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

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Strange Plots 21


And so, a stranger came to town.

And got an AirBnb. Yes, even Titusville has realized that “safe as houses” means vacant houses. And since the town isn’t large enough to sustain a hotel (anymore; the old inn where Abraham Lincoln definitely did not sleep is now a nifty arts center), and some people like to go to Florida for the winter, there’s both supply and demand. Mom, Dad, Grandpa, and I were able to rent an old bungalow for two nights so that we could spend Christmas in Titusville.

I did say “Mom and Dad”, and that requires some explanation. When I said that I was going to Christmas mass in Titusville, Grandpa decided that he would like to come to. And since he didn’t want to drive up early on Christmas morning, he decided that we would stay the night. When Mom saw us looking at cute lodgings, she jumped in and took over the whole process (and paid for it too, so Grandpa and I shrugged and let her do her thing). Believe it or not, I think that when we had our Thanksgiving fight and I asked her if she was jealous because I was cutting out of the Ramirez gathering, it triggered some kind of introspection. Maybe it was that she was really jealous of not having a family gathering of her own to go to. Maybe she’d always felt awkward and out of place with Dad’s big happy family. Whatever the reason — I didn’t ask; we weren’t on those kind of terms again yet — she decided that she and Dad were coming to Titusville as well to explore Grandpa’s heritage, and (though maybe she hadn’t gotten this far in her introspecting) her own.

I was okay with this. I had not talked yet with Grandpa about Vin’s speculations about the gritty past. Every time I thought about it, I choked up at the thought of an old man hearing this from his granddaughter. Better let Vin explain it, and better that Mom should be there for Grandpa, and Dad be there for Mom. And Vin be there for me.

I’ve been coming to the realization that I’m not the most sympathetic person in the world. Yeah, I know I’m brash. I’d always thought it was my best quality. I tell it like it is. I don’t believe in BS. What you see is what you get — take me or leave me, and if you leave me it’s your problem. But I’d never cared before if I was left. Now it was different. Vin was doing a fine job of driving himself away from me. I didn’t want to do anything to bump him farther along.

I was going to have a chance to practice my less-brashness. Vin’s parents had invited us all to come over to their house after Christmas mass. I considered warning my folks about the particular brand of dysfunction they were about to encounter, but then I thought, why spoil all the fun? I’d already had my initiation into weird Titus family holidays. Maybe Mom would think more kindly of the Ramirez gatherings after this year.

For as close as we’ve lived to the mountains all my life, I don’t recall us ever taking a day trip up into the forest or checking out an overlook. The route was new to everyone but me, and I drove because I knew exactly where to slow down to showcase the most dramatic views. Everyone was impressed: Grandpa deeply, Dad easily, Mom against her will. Then I cruised along the scenic route through Titusville to show off the bricks of City Hall and the gazebo in the square and the neon lights of the diner. I detoured the few blocks past downtown so I could show Grandpa the mission church of Sacred Hearts where he was baptized. Grandpa almost hung out of the window like the little boy he never got to be, consuming every detail of the compact church. I hoped his heart would hold out through the holiday.

Our bungalow was just off of the main drag, a classic little 1920s deal with a porch and a trellis. As Mom unlocked the door, I was all prepared for woodwork and a tile hearth and some built-in bookcases, all the Arts-and-Crafts magic, but what greeted us was nothing. I mean, of course there was furniture there, and a floor, but the place had been renovated by some enterprising investor. Every trace of individuality the house had ever possessed had been methodically stripped off and replaced with greige drywall and laminate flooring and open space and a statement chandelier. It looked like every mid-level hotel lobby you’ve ever seen, and even the ones you haven’t seen but it doesn’t matter because they all look alike.

When Kay and Vin showed up not long afterwards to meet my parents, Kay was befuddled.

“This used to be the Wilson house,” she said, poking her nose in all the closets. “I remember coming over here in high school sometimes. It was old and cramped and beat-up, and tacky as all get out, believe me, but it had so much character. It was alive, kind of like your great-aunt Bertha with her dentures and her one good eye and her coral lipstick. I guess someone bought it to flip and gutted it. What a shame. A lot of history, just vanished.”

“I don’t think it’s so bad,” my mom ventured. “It’s got a dedicated laundry room.”

“So it’s soulless yet sterile,” Kay retorted. I could see the gears in Mom’s head cranking the etiquette meter over to “laugh and nod”. I think she was having a hard time adjusting to being polite to an adult version of me.

When all six of us gathered at the table with our complimentary white wine and holiday cookies to talk over our family discoveries, Vin produced the photos first. He’d gone back to the Historical Society and snapped photos in defiance of the crabby docent, and now he pulled them up on a tablet and enlarged them for elderly eyes.

“Erin and I have found the common maternal ancestor,” he said. “This is Tamar McGrath Sanders, Kay’s great-grandmother and Aaron’s mother. T. on the baptismal certificate.”

“McGrath?” Kay exclaimed. “We’re McGraths now?”

“You’re the McGraths,” I said. “There’s no other McGrath line but you.”

Kay and Grandpa, heads together, pored over the portrait, while Mom looked at it on my phone.

“I can’t see any resemblance,” Mom said, skeptical. But Grandpa patted Kay’s cheek gently.

“It’s you,” he said in wonder. “I see you, honey. My mother looks like you.”

“It is me!” Kay was brimming over, like everyone else, and she and Grandpa hugged each other and laughed and hugged some more.

“The Tituses and the McGraths at peace,” I murmured to no one in particular. “Looks like dreams do come true.”

“But hasn’t this portrait hung on the wall at the Historical Society for years?” Mom protested to Kay. “How had you never seen it before?”

“I don’t spend my spare time at the Historical Society,” said Kay. "How did I know to look for it? How did any of us know to look for it? Every clue to this family tree has been hiding in plain sight.”

“And speaking of hiding in plain sight,” said Vin, swiping to the family photo in front of the mayor’s old house, “here are the fathers with Tamar. Aaron Moore and Demetrius McGrath.”

The photo had to be sent to everyone separately because everyone wanted to study different faces. Grandpa kept hovering back and forth between Aaron and Tamar, devouring the now pixelated images with 85 years’ worth of longing. Mom mostly looked at Aaron Moore, blowing up the photo until it was practically not a face anymore, and comparing it to Grandpa. But Kay, although she focused on Demetrius, needed more explanation.

“I understand Tamar and Aaron Moore because of the evidence of the baptismal certificate,” she said. “But how are you sure about Demetrius?”

“We know that you share a maternal ancestor who can’t be further back than Tamar, but is not Lavinia,” said Vin. “Demetrius is the missing link between the two.”

“DNA, whatever.” Kay dismissed science. “It’s the feud part that has me wondering. How did the Tituses and McGraths have a child together, and no one ever knew about it?”

Vin pulled up another photo on his phone, this time the sweet face and neat braids of Lavinia. He cleared his throat, and swallowed, and looked at me and looked away. “This is where it gets ugly,” he said.

You’ve heard of people wringing their hands. I was doing it now, a big raw bundle of nerves, all my anxiety back in full force as I looked at the these two wonderful people in front of me. They’d been yearning all their lives to learn the truth about their families. I couldn’t bear to see them devastated by the charbroiled bones in the family closet. Vin talked, laying out as dispassionately as he could both the facts and his wild theories. But dispassionate isn’t good enough when you’re talking about rape and revenge and illegitimate children and abandonment and murder and lynching and immolation. Grandpa and Kay were silent as they took in the pieces of the gruesome story, with a silence that was more horrible to me than wailing or gnashing of teeth or the invocation of family curses. They were wishing they’d never taken a DNA test in the first place. They were thinking that maybe it was better not to exist than to come from such a line of evil. Maybe Vin was right. Maybe our meeting — the best thing that had ever happened to me — was not worth all the pain and misery and sorrow that was going to ensue from our revealed history. And still no one but Vin said anything.

Finally I cracked under the strain.

“Oh Grandpa, I’m so sorry!” I flung my arms around him, rather awkwardly since we were sitting side by side in dining room chairs with slippery fabric covers. “Is it too awful? Do you hate us for finding out all these terrible things about your past? Do you think there’s some kind of curse on our family?”

And Grandpa, whose own thin crust of stoicism had cracked so easily over the past few weeks, broke his profound silence with no trace of despair or grief.

“Of course not, honey.” He patted my head just as if he were calming a riled-up pup and even scritched me behind the ears. “I’ve had 85 good, hard years. I was married to your grandmother for the best 50 of those years, and I still have the finest daughter and son-in-law and granddaughter I could wish for. Nothing I learn about my past can change that.” He swiped through the photos again, looking at each face. “All this history helps me understand where I came from, but it doesn’t taint anything for me. It’s not like any of it was my fault.”

He reached across the table for Kay’s hand, and she gave it to him willingly. “And if I hadn’t taken my test, I’d never have met my cousin. At my age, family is what matters most. I’d have endured a much more horrible history to finally be able to see and touch someone related to me.”

“Amen,” Kay murmured, squeezing him in benediction.

“So you don’t think we’re cursed?” I snuffled.

“Cursed?” Grandpa seemed genuinely confused. “Why would you think that?”

“What about what it says in the Bible about the iniquities of the fathers being visited on the third and fourth generation? Some people might call that a curse.”

Kay gave me the eagle eye. “And where did you get that pretty bit of proof texting?”

“Vin said so.” Vin rewarded my tattling by kicking me under the table.

Kay turned the eagle eye on him. “I’d hoped you’d learned a little more scripture than that on Sunday mornings, Vincent. Don’t you remember the other half of the verse, about how the Lord shows mercy to the thousandth generation to those who love him and keep his commandments?”

“No, ma’am, I’d forgotten that part,” said Vin meekly.

“You didn’t want to remember it!” I flung at him along with a good kick of my own, more vigor than impact. “And I told you that this whole history didn’t mean anything to you and me.” Kick. “I told you we could start fresh.” I would have kicked once more for good measure, but this time he trapped my feet between his ankles. “I bet even if I’d quoted scripture about mercy to the thousandth generation you couldn’t have heard me because you were so hung up on the idea of a family curse when you were really just dealing with your own insecurities.”

“I seem to recall another verse I did learn in Sunday School,” Vin remarked to Kay. “Something about better a corner of a rooftop in peace, than a fine house with a contentious woman.”

“Oho, and I’m the contentious woman in the fine house, right?” I snorted.

“I don’t know as I’d call this a fine house,” said Vin, but his ankles were still pressed against mine.

Perhaps it’s that I’ve only ever lived in the vast metropolises of the New River Valley, but I had never been to a Catholic church that had only one Christmas mass. Father Leonard had said midnight mass elsewhere on his circuit, and two earlier Christmas morning masses at two different parishes. Sacred Hearts was his last stop for the day. If he was exhausted, he hid it well as he greeted Vin like an old buddy.

“I still can't get over the idea,” I said to Vin as we shuffled into the pew, followed by Grandpa, Mom, and Dad, “that you were raised religious-ish, yet you’ve never been to church on Christmas Day. If you’re Catholic, you go to church on Christmas and Easter even if you don’t go any other day of the year.”

“Well, I’m here now, aren’t I?” he replied, and then he out-Catholicked me by putting down the kneeler and kneeling down. “Just watch — I’m picking up all the tricks.”

Father pulled out all the stops on Christmas, with incense and singing his dialogue, but Vin thwarted my attempts to explain things to him by having mastered the missalette in previous weeks, and following along in sections of the book that I didn’t even know were there. I was starting to feel superfluous, but then he was caught out by the Gloria, which he hadn’t heard in Advent, so I retained my home court advantage.

“Is this special for Christmas?” he whispered.

“No, it’s every Sunday. Except Advent. And Lent.”


The first reading was about how beautiful on the mountain were the feet of him who brings good news. Was it irreverent to apply that to Vin? I wasn’t sure what the good news he brought was, exactly, but “mountains” and “beautiful” seemed a good fit. And then I felt a gentle pressure against my foot, as if someone next to me was also inspired by the scriptures. I just avoided melting by quickly scanning the other readings for prophetic passages about Vin. And I felt convicted of impiety when I noticed that unlike me, Vin actually was paying attention to the epistle and the gospel.

As we knelt before Communion, he whispered, “Is it all right if I go up, since it’s Christmas?”

“You mean take communion?” I said, scandalized. “No. It’s sacrilegious if you aren’t Catholic.”

He looked so hungrily toward the altar that I took pity on him. “Little kids who haven’t made their first communion cross their arms like this and get a blessing. You’re allowed to do that, if you want to.”

And to my surprise he did, and back in the pew he knelt instead of sitting. I couldn’t be shown up in church on Christmas by a Protestant, so I knelt up as tall as I could, and closed my eyes instead of watching people’s shoes shuffle past. I knew I should have been praying in thanksgiving or contemplating Christmas blessings, but what kept running through my mind was Vin’s verse yesterday about the contentious woman. Better a corner of a manger in peace, than a fine house with a contentious woman. O Lord, don’t let me the contentious woman. Let my feet on the mountains bring peace, and let Vin find them beautiful. Amen.

Father Leonard waited for us after greeting his various sheep. “Welcome home, Mr. Aaron Moore,” he said, catching Grandpa up in a hug both warm and solemn. “Come with me and see.”

And Grandpa did see, in black and white (now aged to brown and cream), the first record of his existence and his parents. He ran his fingers tenderly over the slight texture of the ink that linked him to A.M and T. Mom too, had to see and touch. Something about the physical reality of of the registrar broke something in her.

“It’s real,” she cried, clinging to Grandpa. “I didn’t believe it was real until now.”

“I understand you are going out to see the burned house now,” Father Leonard said, packing a kit with a stole and holy water and a prayer book. “I would like to come with you, if I may.”

Vin and Father drove before us as we went through town to the old Titus site. I wished I knew what they were talking about, but it probably wasn’t me. The joy of Grandpa seeing his name in the baptismal register was draining away, sapped by the increasingly oppressive journey to the Titus house. This trip was worse than the first time I went out with Vin. Then I hadn’t known what lay at the end of the path, so the path had felt like an adventure. It wasn’t an adventure anymore, and it wasn’t fun either.  The horror of the house so dead that even almost 100 years later it still stifled a family’s normal growth and healing poked little needles of dread all along my arms.

Maybe if I were a better actress I could have played off my moodiness for laughs, but instead it infected everyone else in the car. By the time we were rumbling down the long shadowy drive, the silence was thick and tense. Even Vin’s puns would have been better than this homesickness. Grandpa had lost his mountain-going eagerness and was hunched up in himself, and I wondered if this place would kill him.

But again, as the grim house came into view, it was Mom who was overwhelmed by the physical link to the past. You’d think Grandpa would have been overwrought, seeing the place where his mother died a fiery death, but again it was Mom who could not bear the reality of the rotting shell of the house. Father Leonard comforted her with low words that sounded like music as he put on his stole.

“Are you going to perform an exorcism?” Dad asked, suddenly a good deal more involved than he’d been all day.

“No,” said Father, “I’m going to bless this house, and the family that comes from it.”

“Can you do that?” Vin asked, hesitant to make any pronouncements about a rite not his own. “Is it appropriate to bless it if it's not really a home anymore?”

“More appropriate, I think, than,” —here Father flipped through his pages— “the ‘Blessing for a Blast Furnace.’”

We bowed our heads. He sprinkled us with holy water, and asked God to have mercy on us and wash us with hyssop so we would be whiter than snow, and invoked the angels to watch over and protect all who lived in this home. Then he made the sign of the cross over us, and even Vin blessed himself. It was short and it was simple — so simple it was almost ridiculous for Father to have ridden all this way to say a quick chilly prayer. But Father didn’t seem to feel like he had wasted his time.

“I rejoiced when they said to me, let us go to the house of the Lord,” he sang to himself, inspecting the ruins. The rest of us walked around with Grandpa, briefly because it was cold and threatened to snow. And oddly enough, the place that had seemed so full of horror and grief was now just dead — not deader than dead like before, but merely dead, ready to be consumed by nature and become part of a larger cycle of life. The Titus had gone out of the old Titus place. I’d thought that Father was only blessing the battered pile of boards that sheltered nothing, but it was more than that. He’d also blessed us, we who were the House of Titus and the House of McGrath and the House of Moore, and we were able to smile in the face of despair.

“What will your parents say when they find out you’re engaging in pagan Catholic rituals?” I asked Vin, joking.

“What, indeed?” he said, and he was not joking.

As he and Father got in his car, I stood with my heart newly thumping out of my chest. “Oh my sweet Jesus,” I murmured in adoration, “this thing is going to happen. This is really, literally, actually going to happen.”

So I was floating on cloud ten by the time we'd dropped Father back at church and gotten to Vin’s parents’ house. Not everyone had it so cushy. Vin took on the responsibility of making introductions to his mom, who was performing today in the key of chatty.

“Mrs. Ramirez, this is my mother, Heather Titus,” said Vin. “Mom, this is Linda Ramirez, Erin’s mother. She’s a professor at Tech.”

“A professor! That must be so much work. All that grading, right?” Heather playfully slapped Mom on the arm. I could see the frost forming on Mom at the point of contact. “I took a few semesters of college before Dan and I got married. I had the densest Spanish professor — you would not believe how inflexible she was. My first semester, I had this friend who was going through a crisis, dealing with some mental health issues, and I was just under a lot stress putting in the time to support her. So I’d missed some classes, and the day I showed up was the day of the midterm. And I asked her, politely, if I could reschedule mine, because I’d been so busy with my friend and I just wasn’t in the mentality to focus on Spanish. It was like I’d asked for her firstborn child. And she got snippy and said that the schedule had been posted on the syllabus, like I’d had time to read that. Professors always think their class is going to be your one priority. I mean, I cared about the material. I just needed some understanding that life happens. But I guess professors have to live in their ivory tower, right? Are you guys hungry? Come on, I’ve got appetizers laid out on the island.”

And she bustled into the kitchen and started clattering dishes around, leaving the rest of in the hall in various states of incredulity. Dan, having had more time than anyone else to become inoculated to this level of tactlessness, didn’t let us petrify.

“Hey, it’s great to see you all!” he exclaimed. “Did anyone catch the game on Monday night?”

And Dad, who had caught the game on Monday night, allowed himself to be led off to the den for some post-mortem, taking Grandpa with him. Kay entered a second later and pulled up at the sight of Mom’s shell-shocked expression.

“Oh boy, is it bad today?” she muttered to Vin.

“She looks like she’ll be on company behavior,” Vin said cautiously.

Kay was not relieved. “That’s almost more wearing than when she’s acting up because then she won’t go away.”

“Also, you never know if or when she’ll crack.”

Kay turned to Mom. “Don’t worry. You don’t have to stay past dinner, and dinner is always right away. Come on, let’s go get it over with.”

“Are there drinks?” Mom asked plaintively.

“Not in this house,” Kay scoffed. “We’ll bust out of here and I’ll bring some of the good stuff to your place.”

At the table, we sat at our place cards: Grandpa and Kay across from each other at Heather’s end, Vin and me across from each other, Mom and Dad across from each other at Dan’s end. Fortunately, we didn’t have to go around the table this time and say what we were all thankful for. Heather had other plans.

“Mr. Aaron, it’s our tradition that the senior member of the family leads us in a blessing. Would you do the honors?”

Grandpa, unaccustomed to leading public prayer, stood up and cleared his throat as if he’d been asked to address the U.N. “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Bless us, O Lord…”

“…And these thy gifts…,” chimed in the Catholic contingent, from sheer muscle memory, and Vincent Titus, from very conscious memory.

“That was pretty,” said Heather uncertainly, into the awkward silence that followed the final sign of the cross. “Is that your family blessing? How did you know it, Vin?”

“Google,” said Vin. “Mr. Aaron, can I serve you some ham?”

Plates were filled and forks were plied, and conversation got going again. It was comfortable down at Dan’s end with Mom and Dad. At the other end, Heather said, “It must be a lot of work for your pastor up here to have church on Christmas. Does he mind missing out on spending time with his family?”

“I think they’re in Nigeria,” I said. “So he wouldn't see them anyway.”

“Lagos,” Vin said to me.

“What country is Lagos?” Heather inquired.

“Father Leonard told me that’s where his family lives,” said Vin.

“Oh,” said Heather, contemplating her son having a conversation with a Catholic priest. “Erin, Vin’s gone to church with you, so you ought to come with us some Sunday!”

“I’d have to see how the times line up,” I said as non-committally as I could. “I can’t miss mass.”

“Well, but turnabout is fair play,” sang Heather. “Of course we don’t do church on Christmas, so it was easy today, but maybe you could trade off next time you’re here on a Sunday. We have a great young adults group. I keep telling Vin he should try it.”

Vin indeed looked as if he’d been told that, many times.

“Or Vin could just keep coming with me. He seems to like it,” I countered, and got jabbed under the table by both Kay and Vin.

Heather blinked. “Likes going with you? To the Catholic church?”

“Gosh, seconds anyone?” Dan shouted down the table.

“Vin, have you gone to the Catholic church before?” Heather asked, innocently.

Vin was unable to tell a lie. “I’ve gone with Erin during Advent.”

“What’s Advent?”

“The four Sundays before Christmas,” I said. “Vin’s seen all the Advent candles lit.”

“But now Christmas is over,” said Heather, brightening. “And it sounds like you’ve solved your family mystery and showed everyone the Catholic baptism book.” She smiled at her clever boy sleuth and his mystery-solving prowess. “So there’s really no reason anymore to go to Catholic church instead of our church. Is there, honey?”

“It’s beautiful,” said Vin, with the brevity of one who devoutly wished a conversation to move past him.

“Religion and politics!” Kay chuckled, a tad too heartily, and jabbed me again.

“Idols can be beautiful,” Heather declared with fierce maternal conviction. “But we don’t worship them because they’re beautiful."

"Good thing we don’t worship idols at all, then,” I retorted, willing to suffer jabs for my faith. “We don’t worship anything but God.”

“We’re all brothers and sisters in the Lord!” said Dan. “Pie?”

Heather had caught me out, and she was triumphant. “You worship bread. I read about it.”

“It’s not bread!” I asserted, ready, like the martyrs, to die on this hill. “It’s God!”

“It's an idol!” Terror for her son drove Heather into battle mode. “Human words don’t make bread into a god! Vin, you tell her so!”

But Vin now wore the fixed daze of someone contemplating a flame. “‘The Word became flesh.’ That’s what the gospel meant,” he marveled. “I kept wondering about it all morning, why that was the Christmas reading instead of the traditional nativity story. It’s not an idol. It’s the Word made flesh. I knew it was something, but I didn’t know what.”

No one had expected that answer, and so no one had any reply ready, pacific or combative.

“Anyway,” I said, playing my trump. “Vin has to come to church with me because the children will have to be raised Catholic.”

No one jabbed me this time because the whole table was too busy staring, even Vin jolted from his pious reverie.

“You two are engaged?” Heather screeched.

“No,” I admitted. “But it just makes sense.” Now I was appealing directly to Vin, the ideas pouring out as fast as I could translate inspiration into words. “See how it works? We’re the end of the line. We draw the whole family together into one. And when we have a baby, he — or maybe it would be a girl — will be Titus, and McGrath, and Moore, all together. This is how we heal the family curse, if there really is one. We end the hate with love. But the children have to be Catholic. You have to promise that, or we can’t get married.”

Vin stood up from the table. “Will you excuse us?” he asked at large, coming around and taking my elbow and steering me out of the room. “Go ahead and have your pie. We won’t be back.”

He stopped us at the closet and handed me my coat and purse.

“Where are we going?”

“My place.”

“Okay.” I struggled into my sleeves. “Is it still icy?”

“I salted.”

We got in his car and drove a ways toward town in silence. Then Vin let out a breath he seemed to have been holding since we left the house.

“You are a liability, I can see that right now,” he said.


“You give everything away up front. Isn’t the great rule of showbiz that you’re supposed to leave them wanting more?”

“We’re not showbiz,” I protested.

“Except when we blow up Christmas dinner."

I thought I would laugh, and then I tried it and it didn’t come out quite right. My zeal had congealed in the nippy air. “Are you saying you don’t want any more?”


The Christmas-lit houses drew closer together, and congregated along the main street. City Hall and the square were strung with white bulbs, pure and warm. We turned away from the brightness down Vin’s alleyway, where the darkness gave me some cover for speaking again.

“I’d promised myself that I’d be less abrasive so that I wouldn’t do anything to drive you away, and now I’ve had a blowout theological argument with your mother and gotten you accused of being Catholic, and you know what? I’m not even sorry.” I swallowed. “Mostly. I know it’s not civilized of me and I ought to have a stiff upper lip and communicate solely through raised eyebrows, but I’m a big hot emotional mess and I say what I think and I can’t help it.”

We parked, and he got out and opened my door and offered me a hand.

“I don’t want you to help it,” he said, and instantly I was a different and much more thrilling kind of hot emotional mess.

“Why not?”

“Because you wear everything on your sleeve. I always know what I’m getting with you, and I find that refreshing. Like the reading this morning.” He put his arm around me in case the salt hadn’t made the stairs perfectly safe. “How beautiful on the apartment stairs are the feet of her, announcing peace.”

“Me, bringing peace. That’s new,” I said, just to keep conversation going, soaking up everything he’d said about me.

“Do you want to know what’s not peaceful?” he said, angry, but not at me. “Living with someone who never speaks her mind. Living with someone who forces everyone else to try and adapt to her moods and whims without ever coming out and just saying what she wants. You want to know what’s a family curse? That’s a family curse.”

“You are obsessed with the family curse.” I rolled my eyes, even though he couldn't see it in the dark. “You’re going to drive yourself insane.”

 He put his key into the lock. “Nonsense. Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. I want to try something different from my parents, and I expect a better result.”

I could have sworn there was no way to be pedantic and arousing at the same time, but Vin seemed to be a devotee of the school of stupidly logical seduction.

“Oh, have we decided we’re going to get results now?” I demanded in the doorway, not following him inside. “Why are you so cool and collected? Is this how it’s always going to be? I’ve basically told you that I love you, and you take it in your stride with witty repartee and don’t even have the decency to be honored, or insulted, or even flustered in any way, shape, or form…”

I might have gone on pounding my head against that particular wall for any amount of time, but I couldn’t because I couldn’t talk any more, because he pulled me in and was kissing me against the closed door, and he was flustered indeed, and then I was even more flustered. We clutched and stroked and knocked our teeth together once or twice like fools, and everything was more ridiculous and breath-taking than I’d imagined it would be.

“This,” he whispered in my ear once we came up for air, “is how it’s always going to be.”

“Only if you promise to raise the children Catholic.”

“I promise,” he said, holding onto the fourth finger of my left hand, “that I’ll make my first communion before any of the kids do.”

And that’s what happened when a stranger came to town: the ending of one story, and the beginning of another.

The End.


Brandon said...

And she got snippy and said that the schedule had been posted on the syllabus, like I’d had time to read that.

You have captured a significant portion of the life of a professor in a single sentence.

The contrast between the spiral of despair and violence and the frame of hope made a roller-coaster read, but I very much liked how it showed that even at their worst people were planting, sometimes despite themselves, seeds of something better.

MrsDarwin said...

Brandon, parts of that monologue were taken verbatim from a story my daughter told last night about someone in her Spanish class when I asked for some appalling thing someone might say about to a professor. I had her repeat the line "I wasn't in the mentality to focus on Spanish" three or four times because we were all dying over it. I feel like it's going to become a family catchphrase.

ladywisdom said...

What an excellent ending! Thank you so much for the whole story, I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Perfect ending! I love how the two protagonists complement each other. Like two puzzle pieces fitting together.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Also, Heather's monologue about her interaction with her Spanish professor echoed so many of the student interactions that Jon heard in the Earth Science dept. at SMC.

Jocelyn said...

Knocking teeth together! It's been so long since those first smooches, I'd forgotten all about that. Thank you for bringing the story round so beautifully.

Mary said...

Fabulous! And, yes, those excuses are daily in high school as well!

Christine said...

Thought of this while at Mass today :)