra, revealing her large and surprisingly shapely breasts.  John still felt aroused but also felt confused and conflicted.  He sat up and said, “Diane, you’re getting me all excited, but is that really true?  You’re not just saying that in the heat of the moment?”

            She said, “Absolute gospel, John.  I wouldn’t lie about that.”  At the same time, she stopped caressing the object of her attention and embraced her neighbor in a hug.  John responded by embracing her and felt surprised at the delight he felt in their shared hug despite her corpulence—and not just because of the feeling of her breasts against his chest.

            “Oh, Diane,” he said, “you do make me feel excited.  I just don’t want to do anything to hurt Kenny.  I really like him an—”

            “He really likes you, too, John dear, and he wouldn’t mind at all.  I promise.”

            Diane somehow slid the rest of her clothes off and lay down beside her friend.  He moaned and began caressing her right breast with his left hand.  That initiated the first of three delightful couplings before they fell asleep still embracing.  The next morning, raw physical desire overcame any reservations John might have felt and led to three more rounds of sensual pleasure before Diane left to accomplish her daily tasks and John worked on neglected projects to make up for lost time.

            Over the next week, John and Diane spent nights and mornings making up for lost time in a different way.  They suspended their carnal activity when Kenny arrived home from his consulting job—even though he wouldn’t have objected, the other two cared about Kenny and didn’t want to rub his face in it.  John returned to professional activities and easy-going pursuit of a couple of other women of his acquaintance, and Diane returned to the life of a happy homemaker, a happier homemaker than she had been for the past couple of years.

            John harbored no illusion about prospects for a long-term relationship or a real romance with Diane.  His predilection for slender women, a preference discarded more easily than he might have expected, seemed the least of the obstacles.  Despite their unexpected delight in each other’s company in the bedroom, marked differences in their temperaments, interests, and circumstances militated against an enduring liaison.  They spent little time together out of bed and shared little beyond sexual activity.  John felt gratitude for the pleasure and release and felt glad of his ability to give her the same, but they shared no romance and he never imagined the two sharing their lives.

            Diane was a friendly, social person.  A kindly observer might have described her as talkative.  A more precise observer might describe her as garrulous.  She did like to talk.  She also, however, retained enough love for Kenny to avoid humiliating him by describing her new sometime paramour.  She exercised restraint and self-discipline and refrained from telling any of her girlfriends, even her two best friends.  The only person Diane told, and only after swearing her to absolute secrecy, was her daughter Emma.

            Emma valued promises and possessed a robust streak of self-discipline that made keeping them easy for her.  Twenty-seven months single with two pre-teen kids, Emma also possessed a robust streak of inherent curiosity and at least the normal amount of desire for physical pleasure.  Early one afternoon, while her daughter and son attended their classes at the local primary and intermediate schools respectively and Kenny sat on his ride-on and mowed the five acres of lawn, Emma sat chatting in her mother’s kitchen.

            They began with a depressing conversation criticizing Emma’s ex-husband, but Diane lightened the mood by steering the conversation onto John and his remarkable prowess.  She then surprised her daughter by saying, “It seems such a shame, him spending these nights all alone—such a waste, when he has so much to give.”

            Meaning to tease her mother, Emma joked, “Maybe I should go down and let him comfort me.  You could watch the kids.”

            Diane giggled and said, “Cute!” and they went on to other topics until Emma needed to get home for her children’s arrival.  A few days later, Diane spent an hour in town shopping and running errands, then stopped for coffee with her daughter.  As they chatted, Diane recalled their conversation of earlier in the week and brought their chat to a halt by saying, “Y’know, Em, I was thinking about what you said, and you might be right.  Maybe you should go down and see how you and John get along.”

            Emma looked at her mother, and the two sat in silence for several minutes.  At length, Emma spoke, saying, “Mom!  He’s older than Dad.”

            “I mean, what would we have in common?”

            “Emma, honey, you’d have more in common than he and I do, and I think you’d be very happy to have what I’ve had for the past few months.”  Diane paused, but, before Emma could say anything, continued, “You might find you have a lot in common.  You’re both greenies, for one thing.  And he likes kids.  He’d be good for your two.”

            “I am not going to get involved with a man just to have a father figure for my kids.”

            “Believe me, sweetie, you wouldn’t.  If you got involved with him, that’d be the least of your reasons, I can tell you.”

            The two women went on in that vein until the kids came home.  The youngsters hugged their grandma, and she hurried home to Kenny and her dogs.  Mother and daughter, or, as one might say, grandmother and mother, shared two more such conversations in town before Emma’s next visit to her mother’s rural home.  Their chat followed the usual recent pattern, until a combination of curiosity and sensual deprivation led Emma to say, “OK, I’ll give it a try.  What do I do, just walk down and climb in bed with him, like you did?”

            Diane said she would go to town and meet the kids, then said, “If you decide to keep him, and I’m willing to bet you will, I’ll sure miss his cuddles.  I hope you’ll share sometimes.”

            “Mama, I don’t even know the guy.”

            “You’ll be glad, when you do,” Diane replied, then took her daughter down to John’s and introduced them before slipping away.  The two recognized each other, happily acknowledged they had met before at an environmental gathering, and soon discovered a dozen topics of interest to both.  John felt strongly attracted to Diane, whose lively conversation exhibited more depth than her mother’s.  John didn’t think of Emma as slim, but neither did he see her as heavy—Just nice, he thought.  They talked for most of an hour before moving to the sofa and talked there for most of another until hand-holding and then caresses and more led them to move to the bedroom.

            And that is how John found himself five years later with two delightful step-children at the local high school and two toddlers at home with their parents.  Emma doesn’t often share John’s favors with her mother and never with anyone else, which suits John just fine.  Diane, drawing on her experience with John, has become more effectively seductive with Kenny, which has improved their conjugal relationship.  Who can tell what the future will bring—but, so far, they all seem to be living happily at least this much after.


Cora Tate


In the five years since I began writing short stories, my short fiction has appeared in forty-five literary journals, including the Galway Review, Indiana Voice Journal, Veronica, Scarlet Leaf Review, and Green Hills Literary Lantern.  Also, one of my stories won the 2019 Fair Australia Prize, and another appeared earlier this year in a major anthology.  This submission to Ariel Chart is exclusive; "Mother-in-Law" is not currently under submission to any other publications or publishers.

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