The first Christmas after he had died, Mary wasn’t even sure how to feel. Her heart had never completely healed from that afternoon watching him on the hillside, on a Roman cross, muttering and crying, praying and raving. He had seen her, standing near. He told her to go home with someone else’s son. She didn’t know if he said it out of love, or out of bitterness, for the times she had tried to drag him home, out of danger, out of sight, out of his mind. She had not dared to ask him, afterwards.
Since that day, her heart had a habit of missing a beat, making her catch her breath painfully, as though the spear with which they had pierced him were jabbing at her ribs.
He had returned. It was a miracle; she should have seen it coming. They had already entombed him, but he walked out without his grave clothes, shrugging off his new swaddling bands.
She had always been a little afraid of his body. He was her first-born, and she was young, and far from home, and the midwives were strangers, and Joseph was kind but distant; they didn’t know one another so intimately, yet. She thought that he would tear her apart, as small and helpless as he was. She was afraid of his naked hunger, his eagerness to feed on her, on the stories she told him (how could she not?) of angels and God’s favour. And then, that naked ambition, returning from the grave, trouncing death, renouncing the execution of Rome; dangerous hunger, perilous power, risky resurrection. Her heart trembled again, its spear-point peaks threatening her.
She remembered the soothing sighs of the midwives, tried to match her breathing to their words, to calm her body and spirit. He had left again, after forty days, during which time she had seen as little of him as in his former life, which he spent on everyone who had need of him, his friends and strangers. She tried not to mind, that he had outgrown her womb, her breasts, her bosom, but ever since the cord was cut, it was hard to let him go.
The first Christmas after he died, she spent the dawn remembering that night in Bethlehem, and the stars, and the straw. Her sobs rehearsed those frantic convulsions of her body, his first cries; the first time she heard his voice, it was as though angels were singing. She would not touch his head again, nor cradle his feet, although they had hardened long since from their baby fatness into something more suitable for the journey of life. She missed the baby scent of him, and the sound of his laughter, disappearing around the corner of his childhood. If she tried hard enough, she could make herself see him coming through the door, as though he had never left home, and her whole being strained with the effort of recognizing reality: that the shadow in the corner was simply a broom, illuminated by the gray morning light; that he was not asleep upstairs, but sitting at God’s right hand in the heavens, wherever that might be.
Her heart was heavy, so that it was an effort to stand, when she found herself lying on the floor in front of the fire, warm on one side, and cold on the other, but she did stand up, and pick up the kettle to make the morning tea, before the rest of the household would awaken, his friends, her family, and wonder anew, as they did every day, if those were the clouds of glory that they was rolling down from the hills to the east, with the sun rising behind them.