A Mary was born in a city, and half of her was pregnant. No one knew that this was so, except for Mary; no one knew that she bore half a child in her womb. But Mary did know, and the half-child she bore took various forms and visited her, outside of her womb, which did not enlarge or grow, as if it were a co-conspirator in keeping her secret. The half-child was sometimes a voice, at other times an angel. Many times it was a bird, as small as a bee, and blue; a blue that was piercing and terrifying to look at. The colored threads of her clothing would sometimes take the shape of a hand, as if the shape of a hand had been woven into it. And the hand would make signals with its fingers that Mary somehow understood. But the unborn child was only half a thing—so Mary could never see it too clearly or remember what it told her. Yet it was within Mary, and she knew that it was.
Mary did not care for the city or the world, at least not the people in the city or the world or any of their doings. She preferred wind and stones, the scent of cooking with spices and herbs, and the creation of songs which she sang when she was alone. This drew the special hatred of her parents, who wanted her to be like the other girls. Mary’s head was often black and blue from the repeated slaps of her father, and her smile, in the few instances that she smiled, didn’t show a full set of teeth.
Likewise did her mother abuse Mary bodily, often strangling the girl in her bed until she was just barely alive, then releasing her. So, too, did the mother torture Mary’s mind. The mother would give her pets that she would become fond of, then the mother would kill them and arrange their entrails in bizarre patterns on the floor of Mary’s room. The mother told young Mary stories of the Tongue Merchant, who walked the roofs of cities with his hook knife and stole the tongues of little girls while they slept. Mary’s mother claimed that she had offended the Tongue Merchant, and he had sworn he’d cut out the tongue of her daughter.
As a result of these beatings and terrors, the girl grew wild and like one mad. She crouched in her room growling, she had spells of screaming, she forsook the traditional ways of dress and behavior, and she had no friends. She did not want to attend school, and ran away instead to the hills. All of this brought about more beatings.
Only in the hills, when the half-child spoke to her, was Mary calmed. Sometimes the unborn half-child, in its bird form, would land on a broken arm, and it would mend for her. She did not growl or scream when the half-child was with her. Mary knew that she would forget the visits of the half-child she half-bore in her womb once she returned to the House of Parents. So she made a special place in the hills, hidden in thorny bushes that she cut and dragged and piled together, leaving a cavity at the center. She filled the secret place with drawings of the half-child, and she made likenesses of it with clay. And years passed, and no one knew of this secret spot, or of the half-pregnancy of Mary’s womb.
THE WALL OF GIRLS
As the girl Mary neared her twelfth year, the teachers decided that her education could no longer be neglected and that her truancy would no longer be tolerated by the city. The teachers sent the Wall of Girls to her parents’ house. The Wall of Girls was a thing with a hundred faces that looked out through a hundred holes cut in one red robe that covered all its bodies. The Wall of Girls was vicious and had no mercy, and it could roll, as a tornado would, through the street, raising dust. The Wall of Girls threw coarse ropes around the neck of Mary, who had begun to grow beautiful, despite her bruised skin and wild eyes. They pulled the rope tight and dragged Mary to the school, with Mary fighting all the way. Her neck was raw and flowing blood by the time they got there. And the Wall of Girls gathered the dust they’d made arise in the streets and rubbed it into her wounds.
The Wall of Girls hated Mary’s beauty, too, and did their best to destroy it. They often fell on her during lessons, and with their teeth they would bite off her hair down to the scalp. And they would sing:
Hey Mary, full tits
Hey Mary, sweet ass
hated are you among women
hated, and damned are you among women
Yet the appeal of the girl survived these batterings, too, and many of the teachers (who were men) laid eyes on Mary in secret, and thought of her at night. And for this the teachers punished Mary, and they ignored the actions of The Wall of Girls against her.
Now, one teacher at the school was young and handsome and kind of heart, and many of the heads of the Wall of Girls admired him and had plans to seduce him. But the teacher Adoni, was as one blind to them. Yet he looked with favor upon Mary, and he alone spoke boldly against the abuse of her. He did not hide his favoring of her, and she was more tame around him, and did not spit at him, as she did at the other teachers.
It came to happen that one day the teacher Adoni was walking the streets of the town. And his route took him, without his knowledge, by the house of Mary. And Mary was just then looking out of the narrow window of her room, with her scalp bare and her neck red and scarred from the rope she was brought to school with. Mary saw Adoni, and he saw her, too, and he drew near the window. And to her he said, in a quiet voice:
blessed among women
thou art the carrier of visions,
Blessed is the half-fruit that grows
in your womb
At that moment, the father of Mary came out of the front entrance of the house and, seeing Adoni meeting with his daughter at her window, he rose up in great commotion. He attacked the young Adoni and broke his limbs; so, too, did he beat Mary, almost to death. And the people of their street cheered him on and urged him to murder the whore. Adoni was dragged, limp of limb, to the council of the teachers, and it was they who condemned him to death for his incontinence. Adoni was thrown to the Wall of Girls, who were glad to punish him for choosing Mary over them, and they ripped him apart with their fingernails and ate his entrails, making a great prize of his genitals.
The windows of Mary’s room were thereafter barred, and visiting her secret place in the hills became impossible. One night, however, she managed to run off, breaking free of the rope on the way home from school, and evading capture by the Wall of Girls. This was a year after the death of Adoni.
Mary searched in the growing darkness for her sanctuary in the thorny bushes. But she could not find it. She walked the hills looking for it, until night fell fully and she could see little in the darkness.
However, as a mysterious guide had led the teacher Adoni to the window of Mary, then, too, did a mysterious guide lead Mary to Adoni’s grave. She found her feet on the rocks that they had piled over what remained of his body (mostly bones). And it was these bones that appeared to Mary as she stood on the grave. But she was not afraid, for the skeleton of Adoni was as beautiful as his flesh had been.
And there was a tree that grew behind the spot where Adoni had been buried, and the leaves of it parted in bushels, half to the left and half to the right, behind the luminous skeleton. And the leaves took the shape of wings. Then the light from the moon touched down on Adoni’s bones and grew up slowly into flesh there. Then Adoni stood full-fleshed and naked before her, with wings of leaves on either side of him. He greeted her with great warmth. And he showed her his arm, which split open in five places, and five thin rivers of blood ran down his arm and over his fingers. He said words to her, words that will stick to no earthly page. Then the two gave way to the immense attraction between them, and Mary gave herself over gladly to the angel Adoni, and they were lovers all night under the moon.
Mary fell asleep after a time, still beneath the angel. It was morning, and she awoke, still lying on the rocks over Adoni’s grave. Adoni was gone. But the half-child in her womb was now a whole child, and it had begun to grow.
The punishment that was given to Mary upon her return to the house of her parents, after her recapture by the tireless Wall of Girls, was severe. Yet she survived it. So, too, did the half-child, now whole, that dwelled within her womb. But now with the passage of time Mary’s belly was growing. Soon it swelled beyond her ability to conceal its roundness, and it was noticed by her father. And then began a beating so fierce that Mary was certain not to live through it. But just at that moment when Mary thought that her ghost was rising up out of her, she felt a rustling and an unfolding within her, and, without willing it to be so, her thin arms stretched out on either side, so that they were even with her shoulders. And Mary began to spin on her toes in the fashion of a whirlwind. And the father and the mother, seeing this, felt a great fear, and they pressed themselves to the walls of their house to avoid their daughter’s touch. This was to no avail. Mary spun so fast as to blur her features, until she in her white gown looked as a diamond would look, whirling on the floor, and as she passed close to her parents, her outstretched fingers slashed through their throats and they fell forward, spraying each other with their blood.
Then this spinning that had taken hold of Mary carried her out of the house of her torments, and over and past the hills of the city as well. And it did not put her down until she was far away, on the dry road that led to Egypt.
Mary, free of her homeland, followed the road that led to Egypt, aware of its many dangers. A girl alone might well be raped or robbed or taken as a slave. And to be with child, and husbandless, was a great crime among those called law-abiding, and so her pregnancy posed a danger to her as well. She made her way carefully and with a great cunning. Time passed, and as she neared Egypt, she met a man of advanced age who called himself Joseph. And after getting to know her a bit, this Joseph said to Mary: “Here, Mary, this Egypt is a harsh place for a woman without a husband. You will be called harlot. Bind unto me as a wife upon our arrival, and thereafter give to me only the most basic wifely services. I shall not insist you lie with me, unless it is your choice. And I shall protect you and make your way easy.” Joseph did not know of the pregnancy of Mary, for she dressed herself in heavy robes, and he did not know her appearance so well as her parents had.
This Joseph had hidden thoughts of asking much more of Mary, once she had made herself bound to him.
But it was true that Egypt was a harsh place. And knowing this, Mary agreed to make herself his wife. But her admiration for Joseph was small, and she kept herself from him.
Mary dwelt for months in Egypt as the wife of Joseph. But as she continued to keep herself from him, and all parts of her heart and body were locked to him, his resentment of her grew and grew. So, too, did the belly of Mary continue to grow. Until at last Joseph discovered what she would have kept from him. And the rage of Joseph was terrible, despite his many years. “You have kept yourself from your husband,” he accused, “yet been as a whore in secret on the streets of Egypt, and been made pregnant by a man.”
Mary said, “My child is the child of no man, but is rather the salvation of all men. Blessed is the fruit of my womb.”
But Joseph chose to disbelieve her, and she suffered many blows under his walking stick, all the while protecting her stomach.
And that night as Joseph slept, an angel appeared to him in a dream.
And it, too, confirmed: “The Mary that you call wife is wife of no man, but instead is the wife of Heaven. Make good your promise to protect her, and make her way easy.”
But Joseph chose to disbelieve the angel, and he attacked the angel as well. He struck at the angel with great fierceness with his walking stick, until it became a curtain of blood that dropped down and sank into the floor. Then Joseph, still in a rage, went to the room of Mary, with the intention of murdering her. But she had guessed his intent and she had gone from him, and escaped into the dense ghettos of Egypt.
Now Mary was in a time of great danger, for the ghettos of Egypt were beds of treachery, and one could never sleep there without worry, and most of those who stayed there lived by preying on others. And adding to Mary’s woes was the action of Joseph, who took his injury at her hands to the council of guildsmen in the city, and they swore to avenge the wrong. So there was a group of men in the ghettos also, whose intention was to seek Mary out, to find her and bring her back for punishment, to her husband, Joseph. And adding still further to her woes was her discovery that the Tongue Merchant—who her mother claimed to have wronged, and who had sworn to avenge himself on her daughter—did in truth exist, and had been following her. And she had seen him stalking her with his hook-knife, waiting for an opportunity to strike.
And though Mary’s pregnancy was advanced, its fruition did not come, and nine months and more passed without its coming to its end. And in those days the child did not speak to her, nor was she visited by angels. To survive, Mary took on the clothes of a beggar, and wore bandages and walked with a stick. She became a pickpocket as well, and became adept at stealing in the marketplace, the punishment for which was the taking of a hand. Pimps approached her, but at seeing that she was far along in her pregnancy, she was worth little to them and they rejected her. She lived in a low alley, where she became friend and accomplice to criminals, and she passed her days in hardship and despair.
It was in this alley that her child was born, at night, and it was Mary herself, alone, who delivered it, while the thieves and criminals who’d accepted her as one of their own guarded the entrance to where she lay down to give birth. And in this birthing there was no pain, but a great glowing of light, and the child came out of this light and hovered in the air of the alley, throwing great light all around it. To its mother, the child spoke, and said this:
Your grace has caused you much suffering.
But now, I am with you.
Let us pray with these sinners, and walk the world for a time.
I shall choose twelve wolves to protect us.
And when our work is done, we shall be together in Heaven.
For thou art the mother of God.