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

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Strange Plots 12


1933. A stranger came to town, and he brought with him fire.

Tamar was an ideal wife for Mayor Sanders: organized, decorative, a good hostess. She still baked her pies, but now for charity bazaars and funeral luncheons. She opened the county fair. She even sat for a portrait, which Mayor Sanders hung in his office. He certainly felt no lack of marital felicity in his domestic arrangements. But for Tamar, it was a marriage of convenience. At night, after she had lulled her husband to sleep, she lay in her own lace-curtained room and burned.

One day there was a knock at the front door. The hired girl being off, Tamar opened it herself. A black man stood on the porch, hat in hand, the very picture of a vagrant except for the boldness with which he met her gaze.

“Beg pardon, ma’am,” he said, his voice almost entirely deferential. “I was wondering if you might need any work done around the place.”

Tamar gave him a once-over. “Go around to the kitchen, boy,” she said, and shut the door.

The kitchen was still savory with the smells of gravy and spices and crust. Pies steamed on the counter and washed knives gleamed on a towel on the table. Tamar first locked the door to the back hall, and then opened the back door and motioned the man in. He eyed her pumps, her silk stockings, her painted lips with a connoisseur’s appraisal.

"Aren’t you a tall drink of water, ma’am?”

“Go sit down,” she said, and locked the back door behind him. He wandered the kitchen, examining the stocked pantry, the linoleum floor, the painted cabinets.

“Aaron Moore,” she said coolly, moving from window to window closing the blinds.. “How’s business?”

“Tamar McGrath,” he said, turning on a faucet and letting the water run down the sink. “You’ve moved up in the world.”

“If this is the world you want to move up in.” She turned off the water and leaned against the sink, arms crossed. “I asked you about business.”

“The old networks are still in place,” he said. “All that’s missing is the McGrath moonshine.”

“The networks in place, and the still gone.” Tamar smiled with her teeth. “And what brings you to McGrath territory, now that there’s no more McGrath?”

Aaron Moore showed his teeth in turn. “The city is too warm for me right now,” he said. “Our friends suggested that maybe dear Widow McGrath might need a man about the place for a while. Come to find out that you are the place, now.” He reached over for her left hand and inspected her ring. “And no longer a widow. Tell me, widow, is respectability everything you hoped it could be?”

“No,” said Tamar, not pulling away from him. “I can’t do what I want, just yet.”

His nearness had the dusty smell of mountain roads and the bite of moonshine. “And what do you want?”

“Revenge.” She rolled the sweetness of the word over her tongue. “Revenge for my still. Revenge for my son.”

“Revenge.” He too savored the taste. “And you’re planning revenge on your own?”

“I do everything on my own.”

His low liquid laugh rippled over Tamar’s body. “Everything by yourself? I do believe you’ll wear yourself out.”

“Oh, I’m never worn out. After all, I’m the mayor’s wife."

 “Then you must be able to afford a man who can do any maintenance you require.”

“Perhaps. But they say I’m a demanding mistress.” Tamar perched on the table and smoothed a slight snag in her stocking. “I don’t pay for work unless I’m satisfied."

“Satisfaction,” Aaron murmured in her ear, “is guaranteed.”


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