Made by Mary: A Novel by Laura Catherine Brown
330 pages – C&R Books
Made by Mary: A Novel is a black comedy using magic realism to blow up myths about women, mothers, daughters and motherhood. The novel is told from three points view: Mary, her daughter Ann, and her son-in-law, Joel. This section belongs solely to Mary.
“Friend of the Devil” obliged Mary to boogie in her seat. Grateful Dead, Fillmore East, 1970, she had archived the CD from one of her bootleg cassette tapes. She bounced on her stool as she cut a strip of silver on the gouged wooden surface of her jewelry bench. Once the silver was cut, she only had to shape and solder. She turned on her acetylene torch flame, and quickly painted flux on the solder chips. With a bushy blue fire going, she warmed the chips until they were suspended in a honey-like pool of flux. Then she placed them directly on the ring with her pick, heating the joint until the solder flowed with a flash of bright silver.
“Friend of the Devil” moved into “Ripple.” Dropping the ring into a pot of acidic solution, Mary danced to her window. My property, she’d never say aloud because it was so bourgeois. But her thoughts were free and unfettered, and she loved the view of her field below, undulating like flesh. The circle of stones was coated in the gold of twilight.
“Hey, girlfriend! You should lock your door! I could be an intruder.” America’s tart voice came from the stairwell.
“I’ll be right down!” Mary called, turning off her flame. As she sashayed along the staircase, she caught glimpses of herself in the shards of her mirror mosaic, an eye here, a lip there, a lock of long gray hair. She was mysteriously appealing in fragments. Much nicer, she thought, than her whole.
She paused at the foot of the stairs to stroke the trickster statue she’d built of wire-mesh and papier-mâché. He was life size, with a long nose and maniacal smile. His pointed breasts displayed nails for nipples that jutted aggressively over his large erect penis, upon which hung an umbrella. In his upturned palm lay Mary’s pink vibrator with a post-it attached: BUY BATTERIES written large.
America was in the living room, crouched at the fireplace, feeding newspaper into the blaze. Her wild gray hair was held back with a variety of baby barrettes. Over her yellow stretch pants, she wore a giant T-shirt emblazoned with a McDonald’s logo spoof: Marijuana, Over 1 Billion Stoned. She stood for a hug and Mary pressed against her; breasts to breasts. A spark lit up inside. Mary could evaporate in love; she was easy that way. Oh, patchouli, shrubby mint, druggy scent of hairy hippie women. “How about some wine?” she asked.
“Sure, baby. And I brought over some new wares,” said America. “Just in this morning. Guaranteed to blow your mind.”
While Mary opened a bottle of red and poured out two glasses, America filled her little marble pipe. “I got this stuff from a one-eyed Tehuantepec bruja on a motorcycle. The karma is good.” She rolled out her tongue to draw in the smoke, her expression internal, as if tasting fine cognac.
Three hits and Mary’s limbs went liquid. She threw a couple of thick logs on the fire, with the foresight to know that soon she’d forget how. Then she lay back on her elbows on the bearskin rug, basking in the warmth and gazing at America’s round freckled face. “Are you reconsidering? You want to move in with me? Plenty of room. The offer’s open.”
America’s smile looked surreal, like the Cheshire cat. “Thou art goddess,” she said.
One kiss led to a string of them. America pulled Mary’s shirt up to scratch her back and Mary’s skin came alive. The walls flickered with shivering orange light on electrical impulses. America stroked her buttocks, spooning, sliding her hands around to caress Mary’s thighs. Clothing slid off. Familiar with each other’s mouths and skin, senses flooding with pleasure and soft explosions of satisfaction, Mary lost herself completely. It had been too many weeks without this.
Afterwards, they lay naked on the bearskin. Mary absently rubbed America’s back. Her fingers brushed a series of scabs along America’s spine, which she hadn’t noticed when making love. “What happened here?”
“Rug burns!” America shook with a muted guffaw. “Why don’t you help me unload some of this righteous weed? You’d be well-rewarded.”
Sated, stoned, almost dozing, Mary wondered aloud. “How did you get rug…”
“A man, sweetie. Can you believe I did the dirty with a man?”
America wound her fingers through Mary’s. They were small and soft, not like Mary’s large hammer-tipped fingers, which were stained and cut from metalworking. And Mary melted into their softness and the furry bearskin, and the pleasing scent of resin and hashish rising off America’s skin until she felt the scabs again. “Why would you want to do it with a man?”
“Oh Mary. He’s a hermaphrodite, like your trickster. It was amazing.”
“But I thought you were going to move in with me. Take us to another level.” Mary’s heart fluttered in her throat. She disentangled herself.
America rolled onto her front. “He’s my new supplier. We did it, if you can fuckin’ believe, on the floor of a warehouse full of sensimillia in the Bronx! Couldn’t keep our hands off each other!” She laughed with the sheer cheeky joy of herself. “I’m running amok!”
“What about the one-eyed bruja?” Mary’s mind felt sluggish. She rolled up to sit cross-legged. Oh, she wanted to be an easy-loving open person. But she couldn’t reconcile her aspiration with her sense of betrayal. She wanted America all to herself. They had been off-and-on lovers for more than a decade and never once in that time had America been with a man. “Didn’t you say you got the stuff from a whatever on a motorcycle?”
“That’s my story, I’m sticking to it,” said America. “Come on. Don’t be a crybaby. I got a lot of love in my heart. Especially for you. You know that.”
“I’m sorry but I’m having trouble processing.” Don’t be needy, Mary, her mother would say. Mary rearranged the logs with the iron poker. It gave her something to do. When she and America spent too many consecutive hours together, they bickered over stupid issues like who was more down-to-earth and honest, boozers or stoners. Or whether the spiritual path was open to a select conscious few or available to all; whether gambling in Sullivan County would be good or bad and when they agreed it was bad, they argued about why. But this loomed larger than any argument. A man!
“I still love you, sugar.” America wrapped her body around Mary’s buttocks. “Come on, I always come home to you, Mary. You’re my home.”
Tears came with ferocious immediacy. Mary’s throat cramped.
America’s hands were all over her then. Her lips on Mary’s eyelids, her open arms. Mary surrendered. She felt her tears dissolve into the overwhelming moment. Wasn’t she receiving love now? She could cry later. She had plenty of time for that, rattling around in her big house alone. It was better to receive comfort from someone who hurt you than to receive no comfort at all.