Second thoughts

Mary did not float through her pregnancy without her swollen feet touching the ground.

When Mary returned to her senses, the bread was burning, and she nearly took the skin off her hands snatching it from the fire in a hurry. A sense of unease followed her through the afternoon. She was used to her spells of absence, time lost, bread burnt; but rarely did she dream. Now, she had the nagging feeling of a veiled memory hiding, closeted behind her conscious mind, bright and hazy somehow all at the same time.

When she missed her period, and her breasts were tight and her bladder squeezed, she knew the signs; but it hardly made sense. Between bouts of sickness and fear, the memory still pressed against the door in her mind, insistent but in vain.

Except, she thought, something about Elizabeth.

Elizabeth had gone home to the family house in the hills, hiding her changing shape from the city. Older women exchanged dark looks and grim whispers; a woman of Elizabeth’s age, swelled up as though with child, more often than not was consumed instead by her own womb. But, Mary knew, there was also that story of Zechariah, the accident in the temple, which sounded a little like one of her own episodes, but with added drama.

At least, thought Mary, with Elizabeth she would have time to puzzle out her own condition, and maybe there would be wisdom, and Elizabeth would be in no condition to scold her.

Mary went in haste to the hill country.

Elizabeth saw Mary coming and cried out to her cousin, “Blessed are you among women!”

A sliver of light cracked open in Mary’s mind; as though from far away a shaft of memory pierced her brain, and she fell. When she came around, she was lying in Elizabeth’s house, singing the words as though they ran through her without troubling her present mind. She heard herself with a kind of wonder:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour.”

She looked at Elizabeth, and the older woman smiled, shook her head. “When I saw you coming, he nearly leaped out of my throat.” She laid a hand on her drumskin belly. “God is with you, Mary. Only believe that, and be blessed.”

Again, that splinter of light.

Mary stayed three months, until the sickness had subsided and Elizabeth sure that she was fit for the journey home. Her own time was near, and as concerned as she was for her young cousin, Elizabeth was afraid for herself as well. She was old, she knew, for this kind of adventure. Better that Mary not witness her trouble; the young one would have trouble enough of her own to face at home.

Later, they stopped on their way to register in Bethlehem. John was growing strong, and Elizabeth looked weary but satisfied. Mary was still searching for that crack in her memory that would let the light through. Elizabeth advised her not to push it.

It was the shepherds who broke it down for her. As soon as they said the word, “angel,” Mary heard his voice again: “Do not be afraid.” When they told of the singing, she heard an echo, the sound of brightness breaking.

As the people chattered and scuttled around her, Mary looked into the light of her son’s dark eyes as he fed, and pondered it all in her heart.

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