By Clark Zlotchew
She was uncharacteristically late, flouncing into the room like an ill wind. Marble Silverfish, the member of the Pen Power writers’ group charged with sending announcements to the members, arrived at the weekly meeting breathless, hair an impenetrable jungle, face notably paler than normal, eyes wildly darting around the room. She almost overturned her chair when sitting down at the long conference table, but Cal Zarkov, in the neighboring seat, jumped up and caught it in time. This minor disturbance, with its accompanying screech of chairs scraping against the floor, resulted in everyone’s attention being drawn to Marble. The change in this usually jovial, unruffled young woman was obvious to all, even to the most unobservant member, Tillie Thomas, who blinked three times and hiccoughed in consternation.
The group had been listening in rapt attention to Don Delaney’s oral presentation of Chapter Three of his manuscript, Two-Gun Clara, since 9:15 A.M. He was halfway through page two of his six-pages when this interruption took place. He ostentatiously sighed and glowered at Marble. An ominous silence gradually blanketed the group as the members observed Marble’s condition. Jaws dropped, mouths fell open, sharp intakes of breath were audible. A question hung over the assembled writers: What has happened to Marble? But no one dared ask, for fear the answer would be too alarming, perhaps unbearable. Yet Marble glanced around the varnished pine table and perceived the question written on the faces of all the members, who were unabashedly staring at her.
“What!” she cried, a bit more loudly than necessary, even though she knew the answer to her question. That what had the intonation not of a question, but of a command.
The members continued staring at her in silence until, finally, Eliza Morris, the group’s leader, plucked up the courage to murmur, “Marble, is something wrong?”
“Why do you ask, Eliza?”
Eliza hesitated for a moment and then said, “Well, Marble, dear, you seem somewhat upset, and—”
Don muttered, “This better be good. I don’t like to be interrupted when I’m reading my stuff.”
She burst out, “It’s Rell! He’s been awful to me!” Marble broke out in sobs.
Cal placed his hand lightly on Marble’s shoulder and gently asked, “Rell? Lorrelle Thompson? Our Lorrelle Thompson? Really?” Marble gazed at her hands on the table and nodded. Cal pressed on, “Marble, could you tell us exactly what happened?”
Marble took a deep breath, held it for a moment as she closed her eyes, and then expelled it in a shuddering sigh. Her voice tremulous, she explained, “Okay. Listen. You all know I’ve been sending out emails to the whole group telling members what will be happening at the next weekly meeting and letting them know about special events at the library.”
She scanned the room. The nodding of heads encouraged her to continue.
“Well,” she said, “We all know–or thought—that Rell is an easygoing, courteous, considerate gentleman. Right?”
More nodding and some murmured of courses, yeses, and sures urged her on. Color began to return to her face as she continued, “And we know him as a deeply religious, God-fearing man. Right?”
“Okay, Marble, okay,” said George Smart. “What’s the problem?”
Disregarding his question and continuing her train of thought, she whined, “And besides, I thought Rell would really find these events interesting, and—”
Don banged his fist on the table and exploded, “Doggone it, Marble,” then, between gritted teeth, obviously straining to hold his temper, and more gently prodded, “Please get to the point, my dear. What did he do or say to upset you?”
Marble wiped a tear from her eye, sat up straight, and stated, “Well, after my most recent notice, last week, he answered telling me that he was sick and tired of getting my stupid –yes, stupid is the word he used—my stupid emails, cause he had no earthly reason to give a, a, a damn –his word—about what the hell, yes he said hell, kind of activities we had going on in our stupid club. Besides, he had no interest in writing or even reading anything. Reading was a thing of the past, a pastime for old geezers and his grandma, he said. He was strictly a man of the twenty-first century. He liked only action movies with big explosions and loads of violence, nudity and gratuitous sex, and he really loved playing electronic games, especially the kind where you could kill people, conquer nations, and build an empire.” She glanced around the room, thought for a moment, and then said, “I notice he’s not here today. Thank goodness.”
“Well, okay, then just stop sending him those notices,” said George. “End of story.”
Marble looked down at her hands and murmured, “Yes, of course. But my point is that Rell is not the fine gentleman we thought he was.”
“Well,” reasoned Cal, “so he’s not interested in literature. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad person. A Philistine, certainly, but not a bad guy.”
Tillie glared at Cal and sputtered, “Cal, that is racist!”
“Racist? Are you kidding, Tillie? How is it racist?”
Tillie pontificated, “The Philistines are a race –they’re in the Bible, Cal— and you’ve just insulted them. That’s racist.”
Jerrie Flynn demonstrated his agreement with vigorous nodding.
Cal gaped, speechless.
Tillie continued, “You are insulting the Philistine-American community. And it’s a large group.”
Eyebrows were raised. Eyes rolled. Chuck Whitestone tossed his head back, closed his eyes, and blasted out a hearty guffaw that could be heard a mile away. The four walls resounded as though someone had blasted out a bugle call in an echo chamber. Through the window, Marble saw a horse rear up, neighing in terror, throwing its rider. Tillie passed out and had to be revived. Eliza went out for a basin of cold water and a dishcloth.
After a pause to let the echoes die down, Marble became flushed and stammered, “But I didn’t tell you the worst of it.”
Don was vigorously shaking his head in frustration. He restrained himself and practically whispered, “Now, Marble, my dear, please would you tell us what you call ‘the worst of it,’ so we can get on with our meeting.”
Marble buried her face in her hands for a moment as everyone stared expectantly. Finally, she looked up and spoke. “The quotes I just used? Well, I cleaned them up. Lorrelle dropped the F-bomb every other word, practically. And other four-letter words, like the sh-word, and forms of language one would expect only from the most depraved denizens of filthy alleyways, houses of ill repute, and the most demented prisoners of the Federal Prison System. I was shocked.” She paused to brush away a tear and then said, “I tell you, I have heard foul language in my day, but Lorrelle was just too much! And we always thought he was such a nice man. I just couldn’t believe it.”
“Well,” said Cal, “I can’t believe it. either. In fact, I don’t believe it. That is not our Rell.”
Marble waved a sheaf of papers in the air. “I printed copies of one of his emails. Here, pass them around. See for yourselves.”
As the emails were passed around the table, sighs and expressions like “Oh, dear!” and “No, it can’t be,” and even “I can’t look at this anymore,” were heard.
One woman shouted, “Well, that does it! I will have nothing more to do with Lorrelle. We are all good, decent people. He fooled us into thinking he was a decent man, and now this— this— abomination! I’m finished with this loathsome degenerate!”
As the email came to the attention of Cecily Strong, she was saying, “Oh, come on now—how bad can it be?” But when she started to read the message, she promptly turned a cadaverous shade of white, lost consciousness, and slid from her chair to the floor.
Eliza swiftly extracted her smartphone and frantically called 911 while Marble, feeling guilty for sharing the email and causing the fainting spells, ran to the bathroom for a cup of water for Cecily.
By this time, all the members were on their feet, except for Cecily, of course, shaking fists, demanding justice, and, totally oblivious to the irony, screaming obscenities directed at Lorelle in absentia. Among the hubbub, voices were heard yelling, “Don’t let that pervert come back!” and, “Keep that monster out of this town,” and “Call the police!” and “Screw the police; let’s string him up!”
Then, the voice of sanity was heard ringing out above the din. George said, “Please, ladies and gentlemen, please, let us stop and reason this out. Let us be civilized.”
This exerted a sobering calm on the agitated members. They suddenly went silent and looked at George as though they had just emerged from a nightmare.
Cal said, “He’s right. Let’s calm down and talk this out.”
Everyone sat down once more. Jessie said, “Well, what is there to say, really?”
George said, “I’ll tell you what. First, we all know Rell pretty darn well by now, don’t we?”
People grudgingly mumbled indecipherable comments and nodded their heads in agreement. But Patty Kayke declared, in a stage whisper, “We thought we did.”
“Okay, then,” Cal said. “We really do know him. He just cannot be the person who wrote those emails. No way. I refuse to believe it.”
“Then why did those horrible emails come to Marble with the back address showing Lorrelle Thompson?” Patty said. “And if Rell didn’t send them, who did?”
“Good question,” said Jessie. “Everyone here knows how much stress I place on spelling and punctuation.” This was followed by another murmur of assent. “Okay, then,” she continued. Notice how Lorell is spelled in this email.” She paused for dramatic effect. “It’s spelled L-O-R-E-L-L.”
“So what?” Jerry said.
“So, everything!” Cal looked over Jessie’s shoulder at the email that now trembled in her grasp. “That’s not how Rell spells his name.”
Jessie said, “Exactly, Cal. He spells it with a double R in the middle and with a final E.”
Three-year-old Jewel, Jessie’s daughter, chimed in, “Dat’s wight, he weawwy does.”
Shock was painted on the members’ faces because of the little girl’s comments.
Tillie stared at Jewel. “My goodness! That is weird, on so many levels.”
“Obviously,” continued Jessie, unfazed by her daughter’s comment, “this is simply a case of mistaken identity.”
“I see it now,” Jerry said. “This man –I assume it’s a man, even though you can’t tell by his first name.” He chuckled. “No woman would use such vile language.”
George suddenly emitted one syllable: “Ha!”
Jerry, after pausing for one moment to scowl at George, continued, “As I was about to say, this Lorell-with-a-single-R-and-no-final-E character, got those notices by accident, was not interested in them, and finally was fed up with them. This man was so irritated by those announcements or blogs or whatever they were–” His voice trailed off. At this point he threw Marble an accusing look. “This is the False Lorrelle/Lorell Thompson who has absolutely nothing to do with our Lorrelle Thompson.” He rapidly scanned the room and saw heads nodding in recognition of the truth. “Case closed!”
“Wait a minute,” Sarah said. “How many people could possibly have the name Lorrelle Thompson? No matter how they spell it. I never heard of any until I joined this group. In fact I had never even heard the name Lorrelle.”
“Hold on,” said Eliza. “I just looked up the name, spelled a couple of ways, on my smartphone, and—I can hardly believe it—there are thirty-two people in this country with the name Lorrelle Thompson. With slight variations in the spelling of the first name!”
People were now smiling. Some were even laughing nervously and guiltily.
“We should be ashamed of ourselves,” Doris Dixon declared. “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
The following week, Rell appeared at the meeting and seemed flabbergasted by the pats on the back and exaggeratedly warm hellos and welcome backs uttered with overly wide smiles. He beamed with delight and said, “What the heck is going on, guys? You’d think I’d been away for a couple of years and just returned, like the prodigal son. I don’t get it.”
“We’re just in a good mood and glad to see you, Rell,” said George.
No one ever told Rell about the False Lorrelle spelled with only one R and without the final E. They were too embarrassed that they could have thought their Rell was capable of using language like that. They were even more ashamed at the violence of their reactions.
However, Cal thought he noticed the shadow of an inexplicable smirk on Rell’s face when the group seated themselves to read their work. It lasted for a mere fraction of a second, so he decided maybe he had imagined it.