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by Dora Badger


The closer she got to home, the more upset Mary became. If I was so simple, she thought, I wouldn’t even be angry. Billy-the-gardener’s-boy is really simple. I know because I can kick him and he still never gets angry.

I don’t even think he’s a real Bishop. He doesn’t look anything like those pieces on the chest game.

Lost in thought, Mary nearly bumped into their small front gate. She caught herself just in time and opened the gate with some satisfaction. Mary could tell by the quiet that Mamm wasn’t home yet. That was good – it gave Mary time to get her secret ready. The Bishop was wrong: Mary was clean and Mary was smart. She could care for any baby around, and she would prove it.

Behind their small home were two outhouses – the new one that Tad had built for them last year, and the old one had always been there. The new one still had a whisper of that nice new wood scent; Mary caught the smell on the breeze as she walked past.

The old outhouse smelled of mold and decades of decaying offal. Its roof was threadbare and let in the rain. The sweet-smelling mulch that Tad had thrown into the hole to take the edge off the odor had thickened the sewage into soil; over the summer, pulpy white and orange fungi had grown up and over the top of the hole, competing for space with sickly-looking vines and grasses. Mary pushed the door. It stuck briefly before wincing open on tired hinges. Mary shoved the door closed and took the small stone box out of her apron.

She knew it was wicked to have done it and even more wicked to be proud, and that she would probably be in trouble…but when the Bishop had said was simple and she might hurt Mamm’s baby, when he told Mamm that she was unclean and couldn’t even come to the christening, Mary had decided to show him how well she could take care of a little one. Mary had never seen a christening and she kind of wanted to go – the people from town were mostly full of sin and she liked them just fine - but she knew what would happen if she went into the church building. The baby Jesus by the door was still crying blood from the last time, and she still felt a little bad about the bell tower. Mary liked bells.

Mary didn’t much like babies: the smell of grace they carried for the first few years burned her nose and touching them gave her rashes; but Mamm had been good to Mary, and Mamm needed help, and Mary wanted to do right by her. Mamm had taken Mary in when she had nowhere else to go and had given her a new name…and hadn’t Mamm named her for the Virgin Mother herself? When Mary tried to hold the baby Mamm had said some mean things, but all new mothers got cranky sometimes. Mary would show Mamm what a big help she could be.

Mary had spent part of the morning trying to catch one of Blackie’s kittens, but they all ran away. Birds were easy to catch, but they hated her and she didn’t like to be pecked. Mary sang to the snakes and they came to her like always but when she asked them for a young one to care for, they reminded her (kindly, for the snakes were always kind to Mary) that they had a hard enough time already…their young were killed in the nest and cut down on the street; and if her plan went awry, they asked, wouldn’t Mary feel bad? And she would have, so Mary sadly sang the snakes on home. After they left she realized that she could have asked them to look for her prayer kapp, but it was too late. She thought about singing them back to her, but the snakes didn’t like to be called back too many times in a row.

The christening was going on today and Mamm wouldn’t be back until late, so Mary had time to get things ready. With nowhere else to get a little one, Mary emptied her carved stone box and went by herself into the woods. She made a little one out of mud, maple seedlings, tears and sunflower petals, and gave it the heart of a bat because bats have good strong hearts. She carved the Name – Mary was smart, it had been years and she still remembered the Name – on its face and breathed in its mouth and the tiny golem twisted and squealed. Mary popped it into the box. She talked to it on the way home, telling it what it must do. For today it would go into the outhouse among the flesh-colored fungi to give it the right color. Tonight, after Mamm was asleep, it would go into the baby’s crib to give it the right smell. In the morning before Mamm woke up, Mary would bring the baby into the outhouse and would seal its voice with a Word so Mamm couldn’t hear it cry.

Mamm would have the golem, which could really take care of itself, and Mary would keep and care for the baby for forty days and forty nights – a holy number, and would an angel that was really fallen and really simple be able to remember that? – and then Mary would whisper a Word to the baby that would strip all of the noxious grace right out of it, and most of its soul, too. After that, Mamm’s baby would grow strong and healthy and it would hate that mean Bishop as much as Mary did.

She’d have a real friend.

Mary nestled the golem among the outhouse fungi. She hummed little hymns to it and thought about how proud Mamm would be when she saw how Mary had made her baby strong, and how things would be better soon.

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Dora Badger is a comedian and writer living in Detroit. She has had stories published in 2009 Ladies and Gentlemen of Horror and A cappella Zoo and in the online publications and The Feathertale Review. She was the fiction copyeditor and one of the reviewers for Sonar4 Ezine and one of the fiction editors for Third Reader. She spends most of her time reading, writing, performing, and making bad decisions. Any time she has left over is spent designing websites (a business she wisely began at the start of the recession), renovating a completely gutted 90-year-old house she purchased (in Detroit, at the height of the recession) and hoping to stumble upon either a time machine, a giant bag of cash, or the Sphinx.

What inspires you to write and keep writing?

Inspiration for my writing is everywhere; although my stories always have one or more fantastic elements, I nearly always place them in real-world settings. In both my writing and my comedy, I've found the most inspiration in those small, lovely pauses we can take to rediscover beauty in the midst of pain or traumatic events.