TITLE: Linda's Story
By Janice Cartwright
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When I walked into the room all eyes turned toward me and I knew it had to be because of the recent news article. The challenge of the moment was obvious, "Was it really true?"
A long period of silence ensued and then conversation started up again; but I knew I was not off the hook. I looked around for a place to sit but all the tables were taken. No one offered to pull up an extra chair and so I stood there, rooted to the floor.
Finally I noticed an empty space at a table across the room, just large enough for me to squeeze into. Trying to be as unobtrusive as possible I bypassed the center of the room where tables were clustered, keeping to the sides near the wall. What I really wanted to do was leave, but I knew that would only make matters worse. Sooner or later I was going to have to answer some questions, and it may as well be now.
I landed on the chair with a solid plop and it protested with a rusty squawk causing a repeat of what happened when I first came in. I decided I'd best sit quietly and pray for a miracle.
Two of my longtime acquaintances were seated at the table: a girl I once roomed with and her husband, as well as an older man I thought I recognized, though I could not place him right then. He looked grim and I sensed he wished I had not chosen this particular table to occupy. My married friends both wore pasted smiles and stared at me from glassy eyes; I was sweating profusely. How I would ever get through the next hour, God only knew.
"Why, Linda? Why did you do it?" I jerked up - sure someone had spoken to me. But when I looked around it was obvious my subconscious was working overtime. No one had moved a muscle; no one had said a word.
Silently then, and purposefully, I asked myself the same question; but the only answer I could come up with sounded lame, even to me. "I didn’t think anyone would find out!?" Now, that would have been the height of ignorance. For even though it was at night, under the cover of darkness, these kinds of things have a way of leaking out. "I didn’t think at all," would have been more like it! How stupid I had been to risk my reputation and alienate my friends all for a foolish prank that seemed at the moment like a wonderful lark.
It was over with so fast, the rush of adrenaline, the feeling of absolute freedom, the sensation of having for once in my life thrown caution wholly to the wind. But now the fleeting space of time was past and consequences to be paid. How wonderful was it, really? "Not so wonderful huh, Linda?"
Just then, to interrupt my thoughts, a tall, buxom woman came marching toward our table, drawing closer and closer until she stopped, so near I could feel heat radiating off her body and smell the scent of her too-sweet perfume. Still no one broke the silence and so when the newspaper hit the table top with a whack all of us jumped as if we had been caught in some cowardly act. As solidly as she came, the woman strode away.
I could hardly believe my eyes. How could anyone be so cruel? I wished I could die right there, or vanish somehow without a single memory of Linda left behind. At that moment I understood the hackneyed phrase about the floor opening up and swallowing someone. Oh what blessed relief that would be.
But of course it didn’t happen. When I opened my eyes the newspaper still lay there. Like a snake coiled on the table, there was its thick self, folded so the inch-high headlines seemed to shout loud enough for everyone in the room to hear.
I tore my eyes from the odious thing and glanced furtively around the room. Now instead of the previous dead-pan silence I noticed ghosts of smiles, beginning first at the corner of the mouth of a lady at the next table. Then a snicker started going round, and finally everyone in the room erupted in long ugly guffaws.
Was I going mad? Could this really be happening? Even my former so-called friends could no longer hold back. Well, at least they tried - I would give them that.
With tears marking dark trails down the sides of my cheeks I ducked my head; but that was another mistake. For there, leering back at me, was the same accusing text, bold against the gray-white paper. I tried to look away, but found my eyes glued to the words:
IRATE WOMAN COLLARS SHEPHERD
- Local Matron, Garden Club Pres. Calls Neighbor's Dog Menace
ALLEGING TO POLICE LATE FRIDAY THAT NEIGHBOR'S DOG, LINDA, STRAYED INTO HER YARD SOMETIME DURING THE PREVIOUS NIGHT, MISS LULUBELLE THOMPSON TOLD OFFICER PERCY O'HARE,
"IT WAS IN THE "WEE" HOURS - IF YOU GET MY MEANING. THAT DOG ABSOLUTELY DESTROYED MY PRIZE PETUNIAS AND I DON'T DOUBT THEY'LL NEVER RECOVER."
MISS THOMPSON FURTHER TOLD SGT. O'HARE ABOUT PLANS TO ENTER HER GARDEN IN THE "BETTER LAWNS" CONTEST NEXT MONTH, BUT NOW BECAUSE OF WHAT LINDA HAD DONE, HER HOPES WERE DASHED.
BUT WHEN QUESTIONED, LULUBELLE'S NEIGHBOR DENIED ALL CHARGES, SAYING LINDA ALWAYS SLEEPS INSIDE AT NIGHT.
MISS THOMPSON, REFUSING TO BACK DOWN, STATES SHE WILL CONTINUE TO PURSUE THE CASE. . .
There was more, but I just couldn't stand to read a single line further. Not only had I disgraced myself, but I had brought my master's good name under suspicion - and cast my entire species in an unfavorable light.
Would I ever again be able to hold my head high when entering a room? Would anyone refer to me as man (or woman's) best friend?
I could only pray that time and my tongue would heal all wounds.
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