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American Contemporary Fiction

“Hear ye, hear ye…!”

He really went all out this week. I mean, no one expected Albert to wear the full outfit that early into the celebrations. It was six in the morning, and he was right in the dead center of Antonville, right underneath the bunting and the flags, standing by the statue of the town founder (not important right now, but you know the place is called Antonville, so…), and he did not even have a microphone or bullhorn. But I heard him. He was right by my café and I had just gotten up to make the coffee for the day. Not that I did not expect to see him out there, but it was a real shock to hear it at first.

He had a very different speech.

“We have a very unnecessary and disgusting menace in our community! We must root it out or it will destroy our very livelihood and homes if we let it!”

Oh, boy.

Now, I heard it all, like I had heard it many times over from the moment I set up my business and had to hear him go off on everyone and everything: There were homosexuals in our midst! Ms. _______ was having an affair with Mr. ________! Drugs have been found in our schoolyards and recreation centers!

Again, I am just quoting the man, with some necessary edits (some of those people still live there).

The thing about all of this now that I did not think about then was this: where was my name? I’m sure that he did not care that much about me after he gave speeches like that in public and he would pass by my place for breakfast.

It was always the same routine.

“Good morning.”

“Morning.”

“Coffee and toast?”

“Strawberry jam on the side.”

“Done.”

“Good.”

And that was really it. I only found out what his name was because he once put his wallet down on the counter and I could see his driver’s license. His glasses seemed ancient to me then (never changed), and I knew where he lived (right on the town limits; not too far from all the targets he picked).

“Like the weather.”

“Beg your pardon?”

That was Gloria, my best server and someone who had her grades and a plan to get out of here. A beautiful kid who deserved to make it and was always aware of how she was being looked at by some of the creeps who stopped in there (usually the truck or van drivers leaving or picking things up on Mondays; they were set straight by her with one glance; there were also cutting looks from me). And she had no problem figuring out our beloved Albert.

“He’s just like the weather. You can predict exactly when he shows up and what he will put out of there.”

“Like what he’s gonna say?”

She was tapping the counter with a pen, looking across the room to the main street corner where Albert was set up.

“Sometimes…”

I looked over at her as she said that. I already said that she was beautiful, for a girl raised in a small town like this. Maybe all of my prejudices were coming out, but I started to think carefully about what needed to happen next. Albert was building himself up with his little diatribe, causing one local truck driver to slow down, scream something less than pleasant at him as he passed, and grind his transmission as he tore off into the city limits. Gloria would not be too busy this morning.

“Gloria, you might have a point there.”

She stared up at me with a slight smile.

“Right, like I said: so predictable…”

“Like all men…”

“Mmm…” She picked up the broom and started to sneak around the corners looking for the dirt and dust that was barely there.

And I knew what I had to do.

*

One thing that the town had going for it on these special days was the fair. All of the local towns and villages poured into our space and had their celebrations with us and enjoyed our rides, games and competitions. After seeing what the town was capable of in the spring and summer, I knew that I was going to enjoy what I planned with the girl.

Oh, my Gloria. So many apologies to send you way now, but at the time, it seemed to be a good bet. She was very excited about the prospects for an Albert-free life.

She was waiting for the right moment, the one that I gave to her.

Albert was back the very next day with his outfit. Some out-of-towners were amused by the look, not so much by the gossip, but he had his crowd. He seemed much happier to scream about the affairs, deals, and ugliness behind the colonial-style homes. One family even posed with him as he rang his bell and read out a list of his nonsense from a scroll (did they even hear him?).

This was Gloria’s moment.

I knew that she had the outfit. Last year, we had both dressed up like the traditional early-American female who was stuck churning butter and milking cows. My outfit was very uncomfortable for me, but people were willing to come to the café for more than just a cup of coffee. The sales were much better that season. And I had to be honest with myself about why this was so.

Gloria…

She looked wonderful with the outfit. Some of the creeps I recognized from earlier were there, but they did not mess with her. There were also plenty of jealous housewives and girlfriends trying their hardest to get their significant others involved in tossing balls and milk jugs or buying them a snack as she walked past their ugly looks. But the men knew…

I knew…

“Hear ye, hear ye…!”

I could have stepped in right there, maybe. Maybe I could have stopped all of this with a glance or a signal (already planned how she was going to do it; no backup plan seems silly now). But Gloria was…glorious. And such a sight standing just a little higher than Alfred right across from him on one of the random platforms set up for the mayor and his crew. They were not there yet, as I knew they wouldn’t be, so this was the moment.

Even Alfred stopped as he heard her voice booming through the main speakers.

“Alfred Walnut is guilty of terrible crimes in our town! He has betrayed his trust in Antonville and must be punished.”

A pin-dropping moment of silence.

I won’t go through the whole list of things we came up with to nail him with in front of those gullible faces. I won’t talk too much about the subtle shift between the belief that this was part of the event and then something not so well-planned. Those same women – especially the ones with children – looked stricken. Husbands and boyfriends laughed, waiting for her to get to the end of her list. I tried not to laugh as she did, spending a lot of time scanning that crowd as it stayed frozen on the grass or in mid-cringe. I should have spent more time looking at the accused.

Albert was now red.

Now, I know we turn red when embarrassed, but this was beyond anything the human body was supposed to produce. You would have imagined blood pouring out of his skin when you stared at him. But it was just Albert being embarrassed, turning to look at the crowd…, and then charging across the street.

Most of you know how this ends. That’s why you are reading this and blaming me for things. Albert was already a nuisance and I made him a menace. Every town is entitled to an eccentric and I put a young girl in harm’s way. When they took her to the hospital, Gloria eventually shared what she knew, but there was so much that she could not know.

How do you think Albert came up with all those rumours?

It was easy to leave him little notes and ideas when I found out where he lived...

And why do you think I looked forward to his near-daily rants near my former business?

Believe me, I know the price for this sort of thing, and I wish that people would have had a better sense of humour. But I will move on to another town. Just have to see if I can find another crier who has something to say about all of your dirty little secrets.

June 02, 2023 23:20

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7 comments

09:55 Jun 05, 2023

Read it twice to fully understand who the real villain was. The one who appeared to be the villain had been set up. But it is a crime to report unsubstantiated gossip. Shame on him. Bad to report substantiated gossip if it's hurtful as well. Poor Gloria though. She had no idea. And then the one who stirred it all up scarpered? Doesn't seem right. Interesting story based on this prompt. Gossip is wrong on so many levels.

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Kendall Defoe
11:14 Jun 05, 2023

You got it! Thank you for the comments...and the rereading!

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Delbert Griffith
13:17 Jun 11, 2023

Wow. The real gossip monger gets away and leaves a trail of victims behind. Clever. Evil. Dark. I like it, for it really tells us just how destructive gossip can be. People get hurt. The old "sticks and stones" cliché doesn't hold. Nicely done, my friend. Cheers!

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Kendall Defoe
05:07 Jun 14, 2023

Thank you for your comments. I have so much on my plate this month that I will need time to hit everyone back.

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Mary Bendickson
00:21 Jun 04, 2023

😳 Ouch!

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Kendall Defoe
11:15 Jun 05, 2023

😗 Hope that helps... ;)

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Mary Bendickson
12:46 Jun 05, 2023

Thanks.

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