Face, Meet Sidewalk

The Vagaries of Indiscretion or What Goes Around Comes Around

Posted on: July 18, 2011

Violet first caught wind of the scandal at bridge one hot Thursday afternoon. Margaret mentioned in a fairly pointed way that she had seen Lorraine down at the Tim Horton’s with Albert on Monday. For a moment, the fans that lazily blew muggy air around the school gym obscured Margaret’s words, so that Violet had to turn up her hearing aid. Margaret must have taken the gesture as a request for more details, and launched into the story. Violet tried not to roll her eyes visibly. She instantly felt for poor old Lorraine. Since she’d had to put her husband in that nursing home, they hadn’t seen much of her at bridge.

“They were sitting close together,” Margaret leaned her ample bosom over the coffee urn and dropped her shrill voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Very familiar, if you ask me.”

No one had asked Margaret, but that never seemed to stop the gossipy old biddy. Everyone knew, in fact, that if you wanted to keep something a secret, Margaret was the last person you should tell. The woman would sell out her own sister for the sake of a juicy morsel to pass along. It was disgraceful, really, especially from a woman whose violently orange wig (worn on the pretense that it was truly her own hair) was, without her knowledge, the talk of the bridge club, and not flattering talk, either.

There was a silence (rare, when one was talking to Margaret), and Violet realized she was expected to respond to Margaret’s revelation with a mix of shock and disapproval. She mustered up a frown that she hoped matched Lorraine’s.

“Isn’t Albert’s wife in the Golden Door too?” Violet asked, wondering if she had found a neutral question that might pass for one as judgment-filled as Margaret’s statement had been. “Maybe they were commiserating on the trials and tribulations of being nursing home widows.”

“Well, they were a little too close for my comfort,” Margaret replied.

It was out of her mouth before she could stop it. “What does your comfort have to do with Lorraine or Albert?” Violet blurted. Honestly, the woman was ridiculous.

“Well,” Margaret blustered, indignantly tossing the unnaturally orange hair. “It was just unseemly, that’s all.”

Realizing she may have already planted seeds that would make her gossip’s next victim, Violet made what she hoped was an indecipherable noise and busied herself adding powdered creamer to her decaf. Apparently realizing Violet was not going to bite on this tasty tidbit of drama, Margaret wandered away, probably looking for a more receptive audience.

It always made Violet angry, the tendency of some people to attend to the intimate details of others’ lives as if they were soap operas. It was as if they didn’t have enough drama in their own lives, they had to manufacture more. The problem was that most of the time, victims like Lorraine were simply innocent bystanders, caught in the line of fire. It was terrible to have to worry about it, but the fact was, they were powerful people, who could as easily ruin your reputation as your day.

The way Violet saw it people had two choices in life if they wanted to survive amongst people like Margaret. You could tiptoe around and spend all your energy trying not to do things that would attract attention, or you could plow ahead and do what you wanted to do in life without worrying what others thought about it. There were times it was a tough call, but Violet preferred to plant  her feet firmly in the latter camp. She had long since stopped caring what people thought of her or her choices. At her age, one did things because one wanted to do things, not because one was expected to conform to some capricious code of conduct. After all, to wear purple (or indulge in any other silly whim) was one of the few advantages of advanced age.

To remain consistent in her conviction that people had no right to care what she did, Violet made it a point not to care about what others did. She had always had a tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt, and assumed for the most part that motives were generally pure, but age and extensive experience with the subtle bullying tactics of those like Margaret who found entertainment in the social discomforts of others had only solidified her opinions.

She did feel very sorry, however, for those, like Margaret, for whom image must be so important that they felt the need to denigrate anyone nearby to build themselves up. What energy it must take to always be concerned about what others think of you! The ladies who never left the house without full hair and makeup, the fool down the street with that horrible loud sports car that scared the dickens out of her every time he revved the engine… they were all somehow so… pathetic. Not nearly as interesting as they thought themselves. No one cares! Violet wanted to scream. Just relax and enjoy life for a change!

From the corner of her eye, Violet could see that Margaret had turned away, looking for someone else to take part in her tittle-tattle. The woman sure had nerve, thought Violet.

Suddenly, an odd movement caught her eye. It was one of those situations where she could see what was coming before it actually happened.

As if in slow motion, Violet watched as Margaret crossed the path of the one effective fan in the gymnasium. The breeze caught her at the perfect angle, and instantly, it seemed as if her whole scalp had lifted off her head. The gaudy wig tried valiantly to escape its Purgatory atop Margaret’s wispy grey dome and hovered for a split second at the edge of her reach.  Just in time, Margaret snatched it out of the air and slapped it back down in its rightful place. Well, almost rightful. It sat only the slightest bit askew atop Margaret’s head. Violet felt slightly gratified to see Margaret look wildly around to see if anyone had noticed the mishap. Instantly, she looked away, stifling an involuntary giggle, hoping Margaret would assume that no one had seen.

Thankfully, it was time to deal the cards. Everyone hurried to the tables. At least Margaret was not her first partner of the day. Every time Violet’s gaze happened to fall Margaret’s way, another fit of laughter threatened. By the end of the fifth hand, Violet was becoming concerned for the effectiveness of her bladder control protection. It didn’t help that Margaret had never straightened the wig completely.

For the rest of the afternoon, Violet noticed a distinct lack of chatter from the woman and when it was time to go home, Margaret was, uncharacteristically, the first one out the door. Well, thought Violet. Maybe she learned a lesson about misfortune today. A couple of quick exchanges behind hands and a half-dozen surreptitious snickers gave Violet the distinct impression that she was not the only one who had seen the incident. All the other patrons of bridge club were gracious enough not to mention it, even though most had been burned by Margaret’s whispers in the past. Violet was almost sorry that Margaret would never realize how many people simply wouldn’t even think to be unkind enough to repeat such an embarrassing, and essentially inconsequential story. Their discretion nearly restored Violet’s faith in mankind.

When she got home, Violet poured herself some lemonade and picked up the phone. It would be nice hear Lorraine’s voice. It had been such a long time since they’d really talked.

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