“The unhappy one sits and will sit forever.” (Virgil)
The Madonna is bored with the little Jesus in her lap and her arms barely encircle him; he is free to twist and turn as babes do. He is small and white and naked with a full head of curling brown hair and a golden halo that thwacks her in the face sometimes when he turns his head quickly to gaze and to point at one of the be-harped Seraphim that keeps dive-bombing them from the wooden eves of the stable.
The six-winged creatures are loud and bright and shout down at all hours of the night and day, “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh is the Lord of hosts: The whole Earth is filled with His glory!”
They will not stop, though she’s asked politely. She hasn’t slept in ages.
The Seraphim are on fire. It is all-consuming and unquenchable. They burn with the fire of charity, dispelling and destroying the shadows of darkness. This is what she has heard. The Madonna wonders why the barn doesn’t burn down with all of their harping and flapping. But the tiny Jesus in her lap loves them. He is joyful when they swoop so close—“Kadosh! Kadosh! Kadosh!”—she can smell her singed hair.
The Madonna is bored with this tiny naked Jesus in her lap. She is bored with her situation: relegated to a stool for his display. Visitors wander through the heavy stable doors unannounced and uninvited. They crowd the place with their murmuring adorations. They shuffle past and whisper and point to the tiny Jesus in her lap, and he makes sweeping gestures of holy cognition to the awed visitors. He holds out a chubby hand with solemnity, beckoning them to him, and the throngs are struck dumb. He bows his head for a moment then looks up meaningfully to the dusty beams of the barn where the Seraphim circle, blazing and keening their “Holy is the Lord of hosts! Holy is the Lord of hosts! Holy is the Lord of hosts!”
The catechumens follow the child’s gaze toward Heaven and see circling doves and a fine white mist and a self-contained amber point of light that oscillates above them. Zealots gasp and faint and cry out in ecstasy, “The whole earth is filled with His glory!” They lay gifts at the feet of the babe: gold pieces, lambs, deeds, skins of wine, brocade with red and silver threads, figs, finches. They shuffle past and bow and pray and weep into the Madonna’s feet as she stifles a yawn. She is so very sleepy.
Her husband stands in line to see them. He has no idea why this is happening. He hopes it’s good. He cannot see the Seraphim above, circling ablaze, doesn’t hear their constant caterwauling. He complains of the heat in the stable and moves his shoulders in irritation. The crowds press up against him, give him looks when he attempts to move towards the Madonna and child. The votary holds him back. Because of the crowds, he and his wife have not been alone, have not touched in weeks. For some reason he worries they may never have another child.
The bored Madonna sits with Jesus in her lap as he twists and poses and gesticulates his understanding of the universe to the reverent visitors filing past. She looks down at him with heavy-lidded eyes, her face pale and impassive. The Madonna is not curious about these people or angry or sad. She does not hold grudges or feel that she cannot bear the weight of this life. When she looks down at him, she doesn’t imagine the future or clutch him to her breast or coo into his tiny perfect ears. She does not make his child arm wave to the pilgrims or pose him for their adorations. Instead, she sighs. She looks down, not believing him to be any part of her and sighs again.
Megan Ayers received her MFA from Bowling Green State University where she served as an Assistant Fiction Editor for Mid-American Review. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Red Cedar Review, EDGE, The Emprise Review, and Licking River Review. She lives and teaches in Cincinnati, OH.