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Over backyard fences, in muggy laundry mats, behind white gloved hands, under wide brimmed hats, they whisper a sad story, and it’s true what they say, “Little Mary Alice had to go ‘away’!” “She just seemed so sweet. Well, one can never can tell.” “Mom, is Mary Alice gonna burn in . . .” “Hush! Don’t say such things! Now, use your Christian tongue.” “Where do they hear such talk? We must protect the young.” Within a few short hours the town was on their phones. She babysat the Nelson twins, and all six of the Jones’. The Anderson’s and Michael’s had children in a bind; they had plans this week-end but no sitter could they find. All the mothers clucking how they should have known she just wasn’t ‘normal’ for all the curves she’d grown. “Herman, what do you think? Did you think she was fast? Did she act precocious when you took her home Friday last?” Frances asked her husband, “What do they say at work? Was it a boy from high school? . . . or that new soda jerk? I wonder if she let him come here while Johnny slept? John just read his paper while poor Frances wept. Fall turned into winter, and winter into spring. “Mary Alice is coming home!”You could hear the wires sing. Everyone came into town; of course, they had to ‘shop’. They browsed the five and dime next to the Greyhound stop. You could hear the rumbling of the Greyhound’s giant wheels, then the clickety-clack-tapping of all the ladies’ heels. There was somber, hushed excitement like a funeral parade, then the murmured whisper of the eight long months she’d stayed. The story was that an elderly aunt fell and broke her hip. Mary Alice offered to help, that’s why she took the trip. “She left late - ten o’clock; near the middle of the night!” “Normal folks don’t do that, lest they’re taking flight!” Knowing nods, tisking tongues, and that disapproving look, as Mrs. Smith boldly said, “We all misjudged that book! Here’s the bus. Let her know she won’t fool us again. We’ll be watching closely; we’ll have no more sin!” Squeaky brakes, hydraulic hiss, huge doors swung open wide. Peering eyes narrowed to search the faces found inside. There stood Mary Alice with her proud chin lifted high. She surveyed the ladies and released a heartfelt sigh. “I knew you all would be here. I never had a doubt. Dear Great-Aunt Matilda, the ladies I told you about! I said that you’d have lots of friends who’d make a lovely fuss!” She sweetly scolded Aunt Matilda as she helped her from the bus. “Aren’t they just the kindest, most charitable folks on earth? Why, I’ve known all these ladies practically since birth! The milk of human kindness, like manna from above, pours from each lady’s heart in the form of neighborly love!”
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