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

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Strange Plots 13


Aaron Moore lived in a room out back, over the mayor’s garage, and called no attention to himself. All he did, it seemed, was work, and at night his window glowed virtuously with the light of book learning. He was a man who kept his own counsel, preferring to stay close to home rather than wandering the small town late at night. He did not drink. He did not smoke. He did nothing but work quietly and earn his pay.

Demetrius McGrath took to sitting outside near Aaron as he worked. Sometimes Aaron split wood against the winter. Sometimes he sat and repaired small items. He would chat with Demetrius, just this and that, telling what to do to tame a mean dog or how to drive an automobile. He never asked Demetrius about school, or about kid stuff like what games he liked to play. Aaron talked to him like he was another man. Even his mom still treated him like a boy, keeping him out of her schemes for revenge. Of course she was plotting revenge. She was a McGrath. And Demetrius was a McGrath too. Didn’t she think he was old enough to trust now?

If Allan were still alive, Demetrius could have talked to him about Ma. Of course, if Allan were alive, Ma wouldn't have been out for revenge. Some days he missed his brother so much he was sick with it. Others, he reveled in his position as oldest and only son, filling a place in Ma’s heart that was rightfully Allan’s. It was uncomfortable, all these feelings jumbled around, and sometimes Demetrius hated himself for being so wrong and mixed up.

His thoughts about Lavinia Titus were also all jumbled up. Some Sundays her father deigned to come into town to the Baptist church, and then Demetrius could look at her out of the corner of his eye as he sat in the Sanders pew with Ma. Ma went to church now because she had to as the mayor’s wife, although she complained enough at home about it. Demetrius went with her, not, as Ma teased him, because he was turning into a townie, but because Lavinia might be there. He had almost spoken to her once, when she had nodded to him and smiled on her way out of church. That memory had fed him for a week. She was an angel, pure and golden. He did not dare to think of her for himself. Only Allan would have been good enough for her. He would have known how to take care of her and protect her, how to talk to her. If only Allan were alive, he would have married Lavinia, and Demetrius could have been near her always.

But Allan was dead because Lavinia’s father had killed him. How would Old Titus like it if something happened to his child? How would he suffer if something awful befell his pride and joy? He would cry out for mercy and beg for death, and he would deserve it after what he did to Allan. No torment was too vile for him.

Demetrius pushed these thoughts away, but others he could not escape so easily. Lavinia floated into church as lightly as an angel, but as she sat down, her skirt might be tucked closely around her thigh. Or as she turned to speak to someone, her bosom might press against her blouse. Demetrius wanted to touch her, wanted to feel her touching him, to see her looking up at him, to hear his name on her lips. He wanted to know more about the body under the skirt, the blouse, the stockings. Then he remembered how pure and sweet she was, how good and pretty, and he was disgusted at himself for sullying her image.

Even at home he could not escape this tension of craving to know more and hating himself for the desire. He wasn’t blind — he could see the way his mother acted with Aaron when her husband wasn’t home. Maybe she thought he was too dumb to notice. Or maybe she thought he was old enough to be trusted with her secret. Whichever it was, she was bold with Aaron in ways that she never was with Sanders. She gave him private looks. Her voice simmered when she said anything to him, no matter how dull. And Aaron, despite his respectful his words, spoke as if Tamar, a white woman, was his to command.

And it was not just words and looks. Ma breathed faster when Aaron touched her. They were more careful about that when he was around, but once, when they didn't know he was in the garage, he had seen… He grew hot to think about it. Ladies, he knew, were supposed to be good and clean and not want the bad things that men wanted, but Ma seemed to want them from Aaron. What if Lavinia could give him what Ma gave Aaron? He made himself sick.

One day out in the yard, as Aaron was whittling a stake for the garden, Demetrius sat down on the porch step to watch.

“Want to try?” Aaron said. He handed Demetrius his other knife and watched him shave a few curls of wood. "I see you know a little something about woodworking.”

“Allan showed me sometimes,” said Demetrius, taking care to hold the knife just as Allan had.

“He knew how to do a lot of things, did he?” asked Aaron.


“What was he good at?” A few more strong strokes of Aaron’s knife, and the end of his stake began to taper and point.

Memories of Allan welled up. Allan showing him how to fish in the pond they’d dammed up in the stream. Allan in bed telling him stories of the haints at the old cemetery. Allan talking Ma out of giving him and Demetrius a licking for letting the pig out of its pen.  One detail led to another, until Aaron’s patient rustling drew him back to the yard and the task at hand.

“Allan liked to talk to people. He could talk to anyone.” He concentrated elaborately on his whittling. “I bet he could even talk to Lavinia Titus.”

“She ought to count herself lucky if Allan had a mind to talk to her,” said Aaron.

Demetrius was quick to stand up for his lady, even against the claims of Allan. “Lavinia is real quality. Not like the stupid girls at school. She’s too good for this town. She’s… she’s an angel.”

“An angel.” Aaron chuckled, low and wicked. “Her father is the devil, all right. No sir, Miss Titus is flesh and blood, through and through. And she ain't no girl. She’s got a woman’s body under those church mouse frocks.”

Demetrius flushed, caught in the familiar conflict. He didn’t want Aaron to cheapen Lavinia by talking about her body, but he desperately wanted more.

“Depend on it, she’s a woman all the way through, and women want one thing. A man. I bet she’s noticed you already and is putting on her pretty airs to tempt you. Moving all proud like that, sassing you with those hips. Thinking she’s better than you because she's a Titus. But ain’t no McGrath man ought to take any disrespect from a Titus hussy.”

“Hush your mouth!” He ought to fight Aaron, punch his teeth for the trash he was talking about Lavinia. But stirring within him now was not just desire, but the honor of the McGraths. They were as good as any family in town, better even. The thought of Lavinia flaunting herself at him as a challenge made his blood pound. But she wasn’t like her family. She was kind and gentle. But she was a Titus, and blood would tell. And she was a woman, and a woman wanted a man, like Ma wanted Aaron, even though Aaron was only a black man who didn’t ought to dare to think about Ma, or Lavinia…

“You got no right to talk about a white woman that way,” Demetrius muttered. “I ought to teach you your place…”

"Easy there, young buck! You gonna turn that stake to toothpicks the way you chopping at it.” Unafraid, Aaron plucked the knife from Demetrius’s clenched hand. “Don’t know a woman is a woman, black or white? Your Lavinia may carry herself high and mighty, but between the legs, she’s the same as any other chit.”

Demetrius was on his feet. “You take that back.”

Aaron got up too, with easy confidence. “Boy, have you ever even seen a woman? Or do you only know about skirts and hats and gloves?”

Sullen and silent, Demetrius paced restlessly, stabbing his stick into the ground.

“Come on up here and I’ll show you something,” said Aaron, heading toward his garage room. “You like pictures of girls? I got some magazines that might teach you a few new things.”

As Demetrius followed unwillingly, eagerly, Aaron glanced back toward the house and gave the minutest of nods. Tamar, at the kitchen window, met his eyes and returned his nod with grim satisfaction.



Brandon said...

I've been enjoying the slow unfolding of the mystery of Aaron Moore, and the constant suggestion that there's more to him than you ever get on the surface.

mrsdarwin said...

Have you pegged the literary source yet?

Brandon said...

Hmm, no; an extra mystery!