The four elderly women occupied two sofas and an armchair in the cramped sitting room of Edna’s clapboard cottage. Edna, her bony arms crossed, sat alone on the faded lime futon as she spewed the latest gossip to the other three widowed members of the Granny Adventures Group, or GAG.
Opposite her, Sophie and Mattie shared a shabby olive divan that boasted more stitches than Frankenstein. While Sophie knitted a pair of booties for her expectant daughter, her plump head nodding as she listened to Edna’s chitchat, Mattie stole peeks over the rim of her bifocals at the musty 50s décor that pervaded the room. And Beverly, her petite frame adrift in the lumpy, overstuffed armchair flanking the sofas, kept her eyes fixed on the coffee table in their midst.
“Wait till you hear this. It’ll just make your stomachs churn!” Edna’s raised eyebrow announced the launch of yet another verbal attack on some unsuspecting citizen of Miracle Harbor.
Good Lord! Mattie thought. Not more tittle-tattle from that blabbermouth. She felt her jaw clench and tried to relax. Could Edna’s next tale be any worse than her prattle at the last GAG meeting, when she gossiped about how the Minister’s wife splurged church funds on lottery tickets, and how Trudy Stack’s overweight daughter lost her summer job at McDonald’s for gorging on leftover fries rather than discarding them?
Mattie’s blue eyes twinkled as she recalled a more enjoyable GAG meeting where Sophie had related the funniest story about her summers as a teen aboard her father’s fishing vessel. And previous kudos had gone to Beverley for her tale of a wild shopping expedition with her two-year-old granddaughter.
Cheery conversations had permeated GAG meetings since Mattie set up the group a decade ago. Membership had held steady at thirteen since then and included many long-time friends who had lived all their lives in this charming New England coastal community. The “baker’s dozen,” the grandmothers had dubbed themselves, the emphasis less on their numbers than on the tasty treats each offered when taking turns hosting a meeting.
But then Edna joined GAG. All the same, Mattie knew she had to play fair. Other busybodies like Edna had moved to Miracle Harbor and weaseled their way into the group before. When these tattlers hadn’t changed their meddlesome habits after a warning and three meetings, she had cast them out. This was only Edna’s second meeting, although the fact that not many members had shown up this evening did cause Mattie some concern.
“It was early one evening,” Edna’s raspy voice broke Mattie’s reverie. “A breeze had eased the summer heat somewhat, and I had finally finished unpacking the boxes those sloppy movers had dropped off weeks ago, so I went for my first stroll along the shore. Lucky for me, the beach was deserted.”
“Edna, seeing as you’re new in town, I have to warn you it’s not wise to go walking on the beach—” Sophie began.
“I’m quite capable of taking care of myself, thank you very much,” Edna interrupted. “Big city life offers far more dangers than any of you small-town folks could possibly imagine. Besides, my real estate agent told me Miracle Harbor hasn’t reported as much as one assault in the last eight years. Why else do you think I moved here?” Her expression stiffened, causing her lips to narrow.
“We did have a couple of deaths by drowning,” Sophie said.
“Everyone knows drowning accidents can happen wherever there are large bodies of water,” Edna scoffed.
Sophie shrugged, went back to her knitting.
“As I was saying,” Edna continued, “I had walked along the shore for a few minutes, when I heard giggling. I stopped, turned around, glanced up and down the beach and out toward the water, but there was nobody in sight and nothing except—” She paused to make certain she had everyone’s attention. “That old overturned rowboat by the edge of the bushes.” She pushed back a few wisps of white hair from her pasty brow, then shook her head, as if the mere memory of the incident upset her.
Beverley leaned forward, peered through a fringe of gray hair that crossed her forehead. “Is that it?” she asked, seeming to address the cracked porcelain teapot.
“Of course not!” Edna scowled, causing Beverley to shrink back into her chair. “It so happened a teenage boy and girl were hiding under the rowboat and—” She blinked hard. “Well! You could just imagine what they were doing.”
Sophie’s knitting needles clicked at a steady pace. “I’d say they were checking out the oars,” she quipped, her lips curling upward above a double chin to meet rosy cheeks.
The others giggled, but not Edna. She sat bolt upright, causing the coils beneath her to emit a squeaky noise. “I fail to see the humor in finding two teenagers engaged in—”
“How did you know they were teens?” Mattie adjusted her bifocals and eyed Edna across four sets of mismatched cups and saucers, the cracked teapot, and a plate holding four ginger cookies that had remained untouched so far.
“Because I pounded on the rowboat until they came out.” Edna held her head up high and folded her arms.
Beverley wriggled toward the edge of the chair until her running shoes touched the threadbare pea green rug. “Were they … naked?” She instantly turned away from Edna, not from embarrassment as one might assume from such a gesture, but rather to better capture the response through her “good” left ear.
“Let me put it this way,” Edna said. “She was wearing the scantiest two-piece bathing suit I’ve ever had the misfortune to lay eyes on. The bottom part was scarcely there and—”
“It’s called a thong, Edna,” Sophie cut in. “Many young women with far better shapes than ours wear them today.” She raised her knitting needles to study the progress of two pink wool booties, the flicker in her eyes visible only to Mattie beside her.
Edna raised her pointy chin in defiance and shifted her gaze to the topmost folds of the moss green chintz curtains. “I’ve always discouraged my two daughters from following the fashion trends. It’s a waste of good money. In fact, I made all their clothes.” She glanced at Mattie’s trendy blue cotton top and matching casual pants, then looked down at her own clothes. “I created this simple outfit from a pattern decades ago. As you can see, it’s still presentable.” She fingered the pointed collar tabs and worn cuffs of her white nylon blouse, its sheen long gone from too many washings, then smoothed out the pleats of her gray polyester a-line skirt.
Mattie reached for her cup of tea, making certain to avoid the nicks around its edge as she raised it to her lips. She hid a smile as she imagined Edna’s married daughters on the west coast digging out their ageless wardrobe from the back of their closets for visits to “Mommy Dearest.” Then she took a sip of tea and almost choked. The brew was weak—horribly weak—as if Edna had used the same teabag for all four cups.
Sophie picked up the conversation. “Did you recognize the teens on the beach?”
“Of course,” Edna arched a penciled eyebrow. “It was that trashy Amber Gains. What else would you expect, coming from a crude family like that?”
There were gasps all around. Everyone knew Mr. Gains ran off years ago, leaving his distraught wife to raise five young children all by herself. Amber, the eldest, was an A student in high school and worked weekends at a local variety store to help out at home.
“Now Edna, it’s unkind to say nasty things about Amber and her family just because they’re less fortunate,” Mattie said, the creases along her forehead deepening. “Please remember: GAG has no place for members with malicious tongues.”
“My story is almost finished.” Edna blinked in annoyance, then sped ahead. “So there they were, wrapped around each other like a couple of—” She stuck out her chin and joined her hands. “Well! A good Christian woman doesn’t talk about such things.”
“You’ve got two daughters, Edna. Looks as if you did a lot more than talk.” Sophie’s infectious laughter, and the way her ample belly bobbed up and down under her pink Nike tee shirt, culminated in an explosion of laughter from Mattie and Beverley.
“If I may continue ….” Edna’s icy stare burrowed into Sophie. “The young boy’s shorts hung so low on his hips that the waistband of his underwear was in plain view. Disgusting!”
Beverley strained forward. “What’s that you say? He had back pain?”
“Love pains, more like it,” Sophie said in a loud voice, to which Beverley nodded.
Edna pursed her lips. “I may be new to this town, and I know you think I should mind my own business, but I’ve lived long enough to see the world deteriorate right up to my doorstep. Why, just the other night, I was watching the evening news and saw a bunch of young people on vacation…”
Mattie picked up one of Edna’s home-baked ginger cookies. She snapped off a small piece, then popped it into her mouth. The taste was bitter. She took a few gulps of the diluted tea to wash it down. Then, when Edna wasn’t looking, she crushed the rest of the cookie in the palm of her hand and slid the crumbs into the back of the sofa.
“Oh, come on, Edna,” Sophie was saying. “I’m sure Amber and her boyfriend were just doing what millions of other teens have done since the beginning of time—cuddling and smooching,” she laughed, triggering another attempt to take the edge off a topic that Edna refused to let go.
“Sophie’s right,” Mattie said. Her eyes held Edna’s. “You need to lighten up a bit.”
“Yes, lighten up,” Beverley echoed, glancing at Edna before returning her gaze to the teapot.
Edna glared at them. “The next thing you women will tell me is that I shouldn’t have gone for a walk on the beach.” She zoomed in on Sophie. “And for your information, that hussy was with Kyle—your sixteen-year-old grandson!”
Sophie paled. Her hands froze in mid-air between a purl and a plain stitch.
The room went silent.
The following Monday evening was Mattie’s turn to host the GAG meeting. Sophie, Beverley, and Edna had called to say they would be there, but the other members had stated outright they would not go to any more meetings as long as Edna remained in the group.
Mattie was disappointed. She had looked forward to hosting all the members at her exclusive home overlooking the sea. From the terrace, she could almost touch the tips of the forceful waves as they surged to twenty, sometimes thirty, feet tall at high tide. And tonight, the scene had promised to be even more spectacular than ever with a full moon in clear view. The ladies would have loved it. And Edna had gone and ruined it all.
Shortly before seven, Sophie and Beverley sauntered up the sandstone path of Mattie’s beachfront home. Sophie was out of breath, her face damp with perspiration. “Is Edna here yet?” she whispered to Mattie as she stepped inside, Beverley on her heels.
“Not yet. What’s the matter?” Mattie led them into the living room where a light breeze was blowing in off the sea. She set aside a copy of Home and Garden and sat opposite the women on one of two matching peach sofas hugging the walnut coffee table.
“You’ll never guess what happened.” Sophie took in a gulp of air, reached for a hankie in the side pocket of her striped overalls. “Edna called my son Justin … told him dreadful things about Kyle and Amber. Now Kyle is grounded for the rest of the summer.” She dabbed the hankie over her face.
“That’s right,” Beverley nodded. “Grounded.”
“But why?” Mattie’s brow furrowed.
“Justin thinks his son shouldn’t get serious about girls right now,” Sophie replied, “seeing as Kyle plans to go to university to study law in a couple of years.”
“Where he can meet the ‘right’ girl,” Mattie said.
“I suppose so,” Sophie shrugged, tucked away her hankie. “Regardless, Edna sure stirred up a hornet’s nest.”
“And she’s driving the other members away too.” Mattie mentioned the no-shows, then grew pensive. “I don’t think we should wait until the third meeting this time.”
Sophie and Beverley agreed.
After Edna arrived, Mattie set the meeting in motion. “Ladies, I’m glad you could make it tonight. Does anyone have an adventurous or humorous story to tell?”
Edna grunted. “Only the four of us again? That’s it?” She turned to Mattie beside her. “I guess your meetings aren’t as popular as you think.”
“It’s summer. People have other plans,” Mattie said.
“Oh, I don’t know about that.” Edna’s chin darted upwards. “When I was at the grocer’s this morning, I overheard several women in the next aisle say they wouldn’t be going to any more GAG meetings. Furthermore, they said other members had said so as well.”
“Really?” Mattie feigned surprise.
“I didn’t get to hear the end of their conversation, but I would think the reason they don’t attend is obvious.” Edna glanced at the women. “It’s because I expose the decadent goings-on in this town, of course.” She wagged a finger at them. “And don’t think I’m going to stop telling the truth.” Before anyone could react, she started on the new hair salon. “I couldn’t believe those ridiculous fees for a shampoo and set at Pam’s Unisex Hair Salon. Mind you, I didn’t bother going in to make an appointment. I do my own hair. But that’s besides the point. After I peered through the shop window and saw Pam bending over the sink, all but throwing herself on top of Roy Stearns, that fifty-something car dealer who recently divorced—”
Mattie bounded out of her seat. “Excuse me. I’m going to prepare the coffee.”
“Make that tea for me, please,” Edna said. “Coffee is bad for you. Everyone knows that.”
“Tea it is,” Mattie replied. Her back to Edna, she gave the other women a knowing wink and headed for the kitchen.
Mattie reached for a slender vial at the back of the pantry shelf. From the refrigerator, she took out a bowl of sweetened whipped cream she had prepared earlier. She filled a half cup with whipped cream, tapped the contents of the vial into it, and stirred. Then she scooped the mixture onto Edna’s serving of pecan pie.
While the women enjoyed their beverages and dessert, Mattie kept a vigilant eye on Edna.
Soon Edna’s eyes grew sleepy. “Excuse me,” she yawned. “I guess all that unpacking has finally caught up with me.” Minutes later, she nodded off, her head slumped against the peach velour pillows lining the couch.
“Those sleeping pills always do the trick,” Mattie said.
Dense shrubbery bordering Mattie’s home offered ample protection from prying neighbors as the three grandmothers stood on the terrace and watched the swelling crest of the incoming tide.
“It’s peaking, I’d say,” Sophie shouted above the roar of the waters.
“Go ahead,” Mattie said, her eyes sparkling in the moonlight.
“This one’s much lighter than the last two,” Sophie chuckled, as she placed Edna’s limp body on the wood railing.
“Good thing. We’re not getting any younger,” Mattie said, lending a hand. She turned to Beverley. “If I recall, it’s your turn.”
Beverley approached and gave Edna a final push over the edge.
“Those city folks,” Mattie sighed. “They should know better than to go walking on the beach without heeding high tide.”