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The Wee Shawl - Part 3
Punishment and Penance
by Amy Kenneley

When Mary Margaret stepped inside the house, the silence was ominous. The children were nowhere to be seen, but J.P. was rocking slowly in her chair in the little room. On his lap was the partially-begun shawl on the knitting needles.

"Where are the children?" she asked. J.P. told her they were still playing at his sister's.

"And what are you doing" she giggled nervously, "Are you planning to take over my job?"

J.P. put down the knitting and stood, a frown on his face.

"I thought I'd have a lie-down this afternoon, with everyone gone" He walked over to the day bed and sat on the edge, then Mary Margaret took a step forward as he put his head on the pillow.

"But this bed seemed so lumpy I just couldn't get comfortable, so up I jump and feel around to get to the problem" he continued, rising again and acting out his little story.

"What could the matter be, could it be the springs falling apart? Or maybe the mattress had a large hole in it?" He bent down and raised the mattress.

"Well, well-what have we here?" he said in mock surprise, exposing the white tablecloth bundle and pulling it out in one swift motion. He re-opened the bundle for the second time, his eyes watching his wife's face as he did so. Mary Margaret turned a beet red and dropped her eyes to the floor.

"Now I'm wondering which shawl this one is, dear-shawl number one or shawl number two?"

She sat down into the rocker as though pushed, and laying her head back, she closed her eyes and confessed in a small voice,

"It is shawl number one AND two, James. I never took the first shawl to a winner. I didn't pull a name that Sunday; I just walked around for a while and came home. I didn't pull a name today either, I just walked around again and came home."

"But why, Mary Margaret? How could you do such a dishonest thing? We have sold tickets to all our friends and acquaintances, relatives, neighbors-what will they think when they know?"

"Oh, MUST they know?" She sat up, her eyes beseeching him to understand. "I had every good intention to make the second shawl, but the children were sick and I fell behind with everything, and I still had to keep up with the mending so we could have that income for living expenses. I thought I could catch up the second week-- I could pretend to take it to someone and then REALLY start on the second shawl.

Well, the third shawl was really the second shawl, too-but of course I was sick then, and so I had to deceive you again, as all the tickets were sold and the money given to Uncle Jim already, so I pretended to be working on the third shawl, only it was really the second shawl-"

"All right! All right!" J.P. interrupted, his head dizzy with his wife's machinations." We have to make this right somehow, but I'll have to think about it. Did you save the tickets?" She nodded.

"Well, thank God for that, at least we'll have a record of who we cheated!" He paced the floor, his hand to his brow, rubbing the headache that was demanding attention.

"Oh darling, I am so sorry!" she told him, holding his arm as he paced. The two of them paced together.

The children crashed through the door then, laughing and teasing one another. They had played with snowmen and snow fights at their cousins' and they had worked off their cabin fever irritations.

"Not a word to them yet" J.P. whispered to his wife, "We must find a solution without them knowing"

So Monday started with the children off to school as usual, and J.P. out the door as usual, but this time without the tapestry bag with the shawl in it. Mary Margaret bundled Willie up and off they went to church. She sat him down to fiddle with her rosary in a pew near St. Joseph's statue, while she went for a talk with Father O'Grady.

At supper that night the children gathered at the table, waiting for J.P. to come, but he was later than usual. Mary Margaret stirred the potatoes again, wondering what could be keeping him, but also dreading to face her husband, who had been so wounded by her deception--and rightfully so, she corrected herself, for it had been a shameful thing to do. She tried to excuse herself with the thought that she had been trying so hard to make ends meet during this terribly long period of unemployment.

If she could have kept up the ruse, they would have had the rent caught up by the time the docks had work and---her mind raced towards some solution to the problem of no income for the rent, but nothing came.

She was half torn between being relieved that the need for being deceitful was over, and the disconcerting feeling that she might have made a very clever con artist. But I wouldn't be sleeping easy at night, she decided. For sure, she hadn't slept well since the first time she decided to fabricate a winner. Oh, she could see how easy it was to become a shady character, a thief, a scoundrel!

She was musing on these thoughts when she heard J.P.'s familiar whistle and step through the door.

"Holding supper are you?" he asked, knowing full well that they always did.

"Well, let's eat then" he answered his own question. "I have big news!"

They said grace, and then as his wife passed the plates around, he carved the cabbage and potatoes into big hunks and sprinkled them lavishly with salt and pepper. Everyone waited expectantly for him to begin.

"Well now, you know all these people I have been selling tickets to?" he asked. Mary Margaret held her breath. The cat will be out of the bag, she thought, and my children will soon know that their own mother, the one who rehearsed their catechism with them, who took them to mass and taught them to say their Aves, is a skulking thief. She bowed her head, ready for the crashing blow.

"There was one fellow who was particularly impressed with my showmanship in selling your mother's fine shawl," he continued. Here it comes, she thought, wishing to slink under the table.

"Of course, he himself wasn't fortunate enough to win the shawl," he went on, a pleasant smile on his face as he turned to his wife. She closed her eyes, expectantly.

"But it seems he was so much impressed with my talking that he thinks I have a fine opportunity to make my way as a salesman. He is opening a furniture store next week; the bank has floated him a loan--hard as the times are--because he himself is such a grand talker.

He convinced them that when jobs start up, people will want new things, and furniture is one of them. Not fancy furniture, but good, solid, and cheap furniture. He knows a place up north that can turn out chairs and tables faster than two shakes of a lamb's tail. He has a driver who will bring the furniture down in a truck overnight. Now he has me as his salesman.

'Do you know anything about furniture, James,' he asks. And I tell him, "Well now, don't I sit on it, and eat off it, and sleep on it? I know about furniture as much as anyone, I think!"

They all laughed at their father's story. His wife cocked her head quizzically at him.

"So when does this new occupation begin?" she asked.

"Tomorrow bright and early! I am to arrange the shop and office, and begin to solicit customers. If I can get people in to look now, they will be ready to buy when they have the money. Oh, and he is starting something new, too, this new boss of mine-a charge account!

Have you ever heard such a thing? People can buy something and take it home right away, not like layaway where they have to leave it sit at the store while they pay a little on it each week."

Mary Margaret's breath was taken away. A Charge Account! What would they think of next? "I was given an advance, as well" He reached into his pocket and counted out a handful of bills.

"I asked him if I could have my first two month's pay in advance, because we are going to have a party."

"A party! yeaaaaaaay!" Willie shouted, banging his spoon on the table edge.

"Now Bridget, I want you to make a list of people to invite. Your mother has saved the tickets from the raffles and they will be our guests. I am renting the church hall and throwing a party on St. Patrick's Day. It's the least we can do to thank our ticket buyers for their confidence and trust."

He looked across at his wife, an amused glint in his eye. She gazed at him levelly. You devil you, she thought.

"What a clever idea, dear" she replied.

"I thought so myself," he expanded, pushing himself back from the table, folding his arms behind his head. "And it won't hurt to have a few posters up around the hall at this party, to advertise the new furniture store in the neighborhood and who's to be working there."

The children went off to start writing a guest list and Mary Margaret cleared the table and began washing up the dishes. J.P. watched her work, then picked up a towel and began to dry for her.

"Well, this is a new twist, you at the sink," she needled him.

"I may have more time at home now than before, Mary. With this new job around the corner, there's no telling where I can go with it. There's no getting around the fact that I was getting too old to work the docks as I had. I was worried I couldn't keep up with the younger men come spring thaw. You've been a wonder, making ends meet twice around for so long, but now I'm hoping I can be a breadwinner again."

Mary smiled to herself as he talked and wiped. She heard a new confidence in his voice, and she was grateful for that. "Yes," he continued, "This is a new chance for me, being in the right place and the right time, and it's all because of your idea for the raffle, my dear" he gave her a swift kiss on the cheek.

"That may be, but the gift of gab to get the job is your own doing," she smiled at him. "Don't I know you could charm the birds down from the trees? You certainly did when you persuaded me to marry you!"

He laughed and put away the last dishes into the cupboard.

"So-we have solved the problem of compensating the ticket buyers and we have solved the problem of paying the rent and every other need because of this new job. Is there any other thing we need to worry about tonight?"

"Not a thing, dear" she told him.

"Good, because I want you to take that shawl and throw it away. I never want to see it again. It will always remind me of the trouble we almost got into."

Mary Margaret looked at him with a solemn face.

"I can't"

"And why not?" he demanded.

"I went today to have a long talk with Father O'Grady. I told him the whole story-how I started the shawl raffle and how I deceived everyone. He told me I must make restitution to the people I cheated. I wasn't sure how to do it, but you have done it for me with this party.

But there is more, James" - she kept him from interrupting as she went on. "Father says I am to keep the shawl and give it to the children when they are older and tell them the whole story then."

"Well that's the longest-lasting penance I ever heard of--not 10 Our Fathers and 10 Hail Marys?"

"Oh, that's part of the restitution-because I involved them and they being innocent children."

"So you won't be telling me what your penance was, Mary Margaret?" he asked, with a wicked grin.

"It will be no secret, James, to you or to me. I will be doing it every Sunday when we go to mass. My penance is to always come wearing the shawl."

A smile pulled up the corner of J.P's lip, and he began to chuckle. Mary Margaret tried to keep a straight face, but she, too, started to giggle. Together, they fell into each other's arms, roaring with laughter.

The End


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