First published in Small Pond. Fall 2001.
Mother/Son relationships may be difficult even at the best of times.

“Look how lovely the flat bread is,” Mary said brightly. Before Jesus even crawled off his futon in the basement, his mother had baked, dressed, brushed her hair one-hundred times, and fixed a low carb lunch for Joseph to take to his carpentry shop.
Now she was feeding carrots into the juicer and trying to persuade Jesus to eat something for breakfast other than strawberry Pop Tarts.
“The bread looks great, Ma,” he said halfheartedly. Jesus hated his mother’s early morning perkiness. He’d been up late drinking wine and debating predestination with the guys. James and John didn’t leave until dawn. They kept Mary awake. Good cheer was her revenge.
“Would you like me to toast a slice?” she asked.
“No, Ma, it’s fine just the way it is.” Jesus took a bite and smiled broadly, even as he fought back the urge to hurl. He wasn’t used to drinking so much wine. Fasts were his specialty, forty days in the desert, that sort of thing. He preferred Dasani water.
“I’ve got a lovely date jam. Would you like some on your bread?” He started to shake his head, but it hurt to move. Sometimes his body seemed so foreign to him. “Ever since you visited Cousin John in the wilderness all you want to eat is locust and honey. Do you know the cost of honey these days? Killer bees have driven up the price. When I was a girl….”
“Date jam would be great.”
Mary beamed. “Rachel’s daughter, Rebecca, from down the street brought it over. Such a lovely girl. It’s a wonder some young man hasn’t snatched her up. Maybe we could go to the farmer’s market today, and I could introduce you?”
“The guys and I have plans.”
“Plans? Always plans!” Mary slammed down the jar of jam. She grabbed a sponge and the industrial size spray bottle of Pine Fresh Lysol and began cleaning the kitchen. “What’s so important you can’t walk your mother to the market and meet a nice girl?” His head hurt. He wanted to be left alone.
“I’ve met Rebecca.”
She stopped wiping off the counter. “When?”
Jesus couldn’t lie to his mother. “She’s a friend of Maggie’s.”
“You know Maggie.” His mother didn’t acknowledge that she did. He knew what she would say. “Rachel’s a friend of Mary Magdalene’s.”
“Mary Magdalene! That tramp!” Mary almost spit on the counter she’d just cleaned. “What are you doing with a woman like that?”
“She’s quite dedicated to the cause.”
His mother threw down her sponge. “Oh, I know the cause she’s dedicated to–”
“Ma, Maggie isn’t like that. She’s the only one who understands me.” Mary shook
her head in disbelief. “We talk scriptures for hours. Monday night we argued about Isaiah’s messianic prophecies. James and John fell asleep during Nightline, but Maggie kept debating.” Mary formed a mental picture of the Magdalene woman alone with her son. She imagined Maggie in a cropped tank top, naval pierced, long dark hair draped over bare shoulders, the harlot’s perfume filling her son’s head with wicked thoughts. Mary picked up her sponge again and rapidly began scrubbing.

“She’s a friend of Maggie’s.”

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

“I explained her errors,” Jesus continued. “I mean, I know Isaiah. Maggie thinks because she caters for some television rabbi that she understands scripture.” Jesus attempted to ignore the antiseptic pine cloud generated by his mother’s activity. “The moon was down before I walked her home.”
Mary froze. “You walked her home?” His mother stared at him with cold dark eyes. “Did anyone see you? Do you know what people would say? Your cronies might believe you were discussing the prophets, but I doubt Rabbi Karp would.”
“And what do you believe mother?”
“I believe you should save something for your wedding night. And I believe that Miss Mary Magdalene should only do catering for the gentleman she marries.”
Jesus could read his mother’s mind. He knew better than to argue. “I’ll go to the market with you next week. It won’t do any good, though. Rebecca’s only interested in jocks. She’s been flirting with Simon Peter, calling him The Rock, that sort of stuff. Besides, this afternoon Lazarus has invited the whole gang over for supper.”
“Lazarus! That deadbeat! What are you visiting him for? You need to network, make contacts, exploit social media. You’re twenty-nine years old, and you still haven’t settled on a profession.” She put her right hand up to her heart. “Doesn’t Lazarus have two sisters? What’s-her-name, with the big hips, buckteeth, and no color sense?”
“Yes, Martha! Or the other one, the tart who came over last week?”
“Mary! She wore tight jeans and only an undergarment covered her breasts. I saw you stare. What might have happened if I hadn’t been here . . .?”
“Ma, not everything is about sex.”
She put her hands to her ears. “Don’t use that word in this house.”
“Sex is a fact of life. You’re the only mother on the block who still thinks she’s a virgin. Old Joe’s losing patience with you.”
“Don’t you speak ill of your step-father. He works hard to pay the mortgage and feed the three of us. He was saying just this morning he could use your help in his shop. He’s too proud to ask you himself. If you want to be about your father’s business, pick up a power tool now and then.”
Jesus reached out to Mary’s arthritic hands. Immediately she felt a warm relief spread through them. It had been a long time since she’d felt his healing touch. “Mother, you know Joe’s not the father I was talking about. I serve a higher power.”
She’d softened for a moment, but his last words set her off again. “A higher power? I’ve heard that line before. If that Man ever comes back, I’ll show him a higher power–”
“Cousin John serves Him.”
“Your Cousin John has lost his head, preaching this baptizing stuff. I want a normal life for you. I want you to settle down. Maybe your fishing buddies will hire you. At least they put food on the table. I want you to raise a family.”
Jesus leaned over and kissed her forehead. “I’ve got to go now, Ma. The guys are meeting at the temple. Don’t wait up.”
“You be careful. And remember you promised to take me to that wedding in Canna tomorrow. I’m counting on you.”
“What kind of son would forget his mother?” Before Mary could answer, Jesus disappeared out the door.


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