“Mum? Joseph and I need to talk to you. Can we come for dinner tomorrow night?” Mary’s knuckles gleamed white as she clutched her cell phone. She tried to keep the wobble from her voice. Joseph straddled the park bench beside her, reaching out to press his hand reassuringly against Mary’s back as a lone tear trickled down her face.
“This will kill my parents,” Mary whispered to Joseph as she slid the phone into her jeans pocket. “I can’t begin to imagine them believing about the angel, and Dad’s going to get a really hard time from the church elders.”
Joseph nodded. When Mary had told him she was pregnant, he had wanted to run. Shame coursed through him as he recalled his cowardice – he’d thought of himself first, and yet Mary was so sweet and honest that he’d known in his heart that there was no way she’d have slept with anyone. Still, it had been a welcome relief to have a visit from Gabriel himself.
Mary’s cell phone rang again. It was her mother. “Dad and I can’t do dinner,” she said. “And we’re busy with meetings every night until next Thursday. Your news will have to wait.”
It couldn’t wait. She wouldn’t wait. There would never be a good time to share her news. “Mum? I’m pregnant.”
She had known her mother would be shocked but the steady pip-pip-pipping of a disconnected call echoed hollowly in her ears. “She hung up.” Mary wiped the tears from her face. “My mother won’t talk to me.”
“She’ll come ‘round.” Joseph cracked his knuckles and stretched. “Come on, let’s go to Starbucks. Things will work out. You’ve got me, I’ll look after you.”
“And God,” Mary said. “Anything is possible with God, as we’ve already found out.”
Exhaustion swept over her when Joseph finally dropped her back at her apartment block. She’d read her emails, lie on her bed, read her Bible, pray, sleep.
There was one email. You abominable child, Mary read. How could you do this to your father and me? No doubt you’ve done a few calculations and think you’ll earn enough money to live off the State but you won’t, and your father and I will not support you or the child. I always warned you about older men, but you always knew better. I wash my hands of you. No longer consider me to be your mother.
Hot bile rose in Mary’s throat and she wished she had allowed Joseph to stay with her. But their policy had always been to avoid situations where they might be tempted to behave in ungodly ways and she’d really not considered that her mother might use the internet to express her outrage. Mary formulated her reply carefully.
Mum, I am sorry to have hurt you. The Lord has found favour with me and I am with child - I will give birth to a son and will give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. I am the Lord’s servant. With love, Mary.
The following day tickets came via courier. Utter foolishness! Use these tickets. Go and stay with Auntie Liz until you’ve sorted yourself out. Dad.
* * *
Three months later, Mary returned home. Joseph met her at the airport and held her tight. “Tomorrow we will marry,” he said. “I want to look after you and it is impossible with you living in one place and me in another.”
Mary nodded and gazed into his eyes. “I love you, Joseph,” she said. “I’ll do everything I can to make you happy.”
He planted a kiss on her lips and released her. “Let’s go choose the wedding ring.”
* * *
Weeks later, Joseph threw the Weekend Herald to the ground. “You are not going to believe this!” he said. “The Prime Minister has declared that, to conclude the Year of the Family, every family in the country is to participate in their own family reunion on December 26. All family members will be required to return to the area where their ancestors first disembarked onto this fertile soil. Hefty fines will be incurred on dissenters. No one will be exempt.”
“Nice,” said Mary. “A family reunion and nobody wants to know us. Right when the baby’s due.”
“And you know where my family landed, don’t you?” Joseph continued. “At the far end of the northernmost tip of the country. Even now there’s no airport, no hospital, no nothing. It was the middle of nowhere two centuries ago; it’s the middle of nowhere still.”
Mary held a hand to her belly and laughed. “God will provide. Nothing is impossible with Him.”
“God will provide,” Joseph agreed. “And God can do anything. We mustn’t worry.”
But Mary could tell by the darkening in his brown eyes, by the newly-grey hair, by the furrow on his brow that Joseph worried.
* * *
It was late and cramps creased Mary’s belly as the Volkswagen Kombi groaned to a stop outside the Wayfarer Motel. Five days of driving had exhausted them both and, although they’d promised themselves they wouldn’t beg, Joseph had to swallow his pride. The baby would arrive within hours, his family had booked the entire motel, and somebody surely would have enough compassion in their heart to give them a room while Mary laboured.
The motel owner was firm. There was no vacancy. When Joseph asked the owner to take a message to his father, the request was met with a blank stare. “No one here knows you.”
“But my wife,” Joseph stammered, pointing at the Kombi. “My wife is in labour. I don’t know what to do, where to go. If it weren’t for this government family reunion business we’d be at home with a midwife to provide care. You must help!”
“There is no room,” said the motelier again. “But if you go out my gate and down the road a way you’ll see a grassy spot alongside a stream. Park there. You can sleep in the Kombi, can’t you?”
And while they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and Mary gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in a muslin cloth and placed blue booties upon his feet (for she had known he would be born while they were away) and placed him within the rim of the spare tyre, because there was no room for them at the motel.
Christine Miles is a freelance writer based in Auckland, NZ.