by Allison Spector
She dresses in blue because it’s expected, though nowadays she’s more low-key, and angels don’t circle overhead with trumpets at her arrival. Instead, the Virgin Mary wears a Persian blue pantsuit and matching work-vest, with a sensible white blouse tucked beneath.
She worries about her carbon footprint so the Virgin takes public transportation. Tonight she rides the bus and a red-capped man with a well-groomed mullet eyes her suspiciously. He doesn’t trust these foreign women covered with headscarves, whispering Aramaic into their cellphones.
“I’m watching you,” he mouths, pointing a fleshy finger in her direction.
Mary’s shoulders deflate. Her hand traces the neon fabric headrest of the seat in front of her and she says a silent prayer. Above the din of tired conversation, and the rumble of the bus is the strum of a distant viola. In the wake of this sound, the space grows silent. A single white rose sprouts from the fabric where she touched it. Embarrassed, Mary plucks it with her fingers and hides it in her Fendi messenger bag. The man in the red hat glowers and rests his hand on the concealed pistol beneath his camo jacket.
When the bus nears the Wal-Mart, the Virgin Mary pulls the bell-cord. The halt in momentum causes the passengers to jerk forward, and the Red Cap’s gun to slide under his seat. Mary, unbothered, rises to her feet, thanks the bus driver, and braces herself against the evening humidity. Her lungs ache with the detritus of the sultry Southern air.
There used to be a lot of perks to being the mother of a living god. Mary remembers when she used to manifest on the battlefield in blazing blue splendor. She remembers making bread appear to the orphans of Guadalupe and delivering last rites to popes, heads of state, and Elvis. Today she has a job of a different nature.
Mary loosens her mantle and rolls up her sleeves as she enters the ally. She inhales used cigarette smoke and the smell of stale urine. In the dim evening light, she can discern the shape of a shivering addict with thinning hair and bare feet. A single tear anoints the Virgin’s cheek.
A second man sits on a nearby crate, indifferent to the youth suffering in parallel. He pauses in mid-mutter, recognizing Mary’s glory. “You should really smile,” he croaks as he rises to his feet, blocking her path. But Mary doesn’t seem to notice. She brushes past him, fumbles for her employee pass-card, and unlocks the store’s back entrance.
Mary slips through the narrow hallway, past the water fountains and the OSHA posters. She reaches out towards the employee locker-rooms. The door swings out in front of her, nearly hitting her in the face.
“You’re almost late for the night shift, Mary,” her manager says in a cracking voice as he pulls her into his corporate clutches. He rolls his eyes and taps his clipboard. His face is flushed with power and eczema. “Another five minutes and we would have locked you out.”
“Mercy is a virtue,” the Mother of God replies. She affixes her nametag to her breast, adjusts her cowl, and reaches for her inventory scanner.
“Sure, whatever. Just be more careful.” The manager stretches his peach-fuzz lips into an impatient smile. He exits the locker-room and disappears down the hall.
Mary surveys her domain—the church of cheap guns, toxic plastics, and baubles. She hears the click of the locks. Row upon row of lights fade to dimness—a signal that the store is officially closed. Mary begins her task in the shadows. She’s been casing the aisles for two weeks, and now it is time to act.
She begins with small, obvious items; the scented prayer candles, the religious greeting cards. She touches them gently and indelible family portraits of the Holy Trinity are left behind by her sanctified fingerprints. Mary, the minimalist, knows this is the market that will be the most appreciative, but that she must grace them in moderation. Too many become obvious, tacky. They lose their meaning.
The Holy Mother moves on to Home and Garden. Her face emerges like a stain on the side of a terracotta flowerpot. Next, she visits Menswear and weeps into a torn plastic packet of cotton undershirts. She goes down the Kitchenware aisle. In a moment of divine inspiration, she leaves some lipstick along with her visage on a #1 Mom mug. A velvet painting of her Son will cry real tears. She’s feeling cheeky so she leaves it in the aisle with the firearms.
Blankets, bobblehead dolls, wallpaper, baking trays, and mattresses. All of these items receive her divine touch under the pretense of scanning items and stocking shelves. Some young couple on their marital bed will receive a visitation from the Virgin in the form of a holy sweat-stain in the shape of a weeping dove.
Mary checks her smart phone. It’s 3:15 AM. Her shift will soon end. Just one more step on her journey. Footwear. She offers a divine smile to the security cameras before concealing a pair of durable tennis shoes beneath her bright blue vest. She glides back to the employee breakroom and retrieves her messenger bag. Then, without a word she slips out the employee exit. The alarm does not sound. Surveillance records nothing.
The Mother of God hurries as the sky begins to lighten. The barefoot addict coughs silently at the entrance of the alleyway. Mary extends a blue-mantled arm, holding the tennis shoes out by their laces. A thornless white rose is cupped against the left heel. The man stares at her unbelievingly and weeps.
Mary hears the screech of the old city bus. Her legs pump with urgency as she motions for the driver to wait. It’s the only way to get to Biloxi this ungodly hour. Mary needs to arrive on time to add her Son’s smiling face to a slice of morning toast.