‘I can see you, you know. You don’t have to hide.’
Mary turned away from the angel, and continued sweeping the barn.
She was getting better at this — seeing the angels.
That first time, there had been no ambiguity.
Gabriel came crashing into the garden, ablaze with expectation. He would have been frightening, if it hadn’t been so funny. She could see him struggling with himself — knowing he must be calm, knowing he must be reasurring, but so eager to hear her ‘yes’ that he forgot all that he’d learned through the centuries. Gabriel could be terrifying — but not to her. For Mary, he was game changer, joy-bringer, laugh-maker — the one who had confirmed her hunch that God was near.
Next, it was Ramiel. It took her a while to notice him — the one who came in dreams. At first she mistook the dreams for morning sickness, till Elizabeth pointed out that she needed to be awake for that. Night after night she had felt the darkness was spinning, all creation whirling in the blackness gathering strength. Then suddenly, the dreams burst into light — stars formed, galaxies. The dreams still spun her around, but now there was order and rhythm. Still she didn’t notice Ramiel — didn’t realise that it was Sophia dreaming inside her. But slowly, as Creation unfurled, as she felt God’s love stir for every last creature, she woke to find Ramiel sketching the dragonflies that had just filled her dreams. He’d become so caught up in their beauty that he forgot himself — slipped into presence — and there he was, sitting in the old chair beside her bed.
When it really was morning sickness, Raphael came. It didn’t solve anything, but he was comforting. He assured her all was well, and gave her some rose-hip tea. Raphael had seem amused by it all, and later Ramiel confessed that God had sent Raphael in. The great Creator had finally noticed what women really go through in pregnancy, and became terribly anxious that something was wrong.
But this angel was different. He lingered longer and hid well. This one chose neither to interfere nor to go away. Day by day she took his measure. He was quiet and calm, steady and loyal. He seemed less given to drama than the rest — and perhaps a bit more human. She’d become fond of him as the months went on, and she wanted to know why he was here.
Zadkiel was annoyed that she’d found him out. He should not have trusted the shadows of hay stack. The roof was safer, and he hid now, wing-wrapped in owl’s form, perching on a beam.
Mary had felt him swoop up, but decided not to push it. She swept and she sang, and she thought about the birth of her child. But then, as she forked over the hay, a mouse ran under her skirts, and she had an idea. Quickly she bent and cupped her hands around the little creature. She turned and held it up, watched by owly eyes.
‘Will you stay for lunch?’ she asked, and Zadkiel knew he had to stop pretending.
His wings unfurled as he took human form. He jumped down, and bowed to her.
‘I am Zadkiel — your Son’s companion. He will have no gauardian – no protection. But I will be with him and will be his friend.’
Mary’s eyes went wide, and she was slow to return the angel’s bow. She was unsettled by his presence and disturbed by his words. From that moment, she resolved — always and for ever — to let owls be owls.