Fiction from Rosaleen Lynch
The first Mary is missing her head. I clean the nozzle, pick off the hardened thermoplastic halo that’s clogged and erupted in a mushroom cloud, and drop it in the scrap to be recycled and reset the 3D printer to start again, but I watch as the polymer filament threads through the moving heated spout, and liquid layers like lava, hardens into a tiny hollow head, and then the veil, builds up around it with a new halo attached, and the mechanised arm retracts, a hair-thin umbilical cord of plastic pulling to snap, like an alien antenna I snip when I glue Mary’s head onto her shoulders, paint the body a Virgin-Mary-blue and white, and give her my mother’s face. I paint my wife’s face on the next, my own on the third, and stand the trio open-armed in the window, to dry. One more Mary and we’d be in Bunty, Mam would say, some comic about good girl things she read as a girl, until Misty came, with its parallel universes and alien seeds.
Growing up in seventies Ireland, Mam said Marys were everywhere. Statues were not just in churches or grottos or the holy water font in the hallway, but in schools and the doctors and the corner shop. Everywhere had a small shelf, the footprint of a base of a Mary statue. Marys floated on walls everywhere, centre stage and open-armed amongst butchered pigs and chickens, between library books on paganism and the paranormal and politeness and purity, overlooking pharmacy shelves of women’s products concealed in packaging that promised more that it delivered and not what women needed. ‘And there were so many of us Marys,’ Mam said. ‘So many we had to use surnames or second names to tell us apart.’ Mam’s name Mary McCarthy, and her sister was Mary Anne, and her cousin Mary Beth, and her friend Mary Wang, though her friend’s first name wasn’t really Mary at all—just what the nuns called her when they couldn’t pronounce her name. And Mam took Dad’s name when they married and the nuns took religious names when they became the brides of Christ, like Sister Mary Joseph. And priests married them all but didn’t marry at all. And Mam was kept busy with church and holy days, and after mass, she took off her Sunday best, sharpened the good scissors and lay in front of the black-and-white TV to cut out paper dolls and clothes with tabs and seasonal accessories from the back of Bunty, until Misty came and introduced her to parallel universes and alien seeds.
I paint Marys with the faces of women I know, and don’t notice the spill vent in the tray is filling, until the alarm goes off. Half a Mary is standing in the tray. I click her out of her holder and lift the lid off the tray, shaking the contents, a dozen or so wobbling plastic ovoids the size of marbles, but they’re plastic instead of glass or stone or clay, or the walnuts Ovid played and I pick one up and though it’s oval, it has a slight turn of a pear but no stem or markings. I pour them into the recycling chute and press resume and watch.
It’s May, Mary’s month, and in seventies Ireland that meant Mam’s family saying the rosary every night after tea, and it’s still how she measures the length of twenty minutes, and back then she would recite her prayers, sing-song along, while making up stories in her head of Mary’s adventures as if Mary was in Bunty instead of the Bible, as if she was a girl instead of a mother, as if a baby wasn’t more important than her, until Misty came along and took her to parallel universes and showed her alien seeds.
Mam crowns Mary with hawthorn in May and I remember when I used to give her bunches of the white blossom to put in a vase, she wouldn’t let me bring them inside the house, and she put them on the window ledge in a milk bottle instead so everyone could enjoy the flowers, she said, and we could see them from inside. And these piseogs of hers, she gave us, like throwing salt, knocking on wood, and crossing our fingers, and I grew up thinking that if other celestial powers exist, that Mary, in a parallel universe with alien seeds, could’ve grown up to be so many things other than the mother of God.
May of ‘77, Mam prayed for the girl who disappeared. The girl was six. Never got a chance to read Misty unless maybe in a parallel universe with alien seeds. The girl was six and Mam was ten and Mam waited to see if the girl was connected to someone she knew before she worried, and that summer she wasn’t allowed in the long grass, or down the back road, and because the drawn-out days meant night took too long to bring her home, she had a curfew—the six o’clock angelus bells, and when she went back at school, she found no one knew this six-year-old Mary, so she admits she didn’t care, she said there were so many Marys, real and fictional in the world, nobody cares about a Mary they don’t know. So when crop circles appear and Paddy Doherty says she was taken by aliens, no one corrects him, and Mam said she wondered if six-year-old Mary went looking for the aliens or if when the aliens came looking, they found her, an outlier in a family of ten. And then one day the story turns and six-year-old Mary is now the alien that came from an alien seed from a parallel world and just returned.
We call our comic and kitsch store Making Marys. The biggest seller is the Make Your Own Virgin Mary, customised with any face. The Pity is my favourite. Michaelangelo’s one in St. Peter’s has the Virgin Mary holding a supine Jesus on her lap whereas ours holds another Mary. We sell a surprising amount of Kalashnikov Marys. The gun resting in her outstretched hands, giving it up. But her actions might be different in a parallel universe with alien seeds.
My mam prays for us, for the sacrilege of making Marys and the marrying of two, like on our holy communion day, aged seven holding hands, us in two white dresses like our two white dresses on our wedding day and I tell my mam that we’ve broken with patriarchal tradition. We’re women who won’t be the mothers of children or the wives of men. We’re changing our surname to one we’ve chosen. Not in irony, but in solidarity with all the women who gave up their lives to men. We choose the last name—Mary. Of course, in a parallel universe with alien seeds, we choose Misty.
An ovoid rolls off and catches in the corner of the tray and I pick it up. It’s missing a layer of the outside curve and it looks like the beginnings of a shape in a womb. I drop it in the chute to be recycled. I ask Mam what happened to the six-year-old Mary who got taken by aliens? Was it Paddy Doherty? Another ovoid drops. Mam asks me, ‘Do you know my confirmation name is Mary too? Not after the Bible Mary, as your grandmother thought, but a Bunty Mary. Guess which one?’ I say all of them, and it’s a good answer I can see from her expression. I peel off the layers of the ovoid and find the outline of another curled-up beginnings of a foreign body in the centre. It reminds me of the alien eggs we had as kids. I ask Mary, my wife, if she set the 3D printer to make immaculate conceptions? Her ‘what the fuck’ is a hard no. The machine keeps making them. I turn it off and check underneath, by the Made in the USA sticker, and flick the Return to Factory Settings switch and set it upright again and before I can plug it in, it starts up again, making another Mary, and this time as the plastic ovoid falls, Mary cracks and falls apart and it starts all over again, creating another Mary in the hollow carcass of her body, the internal trusses torn, flapping threads now trapped in a new body that cracks before it’s even finished and another starts in the empty shell.
Mam listens now more than talks and nods along when I say that maybe in a parallel universe with alien seeds there’s a machine making Mistys, and maybe in the parallel universe with alien seeds Bunty isn’t full of good girl things and six-year-old Mary is really taken by aliens to a better world, deus ex machina, and maybe, in the final, final, final scene, in this parallel universe with alien seeds, Mary Magdalene is made God.
Rosaleen Lynch is an Irish youth and community worker and writer in the East End of London with words in Craft, SmokeLong Quarterly, Jellyfish Review, EllipsisZine, Mslexia, Litro and Fish. Rosaleen was shortlisted by Bath and the Bridport Prize, won of the HISSAC Flash Fiction Competition and the Oxford Flash Fiction Prize, and can be found on Twitter @quotes_52 and 52Quotes.blogspot.com.