“Dress for Duress” by Laird Long

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Ruth’s mother-in-law just wants to drop by for a short visit. 

Please enjoy our Feature Story: “Dress for Duress” by Laird Long 


When Clyde informed Ruth that his mother ‘wanted to drop by for a short visit,’ her resulting scream could be heard clear across town. The last time ‘Mother’ Agnes had dropped by for a short visit, she’d occupied the Crandell house for three solid weeks. The lash marks from her insults were still healing in Ruth’s mind.

Because when Agnes wasn’t constantly grousing and griping about this and that, him and her, and ‘them on the telly,’ she was saving her best shots for her daughter-in-law. Particularly as it related to Ruth’s wardrobe.

Agnes had once worked in the ‘ladies wear’ section of a department store in a previous century, and as a result, she fancied herself an expert on women’s fashion. Her fashion sense actually ran more along the lines of Queen Victoria’s than Jean Paul Gaultier’s, but that didn’t stop her from telling Ruth just what she was wearing wrong, and how.

Ruth felt, and told her husband, that there should be a toxic warning symbol tattooed on the woman’s lips.

“Oh, it’ll be fine, I’m sure,” Clyde reassured his wife, patting her shoulder. “She’s probably mellowed quite a lot since her last stay.”

“How much do you want to bet?” Ruth inquired. “She’s like fine wine, I suppose? Only her cork’s been off for years, and the older she gets the more vinegary she gets.”


“That outfit’s a little … off-season, don’t you think, dearie?” Agnes offered without asking, as soon as she arrived.

Ruth glanced down at her t-shirt and shorts, then smiled stiffly. “And how was your trip, then? Bus didn’t overturn, hmmm?”

Agnes directed her son to take her three suitcases, two hat boxes, and one hissing pet transporter into the spare bedroom – the room Ruth had suggested they brick up after the woman’s last visit.

Agnes sniffed the air. “Haven’t got a gas leak, have you, dearie?”

“How long do you think you’ll be staying?” Ruth gritted.

Agnes tidied her hair in the hall mirror. Then she dusted the mirror with one of the tissues she kept permanently rolled up her sleeve. “Oh, I don’t know, dearie,” she eventually responded, her face pruning up as her eyes swept over her daughter-in-law from head-to-toe. She looked over at Clyde and smiled. “I try to spend as much time with my loved ones as I can these days. I’m not getting any younger, you know.”

And you won’t be getting any older, either, Ruth thought to herself, if you park it for more than one week, lady. I’ll see to it personally.


The next day was Sunday, and Ruth was already plenty in need of the Lord giving her strength. But, of course, Agnes had to tag along to church with her.

“You know that blouse doesn’t go at all with those pants, don’t you, dearie?” she commented, as Ruth and Clyde stood around in the hallway waiting for her to get her hat on. “The colours are all wrong.”

Ruth’s face went the colour red. “Now, listen-”

Clyde laid a restraining hand on his wife’s arm. “I think you look wonderful, dear,” he murmured.

“Women really shouldn’t wear pants,” Agnes went on. “Unless they’ve got something to hide, of course.” She glanced at Ruth’s rather stumpy legs. “A woman should dress like a woman, I always say, not a man. You really should try to keep your wife out of your wardrobe, dear,” Agnes said to Clyde, reaching up and pinching one of his chubby cheeks.

He grinned at his mother, then regarded his wife much as a Pompeian once regarded Vesuvius. “Uh, I-I’ve made reservations at the fanciest restaurant in town for dinner tonight,” he said hastily. “For my two special ladies.”

Ruth snorted, reaching into her purse to make sure her blood pressure medication was still there.


Ruth strapped herself into one of her ‘knock ‘em dead’ evening gowns for dinner that night. A string of pearls, high heels, and a subtle dusting of make-up set her off to fabulous effect. Or so she and her husband thought.

“Oh my, is that what you’re wearing, dearie?” Agnes remarked. She wrinkled her nose, then wrapped it in an omnipresent tissue and blew.

“What’s wrong with it?” Ruth wanted to know.

“Well, nothing, I suppose – if we were going loitering about street corners looking for men. But for a formal dinner engagement …?” She raised her eyebrows. “And black is a slimming colour, now isn’t it? And, really, it’s a little too late for all that, don’t you think, dearie?”

“Fine!” Ruth snapped. “If you don’t like what I’m wearing, I’ll simply go change.”

Clyde held up his hands. “No, no, that won’t be-”

“I do hope you can scrounge up something a little more appropriate,” Agnes cut in, as Ruth whirled and climbed the stairs to the second floor two at a time.

She was back in less than a minute. “Shall we go?” she asked her husband.

Clyde’s eyes bulged out like a runover bullfrog’s, and Agnes patted her nose with a tissue like it was on fire – the both of them speechless.

Ruth strolled to the front door in her stockings and heels and pearls – and nothing else. Starkers, she was halfway out the door before Agnes screamed, Clyde grabbed her and dragged her back inside.

It was the last time ‘Mother’ Agnes ever questioned her daughter-in-law’s taste in clothing ever again.

Laird Long pounds out fiction in all genres. Big guy, sense of humor. Writing credits include: Blue Murder Magazine, Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, Thriller UK, Bullet, Albedo One, Baen’s Universe, Sniplits, 5 Minute Mystery, The Forensic Examiner, Woman’s World, The Weekly News, that’s life!, and stories in the anthologies Amazing Heroes, The Mammoth Book of New Comic Fantasy, The Mammoth Book of Jacobean Whodunits, and The Mammoth Book of Perfect Crimes and Impossible Mysteries.


One Comment

  1. “She’s like fine wine, I suppose? Only her cork’s been off for years, and the older she gets the more vinegary she gets.” Reminds me of a few people I know.

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