Flora is sitting in Virla's parlor, waiting for her to bring in the refreshments.
Flora is the wife of the owner of the former pulp mill, now a blackened ruin. Her husband used the insurance money to buy a pulp mill in a larger town, but they've come back for a few days to arrange to sell the land.
Flora is willing to associate with some of the higher class residents of Gumgeeville, among them Virla, whose husband was quite well-to-do and whose father owns one of the more lucrative businesses in town. She notes that Virla's parlor furniture is not at all worn, but is sadly out of style, unlike the very up-to-date furnishings of her own new home.
Virla enters carrying a cake plate with a home-made doily and a store-bought cake on it. She's determined not to look cheap in Flora's eyes.
Flora: Oh, Virla, what a pretty cake! Did you bake it yourself?
Virla: Not at all, Flora, not at all.
Virla thinks "If she's going to call me plain Virla, then she's plain Flora to me."
Virla has a pitcher of peppermint tea in the other hand. She pours into Flora's empty glass, and then her own.
Flora: I was just admiring your mantel clock. My grandmother had one just like it. So nice to be able to decorate with heirlooms.
Virla: It certainly is. That painting, for example, is of my late husband's great-great-grandfather.
Flora: Goodness. What a distinguished looking old gentleman.
Flora: So sad that his line ended without a son.
Virla: In my family, we have always considered daughters every bit as valuable, if not more so. I was the eldest of four daughters myself.
Flora: Well, fortunately your sisters have children. You can comfort yourself by being a good aunt to them.
Virla: I certainly do find my nieces and nephews very satisfying. But I'm not sure what you mean by "comfort myself", Flora.
Virla knows perfectly well, but isn't going to play this game.
Flora: It must seem very... quiet... around here, now.
Virla: That's true. With my Magit living in Simeland now, I've become an empty-nester a little before I expected to.
Flora: When that happened to my youngest boy, Ukoh took care of him, so I had nothing to worry about. So sad not to have a good strong man around when these tragedies happen.
Virla: I'm sure that my Magit is in excellent hands right now.
Flora thinks it's more like tentacles, not mere hands. Magit has surely gone from God's grace into the land of the demon spawn.
Virla: When you raise a child, you certainly don't expect her to be the recipient of a special grace, you know.
Flora is startled.
Flora: A special grace? To become a.. a...
Flora is too refined to say straight out the kind of terms she hears in church.
Virla: Naturally. I'm sure you've heard the story by now, how my Magit will never need to kill?
Flora: Well, that's what they tell us, but who knows what really goes on in Simeland? I know my poor son died pure, and is in heaven.
Virla: I'm sure he is, Flora. But I saw my Magit at the Ford, and I know that she is living pure.
Flora: What happened, Virla? You used to be a decent pious woman, and now you're consorting with ... Simes.
Virla: Simes, yes. There's no need to be afraid of a mere human word. It's the Lord's Word that really matters. What could it be but the Lord's Will that brought just the right people into Gumgeeville to preserve the lives of two of our people, not only my Magit but ... another?
Virla: Magit was hiding in the cellar, and small blame to her. Who would want to be shot dead, after all?
Flora: It was her duty, to die before she killed.
Virla: It was her duty not to kill by any means possible!
Virla: Forgive me if I become a bit heated from time to time, Flora. This is a matter that touches us all very closely.
Flora: I'm sure it was very stressful for you. Having a child turn Sime... and live.
Flora shudders delicately.
Virla: "I shall live and not die, and declare the works of the Lord."
Flora wonders how a cursed Sime can speak the Lord's words, much less declare them.
Virla: When that man of God, that Donor, went where none of our men would dare to go, [scornful] though they would have been safe enough at the time, and escorted her to the one ... being ... in all Gumgeeville who could save both body and soul.
Flora: I heard that boy was simple-minded.
Virla: Flora, you know perfectly well that wisdom, or in fact cleverness, in the ways of the world has nothing to do with virtue in the Lord's eyes.
Flora: I suppose so. But maybe he was just too stupid not to do what his master the Sime told him to do.
Virla: And what if he had been, though I don't believe it? The Sime, as you call him ...
Virla takes a deep breath.
Flora: I mean, if you were a Sime's slave, wouldn't you be afraid not to obey him?
Virla: Obey him to do what? If my Magit had been a Gen, he might have been luring her for a kill, I suppose. But she was a Sime already. The Sime, as you call him, was doing God's work himself. Whether he meant to or not.
Virla is well aware that she has just burnt her bridges, theologically speaking.
Flora is revolted at the concept. Everyone knows that Simes have no souls, so how can they do God's work?
Virla: You're not eating your cake, Flora.
Flora: Oh, yes.
Flora takes a forkful of cake.
Flora: Very nice, Virla.
Virla: Miz Fieda always has done a fine job with her cakes, yes.
Virla takes a forkful of cake and drinks some tea (her throat is getting a bit dry).
Flora: So this simpleton went down and lured the child out of the cellar and took her over to that lout Jed Mullins's place?
Flora: Where they were keeping the Sime locked up?
Virla: Where he was keeping himself locked up, by all I hear. If he had been a killer, I'm sure he could have broken out of that shack at any time.
Flora: So then what happened? I suppose you were here sitting vigil for your poor daughter, waiting for her end in the cellar... not knowing that someone had interfered with your proper care of her.
Virla: Then a good friend of mine ...
Virla has no intention of saying it was Ma Mullins so that Flora can feel superior ...
Virla: came to tell me the wonderful news, the best news (of this world) that I ever hope to hear.
Flora is revolted at idea that Virla thinks her daughter turning Sime is good news.
Flora: I heard you went over there.
Flora imagines one of her children turned Sime, the blank eyes, the writhing tentacles, the preternatural speed and agility and lust to kill. She is so glad her boy never got to that stage. He died with a soul, and a mind and a conscience.
Flora: Did you try to talk to your daughter and the ... other Sime?
Virla: Talk to her! I embraced my daughter as my daughter, I'll have you know. Of course I made sure it was safe first.
Flora: They chained her up for you? That was good of them. Was she able to recognize you?
Virla gives Flora the icy optic.
Virla: She was not chained, either by the Mullinses or by prejudice. She spoke to me, I spoke to her, we hugged ...
Virla takes a deep breath ...
Virla: and if I didn't weep for joy, it was because I had already wept myself out at home when my friend brought me the news.
Flora wonders about that hug -- was Magit trying to take her mother?
Flora: How did you know it was safe? Did the other Sime tell you that?
Virla: He did, and it was. Do I look dead to you, Flora?
Flora: Of course not... but to touch a Sime, even one who was your daughter...
Flora looks at Virla's arms, as if there might still be traces of tentacle slime on them.
Flora sets her cake plate on the table and rubs her own arms with her hands.
Virla: Is my daughter, if you please.
Virla thinks she is attempting to make allowances for Flora's ... provincial view of things, but there are limits.
Flora: Virla, I was told you let that other Sime.. take your essence. How could you?
Virla starts to bare her teeth, but turns it into another drink of tea.
Virla: [as if explaining to a child]. It was very simple. I held out my arms, he held out his, a moment passed, and it was done. As everybody knows, a donor doesn't feel a thing.
Flora doesn't believe they just waved their arms at each other.
Flora: How can you still enter God's house after you let yourself be.. defiled... by that touch? With the .. slime... of those God-cursed demons on your flesh? And to kiss one of them...
Flora gags, in a delicate and lady-like way.
Virla: It's hardly a kiss, Flora. Believe me, as a married woman I certainly know the difference.
Flora: Still... those slimy tentacles...
Virla: I can hardly believe a woman of breeding and education like you could believe such a preposterous story.
Flora: How could you believe he wouldn't.. take advantage of you? They're the Devil's spawn, Virla. How did he seduce you to trust him like that? After he perverted your intention to see your daughter safe in heaven?
Virla: First of all, the Devil can't possibly spawn anything. He is himself the negation of every good thing, and he can't possibly usurp the prerogative of the Creator.
Flora: He possesses our poor children if we don't make sure they are safe with God first!
Virla: Whether or not you believe Simes are human, they are as much a product of God's plan as roomatiz or fluenzy.
Flora: They're a curse on sinful man, like all those diseases and other evils sent to test our faith. God tests the child's faith, that he go to his parents and be saved from being possessed and killing. And He tests the parents' faith, that they see their child safe.
Flora: To let your child live, possessed, and in the power of another possessed Sime... And to let that Sime wrap his.... to let him suck out your essence through your lips...
Flora is projecting enough revulsion to make a whole platoon of Simes gag.
Virla: I can't rightly say, Flora, whether the Sime nature is a curse or not. My Magit was saved from possession and killing, and I did see her safe. Safe, and on her way to ... if not a better place than this, at least a place where her needs will be met better.
Flora: Oh, Virla, I remember Magit as such a sweet little girl. Now this has happened to her... and instead of being safe in heaven, she'll be in Simeland, and they'll give her those poor creatures they raise for the kill... I hope she'll have the courage to die rather than doom herself to hell... since you wouldn't do your duty to take care of her.
Virla: It will be my essence that keeps Magit alive every month, just as it was my flesh that kept her alive for nine months in my womb, and my milk that nursed her as an infant.
Flora: You're going to do it again? Seek out a Sime and ..... He must have done something to you, marked you somehow so you think this is a decent thing to do, instead of ...
Virla: Which is more than you can say, as everybody knows you had that poor girl Joanie do the wet-nursing for your boy.
Flora: I was too ill to nurse him myself!
Virla: I'm only doing what every decent mother ought to do for her own flesh and blood.
Virla gives Flora the hairy eyeball again.
Flora: My health was very delicate after that birth.
Virla: [relenting slightly] Well, I suppose it was. Nevertheless, you can't tell me that you wouldn't have done anything at all for that boy ... your Flavin -- he had a name and he deserves to have it still, Sime or not -- anything at all for him that you could.
Flora: Joanie needed the money anyway. It was an act of charity to hire her, after that no-good left her unmarried and pregnant. It was God's mercy that her baby died so she could nurse mine.
Virla: Well, you couldn't nurse him, and you couldn't keep him from having to be shot. But I could, and I did!
Flora wonders if Virla is running through her inheritance, and is donating for the money. She's heard it's significant. Imagine, Virla selling her essence, like a common whore.
Virla: And nothing, nothing you can say will ever convince me that that isn't just exactly what God intended.
Flora: My husband took my boy out to the stable and took care of him. I helped prepare his body, his pure body, with no tentacles deforming it. His soul is in heaven. You left your girl in that cellar to die in torment, even if she wasn't defiled by killing. And it was some stranger who took her out and took her to that Sime, before you even knew about it.
Flora's husband thoughtfully wrapped the boy's head in a cloth before bringing his body back into the house, to spare his wife the sight of what a rifle bullet can do to a child's head.
Virla: Shooting your children is no way to "take care of them", as you call it. If Flavin's tentacles weren't showing yet, that doesn't mean he didn't have them. And if that Donor was a stranger then, isn't it written, "I was a wayfarer and a stranger in the land"?
Virla: I tell you that -- natural fool or not -- he was a man of God. A lot more so than that deceiving, postulating, self-involved so-called "reverend" here in Gumgeeville, and you know perfectly well that I'm not the only one who thinks so. Not at all.
Flora: Well, that simpleton sure got around your father. I always thought Henree knew right from wrong, but he let him take his own grandchild out to be witched by another Sime, just so he could open his saloon.
Virla: As for my father, he too was only acting according to the Divine plan. He didn't shoot Magit on sight, but let her escape into the cellar, so that the coming of the natural wouldn't be wasted. God doesn't like waste, Flora. Not of opportunities, not of lives.
Flora: As for the preacher, well, he's a lot weaker willed than I thought he was, if he let something like this happen in his village.
Virla: As if I cared what he thought of me and mine! I thought you'd have more sand than to knuckle under like that.
Flora: Knuckle under? Accept God's word and God's test of our faith more like. Not weasel out from under and doom your child because your faith is too weak. And then make excuses in God's name for it!
Flora would spit in disgust if she weren't so refined, and her face shows it.
Virla: God has tested my faith, and it has not been found wanting. Though I sit in the seat of the scornful -- as I can plainly see from your face -- And it's my child, not yours, who'll be giving me grandchilder in the years to come. Your Flavin may be in heaven, but isn't it a pity his line ended with him?
Flora: He's tested your faith and found you wanting. I have other sons to give me grandchildren. And those grandchildren will have the example of their uncle Flavin, if God chooses to test them as he did my boy.
Virla: The example of a name you couldn't bring yourself to speak outside this house, if I hadn't said it first and shamed you? No, you'll never mention Flavin to your grandchildren, and you know it. You are a whited sepulcher, Flora -- all fair on the outside, all foul corruption within.
Flora: He'll be the shining example of a good boy, a boy blessed by God, who had the courage to die in his time, without giving in to the Devil. He died pure and uncorrupted. You couldn't even give your daughter a decent death, you left her to suffer alone in that filthy cellar. You didn't do your duty, and you let the Devil do his will!
Virla: A decent death? No, I gave her life -- life -- life!
Flora: Now she's cursed, a Sime. A fate worse than death!
Virla: Ha. Fine words butter no parsnips. She's no more cursed than you are, and I have every reason to think she'll be a much more decent human being.
Virla reflects a moment, and realizes she has come rather further in her thinking than even she had realized until now.
Flora: They all kill, Virla, and the penalty for her Sime nature will be on you too. All the human lives she'll take to feed her lust to kill are on your head. God will judge you, more than I.
Virla: So She will, Flora, so She will.
Virla makes it clear through her inflection that she means God, not Magit.
Flora: You can fool yourself, and let the Simes fool you with the Devil's help, but you can't fool God.
Virla: My daughter will never take a life. Unlike you and your husband. And if you did what you had to do, I did what I was able to do.
Flora: You're bewitched. That Sime has grasped your soul and twisted it. You believe what he told you - that Magit will never kill. He's aroused a lust for Simes in you, so you want them to suck out your essence again and again. Can't you see how you've been perverted?
Flora: Return to God, Virla. It's too late to save Magit's soul, but you can save your own. Fight that lust for those tentacles and those evil killers' lips!
Virla: I'll fight all right. I'll fight you and anyone else who tries to keep me from keeping my Magit safe from you and those like you, who would strike her down not for what she did but for what she is.
Flora is getting quite excited. She seldom finds herself in the company of the blatantly depraved, much less has an opportunity to exhort them.
Virla: And it's your soul that's been twisted from natural grieving over your boy to a self-righteous, God-defying pride in his death. I am with God, and God is with me, and God is in me. And God is with my daughter wherever she goes.
Flora: She's out of God's reach now, ruined and perverted. You wouldn't save her and she can't save herself.
Virla laughs out loud.
Virla: You actually believe that there is any part of this whole wide world that isn't the Lord's? Who's deceived by the Devil now, Flora?
Flora: She's cursed with the Devil's lust to kill, there's no hope of heaven for her.
Virla: [quietly] She has as much hope of heaven as you, or I, or any poor sinner. To deny it is to deny that God is the Lord.
Flora: You could have saved her when her will was too weak to stand for the rifle. When your father's will was too weak to let her die in that cellar without killing.
Virla: She lives without killing.
Flora: And now you have no shame about whoring with Simes, let them suck the essence from your body. You do it willingly!
Virla: As willingly as I "let" my Magit suckle from my own breast, and for the selfsame reason.
Flora: They told you she lives without killing. You let some stranger suck your essence, and they tell you it will go to your daughter. She'll kill. They all do. She failed God's test and so did you and your father, no matter how you dress it up.
Virla: You believe the lies you've been taught to believe. I believe what my own eyes have seen. I know my daughter is no demon. And if she is not, why then, other Simes are not demons either. They are as human as we are -- and to shoot them, now that we have a choice -- is plain murder.
Flora: Those lies, as you call them, have kept us and our ancestors safe and pure in God's eyes and under God's blessing for many generations.
Virla: Shooting one child in three! Some safety! I most certainly do thank God that I am not like you!
Flora: Your eyes are blinded by your love for your poor ruined daughter.
Virla: I'm glad you admit that I love her, because surely nobody could love a demon, now could they? It's our own human children we love.
Flora: You loved her as a child, and you love what you think she is now.
Virla: [in highest possible dudgeon] It's you, Flora, who think. But I, Virla, I know.
Flora: But you're wrong. And your soft-heartedness has doomed your poor child.
Flora: Your mind is perverted. That Sime must have done something to corrupt you with his touch.
Virla: You don't dare admit that I might be right, I and the other people here who think as I do. Because if we were, then what would that make you, with all your worldly goods and worldly ways, eh? A vileness in the Lord's nostrils, and nothing but!
Flora: Who else here would believe such obvious nonsense?
Virla: You don't fool me that easily. I answer for my own words and deeds, and nobody else's. I know you have power -- as power is counted here on Earth. But I have spiritual power, power laid up in Heaven.
Flora: You're deluded, poor woman. May God forgive you that your sin was from love for a doomed child.
Virla: Not doomed, Flora. Redeemed. Redeemed from the demons of our human nature, Sime and Gen alike.
Flora: What will happen next time a child and his parents are tested? Will your talk have corrupted them so the child goes on to kill? Your witch Sime won't be here then, or his mindless slave. Or will they do their duty but suffer all the worse because they think there is another way?
Virla: They'll do what they can, and suffer what they must. As all the martyrs have done. If we squarely look both our problems and our opportunities in the eye, then ... we may be able to find solutions to our problems that don't involving murdering our own children, or (as you are so quick to accuse me of, though you know it is no true charity) abandoning them to die.
Flora shakes her head.
Flora: God has told us the right way to go, Virla. You can go against it, but you go against God.
Virla sighs deeply.
Flora: The Devil tempted you by sending that Sime and his slave here, and you fell for it willingly, without even trying to save yourself from delusion. He ruined your daughter, and he ruined you.
Flora gets up.
Virla gets up as well.
Virla: I think you can't tell the difference between God and your own guilt. And when we both come before the Mercy Seat, we shall see just who is, and who is not, a victim of delusion.
Flora: Please, Virla, return to God, eschew the lust for the touch of the Sime, forget the one who was once your daughter, and live a virtuous life again.
Virla: In any case, Flora, it was so nice to have you in my home. Do come back and see me again sometime, won't you? I always enjoy our little chats so very, very much. I'm sorry you didn't care for the cake.
Flora turns and leaves. She has no intention of entering this cursed house again, unless Virla repents from her depravity and returns to God's true way.
Virla shuts the door behind Flora, and sinks back down into her chair in relief, thinking "Thank God she's gone at last!" She realizes that she has committed herself to quite a bit of work, and tomorrow will be none too soon to begin it. There are things to do and people to see.
Virla thinks, "If the light of God is to break over this benighted community at last, it will be because of our efforts." She reflects that, after all, God helps those who help themselves.