Mary's Tale
Grace Andreacchi

He told me not to be afraid, but I wasn't. I'd been expecting him for a long time, ever since that day they took me to the temple when I was very small and showed me to the High Priest. He put his hand on my head, I remember trying to look up at him through the weight of his woollen sleeve that was brushing my face—he said, 'A true daughter of Israel!' and blessed me. My mother and my father were not like those of other children, for they were old. One day my mother took me to the Golden Gate. 'This is where it happened,' she said. 'An angel promised us a child, and that child is you.' Ever since then I'd been expecting that angel to turn up some day. And then he did.

'Fear not!' he said. But the Lord is the strength of my life, of whom should I be afraid? He came softly into the room, so softly that at first I did not even notice him. I was reading my book, and thinking very hard about a particular story in it, the story of the prophet Daniel, who was able to read the writing on the King's wall. And then I noticed a beam of light that fell across the floor, stopping just at my feet. I looked up, and he was there. What is an angel like, you ask? Like a man, and yet not like a man. Smaller, at least this angel was small, about my own size if not perhaps a bit smaller—another reason I was not afraid of him. He got down on one knee, a bit awkwardly I thought, and his wings folded neatly into his back, like those of a large dove. The wings were much prettier than a dove's wings, though, for they had many little eyes in them, eyes of all different colours, that winked and blinked and shone. The light seemed to come from the angel's head, and was soft, like moonlight.

He called me by name and said I was full of grace. This troubled me at first, I did not think he could mean me. How am I full of grace, I wondered? My mother, she is full of grace, her hands make bread and flowers. I am not yet like her, and fear I may never be. When I make the bread or tend the garden I often go wandering in my thoughts with the kings and prophets, and so the bread sometimes burns in the oven. Unlike the Three Holy Children! Or I look down to see I have pulled up not the weeds but the lettuces. He said I was blessed among women. He said that I would have a child, whose name would be Jesus, and who would be a great and everlasting king. I was wondering how this would come about when I felt a pain sharp as a knife deep inside me. I would have fallen to the ground but the angel caught me and lay me gently on the bed. He was surprisingly strong for such a small angel. He put his hand on my brow and said again, 'Fear not!' and as he touched me he took away all my fear.

From that day I began to know the child growing inside me. Sometimes I'd talk to him, call him my little lamb, my soul's delight, sometimes I'd sing to him:

Pipe to me, mother
and I shall dance
Mourn for me,
and I shall weep…

I told my mother and my father, and they told Joseph. He had already heard about it from the angel as well, so you see, it was true, there was nothing to fear. 'She's young to have a child,' my mother said, I saw she was worried for me. But my father said we must have faith in the Lord's ways, for they are all nothing but wisdom and mercy. Joseph came to see me, he tried to kneel down before me and kiss my feet—imagine that! Poor old man down on his knees to a little girl. 'Please please, get up…' I said. 'I am nothing, I am only a serving girl to the Lord.' He had brought a flowering branch, white with those little flowers that come with the first flush of spring. I took the branch and put it over the bed, and it has not withered from that day to this.

Grace Andreacchi is an American-born writer living in London. Her most recent novel is SCARABOCCHIO.

Read more of her work in the archive.

Detail of painting by Sassoferrato, Virgin Annunciate (17th Century).

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