by Ayame Whitfield


Mary’s body curled in on itself at night, imagining the blooming inside, the growing warmth germinating like summer barley. When she closed her eyes, she could still see golden wings, the glitter of eyes too pale to be human. The glitter of eyes too many to be human.

It made sleeping hard.

Do not fear, the angel had said. Do not fear.

Joseph kept asking if she was well, if there was anything she needed - as if the child were his, not some strange seed planted in her womb, taking root. She occasionally wondered if it was truly a child within her or a tree, sending branches up her throat, choking her lungs with leaves. Bearing strange fruit from her blood and bone.

She always waved her husband away. This was an easy pregnancy, if the stories her mother and aunts had told her were anything to go by. A blessing.

Still, she lay awake at night, long after Joseph’s breathing had evened out beside her. Stared up at the ceiling, hands pressed to her stomach, trying to feel for a swelling there. Sometimes, she dreamt that she knelt in the temple, praying, and felt a movement within. Sometimes, she dreamt that the child came clawing out of her, leaving her split like the skin of a fig on the tiled floor.

Do not fear.

It was human to fear, she wanted to tell the angel, and she was never anything but a girl with thread tangled in her fingers.

Every now and then, her nightmares subsided, and she would dream that she stood in a field of wheat that glinted gold in the setting sun. At her side, a young boy, brown-skinned and with eyes that gleamed with a wholly human liveliness. The wind caught her loose hair, whipped it into her face, and the child laughed. Her body no longer felt like a shared room, but entirely her own.

All would be well.