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Artemisia Gentileschi: Susanna and the Elders (1622)
"It's eye for an eye and spy vs spy …"

Rumors constitute the primary product of every home town. Whatever it might have grown famous for producing—onions in the case of my hometown—the principal occupation of every living soul seems to be the production and distribution of unsubstantiated murmurings, RuMurmurings. So-and-so always seems to be up to her old shenanigans. You-know-who just did it again, twice! The "real" story, preserved for the select few, always seethes just beneath whatever formal business might be conducted. Everyone carries a reputation and a well-acknowledged-but-never-mentioned-in-public label, be it 'slut', 'drunk', 'bastard', or 'saint.' Nobody long escapes somebody's sharp-tongued critique, and little of the Rumurmuring seems generous at heart. It sometimes seems as if everyone's actively working to bring everyone else down a peg, to set straight some crooked story, to highlight everyone else's clay feet. There are no secrets, many, almost factual.

I sometimes think we must be crazy to aspire to move back there where everyone lives in wavy glass houses whose windows feature bubbles, waves, inclusions, and varying thicknesses, producing a funhouse transparency.
One can only peek in imperfectly, and most of what's seen needs considerable interpreting before anyone might make much sense of what they've perceived. Generous interpretations produce different results than more scathing ones, and nobody looking in from the outside can ever hope to witness the real inside story. The Rumurmuring continues in considerable ernest anyway, and everyone's prey, if not today, then certainly eventually. The local paper includes only the more formal news and aside from the Letters To The Editor column, reveals few of the prejudices and preconceptions seething within the city. Social media alternatives attempted to fill in the gaps but, without effective editors, quickly devolved to retain only trolls complaining between each other. No public forum could ever fairly represent the underground Rumurmuring, and hasn't.

My mom, before she retired to assisted living and passed, served as our central hub into this seething underground, which represented a roiling soap opera production. I lived most of my adult life away from the place in a much more anonymous bigger city, and would leave my weekend visits back home suffering from severe Soap Opera Poisoning. I'd gratefully retreat back to where few even knew their neighbors or cared very much about their more naked underbellies. Even there, though, we seemed to thrive on our misconceptions, which might slip out in awkward moments. Our next door neighbor there, who'd lived in her place for forty years, kept her ear to the ground, though we found her Rumurmuring uninteresting since we didn't share her deep sense of history and had no real need to amplify or extend any pre-existing storyline. And so it's been through our overlong exile, we've lived in barren isolation from this one animating element of neighborhood living. The NextDoor app proved unsatisfying, predictably populated by trolls and their targets, I excused myself with disappointment and disgust.

I acknowledge that HeadingHomeward, I carry a raft of pre-existing conditions with me, some vicious rumors about my provenance and past performances, ones I can never even distantly hope to ever outdistance. There are some underlying facts that people just seem to know regardless of whether or not they were ever true. They represent my legend, the contents of which I will never be privileged enough to hear, as if hearing them might somehow prove to qualify as a privilege. I will come to hear about some of them, for loose lips eventually breach even the most stalwart defenses. I will produce no effective rebuttal, though I admit to a certain equally secret satisfaction when I behave in ways counter to what the Rumurmuring predicted. Both The Muse and I will most certainly engage in Rumurmuring of our own, though only of the more thoughtful and generous kind, or so we'll tell ourselves. To not engage seems at least impractical and more likely functionally impossible, for with one neighbor speculating in my ear, it would prove unseeingly if I did not provide my own whisper in return. It's eye for an eye and spy vs spy and every offered nugget really seems to have earned another in return.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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