Gossip… There Are Two Kinds
“I have some gossip for you but not the bad kind, just the kind that informs.” Shirley leans in, her husky voice secretive. It feels like a conversation that ought to take place in a smoky bar, with a blaring jukebox in the corner. Instead, she and I are in a water aerobics class at the city pool, the water reflecting a cloudless desert sky. "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" is blasting in the background, though most of these older women are swathed in hats, sunglasses, and for the most part, very LARGE, non-bikini suits.
Shirley continues, “You know Lyle? Lyle and I used to be friends, you know, “FRIENDS.” She leans in closer with this last word. I think I know what FRIENDS means in this context, but Lyle?! I glance at the small, older man, ’60s?, with a thinning grey ponytail tucked under a battered mesh ball cap advertising Chuck’s Feed Store across the front. He always wears a shirt in the pool, one of those cowboy, pearl snap button-down ones that hip kids swoon over in vintage stores. Lyle’s is probably from his high school days, and he wears it half un-snapped, showing wisps of grey chest hair. I assume he un-snapped half his snaps because he is swimming but maybe, with this FRIENDS information now swirling in my mind… maybe Lyle is, (hushed voice) “A PLAYBOY!” Maybe un-snapped pearl cowboy snaps are an everyday Lyle fashion choice, designed to tease. I quickly shift my gaze, hoping Lyle will not sense he is fodder for gossip… not the bad kind, just the kind that informs.
“Yes, FRIENDS, but now he likes Sally, which is all well and good because that is just how things go, but…” she uses her chin to gesture to a woman behind me. I resist the urge to turn around, already feeling guilty for the head to chest scan I have given poor Lyle. “She is the jealous type, which is too bad.” She leans in again to make sure “jealous” is close to my ear. “It doesn’t have to be that way. We all want Lyle to be happy. That is the most important thing.” I find myself nodding, somehow wanting to support Shirley in her affirmation that Lyle’s happiness is, indeed, the most important thing. “See her over there? The brown-haired one, by the side of the pool.” I finally steal a look. She seems pretty regular, older than I expected, to be competition for Shirley.
Shirley is like a page out of an old magazine. She is a woman who “arrives,” sweeping into a room, kissing cheeks as they are offered up to her. She always wears flaming red lipstick and oversized, brightly colored sunglasses that cover most of her face. She glides to and from the pool in delicate, low-heeled mule pumps and a fluffy robe. She wears a huge floppy white hat in the water with wires stitched into the brim, so it holds an elegant flip. She is tanned a rich brown and showcases ample bronzed breasts with a collection of swimsuits that would put Esther Williams to shame. Nope, I am just not seeing the Sally/Shirley competition. What was Lyle thinking?!
“I think jealousy is just a lack of self-esteem, don’t you? It has to do with your own confidence. I had a jealous husband. It was my second husband. He is dead now.” I mummer condolences. “He would go off on these tirades, and I would tell him that I had nothing to do with what other men thought, but he was insulting my character to think that I would be unfaithful, and I wasn’t going to stand for it!” Yeah, yeah! I find myself nodding again. Preach it, Shirley!
All of a sudden, we are interrupted by Maria, who has been floating near us for the last 10 minutes.“I don't mean to eavesdrop," she says, her voice high pitched and angry, "but I just had to say something. Gossip in Spanish is Chisme, but in any language, it’s just plain rude!” Shirley turns on Maria indignantly, and I jump at the opportunity to drift away, but not before I hear,
“There are two kinds of gossip, you know…….”