She came to with a gasp, a sensation of being buried alive, and by God, she was. She flailed her little arms in panic, hindered not only by her own white robes but by those of the thousand copies of herself in the box. She rose to the top of the pile and looked out just in time to see a little girl being dragged out of the gift shop by her impatient mother. The little girl glanced back, her face droopy with mourning for the pretty, tiny Virgin Marys she’d wanted so much, that she’d now never possess.
Mary stood atop the field of her inanimate doubles – the horror! – and took stock. So it was one of those. She never chose where she appeared, didn’t choose how nor when. Wherever, whenever pure faith shone bright, she was there, bringing life to one of her likenesses, or to the rings of a freshly felled tree, or a spot of mould in the bathroom of some – or so you’d have thought – God-forsaken old man’s pub. If the faith was very strong.
With this kind of random conjuring, Mary sometimes had a hard time making a difference, even getting herself heard at all. She’d never appeared in any Parliament, nor in any big-fish corporate boardroom. More often than not she appeared in some country roadside shrinelet, had to put on a heck of a show to get noticed. Pyrotechnics. Blood tears. The whole heathen shebang.
She made her way, stepping carefully on her wobbly white plastic sisters, until she reached the edge of the box. There she stood still, looking down sad-faced, her arms to her side, lifted a little, palms offered, as if ready to be hit by lightning, or still dumbstruck maybe after some baffling announcement.
‘Harken,’ she started, but no one stopped, none of the curious shoppers looked at her, and they kept on fiddling with crosses of different sizes, from key rings to more chunky, conspicuous formats. Her suffering son optional. They weighed their choices, caressed with the meat of their thumbs the dented chest of her boy, weighing the comforting powers of brass against wood, of size, the money asked. They clasped the artefacts, quality-controlled them with prayers they sneakily mumbled out.
‘Hey!’ she tried again, her fists on her hips now. Even to herself, her voice sounded tiny. Hardly audible. She looked at the customers, then at herself, from veil to toes. At most she was as tall as a little girl’s thumb. She was at the bottom rung of the gift-shop food chain. There was too much tinsel and frills here, too much competition. Who’d come to the two-inch Madonnas’ corner to hear her preach? She didn’t have all the time in the world either. Soon she’d be called back.
She had to act fast. She walked to the edge and saw the table’s round leg. In one smooth move she unwrapped her veil from her head, twisted it tight like a locker-room boy’s mischievous towel, jumped into the air, lassoed the leg with her makeshift rope and rode it down like one of those firemen’s yoke. Had she not been beyond such cares, she’d have had to confess to a little sinful pride when she landed, soft as a cat. She still had it.
She rushed out of the shop, found herself on a footpath full of trestle tables heavy with such religious trinkets as herself. Looking up, she saw the dark dull peaks of the Pyrenees. Lourdes. It’d been a while, but she knew the place like her own crib. There was only one place she’d get noticed here, and it certainly wasn’t among the icon peddlers. As a child she’d been taught to despise these merchants and their products – and now what had she become?
She ran down the street, staying close to the wall so as not to be trampled on. The grotto wasn’t far, and given her size she was able to rush straight under the barriers, slalom between the feet of the queuing faithful. Still, the race had tired her. She could feel her little plastic lungs clog up, the chambers of her heart longing for the peace of ceaseless plastic.
In the grotto she had to stop, hands on knees, to catch her breath. She’d lost her veil in her hurry, and her hair flowed down free. Even if she got anyone’s attention now, they might take her for some random Jezebel. Sainthood was all in the face, but when your face was less than a quarter of an inch long, props helped. She started climbing the rock face, crag by crag, toward where a bigger Mary stood, commanding the throng’s attention.
Flashes ricocheted on the walls of the shallow cave, and a babel of prayers and praises crowded her tiny ears until she felt dizzy. The air was heavy with hand-signed crosses, and turbulence caught her robe and made her distrust her footing. She stopped on an outcrop to shake her already cramping up limbs, her temporary body past its due date.
She sat down, stricken by the terrible realisation that she wouldn’t make it, that someone’s burst of faith had conjured her up in vain. She’d only made it up to the crowd’s knees.
‘Oh!’ came a voice that sounded familiar, from an age past – another realm altogether. Mary felt the last of the earthly air leave her as her body stiffened back into a lying position. Her eyes blurring, she saw the little girl, the huge little girl, come, her smile benevolent, all encompassing.
‘Little Mary,’ the girl whispered, reaching down to pick the little figurine from the ledge and pocket it lovingly.
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