A demon lifted his head and scented the air. Ears were waiting, and there was damage to be done. With a flutter of wings and glance in each direction (which way did the winds of rumor blow strongest?), he started work…

Who knows where Mary Elizabeth got her information? Did it whisp through the air and into her extended, listening ear? Did she see something on a face; hear the wrong message in a few casual words?
However it came about, she was on the phone to Mrs. Bresenio in as little time as it took to punch in her neighbor’s number.

“You’re never going to believe what I just found out…Well, I never would have guessed it either, but it happens…these days! And they always seemed…”
“Well, don’t pass it on, of course. You’re the only one I’ve told, and you’re so close….”
“Absolutely. Till someone else says something. It won’t come as any surprise….these things get out–no matter how you try to keep them from spreading…”
But Mrs. Bresenio had no intention of telling anyone. It just happened that her mother was visiting that day, and it’s hard to keep things from Mother..

Sworn to secrecy, Mrs. Bresenio’s mother kept the news to herself–almost. Jean and Alice were her two closest friends, and you tell your friends things. Don’t you?
Jean listened and put her lips together, and nothing of what she’d heard passed them. When Jean said “I won’t tell anyone,” it was as literal as a statement could be.
Alice did just about as well–but of course she told her husband, Mark. “Now don’t say anything about this,” she counseled him
“Sure, he answered.

Mark, unfortunately, was not as reticent as his wife. He let it slip to Naeglin when he came into the office, and Naeglin–well, let’s just say anything that went into Naeglin’s ears came right out of his mouth. Which meant that everyone who came into the office soon knew that what had started out as an unfounded rumor, from Mary Elizabeth’s fertile imagination, was now the absolute truth.

Bill Meyer didn’t suspect a thing. He didn’t understand the sympathetic looks he was getting. He certainly didn’t understand the words “Sorry, Bill. Sometimes these things just…happen…”
But it really got weird when the boss called him in. “Bill…I went through this myself a couple of years ago. If you need someone to talk with…or some time off…”
“Thank you Mr. Pierce–Charles…but I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know what everyone is talking about. ”
Mr. Pierce lifted a hand. “That’s all right. Handle this however you have to handle it. Just so you know people are here for you.”

Bill was too bewildered to ask questions, or try to get an explanation. He thanked his boss again and left the room.
Nobody else said anything to him about–whatever it was, and he started to forget about it. Then he got a call from his wife. “I’ve been on the phone for an hour and a half this morning, Bill. With four different people. And I still don’t know what they were talking about. ”
“What do you mean? What did they say?”
“Well…mostly that they were sorry. That they understood. Did I want to talk about it. And when I asked what they meant, they’d change the subject.”
“Something like that is going on here. Don’t say anything to anybody. We’ll talk about it when I get home.”
Bill hung up the phone gently and thoughtfully.

Marcy was less gentle. In fact, she threw the phone across a table. Liz had been so annoying. Talking around and around and never getting to the point. And that damned fake sympathy! ‘Believe me, I know just how it is. But you’ll get through it. We women are strong…”
“We!” Maybe from the same neighborhood; not from the same planet.
Marcy simmered and stewed all afternoon, and by the time Bill got home, she was at full boil. They tried to talk about it, but, really, there was nothing to say. What did it come down to? A few sympathetic looks and mystifying words. No questions, no answers. Not a problem–a non-problem.
Even so, Marcy wanted to keep discussing it. “We need to get to the bottom of this. Otherwise, our “friends” will keep making life miserable for us–and we won’t know why.”
Bill disagreed. “Let’s just drop the subject. Probably this is the kind of thing that will go away on its own. If not–we’ll find out sooner or later.”

Marcy knew her husband was right–and they didn’t talk about it anymore. In fact, they didn’t talk again that night, and they slept turned away from each other. This happened. It didn’t happen very often.
Things were all right–almost all right–in the morning. One bad, weird day out of so many good normal days? Not such a big deal.
Bill was apprehensive when he got to the office, but there were no more looks or words he couldn’t understand, and he began to relax.
Marcy didn’t get that chance, because the phone started ringing at eight. She let the machine pick it up but heard her mother’s voice and answered.
“Hi Mom; how–”
“Why didn’t you tell me?! Why should I have to hear something like this–”
“Like what? Mother what did you hear?”
“Oh come on! It’s not that bad. Your Aunt Vivian was divorced, and so was–”

“Sally Higgins at the beauty parlor set it slip. Then she realized I was there and hearing every word she said.…”
“Who’s getting divorced?”
“Why…I assumed…”
The pieces finally fit, as Marcy realized what all this was about. “You think Bill and I are getting a divorce!”
“You aren’t?! But Sally…Marva…Mrs. Hig–”
“Mother! Listen to me!”
It took Marcy some time to convince her mother that no divorce was in the works. More time to persuade her to call her friends and squelch the rumor.
Finally Marcy was satisfied that this thing was going to stop. And she could have been right, especially since Bill’s co-workers were beginning to realize their mistake.
It all might have died a natural death…but–

What whisped through the air and into the ears of MaryElizabethCarmelPhillipsMeredithShue? A rumor or the ghost of a rumor? Or the ghost’s shadow…?
“Bill’s seeing another woman.”
“I heard Marcy was meeting a man over in Hilton.”
“Wasn’t there something about an internet spouse-swapping club?”
What followed was a bevy, a parade, an epidemic of phone calls–only one of which was to Marcy. This was her frantic, hysterical mother.
“No he isn’t!”
“No I’m not!”
“No we aren’t!”
This time it was no use. Marcy’s mother was already convinced. And the phones continued to ring.

Bill was greeted with smirks, raised eyebrows, even a couple of winks. His boss met him with a cold stare. Bill didn’t know whether to leave immediately or stand his ground and demand an explanation. His cell phone rang before he decided.
Marcy could barely speak, but Bill finally understood. The man his wife had loved and leaned on for years was helpless in the face of this unseen viciousness–but he tried one last show of strength.
“I don’t know what’s going on here, but I’m going to find out. And–I promise you–I’m going to stop it.”
Of course he was never able to find out anything–much less stop it. Rumors thrive on no nourishment, thrive in a vacuum. But grabbing them, holding them, squelching them, is less than possible. Especially for the innocent.

The following month Bill moved out of the house he and March had shared for twelve years. (“…pity…” “…good thing they didn’t have children…”)
A few weeks later March filed for divorce (“…“Well, what choice did she have?”…”these days”…
…”Marriage isn’t what it used to be…”
Telephones still ring, and the same tongues move–but to different tunes. Gossip is not interested in history, but needs fresh fuel. And finds it. …(“The Martin girl…seen with that no good Brighton boy… ” “ “she could be”…”…”she’s probably” …”That far along?…”

The little demon laughed and stretched his black, leathery wings. Eagerly he flapped them and flew into the dark, waiting air. Time, once again, to get to work.


5 responses »

  1. Vimala Ramu says:

    Very interesting. Shall I tell my neighbor about this? She is very reliable. She won[t tell anyone:)

  2. Lela, you have portrayed the dangers of gossip well in a narrative that borders on the imperfect nature of humans. Without moralizing you have described the consequences of dangerous gossip….

  3. Nuggehalli Pankaja says:

    Effects of gossip well mirrored!

  4. vimala b madon says:

    this was like a dark comedy. What havoc hearsay and rumor mongering can cause. The perpetrators don’t even realise what harm their loose tongues can cause.

  5. Eva says:

    You have highlighted the destruction gossip can cause. Aren’t we all guilty of it once in a while? “The tongue can no man tame; It is an unruly evil full of deadly poison,” says the Bible.

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