Joseph could not touch one so young. She was a child, a daughter. Wedding her, he was almost ashamed – an old man with grey in his beard and she a dark-crowned girl. Yet he trusted God, and he knew that to be ashamed would be a dishonour upon Him.
Mary’s hair was black and heavy, always damp and soft around her temples with light, odourless sweat. Her eyes were ripe dates, brown and sweet. Her body was small and endearing, not that of a woman. Other men would scorn and laugh at Joseph for his reticence. They would point to her breasts and the silky hair on her body, the width of her pelvis.
“But she is a woman!” they would say. “You must not be a man yourself if you will say otherwise.”
But when Joseph’s mind went to the marriage bed and Mary within it, the thought that his wife was merely a child intruded upon him. He felt more like her father than her husband. He was ashamed. He could not touch her. Instead, he prayed under the coolness of the palms, busied himself with carpentry, and tried to be worthy. He told her that she need not work, that he would provide. He brought her figs. He brought her sweet, clean water from a clay pitcher he had buried beneath the earth so that it was cold. Despite these attentions, Mary remained diligent and humble. She wanted to be on her knees and palms on the floor, washing the grit and dust from the home as though it were a temple.
Joseph and Mary slept separately, although they both shared dreams. In some of these dreams, their spirits made love without bodies, and everything was blue and cool and quiet.
As the months went by, Mary became less pious. She found herself looking at men. She became like a cat, bored and languid. She wondered at the loins of men, and how it would be to lie down and receive a man in her body. In the morning she would wake to panic. How could she be so sinful? She wept in the dawn hours, and beseeched God, although it was he that had given her the whorls of her brain, the flower of her loins, and her heart. Bound to the reticent Joseph, yet unable to be a wife, Mary swept the floor with the hot, yellow light dancing on her face. In the rhythm of her work was peace, and no one but her.
Suddenly, a man in the empty space of the window. Smiling. She had never seen such teeth. Such eyes. Such mouth, hair, skin, neck. He was beautiful, his beard dark and shining, his face youthful, yet full of the wisdom of ages. His clothes were humble as a beggar’s, but blazed white and pure in the midday sun. He spoke to her, his voice resonant inside her skull.
“Do not be afraid,” he said.
“God?” She wondered. She knew. Who else could speak within her skull? Who else could fill her body with calm like a cup is filled with wine?
He was in the room now, radiant, smelling of rain and dust and mud and man and sex – how she believed an angel might smell. She swelled with fear and desire.
He embraced her and removed her clothes. She trembled. He kissed each of her brown nipples, the soft swell of her stomach, the snarl of dark hair between the columns of her legs. She was wet and sore. Birds fluttered behind her eyelids and the rush of wings filled the room. She was not afraid. She never would be. On the hard floor, spotless from Mary’s sweeping, the angel entered her and she was transformed. With every movement of his hips the soreness got better and sweeter until it bloomed and left her. When his body unselved from hers, warm, milky liquid adorned her inner thighs like pearls.
Years later they would ask her to recount it. The annunciation. And Mary told them what the angel said. He said:
“I’ve been sent to tell you that your heart is pure and true and that you will be the mother of a child. A king in rags, unconditional love made flesh. God wants it to be so.”
She told them her reply:
“I am a virgin. I cannot be the mother of a child.”
Some, however, thought it was perhaps different. Some thought maybe it was like this. Maybe he just said,
“Can I come in?”
And maybe Mary just said,