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Persona Non Grata
by Terry Sanville

All the warning signs were there, and poor Ida Mae should have seen it coming. After all, she had lived in Wells Falls, Virginia most of her life and knew almost everybody. Miss Mae had arrived decades before the railroad ran a spur line out past Charlottesville, at a time when tobacco was king. And she hadn’t been too happy about the changes since then.

“What kinda progress you call it when your town is full of those damn strip malls,” Ida had complained to Mabelle, her neighbor and closest friend.

“We’re not driving buggies anymore, Ida,” Mabelle had said. “People want convenience – and they don’t want to walk anywhere.”

“Yes, and they try killin’ off those of us who still do!” But Ida Mae had been killed off very slowly, living well past 80. One stifling spring morning she failed to venture out onto her front porch. Mabelle had gone to investigate, called the Coroner, and made funeral arrangements. The Tribune published Ida’s obituary.

On the appointed day, Offie’s Funeral Home was packed with Ida’s Town Council cronies, Garden Club friends, half the membership of the Knights of Columbus, a few remaining DAR sisters, and a representative sampling of the town’s crazies.

The ceremony went as planned, with Mabelle inviting people to come forward and remember the life and times of their friend. Things were winding down and the men loosened their ties and eagerly eyed the exits. Smelling strongly of sloe gin and bay rum, Dr. Samuel Perkins weaved his way to the podium and stared out over the crowd.

“I knew Ida when she first came to Wells Falls,” he said warmly. “Her mother brought her in with a bad case of vaginal warts.”

The women gasped and began furiously fanning themselves with the funeral program.

“That was years before fancy antibiotics. It took weeks to get rid of those lesions. But Ida hardly complained – was a real trooper. Next time she came in alone, was about three months along.”

The Knights of Columbus members squirmed in their seats. Doc Perkins swayed and grabbed at the podium for support.

“She never told me who the father was, but I damn well know it was one of you.” He pointed at the audience. Humming cicadas in the alder trees outside became suddenly conspicuous. “Hell, it could have been me for all I know. In her day, Ida was quite… let’s just say, ‘friendly.’”

There was a low murmur of agreement from the contingent of gray-haired men. Mabelle rose from her seat, stalked to Ida’s open casket and firmly closed the lid. The women sighed approval.

“After that, it was just your run-of-the-mill yeast infections, D&Cs, arthritis, and eventually, heart disease. She lasted 84 years. God bless her,” Perkins slurred.

Mabelle stood. “Thank you, doctor, for such a personal account.”

The audience escaped to their cars, glad that the new family clinic had opened and Doc Perkins could stay retired – at least until his own memorial service.