Something Else About Mary (Chartres, July 2002)
Kent H. Dixon
You are fourteen, certainly old enough to marry but still innocent of men; more or less ignorant of the facts of life, more naïve than righteous really. And so, strange things may come, passing strange: in the middle of one ordinary morning, for instance, the sun warming the kitchen stones after everyone has left, you have a vision: a blinding angel in flame-blue robes appears out of nowhere telling you not to be afraid but, you are going to have a baby. An important baby. You’ll be important, too.
Now there was the calf, and the one-eyed ewe with all her lambs every year—you know something about such things, and this is not the way it usually happens. But, only a month after the angel, you begin to feel it—which is also not the way it happens, at least according to all the women, but it seems to be so, an early quickening, and as your belly grows, and your bosoms… they are fair even if a little tender, and your family quickly marries you off to nice-ish older man, who seems willing to accept the circumstances.
He’s a bit distant, hard to measure really, but he accepts the preposterous. You think he’s a bit daft, in fact, but he is a widower with children and from a good family (even if he is adopted, O, those envious whispers), and he wants a wife, and there’s all this rumor of being honored among men which has him beaming with pride for another’s child. He must have been a failure in his first life, or at least he was not ambitious. And now he’s to be honored with an important son. Everybody have their scheckel, as Gamma says, pumping an invisible balance with her spotted hands.
The last word is: he is nice, and it’s a roof, and you won’t be stoned to death.
But that, as we all know, is not the last word. There is, for example, strong sickness for several months, so that you wish it would go away, it was nothing you asked for; and there are his children—you are not their mother, though two of them can’t even remember her, but you are flung among them more as a sister, and it is hard to keep playing with them and out-smarting the older boys when you’re as big as two melons and hungry as a pig. And then, my god, comes the forced tax registry and you have to go, the younger children spread around among even your relatives, and the dreadful donkey ride brings on early labor, and the capital is so loud, so swarming with so many people, immense soldiers with arms with silver linings, and inhuman metal faces, no one nodding hello, no one to help, and Joseph can find shelter only in a moldy stable.
And then, maidenhead still in tact, you learn the truth about having babies, in a bed of hay, so smoky it’s hard to breathe—with long-faced cattle mooing in answer to your cries— ! a beautiful baby, a boy as everyone seemed to know at the outset. That was not a discrete angel.
And of course the second time you wake up there are these three weird old mages, star gazers each from a different far-off land, with their babble of a wandering star and an important baby…guess who. At this point, swirling along in the flood of events, on the one hand not likely any of you will get home even, while on the other you’re starting to believe it yourself, starting to trust the crush and confusion that keeps falling piece by piece into place, this chaos, maybe it’s your friend. There was no father to this child, you are still a girl, why should anything else make sense either.
And this one—his eyes, and he’s so quiet, almost smiling, sometimes when he is battened on you feel you are the baby and he’s the nurse. You think maybe you could do it again; you could have lots of important babies.
But then it’s terror again. Now they are killing babies and you have to flee. It’s the cumbersome gifts you worry about, from the old sages. There are plenty of man-with-woman-and-child combinations milling about the country side, but how many are carrying a pyx of myrrh, Frankincense stronger than the donkey stench? So much gold weighing down poor Solomon that only the baby can ride on his back. You are like a fable.
But, you all make it home, and months slip by. You’re getting used to all the women telling you this is no normal baby, with his wise eyes and considerate demands. Most babies cry, they say. And you think, most babies don’t have me for a mother. For you love him, feed and wash and serve and teach him, and Joseph is getting more work because of him—people come to see the baby, and then see the wrought yokes and sleek ploughs and want to take something away, so they bring stools and cabinets to be fixed—one man ordered a bed—and at night, this kind man smelling of his cedar shavings…you rub his brow and he falls asleep and then the children one by one drop off and finally it is just you and the baby, with the curious family name from Aramea, Jezu—you would not have called him Jezu—Jezu who coos when you sing softly, and lean close to smell his skin, and he tugs at your hair and you can’t take your eyes from his: they seem to talk to you, but you don’t know the language. They tell a story, you sense the movement but you can’t yet see the people or places. It must be the story of his importance, but you will have to wait.
And then, the time comes to present this son of yours at the temple, and there is much ado, and a beautiful hyacinth-blue gown, and beards trimmed and everyone washed—the whole family shines.
And you see him coming before anyone, because you watch the periphery now, people are always rushing up and you don’t want the baby startled, comes this man with thin white hair floating like smoke over his pink scalp, dragging his staff—you’ve seen him before, he is Simeon—and he reaches right into your arms and pulls the blanket aside—the baby’s asleep—then drops to his knees before you and says, almost into your lap, “I have seen the Christ.”
And then he looks up into your face like a supplicant and says, “And your soul, too, Mary, will be pierced by a sword.”
And Jesus wakes and you look into his face and know that you have just heard his story, the whole story, and you almost die.
About the writer:
Kent Dixon is a prize-winning writer with three Pushcart nominations and three Ohio Arts Council awards to his credit. His fiction and poetry have appeared in TriQuarterly, The Iowa Review, Shenandoah, Antioch Review, Gettysburg Review, Georgia Review and others. His nonfiction has appeared in The American Prospect, Florida Review, Kansas Quarterly, Energy Review, and others. He is recently retired from teaching Literature and Creative Writing at Wittenberg University. His graphic novel The Epic of Gilgamesh, co-authored with his son Kevin Dixon, is forthcoming from Seven Stories Press. He lives with his wife Mimi in Springfield, Ohio.
Image: “The Madonna of the Lilies” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. 1899. Oil on Canvas. Private Collection.