‘You didn’t try to comfort me.’ Mary sniffed, once she had stood up and dusted herself off. ‘You didn’t look like you wanted comfort.’ Zadkiel said, as he walked to her side.
‘You didn’t try to stop me crying.’
‘You didn’t look like you wanted to stop’.
Mary was bewildered. Zadkiel was always so meddlesome, so present, so overbearingly helpful — and then, when anyone else would have tried to help, he’d just sat there.
Was he right? Had she wanted to stop? Not really — though she had hoped he’d try to stop her. She wanted him to provoke her and give her a reason to let loose her fury so that it would be done.
Zadkiel was working hard at being still. He hated this part– not helping, not fixing, just waiting. Every feather itched. But still he stood there, watching the water in silence. Finally, he broke the tension by skimming a stone across the water. One – two – three – four – five.
Mary watched him. She didn’t altogether approve of skipping stones, but it did shift the mood. She watched as the angel bent and flicked the stone across the water. One – two – three – four – five – six – seven – eight – nine. It danced right across to the other side.
‘You will have to teach him,’ she said, ‘Joseph has never been any good at it.’ And there, it was done. She had given him a place in her son’s life.
Zadkiel smiled as he remembered God scattering first light across the oceans, Sophia dancing through the stars. ‘He’ll learn,’ Zadkiel said, amused by the absurdity of it all.
Mary sensed it too, and began to laugh. But then the tears threatened again, and she forced her own will into stillness.
‘You fear for him, don’t you?’ Zadkiel said, ‘– and I remind you of that fear?’
Mary was surprised to have it named so clearly. ‘Yes. You remind me. It was exciting at first — seeing angels, having God’s son. Elizabeth and I sang of justice, of a world set right — but then we let ourselves dream of small hands and sleepy eyes, of first steps and children’s drawings. I began to think of my son — like any mother — and I just want it to be normal. But it never will be, will it? It won’t be easy and it won’t be normal. You remind me.’
‘It will be as normal as it can be. You are his mother. He is your child’.
‘Yes, but not like other mothers…’
‘Just like other mothers. It is never easy. And — yes — there are some parts of this that will be strange. But not for him. For him, you are all he knows. You, and Joseph; whatever you teach him, and whatever friends he makes.’
Mary couldn’t get her head around it — ‘But Gabriel said that Sophia was tricky — that the Incarnate Word would be wise.’
‘Gabriel talks too much — and he wants your attention. He misses Sophia, and finds it hard to understand what God is doing in holding back from her, why he must set the Word free.’
Honestly, Zadkiel couldn’t make sense of it either. What did it mean for God to be God and not-God all at once? What did it mean for the Word to become flesh? Would he really be the one to teach God to skip stones? Or would Jesus just know?
‘Look, this is what you need to hold onto. Jesus is your son. Everything that God has done, everything that God is doing rests on that. You just focus on raising your boy, and let God take care of the rest.’
‘But you will be there?’
‘I will be there.’
‘Will he know?’
‘Not at first. Not for a long time, probably, but one day I suspect he’ll realise.’
‘And then, a lot of other things will make sense to him. I’ll be there to let him talk, to let him think — to say the things he dare not say to anyone else. Everyone needs someone they can turn to — someone they are not born to — and he will have me.’
Mary thought back to her own childhood — to the old woman who lived down the lane. Mary had spent days with her — learning to make bread, sweeping the yard, trying to count the leaves. That is where she learned to speak of God. That is where she learned to say yes.
Is that what Zadkiel would be for her son?
‘You will teach him to skip stones?’ she said pointedly.
‘I will teach him to skip stones.’
‘All right then. Let it be so. You no longer need to hide in the rafters.’
Zadkiel laughed and brushed her with his wing. ‘We’ll see,’ he said, ‘I need to hide somewhere, and Sophia was always fond of owls.’