Chapter Twenty-Nine: Mary Wife of Vine

Editor’s Note: By 1950, Vine, like most of the United States, was entering its prime. Trade picked back up, the almanacs show a few years of strong crop yields, and birth rates nearly doubled. Church attendance records show membership consistently growing, and I at least cannot find any official record of encounters with shapeshifters, witches, monsters, or anything the Elders might need to hunt down or the people might need to cry out to God for. Official record, that is.

Christine—who again, declined to help with this book—told me this story, beginning by asking, “How do you think Vine went from outbreak, Great Depression, and World War II—three events the people either barely acknowledged or didn’t know about—to as prosperous and middle-class as the rest of the US in the 1950s?” It was shocking how much I couldn’t answer the question. Surely, with the population wounded, there’d be some demon coming down from the mountains wreaking havoc, or some flood that destroyed houses, or anything. Instead, it seemed to be a period of quiet growth. “Remember the Community of the Daughters of Charity?” Christine asked.

You Must Be Discerning: Give Not To Temptation But Celebrate What The Lord Provides

Coq a vin: to roast the chicken in a bottle of red wine, simmering with herbs in a dutch oven and filling the air of the house for hours with its rich aroma, was deemed indulgent by the Preachers. Mary didn’t care, though. She longed for the juicy verboten sweetness, who wouldn’t? What wife is worth her salt if she can’t make a decent chicken? This is the Word of the Lord, Mary thought while simmering the wine. Thanks be to God. 

Herbs: you want thyme, rosemary. Sage, if you can get it this time of year. Definitely garlic. You should make your own stock: full picked-over chicken carcass, leeks, onions, garlic, dill, thyme, carrots, celery, simmer all that away for a few hours. Then, on the new bird: spatchcock. Run the blade of your knife along the bone and break open so that the bird is butterflied on your board. It’ll roast more evenly that way. Gives the end product more consistency. Mary was an alchemist when it came to flavorful suppers. These are the details the men of Vine receive passively, oblivious to the higher quality of life slipped to them. 

You have an oven now: there’s no excuse for anything but precision with the temperature. Chicken has to be done to 165 degrees. Use your thermometer and wash it after. 

Sides: You need a starch and a green. Roast potatoes in the schmaltz of the chicken. Lightly blanched, then saute in butter some green beans or spinach. Dinner cannot get easier than that. If the boss is coming over, he will expect dinner rolls. Plus a salad after the cocktail course. Red with meat, white with fish: these were truisms that did not require special knowledge or training, right? For dessert: again, not too elegant. Stick to a simple chocolate chip cookie and decaf coffee or warm milk. Close attention to detail will keep unwanted unpleasantness at bay.

Mary knew it. As the day was long, Mary was the one who asserted dominion over her household while her husband Tom was a member of a Swanson Construction work crew, toiling for further glory of God in Vine. Unbeknownst to Tom, Mary was wordlessly doing her part to protect the future of Vine, too. 

You Must Be Loyal: See To It That You Attend Accordant Worship Times

The numbers at church were high this weekend. A pleasant spring day before Easter saw the marigolds and orchids blooming early. The women adorned their brightest pastels, dotting the pews like a garden of sugarplums. Mary knew what it was to protect a consecrated land like Vine, and appreciated how the Church gave the people of Vine a certain understanding.

“Before we begin today,” the preacher said. “A reminder about security: it is never a good idea to go out alone at night. Though Vine is well-secured—these are times of security—you can never be too careful. Evil does lurk among humanity everywhere, which can include Vine if we’re not careful.”

Unbeknownst to the Preacher or Tom, Mary knew about lurking evil. It just so happened that Mary had seen a few of the unholy sites in the mountains with her own eyes. It just so happened that Mary had known a woman who had shown her how to guard against the evil that does lurk among humanity everywhere, and Mary was more than careful. 

You Must Be A Servant of God: See That You Maintain Your Home

Mary was in her garden, pruning lavender asters. Tom came outside in his undershirt. 

“I was at the pharmacy the other day,” he said. “Scuttlebutt is: that body they found up at the Butler House? A witch.”

“Who found what where?” she asked. Her shears slipped and dinged her shin.

“Up there byside the Butler house,” Tom said. “Found a dead woman, face all mangled. Not like an animal had got her, but like…scrambled. Unrecognizable. Fuzzy. Well, not fuzzy, they didn’t say that. More like…unfocused.” 

“They don’t know who it was?”

“Not yet. Face too unrecognizable. But Hank was saying Larry was complaining Thelma had been staying out late, had been acting weird. Reading some kinda book, not one of her usual romance novels. Grim- something, I don’t know. You don’t think?”

“Don’t think what?”

“Thelma’s not a witch right?”

Mary recoiled felt a wet spot on her bonnet itched at her eyelid. “There hasn’t been a witch in Vine this century” she said. “I thought,” she said. 

“Welp. Preachers say to keep an eye out. Elders say to stay vigilant. That’s all I know. Poor Larry. That’s all I can think about. Poor Larry. Guy just got demoted, too, hours cut over at the railyard. Poor Larry. Not demoted, I guess. Hours just cut. Old Larry, hope he sees through.”

Mary went on pruning her asters. Tom headed back inside, but not before Mary reminded him of the fresh-squeezed lemonade she’d made and put in the refrigerator this morning. It was a hot day, and Mary didn’t have Seasonal Spells For Help With Weather

You Must Not Be Tempted: See To It That You Do Not Fall In With Witches

They had a word for it in Pennsylvania, Agnes said. “Pow-wow,” Agnes said. 

“There have been a lot of names for a lot of things in our lineage,” Mary said. 

“Didn’t take too long for the Butler House to fall, did it? Thing collapsed faster than the old bastard’s death rattle. But he was good to us, I think.”

“I don’t know that Butler House is fallen,” Mary said. “Protective spells working as intended. Growth and peace for the rest of Vine, with the only price being that a dead man’s house falls into disrepair. Anyone who goes there but doesn’t speak the words, well. That’s the deal. And if prosperity is elsewhere, who goes poking around a crumbling mansion?”

“But don’t you think they’ll come here?” Agnes asked. 

“If they do,” Mary said. “We will be prepared, for we will have kept vigilant watch, as we have watched over all of Vine these last few years.”

“But don’t you think they know we’re here?” Agnes asked. 

“No,” Mary said. She was a wife of Vine. “There are those who believe they have earthly monopoly of spiritual power. There are those who believe they can, in their mind’s eye, envision the movement of the tectonic plates below the topsoil layer. There are those who believe with a drop of spit they can populate oceans. There are those who believe with enough book reading they can wrestle with God. But the minds of these men are not a concern to those with true knowledge.”

A doormouse got its throat ripped open by a cat. Gnats swarmed and flittered. They were on the outskirts of town, stretching fabric. Sundown wouldn’t be for a few hours. If anyone was breaking curfew in Vine, it wouldn’t be tonight. Not when the Elders were going hunting. 

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