Angelique was never born, at least not in the natural human progression that we are familiar with. She was aborted. Contemporary medical technology employs four methods, depending on the fetus’ stage of development.
In Angelique’s particular case a concentrated saline solution was injected into the mother’s abdomen. For the next fifty-three minutes, as she attempted breathing and swallowing, her body convulsed while her small frame fought against the poison. The effort was in silence. No anguished screams were heard. Finally her mother’s womb, like reluctant hands, gave her over to the outside world. She was still alive. As a result of the poison, the outer layer of her skin had been burned off, but she still lived. Moments later she expired. Following that her remains were disposed of and she was flushed into oblivion. Unnamed. Forgotten.
Had she lived and grown she would not have been considered beautiful, except for her eyes. They would be dark with long lashes, and would be her most becoming feature. She would have an impish look about her that others would find captivating. I gave her a name, like those romantic explorers of long ago who planted colorful flags on far off shores and shouted into some rolling surf that this land was claimed in the name of their God and country. Just so, I too claim the right to name her. I chose Angelique because I like the way it falls on the ear. The name means, of the angels. Christ once told his apostles that through God, all things are possible. If that is true , then what follows is possible.
Angelique is nine years old. She walks hand in hand with Mary, her foster mother, the mother of Jesus. They are walking up a slight grade, their destination a large clump of trees at the top of the hill. They come here quite often, for the view is pleasant and the outcropping of rock near the trees is flat and comfortable to sit on. Mary wears a blue gown with a white mantle. She does not always wear this, but today is a special occasion. It is Angelique’s birthday. Angelique wears an oyster-white dress with pink pastel lacing around its hem. Her straight dark hair is pulled back in pony-tail style and held with a pink bow. Her shoes are the “hard kind,” which Angelique “hates” because they are difficult to run in. Later in the day, Mary will permit her to wear old clothes and run barefoot.
Angelique is what adults refer to as a tomboy. She likes climbing trees, wading in brooks, playing games of any kind, running and jumping and yelling for absolutely no reason, and collecting things. Even now, despite Mary’s best efforts, the young girl in the oyster-white dress with the pink bow in her hair has dirt ground into her knobby kneecaps from kneeling in the fields. But then Mary has dirt and grass stains on her gown, the result of kneeling opposite Angelique while they made daisy chains and examined, with great eyes for detail, all the intricacies and symmetry contained in a wild flower called Queen Ann’s lace.
As they walk toward the hilltop, Ange1ique’s free hand holds a dandelion. She alternates between twirling it in her fingers and holding it to her nose to sniff deeply, convinced that there must be a fragrance hidden somewhere deep within. The underside of her nose is stained with bright yellow pollen, as is part of her upper lip. Suddenly, she realizes where they are headed and begins to walk faster, pulling and yanking at Mary’s hand to hurry her mother along. This particular hilltop overlooks rolling green meadows of flowers and abundant wildlife, and is one of her favorite places, But, like any nine year old, she cannot bear to enter into any pleasant experience slowly.
Mary 1aughs as they break into a run, trying as best she can to lift her gown slightly and keep the item she has hidden under it from falling out. Somehow she accomplishes this despite Angelique’s tugging and pulling. When they reach the top, Mary sits on one of the rocks under a generously leafed tree, breathless. Angelique drops to her knees beside Mary, then to a sitting position with her legs pulled up beneath herself. She leans against her mother’s leg and looks down toward the grass, which she has begun to pull at with her right hand. The dandelion was discarded somewhere along the way. A few minutes of quiet pass as Angelique continues pulling at blades of grass and Mary looks about at the scenery. Mary’s hand unconsciously strokes Angelique’s hair. Suddenly, Angelique lifts her head, looking over her shoulder at Mary.
“Mother?” Mary turns her head and without speaking, smiles her response.
Angelique’s eyes dart as they search Mary’s face. After a moment or two Angelique quickly turns her head away and looks down once again, pulling at more grass. Mary returns her gaze to the valley beyond and resumes stroking Angelique’s hair absentmindedly. She feels Angelique begin to fidget beneath her hand. Mary waits. Angelique cannot stand it any longer. She must know. Even if it is the worst, as she expects, she must know. But will her mother tell her the truth? Her courage wanes. She turns quickly again toward Mary and just simply blurts it out.
“Mother…am I pretty?”
Her eyes are intensely searching Mary’s face for any signs of pretense or deceit. The answer must be absolutely true , uncolored by the love between them. Her feelings are in turmoil. If, as she expects, her nose is too small and her ears stick out too much, she would rather not know. Still, she must know. She is now regretting that she asked the question, glad that she finally did. Mary furrows her eyebrows slightly, obviously giving the matter grave consideration. One of her hands cups Angelique’s chin as she turns Angelique’s head from side to side, as if looking for any flaws or defects that might have escaped casual observation. Angelique suffers the indignity, but each time her head is moved, she keeps her eyes fixed on Mary’s face. If Mary laughs, or even grins, Angelique will just die, right there on the spot. But Mary does not. She finally removes her hand from Angelique’s chin and returns it to her own lap, nodding affirmatively as she does so.
“What?” exclaims Angelique. Mary’s answer must be verbal, so the tone of the voice can be considered.
“Yes,” Mary answers, nodding a second time, “you are pretty.”
“No I’m not,” Angelique quickly replies, turning her reddening face toward the ground again.
“Yes you are,” Mary reaffirms, “and what is more, I think you will be quite beautiful when you are a grown woman.
“Will I be as pretty as you are?” Angelique addresses this question to a blade of grass.
“Prettier, I expect. We could sit here all day and talk about how pretty you are, or I could give you your birthday gift.”
Any questions which would have followed are now forgotten, but the answers that Mary gave to Angelique, and every visual moment connected with them, will never be forgotten. She jumps to her feet.
“What is it?” she asks, several times in succession. Mary removes the package and extends it toward her daughter, who grabs it with both hands. Mary will not release it, using the opportunity to pull the package toward herself with Angelique attached. She kisses Angelique on the cheek and releases it.
The paper is thrown to the wind, revealing a book. She likes books. She hugs her mother, kisses her, and tells her several times that she loves the gift. She now presses for any advantage her birthday will permit and begs Mary to read to her now, this very instant. Mary reads well, and her assent is immediately rewarded by another kiss on the cheek from Angelique. She then turns and runs a few steps to a tree, where she can sit facing her mother, and watches apprehensively as Mary opens the book and begins to slowly turn pages to the opening chapter. Mary’s slowness is deliberate, the additional gift of joyful anticipation.
Mary looks up as a man approaches. He is tall, just under six feet, and wears a plain, full-length tunic cinctured at the waist by a woven cord. His shoulder length hair is a deep reddish chestnut. He wears a beard. White teeth are exposed by a broad grin that stands out against a tanned face.
“Jesus!” yells Angelique, who is already on her feet and running toward Him. He catches her under the arms while she is in full stride and lifts her into the air, turning as He does so. He swings her two full circles before bringing her close. Her legs wrap around His waist as they embrace.
This is her big brother, and there is much affection between them. He is very protective of her. They have special places known only to the two of them. They share secrets. She once vowed that if anyone ever hurt Him, she would punch and kick them hard and not stop until they said they were sorry. He is a gentle man who loves without reservation; a man who is quick to laugh, quick to forgive. If it could be said that He had a failing, it would be one that He has in common with all brothers. He likes to tease his sister. If anyone ever harms Angelique, or has harmed her in the past, they will one day answer to Him. He will ask only one question, a question that will pain Him more than the one who must answer.
“Why have you harmed my sister? I wish to know, as does my Father.”
As soon as He puts Angelique down, she grasps His hand and begins pulling Him toward Mary. He resists slightly as He stumbles along behind her. He looks quickly toward Mary and they exchange smiles. As He is dragged bodily toward the tree, He bends and kisses Mary.
“Blessed Mother,” He says softly. She attempts to return the kiss, but only manages to touch His hair briefly as He turns to follow His captor. Angelique makes Him sit beside her and immediately leans against Him. His arm drapes about her shoulder.
“May I ask what all this fuss is about?” He looks straight at Mary, to whom the question is addressed.
“Yes, My Lord, today is Angelique’s birthday. I was just about to read her a story. Jesus looks slightly puzzled for a moment.
“Birthday?” He asks, looking toward Angelique. She nods that this is so, but is not hurt that He has apparently forgotten.
“How old?” He inquires.
“Nine,” she answers, proudly.
“More like ninety,” He comments. “You look quite old and withered to me.” She giggles and begins pushing at Him with both hands, trying to topple him over. He fends her off as Mary waits patiently. After awhile, the horseplay subsides.
“That explains it,” He says.
“What?’ says Angelique.
“Your birthday. That explains it.”
“What?” she insists, grins, anticipates.
“It explains why I took a gift with me today.”
“What gift?” She is grinning widely now.
“The gift I have with me, the one I took with me today.”
She is on her feet in an instant, alternately pulling at Him and trying to search Him at the same time. He will not give her the present and soon Angelique begins to get angry and displays it by swatting at Him. He protects Himself and a pretended look of shock registers on His face because His very own sister, the one who had promised to punch anyone who would ever hurt Him, is now punching at Him herself. He is too strong for her. She gives up and turns away, walking over to Mary and sauntering around behind her. Angelique is annoyed. She looks down at Mary’s shoulders and begins to pick at a loose thread on Mary’s mantle.
“Angelique, please don’t do that, it will cause it to unravel.”
Angelique obeys, chancing a look toward the grinning Jesus.
“Mother?” she says, loud enough to be heard in the area of the tree, “will you tell Jesus to stop. He won’t give me my present.” While Mary turns to look behind herself at Angelique, Jesus leaps on the opportunity and smirks at Angelique. She sticks her tongue out at Him.
“Angelique, please don’t do that,” remarks Mary, frowning. “It’s not polite.”
“But He won’t stop teasing me! And I think He hurt my arm, too,” she adds, putting on a pained expression and rubbing at one of her elbows. If she can’t get her gift, the least she can do it get Him into trouble.
“I don’t think it is very nice that He is teasing you, Angelique, but since it is His gift, I can’t very well make Him give it to you.” Jesus’ smirk has now grown to a full-blown grin. Mary is still looking at Angelique, who dares not stick out her tongue a second time under Mary’s observation. Jesus, however, is not presently within Mary’s vision, and he takes full advantage of the situation by putting His facial muscles through various contortions. Angelique walks back toward the tree, planting each foot firmly, and plops down beside Jesus. Mary looks to the front again, eyeing the innocent looking Jesus somewhat suspiciously. Jesus glances toward Angelique and nudges her knee with His own. She swats at it with her hand and refuses to look at Him. She knows that He is giving her His most terrible brother stare, the one that says, “You are acting spoiled.” Meanwhile, his right hand extracts something from under His tunic. His hand, loosely closed, is then lowered into her lap. He keeps it in this closed position for a few moments longer, then the fingers very slowly blossom to reveal His gift. Angelique’s mouth falls open to match the widely opened dark eyes. There, in the palm of her brother’s hand, sits a small bird akin in size to a large bumblebee. It chirps once at a volume level appropriate for its size. It is alive. She is unable to move or take her eyes from it for several seconds. Jesus steals a glance at Mary. Angelique finally turns toward Jesus, who is instantly rewarded for His gift by the look in her eyes.
“Is it real?” she whispers.
“Yes,” He whispers back.
“Really, really alive?” He relishes the wonderment in her eyes.
“Yes, really alive,” their confidential tone continuing.
“Where did you get it?” He shrugs. “Will you make me a cage for it?” He works well with His hands and has made her several toys in His father’s shop.
“Yes,” He says, rather sadly, “but then he will not be able to fly, and soon he will stop singing. Then both of you would be unhappy and I would feel as if I had made a cage for you as well. I do not think I would like to see you caged up. You so love to run around freely and climb trees and get into trouble. I don’t think I could bear robbing you of your freedom.” She grins weakly at Him and nods her agreement. She seems to understand that the bird will have a gift as well. There will be no cage.
“And what is this about a story?” Jesus remarks, looking now toward Mary. “I do not recall that you ever read me a story on my birthday.” Angelique giggles. Jesus is now teasing Mary, and it will not be the first time. This will be as much fun as the story, as Mary is imperturbable, and Jesus often gets in over His head.
“I told you many stories when you were young, my Lord. Have you forgotten?”
“No, Blessed Mother, I remember them all very well. But you never read to me from a book.” Jesus looks openly pleased.
“We did not have books then, my Lord.” She appears to have Him.
“My Lord?” He comments, sensing defeat and attempting a diversion. “Am I no longer Jesus bar Joseph?” This seems to be unfair.
“You will always be Jesus bar Joseph to me,” comes the soft reply. Their eyes hold each other for several moments and as the past rushes in on them, much is remembered. This was clearly unfair on Mary’s part, and possibly a motherly prerogative, but Jesus is, once again, in over His head. Mary breaks the silence.
“Perhaps,” she says lightly, “if you had someone to intercede for you, I could read this book to you as well. It is, however, Angelique’s birthday and the book is my gift to her. I would, with her permission, share her gift with you.” The tables have been fully turned on Jesus a second time.
He looks imploringly at Angelique, begging for her forgiveness. Angelique calmly looks away and down at the bird, which is now perched on her pinky. She looks briefly at Mary. She is not good at teasing, but pleased to be included.
“Please?” Jesus whispers to her, urgently. “Please!” Angelique laughs out loud and nods her permission to Mary.
All scores are, for the moment, even, and as Angelique and her brother lay back with their heads against the tree, eyes closed, and prepare to be taken into fantasy, this special day continues. God is in his heaven and all is right with the world.
Mary opens the book again and begins to turn pages. She will read less than a paragraph before a final interruption. Joseph, Angelique’s foster father, is just now beginning to climb the hill. His gift is held in the open, too large to be hidden. It is unwrapped, as he is no good at that sort of thing. What he does best is work with wood. His hands hold a wooden box that has taken him many hours to finish. The last rubbing was this morning, to coax every bit of luster and warmth the wood was capable of giving. Even now, aching fingers unconsciously search the box’s surface for any flaws. It is a box for Angelique. She will finally have a place to keep her collection of treasures safe.
Her wealth consists of items such as brightly colored stones and shells, a blue jay’s feather, a real mechanical pencil, and one of her greatest discoveries and possessions: the complete sun-bleached skeleton of a frog. She encountered more than some resistance getting this item past her mother. There will be no teasing or fuss when the gift is presented, as Joseph is no good at that either. He will mumble his “Happy birthday” and will be asked by Angelique to sit with the family while Mary reads. He will say he has work to do and no time for childrens stories, but Angelique will then invoke any and all remaining birthday privileges and plead with him. He will finally relent, being blessed with an excuse to sit and listen. He too likes stories. But for now, Mary begins.
“Well, Angelique, the story begins this way.” Mary stops. Jesus has come to a sitting position. A hurt look is on his face.
“Very well, my Lord,” Mary sighs, “very well.” She begins again.
Well, Angelique…and Jesus bar Joseph…Once upon a time…far, far away…there lived a king…”