Whispers in a Small Town

Whispers in a Small Town

A Story by Megan F
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A young narrator returns back to their hometown for multiple reasons over many years to witness the progress on the woman who has been a subject of town gossip for decades.

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Whispers in a Small Town


    The only time I ever saw Grace with my own eyes, it was 7:00 PM on a Thursday, in an empty parking lot of a hardware store on the corner of 5th and Main. The store had just closed up shop for the night, and the only other cars in the lot were that of the manager, a clerk, and myself. I was only there waiting on the clerk to get out. The February night was dark and I was alone in my car, listening to the radio, reading by the light on my phone. I had been glancing around, waiting for the clerk to join me at any moment when I suddenly saw Grace. She was in the middle of the parking lot, wearing a windbreaker, a backpack, and a visor above her wide framed glasses. I wouldn’t have seen her at all if it weren’t for the flashlight she held in her hands, looking down around her feet. I wondered if she had lost something during the day, but I still stayed in my car. What was an old lady like that doing in a dark parking lot in the middle of February?

    The clerk wandered out before the manager, and on his way to see me asked her if she was alright. She told him with a smile, “Oh just fine! Yes, I’m just looking for change for my landlady’s children.” The clerk replied, “Oh, well if I see any, I’ll be sure to let you know.” She thanked him, and he walked to my car and filled me in on what she was doing. We both thought it was typical old people strangeness and we left. I didn’t even know her name yet, and I would never see her again.

***

    Years later, I found myself at that same hardware store on the corner of 5th and Main. It was the week before Thanksgiving, and somehow my aunt had succeeded in destroying the drain in the bathroom. Being as I had not been at my own house for Thanksgiving in quite some time, I felt the most inclined to go back into the town I grew up in- alone and without family.

    I went in and made the necessary purchases and walked back out to my car.  I was parked close to the door, next to the greenhouse, facing the direction of a small set of apartments that were meant for old people. It wasn’t a particularly nice place, nor was it particularly big, but it seemed to serve our small community well. I sat in my car for a minute and watched as a woman in a motorized wheelchair buzzed across the street in the direction of the apartments, with her little dog riding on the platform of it, seated between her feet. I had to laugh. It was only something I could see here.

I started my car and pulled out of the lot and drove in the direction of the apartments. Upon passing by the apartments, I saw a girl not much younger than myself, she looked to be in high school. She was fighting with a woman in her mid forties outside one of the doors, probably her mother, but still much too young to be living in that place. They were screaming obscenities at one another, and the girl looked to be leaving. All she had with her was a thin sweatshirt and a full backpack of Lord knows what. I didn’t stay long enough to see what happened next, and went home to fix my sink. That was the first time I saw Peppa.

***

I would see Peppa one more time after that fall. The following summer I was at home once more, and had a craving for strawberry shortcake. I remembered that Mom and I always made it around then, it was like an addiction in the month of July, healthily curbed by the end of strawberry season at the close of summer. It was my childhood surmised in a bite, and we didn’t have any berries in my house at this time so I had to go shopping.

In our little town, we had one decently sized grocery store on 5th, which is where I went now. I grabbed my berries and had to wait in line to pay. In front of me was a girl younger than me by a few years, wearing a backpack. It looked like she was buying bread and peanut butter. When she gave the clerk money to pay, she paid in change, and the clerk got an uncomfortable look on his face and told her she didn’t have enough. The girl got uncomfortable and shifted her weight in her flip flops, she was a skinny little thing. “Okay,” was all she said before she started to walk away. I stopped her, “Wait a second, miss,” she turned around. “Let me get it for you,” I had my bank card pulled out. She glared at me and said she didn’t want my charity, and stormed out of the store. I looked at the clerk with wide eyes as if to ask, what was her problem. The clerk leaned over and whispered, “Her mom kicked her out last fall, and she’s been wandering in here buying small things with change ever since.”

“That’s horrible! She’s not very old!”

“But not young enough that social services will be willing to step in… Did you want paper, or plastic?”

I walked out to my car holding my strawberries with no bag and thought about what I had just witnessed, what I had just been told. Was that the same girl I saw outside those apartments? It’s a small town. I don’t see why it couldn’t be. I didn’t know anything about this girl  except the typical small town gossip from a grocery store employee, I didn’t even know her name yet. I resolved not to think much of it, there was nothing I could do to change it, and drove home, passing that poor girl on my way by.

***

    Six or seven years later I came back into town for my high school reunion. It was a funny feeling being nostalgic of my days being young and running around those halls, and frequenting that coffee shop, and visiting my boyfriend when his house was over there, and at the same time never wanting to relive any of it. I reconnected with one of my girlfriends who had stayed in town after college and visited her for the weekend.  We took ourselves to the coffee shop we had both frequented separately as teens, but somehow never visited together. It was repainted now, and there were new faces behind the counter, but it still felt like the same old place to me.

    My friend had become a landlady since college. Her grandfather died and left her dad some properties that he had no time to tend, so she took it over instead. I asked how that was going.

    “It’s okay, I can’t really complain. I had to evict someone last week though.”

    “You’re kidding! Well I guess that’s not surprising, given, well, the town.”

    We both laughed, remembering full well the stereotypes of poverty that had always been a staple feature of this place.

    “Yeah,” she replied, “I felt bad to do it though. This chick has been through some stuff. It’s just something to add to her long life story of crap.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “You don’t know about Peppa?”

    “No, I haven’t been in town since senior year of college. After my parents left town, I haven’t had much of a reason to come back. Who is Peppa?”

    “She’s a feature of the town now. It has been awhile since you were around, hasn’t it? Well, Peppa was the daughter of the owner of that apartment complex, the one by the hardware store that was for old people. As far as we know, she had a pretty typical childhood: crazy mom who was single and liked to drink, and generations going back of her family living here. They weren’t poor by any means, but they lived like it. The legend is that even when she was a kid she’d go places and pay in change for things, and be turned away not having enough-”

    I interjected, “Yeah, last time I was in town I think I saw her! She was buying like, bread and peanut butter with change and she didn’t have enough!”

    “Did you offer to pay for her?”

    “Yeah, and she told me off.”

    “Yep, you definitely saw Peppa then. Anyway, she was friends with this lady who lived at those apartments, her name was Grace. Those two were really tight, and some people insist that even when Peppa was a kid you’d see them walking the streets looking for change. I think that’s crap, nobody even remembers her from before she was famous, but you can’t tell this woman’s story without including it. Anyway, Grace and her were tight, and I guess she sort of lost it when Grace died. She and her mom started fighting, and since her mom was crazy she kicked her out. Now she’s been wandering the town trying to get stuff for free ever since.”

    “How do you know all this?”

    “You hear bits and pieces from clerks, friends, and then you put it together. It’s a small town, you know how it is. Could you tell me any of your sources on the life story of Old Man Prokop?”

    “My dad.”

    “And where did he hear it from?”

    “Whispers, I guess.”

    “Exactly, we tell what we know, and we move on. That’s how it’s always been, and how it’ll stay.”

    She was right, of course. There was no other way it could be either. It was the nature of that place. The town itself was a thriving organism that survived off of words. Everyone and their mother knew something about you, and you and your mother could tell at least one detail about someone else’s life without ever having to say a hello. I could have told you about Prokop going nuts after his daughter was killed in a car accident, or that the woman that used to walk past me on my way to school every morning had four grandchildren, unable to name her, but I could name two of the children.

    We left the coffee shop to go to our reunion, passing by the hardware store and the apartments when I suddenly remembered that I had seen Grace before. I realized all at once that she had really been collecting coins for her landlady’s daughter, I could confirm it was true! I opened my mouth to tell her what I knew, but I stopped myself.

    “What?” she asked.

    “Nothing, just yawning.”

    What good would it do me to confirm speculations like that? Or to Peppa for that matter? It had been so long since I was a part of the organism, and I didn’t care to reattach myself now.



© 2018 Megan F


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Megan F
I'll take any constructive criticism I can get :)

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Added on May 13, 2018
Last Updated on May 13, 2018
Tags: small town, gossip, coming home, short story, estacada, hometown, home town, high school reunion, coffee shop

Author

Megan F
Megan F

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About
My name is Megan, I'm 18, and I want to write a book by the time I'm 30. As a writer, I want to have the success of Salinger- in that I write one really excellent book- and the ability to tailor a sto.. more..