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  Pure As the Driven Slush (Personal Journal)

Mae didn't exactly go to the Lonely Hearts Club because she didn't want to be single anymore. She actually wasn't exactly single, either, and Mae didn't go to just one singles club. The Bows n' Beaus Singles Club in cozy Mountain View, California, the Tennessee Single-Dingles, the Swing Singles in not-so-swingin' Amherst, Michigan: Mae had been there and to every one she could find in between, sitting out the evening with someone or another until the night sky flirted with sunrise.

This wasn't because there was a thing wrong with Mae. This wasn't because Mae couldn't find willing partners. As a matter of fact, she kept a small dish on the top of whatever dresser she was renting that month (which was actually an ashtray from a hotel in Tijuana) brimming over with little lockets, the occasional engagement ring, newly duplicated house keys and other shiny tokens of affection that clinked together as restless as their givers and the receiver had been.
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The reason Mae was still flying solo, and appeared to be on something not unlike a world tour, may have been as Gil, treasurer for Parents Without Partners in Black Mountain, North Dakota, remembered her saying to him as they embraced after coffee at an all-night diner. "She said to me, 'Gil, there's just something happens when a stranger holds you. You don't wonder what it is about you in particular, or if they're holding you just because they're thinking they ought to, or because they want you to be there to iron their pants the next morning. They're just holding you because of that magic that happens when two people get close, when one small person might have found one other and all the stars twinkle. There's nothing in the world like it ... 'til it passes.'

"Not sure what she meant, but that's what she said."

"I always wondered about Mae," said Linda Belmont, of Washington Grove, Maryland. "All us girls sure liked her plenty, even though she was never at our table for more than two seconds before some guy'd come and ask her to dance, and she always said yes. And -- not to be catty, but -- she never went home alone. I know for a fact that Jack -- he's our town doctor, a fine catch -- really took a shine to her. Joann says he even asked Mae to marry him, but a few days after, she just up and went without saying a word. And wasn't a man left here who didn't pine some for Mae when she'd gone, neither. Even with those ten extra pounds she lugged around with her."

There's not much we know about Mae's life before she hit the pavement in her low-heeled spectator pumps. She grew up in Pasadena, California, and married a GI in 1953. Exactly ten years later, the day after President Kennedy was shot, and the day before her 30th birthday, she gave him a soft smile and a kiss on the cheek after serving him dinner. Then she walked out the door with nothing but her hat box, and left him with the newly-sided house, the dog, and a floor freezer full of 40 home-cooked hot dishes, each with a tidily scripted note as to the appropriate day for consumption and the cooking instructions. Asked about Mae, her abandoned husband states, "That sure was sweet of her to leave me those pot roasts. She knew they were my favorite."

Mae's Social Security records show earnings from a variety of vocations over the next few years: from a dog groomers in Nevada, a dentists office in Kentucky, an Avon franchise in Texas, a canning factory in Oregon, a secretary pool in New York City. Mae was partial to motels off the side of this dirt road or that one, and motel owners who remember her all agree that she always made her own bed every morning, but had a habit of taking an ashtray or towel with her when she left. None followed up on the petty thefts, because she always thoughtfully left a few coins in exchange.

It's hard to find someone who doesn't remember Mae. A trucker in Alabama notes, "Yep, I picked her up in Tallahassee. Didn't say much, she was that quiet type, but she sure had a pretty smile and she listened to all my dumb stories real nice. Even paid her share of the gas. Not your usual hitcher. I don't like to kiss and tell or nothin', but we had a good night out near Louisville. I'm not saying the lady was loose, she was plenty proper, but boy, could she give a guy a kiss. Wonder whatever happened to Mae. She's probably settled down by now with some nice fella, huh?"

A barber in South Dakota remembers Mae, too. "She was something special, Mae was. Had the prettiest hair, too, that chestnut color that shined all gold-like. We went out a couple of times, met at the Alabama Christian Singles Annual Pancake Breakfast. I sure wish she'd've stuck round, but was right after I told her maybe she and me could set up house and get cozy, she cooled on me, was gone the next day. Now I know I'm no doctor, no laywer or no preacher, but my wife Sheila (we got married last year) thinks I do right by her. And sweet as Mae was, a woman her age -- she's only got so many choices. A girl's got to settle down sometime."

"Mae said to me once," says Joe, a high school science teacher who met Mae at a widowers dance in Bloomington, Illinois, "When I asked her where she came from, she said, 'Everywhere and nowhere, Joe, with nobody following behind.' We spent lots of times together, me n'Mae, mostly out dancing. This diner we'd go to with a jukebox, she'd feed quarters into it playing nothing but Patsy Cline tunes. That one that goes -- aw, what is it -- Walking After Midnight, that's it, that bit here where it goes:

I walk for miles along the highway
Well, that's just my way
Of sayin' I love you
I'm always walkin' after midnight
Searchin' for you

I stop to see a weeping willow
Cryin' on his pillow
Maybe he's cryin' for me
And as the skies turn gloomy
Night winds whisper to me
I'm as lonesome as I can be

...she'd sing along with her eyes closed, smiling. Always made her cry. Not sure why it did, I mean, Mae couldn't've been lonely, not with how many of us boys was always wanting to keep her company."

A door-to-door salesman, who sold doors, door-to-door, has a clear recollection of Mae the day before she left her home in Pasadena. "I remember her, there's no way I could forget, not on that day. She told me that she'd had enough of doors; there was too many doors as it was, always closing her in. We had a good laugh over that one, and she made me a perfect cup of coffee, offered me a rest, and we turned on the TV. Not more than a couple minutes in, they came on said Kennedy'd been shot. We were real quiet for a long time. Mae didn't cry like everybody else cried that day, she just says, 'Mr. Andersen, can you sell me a door that doesn't shut in front of me, only behind?' It was a strange thing to ask, but you know people say all kinds of strange things when something bad happens like that. So, I told her sure, she's got one right there out front, and all's she has to do is walk on out and shut it behind her. I didn't know she'd take me so serious."
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Over the last few years, Mae seems to have slowed her pace. Fewer people remember her than they did years before; fewer people seem to have seen her. There are no social security reports of new jobs. Maybe like the small girl in The Red Shoes her wish to have doors shut only behind her drove her deaf in the din of their slamming, wore her limbs to the ground with her constant forward movement, brought her to circling the land so feverishly she dropped to it, dizzied.

But probably not. Probably, the answer is on the back of a paper napkin left in a diner on the outskirts of this town or that one, penned in Mae's tidy, purposeful script. It'd have a wet teardrop on it that fell in something that wasn't sorrow, but instead a faraway reverie and longing that doesn't feel great, but sure feels a lot better than the wrong side of a door, and it'd read:

I go out walkin' after midnight
Out in the moonlight
Just a-hopin you may be
Somewhere a-walkin' after midnight
Searchin' for me.

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