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Jill Churchill

Silence Of The Hams

1

The principal droned on, mispronouncing one name after another. Jane Jeffry glanced down at the program in her hand. Eleven-eighteenths of the way through, she estimated. Jane glanced at her best friend, Shelley, sitting next to her on the gym bleachers. Shelley had an amazing capacity for looking alert, whereas Jane was going to be black and blue tomorrow from pinching herself to stay awake.

She nudged Shelley, whose startled expression betrayed the fact that her mind had been miles away from the Chicago suburb high school where they were enduring awards night. Jane felt a little guilty about bringing Shelley back to reality. But only a little.

“Remind me again why we're doing this,' Jane whispered.

“Because we were too stupid to read the directions on the birth control pill package?' Shelley suggested. 'Because we thought babies were cute and didn't know this was ahead of us? Because we wanted to populate the world with little Jeffrys and Nowacks? Because—'

“Shelley! Get a grip!'

“Yes, yes. I'm sorry. It's just that this is the worst! I swear they rig this thing to give some idiotic award or another to every single child in the school. Look at this bunch! Best lap running times for every single gym class. There must be sixty of them! And the next batch is best Spanish accent in each class. Not best grade, mind you, best accent. That's for the poor little dolts who don't know a word of the language, but can roll their Rs. I approve of the idea of trying to make kids feel good about themselves, but why do I have to sit through it all? I'd rather spend two hours in the labor room!”

Jane had heard this tirade before. Had helped hone and polish it, in fact. She and Shelley each had a daughter doing this for the first time. Jane had another son graduating this year, but each of them also had a son starting junior high next year and were going to be serving another six-year sentence.

“No,' Jane mused. 'This is bad, but Halloween is the worst. Costumes,' she said with a shudder. 'And all that revolting candy that fires them up on sugar highs for a week. And then the thugs that come to the door to pillage and come back later to smash every pumpkin on the block. At least all our kids are old enough now to be past the costume stage.”

A woman sitting behind them and eavesdropping leaned forward and said, 'You don't really know about hell unless you have a child with a birthday on Christmas.”

Jane and Shelley groaned in sympathy.

It was another hour before they escaped. 'How did your husband get out of coming to this?' Jane asked as she joined the throng heading for the door.

“Oh, Paul's on a business trip.'

“Wasn't he on a business trip the same week last year? And the year before?”

Shelley nodded. 'Poor man doesn't think I notice how conveniently that works out for him. But he's afraid I might and he always brings home a really nice gift, just in case,' she said. 'Last year it was those diamond ear? rings,' she said with a smile.

Finally it was over and they walked home, having determined that the closest parking places to the school were likely to be their own driveways anyway. It was a lush spring night. 'As much pride as I take in being the most sedentary person in a four-state area, I'm glad you suggested walking,' Jane said. 'Only I feel like I should be running, just to get ahead on this week.'

“That bad, huh?' Shelley leaned down and plucked a long blade of grass as they strolled along. She fitted it between her thumbs and blew on it fruitlessly. 'I used to be able to make a killer noise that way,' she said sadly.

Jane ignored this insight into her friend's history. 'The last week of school is always hideous. Every team and club has a dinner or party, there are ghastly recitals and performances, these award things, and everything that's starting for the summer has a kickoff activity. It's the best argument I know for year-round school. And this year, of course, is Mike's graduation and the opening of the deli.'

“The deli? Why does that involve you?”

“Me? It involves you, too. You promised!”

“I never!'

“You did. Remember last week when your battery died and I drove your car pool?”

Shelley muttered an obscenity. 'I still don't see why we have to go to the grand opening of a deli. The opening of a dress shop, maybe, or a travel agency that's giving away a free trip to some island where there are no children allowed—'

“We're attending the deli opening because my firstborn has a summer job at the deli and it's motherly to rally around—'

“But I'm not Mike's mother,' Shelley grumbled.

“—and mainly because Conrad and Sarah Baker are nice people who need all the support they can get.'

“Oh-ho. Look out,' Shelley said, pointing ahead of them on the sidewalk. A terribly fit, handsome man in his late forties was jogging toward them. He had one hand on his throat, apparently taking his pulse, and was looking at the watch on his other arm as he ran. He never did look up as he ran right between them.

“Excuse me?' Shelley called after him.

He turned, flashed a Hollywood-ish smile almost as showy and brilliant as his impressive prematurely white hair, and waved at them. It wasn't an apologetic wave, more of an acknowledgment of minions who had done well in staying out of his way.

At least, that was Jane's take. 'He's a prize jerk,' she said.

“Who was that?' a voice called out of the darkness.

Jane and Shelley detoured to join their neighbor Suzie, who was sitting on her front porch. Suzie Williams was a big woman, platinum blond and terribly frank. Jane thought of her as a nineties version of Mae West, but stunningly beautiful. Not only were they neighbors, but Suzie had a son the same grade as Jane's youngest and Shelley's boy. They'd all sat through a seemingly endless number of school plays, Cub Scout pack meetings, and summer softball and soccer games together.

“Are you sitting here in the dark trying to waylay men?' Jane asked Suzie, joining her on the porch.

“Worse things could happen,' Suzie said with a dazzling smile. 'So who was he?'

“You don't want to even consider it, Suzie,' Shelley said. 'He's Robert Stonecipher and he's a prize bastard.'

“Stonecipher,' Suzie mused. 'I've heard of him, I think. An attorney, isn't he? Well, he might have enough money to take me away from the dizzying whirl of selling girdles for a living.'

“Probably not,' Jane said. 'He's got a wife and, I hear, a girlfriend.'

“A girlfriend?' Shelley asked. 'Who?”

“My source didn't know,' Jane answered. 'Oh, wait. He's the PCA, isn't he?' Suzie asked.

“PCA?'

“Politically Correct Asshole,' Suzie said. 'The one who's always trying to push weird stuff through the town council?'

“Right,' Jane said. 'Cat leash laws. No smoking anywhere, ever. Widening all the roads to provide running and biking lanes—'

“—four handicapped parking places at every place of business, twenty-mile-an-hour speed zones throughout the whole of the town—' Shelley added.

“—and full nutritional information on all restaurant menus,' Suzie said. 'I remember the slugfest over that one. If I wanted to eat healthy crap, which I don't, I'd stay home and fix it. Oh, and the crusade about the R-rated videos? He wanted to outlaw their rentals.'

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