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

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Strange Plots 9


1932. A stranger came to town and became the queen.

Tamar, the Widow McGrath, was a woman wronged and a mother bereaved, and a redhead denied justice. The Tituses, the only witnesses of the murder of her son, were prepared to swear that Allan had been trespassing and aggressive. In vain did she plead for the case to be investigated, that Allan was belied. Andrew Titus was known to be a man of the strictest Christian principle, and the locals were weary of the feud, and Allan’s errand had been a secret known only to himself and God.

The death of Allan McGrath was the death of the clan, completing a spiral of destruction begun with the loss of the still. There was nothing for Tamar McGrath anymore on the other side of the mountain. And so she came to Titusville, a woman with nothing to lose.

She came humbly, a widow and her son making ends meet by running a bakeshop. Her specialty was pies, mincemeat pies for the men who worked at the mill or the mines. And the men came to get a glimpse of beautiful Widow McGrath, once the fierce matriarch of a mountain family, now with her red hair slipping out from under a kerchief as she winked and bantered behind the counter. Her son Demetrius, a boy not yet fully at home in his hulking physique, mixed the dough and fed the ovens and made deliveries.

She did not seek out Andrew Titus, her old adversary, nor did she hide from him. She worked and she welcomed, and she began to win. She began to move in what society Titusville provided. It was there she was introduced to the mayor, a man of progressive politics. There was a new deal in the country, and Mayor Sanders was prepared to be its dealer in Titusville.  He stopped by her shop to court the vote of the working man, a constituency often crowded in there to get a warm smile and a warm pie.

“What about you, Mrs. McGrath?” the mayor asked, having claimed the coveted spot right across the counter from her. “Are you waiting for our General Assembly to ratify the 20th Amendment so that women can vote?”

“No, sir,” said Mrs. McGrath. “A woman votes through her husband. A clever woman shapes his vote to her will.”

“And if she has no husband?” asked Sanders, a bachelor.

Mrs. McGrath raised her dangerous eyes to him. “Then she must count on you to help her.”

The mission priest, Father Walsh, was also a visitor to her shop when he was in town.

“When will I see you at Mass, Mrs. McGrath?” he would ask, packing his pies in his basket.

“I’m no longer one of your sheep, Father,” she’d say, but she did not flash him her smile because it had no power over him.

“Our Lord left the ninety-nine sheep in search of the one,” said Father Walsh. “Draw near to him and he will be near to you.”

One day while Father was in the shop, Andrew Titus passed by the window, his daughter Lavinia stepping lightly beside him. Titus was older now, his back less rigid, but his character no less so. He walked blamelessly before the Lord in the land of the wicked, and if at night he heard the clear voice of Allan McGrath asking for peace, by day he gave no sign.

“There is one who has drawn near to the Lord,” said Tamar, bereft for the moment of the smooth voice her customers knew. “He’s a wise man to keep his one lovely lamb close to his heart.”

“Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord,” Father Walsh remarked mildly.

The Widow McGrath remained still for a moment, watching Titus and his lamb move away. Then she turned her sweetest smile on the priest.

“Of course it is, Father,” she agreed. “And the Lord’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Tamar McGrath did not marry the mayor at the mission church of the Sacred Hearts, but at the mayor’s place of worship, whichever it was — she cared not. All were invited to the wedding luncheon. Tamar swept through the room in her white lace, the Queen of Hearts gathering her subjects to herself, working ever and ever nearer to Andrew Titus and his daughter.

“Welcome, Titus,” she cried, favoring him with a smile that was all sunshine. “Today of all days, shall we bury the axe?”

Titus stared at the hand outstretched to him. It seemed to shock him to discover that the hand belonged to a woman, her silky red hair pinned in coils at the nape of her neck.

“We will have peace,” he muttered. His hand burned as he placed it in hers.

“And this must be Lavinia,” she said, kissing Titus’s daughter on the cheek. “My, aren’t you an angel?”

“No, ma’am, I can’t be. Angels are spirits,” Lavinia answered meekly. “Human beings have both body and soul.”

“Body and soul indeed,” murmured Tamar. “You are so sweet I could just eat you up.”

She flitted off to chat with other guests, but she followed Titus and Lavinia with hungry eyes. She was not the only one. Demetrius McGrath, standing aside from his mother’s brilliance, watched his quiet angel who left the room with Andrew Titus, and he yearned to have Titus’s good fortune and feel Lavinia’s slender fingers resting on his arm.


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