A black statue of the Madonna, carved out of bog oak, is set up at the Church of the Sacred Heart. Lou and Raymond Parker, married, are a nice, liberal-minded Catholic couple; and Lou in particular eventually tries to trust “the black Madonna” for a miracle. But she is treating a mere statue as if it were a talisman, which—in this Muriel Spark short story—it seems to be. It isn’t a god, however: Lou and Raymond are inattentive to God.

Lou, desirous of a baby, gets her miracle. The liberal lady has always been open-minded about black folks, and has tried to keep snobbishness at bay, but she gives birth to a black baby (what a talisman!) and doesn’t want it. She freaks out. A black baby from a black Madonna made of oak. It is incongruous, of course, but it happens in an incongruous world where there is said to be a distinction in the Parkers’ circumstance between a morally good thing and a right thing. Not so.