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Mary’s Immaculate Deception

(Scene: A carpenter’s workshop in Nazareth, Roman-occupied Palestine. A young man in a leather apron, JOSEPH, is planing planks of wood and stacking them in piles.

A young woman, MARY, enters with a water pitcher in her hand. She stands there.

 

JOSEPH

Mary? What are you doing here? You know we’re not supposed to be alone together until our wedding. That’s still another ten weeks away. Did you want something? You’d better be quick or your family will be looking for you.

 

MARY

I had to go to the well. I accidentally knocked ove a pitcher at home. My father was angry. He and mother started arguing. They won’t miss me for a while.

 

JOSEPH

Nevertheless. You’d better get on to the well. People might talk.

 

MARY

(Looking around) You seem busy. What are you making?

 

JOSEPH

Crosses. Well, just planks, really, but they’ll be used as crucifixes. The Roman Army has put a large order in, now that they’ve increased their clampdown on the rebels.

 

MARY

I knocked over the pitcher deliberately. I had to find an excuse to talk to you alone.

 

JOSEPH

What about?

 

MARY

It’s difficult to explain.

 

JOSEPH

Come on, Mary. What exactly do you want? We haven’t got all day.

 

MARY

An angel came to me.

 

JOSEPH

What?

 

MARY

Alone. While I was spinning. There was a sudden glowing light. And an angel appeared.

 

JOSEPH

What are you talking about?

 

MARY

It told me that I was going to bear a child. The Son of God.

 

JOSEPH

For God’s sake, Mary! What are you trying to say?

 

MARY

I’m pregnant, Joseph. I’m going to have a baby.

 

JOSEPH

That’s impossible! How could you be? Nothing has happened between us, and you are carefully segregated, as all our women are. Pregnant? Maybe you have a belly ache!

 

MARY

My menstrual cycle has stopped. I’ve begun vomitting in the morning.

 

JOSEPH

I know nothing about these things, Mary. Have you gone mad? You’re not pregnant. The idea is absurd!

 

MARY

I am.

 

JOSEPH

How?

 

MARY

I told you. The angel. The blessed angel appeared and announced the news to me.

 

JOSEPH

When was this? When did it happen?

 

MARY

A – About a month ago.

 

JOSEPH

Why didn’t you tell anyone about it then?

 

MARY

I didn’t think anyone would believe me.

 

JOSEPH

And you expect them to believe you now?

 

MARY

You’re the only one I’ve told. You can believe it or not, but it’s true. I am pregnant. It won’t be long before it becomes obvious. That’s why I’m telling you first. If we want to avoid a scandal, we should become officially married as soon as possible.

 

JOSEPH

If WE want to avoid a scandal? What’s it go to do with me? I certainly had no hand in your pregnancy, if there is such a thing. Mary, pull yourself together. What are you on about?

 

MARY

I won’t be able to hide it for long, and then there’ll be questions. You have the power to move the date of the wedding to whatever you choose. Please make it as soon as possible.

 

JOSEPH

What if I were to call the whole thing off?

 

MARY

We are officially betrothed. You would have to give a good reason.

 

JOSEPH

Well, how about “My virgin wife has already been deflowered?”

 

MARY

You don’t believe me about the angel?

 

JOSEPH

Do you take me for a fool?

 

MARY

I didn’t think it would work. But what else could I say? It was worth a try. I’m desperate.

 

JOSEPH

Are you sure you’re pregnant?

 

MARY

Believe me, I know.

 

JOSEPH

But how? Who could the father be? Everyone knows what goes on in a conservative little town like Nazareth. You’re never alone.

 

MARY

I go to fetch the water alone.

 

JOSEPH

From the well up on the hill? But you usually go together with the other girls.

 

MARY

Not always. I’m going alone now, and I went alone then.

 

JOSEPH

Who was it? Gideon? Raphael? It can’t have been Jonathan.

 

MARY

No, it wouldn’t have been him, would it?

 

JOSEPH

Of course not!

 

MARY

You would know if it was him, wouldn’t you? You’re so close.

 

JOSEPH

He’s my best friend. We’re like brothers.

 

MARY

Closer than brothers.

 

JOSEPH

What do you mean?

 

MARY

I saw you and him together. Kissing each other in an olive grove. Long kisses. You ducked behind a tree when you heard me coming, and I pretended not to see you. But I saw. You’re in love with Jonathan, aren’t you?

 

JOSEPH

Mary. What is this? Why – ?

 

MARY

I just wanted to get things straight with you. You’re in love with Jonathan, I’m not in love with you, but I’m pregnant and we’re engaged. We either get married quickly and save me from being stoned to death, or you call it off and face a stoning yourself when I accuse you and Jonathan of sodomitic practices.

 

JOSEPH

You wouldn’t do that, would you Mary?

 

MARY

No, of course I wouldn’t Joseph. I’m only saying. According to their rules, both of us are sinners and deserve to die.

 

JOSEPH

Who is the father?

 

MARY

A Roman soldier.

 

JOSEPH

What!?

 

MARY

I had gone to the well that morning earlier than usual, and there was no-one else there except him. He looked like an angel when I first saw him. He was sitting alone by the well side, his bronze breastplate reflecting the rising sun. He smiled and said things to me as I raised and lowered the bucket to fill my pitchers, but I couldn’t understand him, and just laughed. He was very handsome. He wanted to teach me a hand-clapping game, and while we were playing it he suddenly took hold of my hands and stared into my eyes. And then he started to kiss me. A long one, like you and Jonathan. I liked it. Suddenly he picked me up and carried me to a little sheltered grove nearby. And.. And that’s where I lost my maidenhead, and where this poor bastard was conceived. Oh Joseph! Doesn’t the child deserve a better name than that?

 

JOSEPH

Did you ever see the soldier again?

 

MARY

No. I prayed that I might, but he never returned. He must have been part of a platoon on the way to Judea. How could I have become pregnant so quickly?

 

JOSEPH

You could say you were raped. By a Roman infidel invader. You’d have sympathy.

 

MARY

Announcing a rape six weeks after it happened? I don’t think so. Besides, it wasn’t rape. I wouldn’t have stopped what was happening for the world. It was wonderful, apart from the pain and blood at the end. This was a handsome man who found me as desirable as I found him. I sort of realised that such a chance would never come again.

 

JOSEPH

Well, there’ll certainly be no more Roman soldiers for you after we’ve wed.

 

MARY

One was quite enough. Then you’ll still wed me, Joseph?

 

JOSEPH

Not only to save you from being stoned, but also to have the honor of such a brave and understanding young woman as my partner. You’re amazing, Mary.

 

MARY

It’s agreed that we don’t desire each other physically. But we respect each other, and that’s good enough for me. As far as you and Jonathan are concerned, don’t let our marriage spoil your love for each other. You can have him to stay as often as you like, as long as you’re discreet.

 

JOSEPH

Bless you, Mary! But unfortunately, Jonathan’s leaving. He’s going to find work in Egypt. He’s setting off tomorrow.

 

MARY

Egypt. That’s a long way away.

 

JOSEPH

He said he wanted to get out of this place, to somewhere he could be free, unshackled by the traditions and taboos of our religion.

 

MARY

How wonderful it would be to be able to do that! We’re stifled here.

 

JOSEPH

He asked me to go with him. I’ve thought about it, but I’m not as brave as he is. And besides, we have been pledged, and my parents will expect to see a troop of grandchildren to continue the family name.

 

MARY

 

One child of my own will be enough for me. But, oh, to be able to bring it up free from the constraints of our culture! Why should an innocent baby boy, for instance, be subjected to the barbaric ritual of circumcision? I’ve never understood the reason.

 

JOSEPH

It’s tradition. We accept it without thinking. We’re children, led by other children.

 

MARY

Sadistic bullies! Stoning for adulterers and men who lie with men! It would be better if there were no such thing as marriage at all, and men and women could choose their partners as they wished!

 

JOSEPH

It’s amazing how much of a mind we are, Mary. And to think I would never have discovered what a free spirit you are, if not for… your unfortunate situation.

 

MARY

My miracle? Oh Joseph, let’s make it one! Let’s go to Egypt with Jonathan! We could make a new life there together! We could all be free!

 

JOSEPH

Steady on, Mary! It’s a great idea, but can you imagine the ruckus it would cause amongst our families if I suddenly announced we were pulling up sticks from Nazareth and moving to Egypt? Besides, we have to prepare for the wedding, and Jonathan is setting off tomorrow.

 

MARY

Could he not delay his journey, to wait for us?

 

JOSEPH

It’s all the same. My family wouldn’t understand our sudden departure together. My father would kill me.

 

MARY

We’re trapped, aren’t we?

 

JOSEPH

Let Jonathan set off for Egypt tomorrow. When he gets there he can find a place for us all to live and find some carpentry work. We’ll join him in a few months time.

 

MARY

But I thought you said…?

 

JOSEPH

In December I have to go to the town of Bethlehem in Judea to register for the new tax to be levied by the Romans. Everybody has to report to the place of their birth to be recorded. I was born in Bethlehem. As my wife, you will have to accompany me to be counted on the census.

 

MARY

December? My condition will be quite advanced by that time.

 

JOSEPH

Our departure for Bethlehem will cause no concern among our families. They will see it as a necessary duty to be performed, and expect our imminent return. But we won’t return. You’ll have the baby in Bethlehem, and when you’re fit enough, we’ll travel on to Egypt, where Jonathan will be waiting for us. I’ll plan it with him tonight.

 

MARY

A brilliant idea. I think we’re going to get on.

 

JOSEPH

You’re an inspiration to me! Now, about this marriage. How am I going to explain why I want the wedding ceremony to take place as soon as possible? People are certainly going to be suspicious. In fact, we’ve been here together in the workshop too long now. You’d better get going before anyone notices.

 

MARY

Okay. I’ll leave it up to you.

 

JOSEPH

How about if I use your story?

 

MARY

What do you mean?

 

JOSEPH

About the angel who came to tell you that you were going to bear the son of God? I could say that the angel came to me too, to tell me it was true. You are a virgin, pregnant with the seed of God!

 

MARY

Don’t you think it’s a bit far-fetched?

 

JOSEPH

I’m game if you are.

 

MARY

You’re on. (They shake hands.)   I’d better be off. To the well.

 

JOSEPH

We’ll keep a low profile, but if anyone asks questions, we’ll have the same answers. What was the angel’s name again? Beelzebub?

 

MARY

Gabriel. He said his name was Gabriel. Whatever. The child is our responsibility, and we shall raise the poor bastard with love and dignity in a freer country than this.

 

JOSEPH

He won’t be a bastard. He’ll be counted as mine. And my family can trace our roots right back to King David. I tell you, this is one lucky kid!

 

MARY

If it’s a boy, that is.

 

JOSEPH

If it’s a boy.

 

(Mary goes out. Joseph finishes stacking some planks, then takes off his apron and hangs it up. He goes out of the workshop, wiping his hands.)

Michael Dickinson can be contacted at michaelyabanji@gmail.com

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Michael Dickinson can be contacted at michaelyabanji@gmail.com.

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