“The years went by, and Mary Alice and I grew up, slower than we wanted to, faster than we realized. Another war came, World War II, and I wanted to get in it. The war looked like my chance to realize my old dream of flying.
“You had to study hard to see any expression at all, but it was a look I was coming to know. She appeared pretty satisfied at the way things had turned out. And she’d returned law and order to the town she claimed she didn’t give two hoots about.”
“Mary Alice turned back. “You look good,” she said. “The hat’s dumb, but you look good.”
“So do you.” Though I’d never noticed before, Mary Alice was going to be quite a nice-looking girl. I supposed boys would be hanging around her pretty soon. It was a thought I’d never had.”
“I was thirteen at last, so I’d thank you to call me Joe, not Joey, and I walked a few strides ahead of Mary Alice.
For one thing, she’d been taking dancing lessons all year and never went anywhere without her tap shoes in a drawstring bag.”
“The Coffee Pot was where people went to loaf, talk tall, and swap gossip. Mary Alice and I were of some interest when we dropped by because we were kin of Mrs. Dowdel’s, who never set foot in the place. She said she liked to keep herself to herself, which was uphill work in a town like that.”
“Why, there’s my grandkids now.” She pointed us out with a spatula. “They’re from Chicago. Gangs run that town, you know,” she told the kid. “My grandson’s in a gang, so you don’t want to mess with him. He’s meaner than he looks.”
“Lift that wire so I can skin under,” Grandma said.
The lowest wire was pretty close to the ground. But Grandma was already flat on her back in the weeds. She’d pushed the cheese through. Now she began to work her shoulders to inch herself under.”
“What do you want to learn to drive for anyway?” she said. “Don’t you go around Chicago in taxicabs and trolleys?”
I couldn’t explain it to Grandma. I was getting too old to be a boy, and driving meant you were a man. Something like that. ”
“Grandma’s house was the last one in town. Next to the row of glads was a woven-wire fence, and on the other side of that a cornfield. On the first nights I’d always lie up in bed, listening to the husky whisper of the dry August corn in the fields. Then on the second night I wouldn’t hear anything.”
“Do that,” Grandma said. “And one more thing. You give Effie Wilcox back her house, free and clear. It wasn’t worth nothing anyway—apart from its historical value.”
“Mrs. Dowdel, that’s not business,” the banker said. “That’s blackmail.”
“What’s the difference?” Grandma said.
“Then I knew we were getting to Grandma’s town. It was sound asleep in the hour before dawn. We slowed past the depot, and now we were coming to Grandma’s, the last house in town. It was lit up like a jack-o’-lantern.”
“There’s no private matters in this town, Merle,” Grandma said. “Everybody’s private business is public property.”
“Yes, and you’ve stuck your nose in ours!” Mrs. Stubbs said, speaking up sharp. “You got that Eubanks gal upstairs this minute.”
“I didn’t know he could dance.”
“Dance?” Mary Alice sniffed. “He can barely walk. What do you think I’ve been doing all week? I’ve been giving him ballroom dancing lessons. And the big clodhopper tramped all over my feet. I’m crippled for life.”
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