Submission for Muse's Alley Short Story Contest
|The Ginger Ale Ladies
By J. L. Ford
"Let's have a talk, young lady," my great-uncle Bert said as I answered the door. He had a look that told me I didn't want to talk, but if Uncle Bert wanted to talk, we were going to talk.
The first thing you must know, for anything else I am about to say to make sense, is that I live in a small town of about 3,000 people. When I say word gets around, it gets around. Fast.
That being said, it’s easier to describe the town as being run by its elderly residents. Young people are not encouraged to take an active role in shaping the small town, and I think we’re being forced out. What I heard come out of Uncle Bert's mouth confirmed it for me.
"I hear you've been seeing Jake Smitts,” Uncle Bert said, his tone carrying a barely concealed anger.
"Yeah, Jake and I’ve been hanging out a lot. What's wrong with that?" I asked, a little more defiantly than I intended. Uncle Bert didn't deserve it, but I didn't think I deserved his tone, either.
“I hear you've been seeing Tom Walker," Uncle Bert continued. Now I understood what was going on. I hadn't settled on one person to date, so Uncle Bert was mad. This didn't make sense to me, at all.
"Uncle Bert, please get to the point," I said with an exasperated tone. If I took the initiative, he may decide to drop it.
"People in this town are talking about you, Kim. They say you're not being very "selective" about who you’re seeing. You need to be careful, Kimmie,” Uncle Bert, always my protector. I was pissed.
"So people are calling me a slut and you're mad about it? I don't give a damn what these people say about me, and you shouldn't care, either,” I was just getting started.
"I'm not saying I care, I'm saying you should care about who you're letting into your life. There's a lot of bad people out there, Kimmie,” Uncle Bert continued. I couldn't be mad at him, he was always more concerned about me than his loser nephew was.
"I'll see who I want to see and if people don't like it, they can go to hell! I'm an adult and I'll see whoever I want,” I winced a little. I didn't like taking it out on Uncle Bert. The old codger was always just like a father to me, and deserved better than this. His tall, lanky frame seemed to sag; I could tell by his face that he was hurt. I didn't mean to hurt him.
"I just don't want to see anything happen to you, Kimmie. That's all."
I sighed, "I know, Uncle. You wanna come in? I have lemonade."
His eyes lit up and a smile retuned to his face as he accepted. Uncle Bert was a sucker for lemonade. It was the one treat he allowed himself since his bypass surgery. He loved mine the most, because I poured a lot of sugar in it.
I poured us each a glass and sat down and talked. We did that every few days. He liked to keep up with everything going on with me, and I liked to keep in touch with him. I wished we could talk more, but he lived outside of town and I didn't have a car. Most days, he just didn't feel like coming into town.
"So who's talking about me, then?" I asked as I got up to pour us each another glass.
"Oh, those gals at the senior center. The ones that drink up all the ginger ale."
"The Ginger Ale Ladies? Those old coots talk about everyone and everything. They probably didn't even get half the crap they said about me right, anyways,” I was furious. It was true, they didn't get most of their information correct, but that didn't stop people from believing them. Damn sheep.
"Yeah, don't worry about them, Kimmie. Just be careful you don't get hurt,” Uncle Bert said. We talked a bit more about the weather and such, then he saw what time it was and took off.
I was still mad, and I wasn't going to let it go. I knew it'd be best if I just shrugged it off, but I couldn't. I wanted to go down there and slap each of them. I just wanted to humiliate them.
It wasn't long before I came up with an idea to fix them but good, but it would be difficult to pull off. If I pulled it off, it would get those ginger ale-swilling prudes off my back.
I called around to volunteer at the senior center next Tuesday evening, since the Ginger Ale Ladies always met on Wednesday morning. I spent the next week preparing. When Wednesday morning came around, everything would be perfect.
I walked into the senior center, and saw just what I was hoping to see. The ladies hadn’t noticed the wine I put into the ginger ale, and now they were drunk. I smiled wide as Thelma started making rude noises and swearing at Al, another regular.
"I think you better shut the hell up, you old fool!" Thelma blurted. He was stunned and turned back to his poker game with his friends, muttering something under his breath.
"What you sayin' over there, old-timer?" Lucille asked. She was the most obnoxious one of the bunch when she was sober. I didn't want to see how she'd be drunk. I had to see for myself. I found Merle racking up the billiards table, and walked over to him.
"Mind if I play, Merle?"
"Only if ya take it easy on me, Kim," Merle replied, smiling as he handed me a cue. Merle was one of the nicest people in this town, and a joy to talk to. I often wondered why he wasn't in charge of things.
"Oh, don't worry. It's been awhile since I've played," I lied. He chuckled. Not so much that he knew I was lying, but because he knew he could beat me, anyways. Merle spent a lot of his youth hustling people at pool. He even had a few scars to show for it.
He racked while I chalked my cue and glanced over at the Ginger Ale Ladies. Doris and Mae were starting to feel the effects of the wine, too, I could tell. They were starting to snap at Thelma and Lucille. I figured they'd soon start snapping at everyone else. Soon the whole town would be talking about them and nothing they ever said would be taken seriously.
"I wonder what's gotten into them gals, today?" Merle asked as another profanity left their table. He seemed genuinely concerned for them, which made me feel bad about spiking their ginger ale. I didn't want Merle to worry, but neither could I tell him what I'd done.
I dropped two balls on the break and continued on, thinking about what to do or say. I played on in silence, concentrating. I didn't really mean to be quiet, but I couldn't think of any way to explain to Merle what I did or why.
"Almost seems as though someone spiked their drinks," Merle said. I felt my face turn red, but I shot away. He knew. The tone in his voice told me that somehow he'd figured it out. I sank the 8 ball after running the table, then turned to look at him.
"There something you wanna say, Merle?" Why do I sound confrontational with people I respect and love?
"Just that the first two balls you sank were solids, and you ran the stripes."
I looked down at the table. He was right. Only 5 balls were left on the table, all solids. I turned deep red. That's how he knew. My mind wasn't in the game. I was supposed to be the second best pool player in this town. It was obvious.
"So what did they do to deserve this?" Merle asked me, a look of disappointment on his face. Thankfully, he was talking low.
"I found out they were saying shit-I mean stuff-about me," I defended myself.
"What does it matter what a group of old women are talking about? You're young, they're not. Old women have been gossiping about young women since Eve grew old. When you get that old, you'll gossip about all the young women, too."
"But they said I was a slut!" I said, raising my voice just a little.
"Are you?" Merle asked. I almost slapped him I was so shocked. I couldn't believe he'd ask such a question.
"What?" I asked, furious.
"Are you a slut? I mean, are you mad that they're spreading lies, or mad they're spreading truth? It sounds to me like you don’t even know why you're mad, other than they said something about you."
"No, I am not a slut! I'm mad at them for telling lies about me!"
"Well, why would you get mad over such a silly reason? Nobody ever listens to them, anymore. Sure, once in a while they get people to listen to them, but nobody ever believes their gossip. Don't let them bring you down, Kim," Merle said, trying to calm me down.
I had to admit, he made sense. I sighed and thought about it for a moment. Nobody truly cared about what the Ginger Ale Ladies had to say. None of my friends did, anyways. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I really didn't care what anyone other than my friends thought.
"Thanks, Merle," I said as I hugged him and pointed to the ladies, "What are we going to do about them?"
Merle smiled, "We play some billiards and laugh at the old coots making fools of themselves, of course!" He laughed as we turned back to the table. Lucille was shouting at Mae, who was covering her ears and making noise.
"Shut up and play, you stupid bitch!" Doris yelled at Lucille, which brought a round of applause from most of the room. Lucille was so shocked she got up and stormed out the center.
I had a feeling life in Forgotten was going to be a little more interesting for the next couple days.