Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Kissing Kin 3


The waitress slid a mug of coffee across the counter. “Friend of yours, Vin?” she asked.

“My cousin, actually,” he said.

The waitress cast an eye over Vin’s pale arms, sprinkled with fine red hairs, and my olive hands and lacquered nails. “Kissing kin, huh. Your grandma found her daddy, then?”

“None of your business, Maureen,” said Vin evenly.

The cook was listening now. “Maybe she found your granddaddy.”

“I’ll take that coffee to go, actually,” said Vin. “And one for my cousin too.”

Two styrofoam cups were slapped down in front of us. “Don’t go forgetting the little people because you got a new grand-dad and a great-granddad, Vin,” said the waitress. “Nobody ever died of being a Titus.”

The cook snorted. “How you can live here all your life and never hear anything, Maureen, I’ll never know.” She dropped a cheese on a patty with easy contempt. “Y’all be real sure about being kissing kin. Last thing we need in the world are more inbred Tituses.”

On the sidewalk, Vin and I cradled our steaming cups against the damp afternoon.

“Don’t you have a coat?” I asked.

“It’s in my car,” he said.

The hubbub of the festival blared across the street. I settled my scarf and tucked my free hand in my jacket. Vin shuffled and kicked moodily at an empty popcorn bag blowing along the sidewalk.

“All right, maybe I was wrong to make a scene and stalk out,” he said. “At least inside we were warm and dry.”

“You call that making a scene?” I said.

“Sure,” he said. “I should have ignored them. It just seemed intolerable today of all days to deal with the same old slurs.”

“Screw that,” I said. “Let’s go back in there and tear it up. I can handle Maureen if you take the old bird.”

Vin gave me the side-eye. “Are you sure we’re related?”

“That’s what the DNA says.”

I considered taking a sip of my rapidly cooling coffee. Vin glanced back through the diner windows, where Maureen and the cook were not making any pretense of not staring.

“Grandma Kay gets so stressed. I’d hoped we could work out a bit of the family tree before she got involved, but this place is a fishbowl,” he said. “Are you superstitious?”

“What? No.” I considered honestly. “Okay, maybe. I can be superstitious if it involves La Llorona or the Scottish play. Why?”

“There’s a corn maze a few miles away. It’s supposed to be haunted. But most people in town are going to be here at the festival today, so at least we wouldn’t have an audience hanging on every word.”

“Or any witnesses,” I said. “You could be a serial killer luring me to my death. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that you don’t go into a corn maze with a total stranger.”

“Well, fortunately I’m not a stranger, just your mild-mannered cousin — three or four times removed, whatever that means.”

“I’m sure no girl was ever killed in a corn maze after a pick-up line like that.”

“Sorry. I must come off as a mustache-twirling villain. Snidely Whiplash has got nothing on me. It’s just this way I have, always trying to smooth things over in the most awkward way possible.”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake, you’re so earnest.  Doesn’t our family have any sense of humor?”

“Oh sure. No joke is safe around me. I’ll trip over it no matter how far off the path it is.”

If he killed me, it would only be with overly sensitive apologies. “All right. Let’s go lose ourselves in a corn maze.  Your car or mine?”  He hesitated, and I read his meaning in that.  “You said your coat’s in your car.  How about we take yours.  I don’t think it’s sinister.  Honest.”

His car was more presentable than Steed, so I felt I’d made the right call.

“One thing I’m not understanding,” I said, as we drove out of town.

“Just one?”

“If Kay is a Titus, how can you be looking for your grandfather on her side?”

“You might well ask,” said Vin. “My dad is the first Mr. Titus in our line in… we’d have to count back, but maybe to old Andrew Titus himself. It’s generation after generation of mothers passing the Titus name to daughters, and daughters screwing up like their mothers before them.”

I fished paper and pen out of my purse. “You tell me the names and birthdays, and I’ll make a chart. Maybe we can figure out where the family lines intersect. Do you want to start with old Andrew Titus?”

“No, I can’t get it straight unless I go backwards from now. So, start with me. Vincent Titus, 1994. I’m the only son — only child — of Dan and Mandy Titus. Dan Titus, 1972, is the only son — only child of Kay Titus.”

“And who?” I asked, pen hovering over the diagram.

“Grandma is too strong to need a man,” Vin said, “except for the one thing she couldn’t do without a man. She didn’t want to get married or be tied down. All she wanted was a baby of her own.”

“Wouldn’t that tie you down?”

“You don’t reason with Grandma Kay. This fellow didn’t even stick around to try it.”

“So it’s your dad looking for his father, then,” I said.

“Yes, but it’s also Kay. Kay Titus, 1950, daughter of a homeward bound soldier or a traveling salesman. Her mother was only 16.”

I drew circles with initials and dates in them. “What about teen mom?”

“Helen Titus. I’m a little sketchy on details about her, but I do know that she was born in 1934 to Lavinia Titus, and the only reason I know is because…”

“Because the name Vincent comes from Lavinia, doesn’t it.”

“How’d you know?”

“It just makes sense.”

“And Lavinia, I think, is the daughter of Old Titus, but we’d have to check that with someone who’s into the family history.”

“What about this Old Titus?” I asked. “Is he important?”

“He used to be,” said Vin. “He was the patriarch of the Titus clan, who had a big feud going with a family named McGrath on the other side of the mountain, on the level of the Hatfields and McCoys. They mostly wiped each other out in one final blaze of glory some time during Prohibition.”

“But there are still Tituses around,” I said.

“They’re some other branch of the family. We’re kind of the red-headed stepchildren of the bunch.” He ran a hand over his head. “Literally. I don’t know the red hair fits into it, but the other Tituses don’t have it.”

I studied my chart. “Here’s something odd. Helen Titus was born in 1934. So was my grandpa, Aaron Moore.”

“Really?” Vin tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, counting. “Helen is my great-grandmother.”

“Your generations are closer than ours.” I drew up another chart. “Start with me. Erin Moore Ramirez, 1997, daughter of Linda Moore and John Ramirez.”

“What’s your dad’s family like?” Vin asked.

“Oh, they’re lots of fun. Big family, tons of cousins, summers with Abuela and Abuelo…”

“Do they speak Spanish?”

I snorted. “Not much. My mom thought it would be a nice ethnic way to distinguish between the sets of grandparents. The Moores were just Grandma and Grandpa. Fortunately for the Ramirezs, the family is spacious enough to absorb another weird daughter-in-law. Everyone nodded and smiled and taught her how to make tamales.”

“My dad is a great guy,” Vin said. “But he tries too hard. He never had a father, and his mother never had a father, and so he’s all over the place, trying to be the perfect father and husband without any personal experience of either relationship. And he has a hair-trigger temper, so he would blow up first and then get upset that he’d scarred me for life, and my mom would have to pat his hand for a while. When I was a kid, sometimes he’d be the most supportive, doting dad — lessons, sports equipment, band trips, video games — you name it, he found the highest-quality version on the market. Nothing less for his son. Then my mom would tell him that he was going to spoil me, and he’d swing in the other direction. He’d put me on strict regimens of instant obedience and morning chores and after school jobs and lectures on my shortcomings, trying to build character. Then he’d worry that I might not get into a good college, so I’d have to study with him every morning, and take Latin and Greek in high school, and read the classics he never read. Then he’d hear that kids need freedom and agency, so he’d let me off my homework and tell me to ride my bike or wander the trails or learn how to take apart my car engine.”

“Your dad bought you a car?”

“Sure, he thought it was the safe and responsible thing to do. It’s probably the only reason I survived high school — it made me just popular enough to be left mostly alone."

I blinked. “That is…. intense.”

Vin tensed. “I’m sorry. I tend to work my way around the edges of conversations, and then when I open up I launch on warning, and people start checking their watches.”

“Geez, you’re getting tender again. I didn’t mean the life story. I meant your dad. Mine is so easy-going unless you ask him a question about a point of law, and then he starts in on one of his classroom lectures. It’s my mom who’s the wild card at our house. I say wild card, but she’s predictable in annoying ways. Every cause, she stands for it. Every wrong, she’s out to right it. She’s the savior of the oppressed, whether they like it or not.”

“Do the oppressed like it?”

“The oppressed generally consider my mom’s work on their behalf to be of far less relevance than she does. But what do they know? They’re only ignorant oppressed people. We have to listen to their voices and disregard them when they know less about what’s good for them than we do.”

“Are you oppressed?”

“I try my damnedest not to be.” I made a few fierce circles around Mom’s initials. “Linda Moore, born 1957. She charged through college, was determined to become a professor, so she did. She found a fellow faculty member to marry her. She got tenure and had me.”

“Sounds like someone who always knows what she wants.”

“Stick around, and she’ll tell you what you want too.”

“Do you get along with her?”

“I wouldn’t say ‘get along’,” I said. “You have to clap back at her when she’s getting in your space, and then she’s offended and drops you, and it’s peaceful for a while until she gets going again.”

“And now we’re back to Aaron Moore,” said Vin. “What’s his story?”

“Orphan, 1934, raised at the Sisters of Charity Orphanage in Roanoke.”

“That’s not so far away from here.”

“The sisters taught him to work, and that’s what he did. He married a poor hard-working girl, and they had my mom and that was hard work, and he built up a company from scratch and that was hard work.”

“And where do you fall on the hard work family scale?” he asked.

“Look at you with the personal questions.”

“I mean, we are here to discuss DNA.”

I gestured expansively. “I think the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

“A very acceptable position,” he said. “Plus, your quotation game is on point.”

“And that is the end of the line.” I drew a question above Aaron Moore’s circle. “His parents were a blank until we discovered that he’s connected to you Tituses through his mother.”

“And I know the mothers in the Titus line going back to the generation before him,” said Vin. “And age-wise, I don’t know how he can match with anyone’s generation but Helen’s.”

“Maybe he’s connected to her father’s mother?”

We were now parked before a field of dried stalks, rustling and whispering in the breeze. A lurid sign proclaimed this to be Titusville’s only Haunted Corn Maze! The sun had finally broken through the clouds, giving a kiss of warmth to the air. Vin paid our admission fee and came back with the emergency maps.

“This is going to be a-maze-ing,” he said.

“It looks fun. I’ve never been in a…” My jaw slowly dropped. “Was that a pun?”

“And you don’t have to worry,” he said earnestly, “because I’m no stalker.”


He was grieved. “I can see that you’re no connoisseur of corny jokes."

“I can see that I’ll be begging you to kill me at some point,” I said. “Come on, let’s go unpack the family baggage in the corn field.”

“You mean the corn maize?”

“Yes, that’s what I… You’re despicable.”



Brandon said...

Enjoying it so far. Not sure about the title, but working titles are working titles.

mrsdarwin said...

The title is actively disgusting to me, but it's this weed-like phrase that took root in my brain when I had to post the first installment. Any good suggestions, pass 'em on, with the understanding that it's hard to name someone else's work in progress.

Brandon said...

I think it strikes me as the sort of thing that would work better as a chapter title than as carrying a whole story.

I'll try to think of suggestions, but if I come up with anything, I'll save them until the story is at least more advanced; best not to be meddling much with the writing process too early on.

Maria Johnson said...

I love Vin's puns. Of course he can't be a serial killer if he pops out with those kernels of humor. And if it gets too bad, she can always call a cob to get back to her car.

Literacy-chic said...

Great puns. Can you draw me a chart of relatives who do and don't line up now? If it was good enough for Tolkien... ;)