by MICHAEL LOUGHREY
Girl before a mirror - Pablo Picasso
Waking the victim, that off-duty cop barks two questions. Name? Mary... mother of Jesus. Address? Comatose State.
Where the...hell. Hands tied. Horizontal. Several ceiling tiles missing, presumed dead. Psychotic flies orbiting sputnik lamp, one bulb kaput. Sickly air freshener in a rancid miasma of booze, sweat, sex, cigarettes. Burnt. Burnt?
Next to me a hairy-backed beast. Lash out with a raw knee. He grunts whatthefu. Untie me. Now. Wheezing dog-breath profanities, he fumbles with knots and melts back into the mattress.
Damage evaluation. Wrists with mauve welts. Burnt? Walking a real pain in the
ass. Where was detective-lieutenant God when I needed Him? Off-duty. Shooting
cosmic pool. Throwing destiny’s dice.
Burnt? Blinded by stuttering neon above a cracked bathroom mirror. Snapshot of
soiled goods. Me? Mary? Once a perfect infant? Last night, lost in Comatose State.
Father forgive me for I have sinned. Lean into the trapezoid. Black eye, split lip, tooth
missing, knees and elbows raw meat. Mouth a sticky pelt of cheap wine and nicotine.
Burnt? Smoking May Damage Your Nipples.
Reach for gun. Tote bag jumble: lipstick, keys, hairbrush, gum, dog-eared
photograph of AWOL father, cellphone, balls of blue grey fluff, someone’s phone
number on a paper napkin condom pack unopened shit money gone nail
Table lamp heavy as it is ugly. Let it come down on hairy-back.
Whatthefu...heybitchyoucrazyorwhat?...whereEd’nLeroy? Aim gun at eye, squeeze
trigger slow and easy. He squeals like a stuck pig.
The Lord is my shepherd, He leads me to lie down in motel pastures...and yeah
though I walk in the valley of death I fear no evil ‘cos I got me a pistol.
St. Patrick’s was empty so it couldn’t be Sunday, no Lobotomites vowing monogamy,
no crocodile weepers counting dead relatives’ cash, no libido’s leftovers getting slam-
dunked in the Holy sink.
Mary staggered into a pew, held together by pharmacological glue. Fumbling
through her bag she grabbed nail varnish and pistol, pointed its barrel at the prayer
cushion at her feet and emptying it until only the residue of bleach the suction nozzle
couldn’t reach remained. Hairy-back got it in the eye. Squealed like a stuck pig. An eye
for a nipple, a tooth for a knee in the balls.
Shivering, she dug the stunted brush into the nail varnish, and holding the gun in a
shaking hand daubed a scarlet spot amongst dozens dotting the plastic casing. That’s
for hairy-back. And let’s hear it for sadistic sidekicks Ed ‘n Leroy. Leroy, a blob next
to the trigger, and just enough space for Ed next to the ‘T’ in Made In Taiwan. Three
Placing the water pistol on the pew, Mary genuflected, popped a stick of doublemint
in her missing tooth mouth and spoke to The Man. Guess you’re busy...so many losers
down here...I only call when I need favours...guess you’re still angry about what I did
to Jesus, but...
Burnt. And well and truly fucked. Nothing compared to the humiliation He endured.
Nails through hands and feet, whipped, bludgeoned, vinegar in wounds, spat on,
stoned, crowned with thorns. Mary’s voice a gallimaufry between singing and
Jesus loves me, this I know, ‘cos The Bible tells me so.
In her bed, He’s upside down when her head is on the pillows. Upside down, she
should be able to peek under that itsybitsy loincloth to see how well hung He was.
First tried about puberty time. Her Saviour being wounded and dying for her sins
brought out maternal instincts. Maternal led to incestuous. Lead us not into
masturbation. Then why a young, handsome, near-naked pin-up as an icon of purity to
make virgins’ loins ache for a deed they were told was indecent? She yearned to take
the life-size Jesus in church down from the wall, throw the fluffy toys from her bed
and take Him in, hold that sorrowful face to her breast, run hungry fingers over that
lean torso, pry open those crossed wooden legs, lick His wounds. Do what she
imagined her mother did with those shifty marks who came and went with their moist
beery leers, fly buttons undone, smouldering cigarette butts, and dirty money which
underwent a water-to-wine miracle and became food, toilet paper and clean underwear.
Praying in church, no one knew that what she was secretly thinking was giving
herself to Him in a way the scriptures did not intend. If the priest, her mother, or some
holier-than-thou snoop in the congregation looked her way she’d blush and hover in
the schism between good who needs it and bad but O so good.
When the priest popped the wafer into her rosebud moue, she glanced over his
starched shoulder at His skimpy loincloth, licked her lips and knew that once her
budding breasts were fully grown, she would have to decide whether to become a nun
or a whore.
Going home in the Honda her mother morphed into Jesus with shades, tattoos, a
Stetson, faded jeans and a leather jacket behind the wheel of a snazzy convertible.
They ran her mother down on a pedestrian crossing and raced away from the whole
nightmare to the penthouse suite in a hotel in Heaven.
Mary was about to lick His wounds when meddling whore mother turned the car
radio on and a menacing voice hollered: Sinners in The Good Shepherd’s flock will
end up as lamb chops on Satan’s flaming barbecue.
That afternoon Mary had her first period. Standing legs akimbo in the bathroom,
she watched with morbid fascination as the bright red of life splashing onto the white
linoleum slowly oxidised into darker hues of death.
At dinner, her mother microwaved frozen steak. Blood ran out as the knife went in.
The meat stank of tuna in brine. In the hotel penthouse, Jesus told room service to bin
the stinking steak and bring fish. When He laid her gently on the bed and pierced her
hymen, the glowing white sheets remained immaculate.
Like the death on the plate and between her legs, Mary’s thoughts were turning
darker and darker. Looking at the photo-booth picture of her dad, she imagined he’d
abandoned them because her mother was a whore, so it followed that the bad running
in her blood had trickled down from womb to womb since Eve screwed up in the
In her prayers that night, she gazed up at the soles of His feet and asked
Him to murder her mother. She asked Him to send her dad back home. She asked Him
if after they’d eaten the fish they could order chocolate ice cream. She asked Him if
she could have a blood transfusion. She asked Him if she could have a sex change.
Even her mother’s damned Honda had been contaminated. Bloodstains on the seats
had turned black, smears on the windows become dark brown. Some of it must have
been the mark’s blood. Another black sheep who’d ended up as one of Satan’s lamb
chops. Mary curled up in the back seat, listened to rain beating on the dented roof and
peered out through shattered glass at the cars in the wrecker’s yard, shiny showroom
dreams now rusting skeletons in a pit of oily mud.
Bloodstains on the Honda’s carpet too, amidst parking tickets, gas station coupons,
supermarket receipts, crumpled Kleenex, crushed cigarette packs, dried mud, gravel,
dead leaves, a yellowing map of a theme park they never managed to visit, gum
wrappers, a tube of breath freshener, fragments of glass from the last bottle mother and
mark had drunk from before skidding into hell.
It had taken Jesus a while to answer that prayer, but He still hadn’t gotten back to
her re: chocolate ice cream, blood transfusion, bringing her dad home or her sex
change. She was sure He was avoiding her. Maybe punishing her for putting on
weight. Maybe He thought she wore too much make-up. Most likely He thought she
was too possessive. There must be zillions of other horny Catholic females besides her
who craved His body, and that drove her to fantasies of mass gender genocide.
Curvaceous jealousy maggots wearing patent leather stilettos and barbed-wire G-
strings slithered over the gore of her heart, cackling like witches over their exploits
with her man. At breaking point, she denounced Him: Jesus is just another lousy
Mary took Him down from her bedroom wall and hung a trainer bra she’d outgrown
over the sepia ghost of his silhouette. Using a rolling pin, she hammered a nail into the
centre of His loincloth and wedged Him between frosty ziggurats of junk food in the
freezer, fetched her old soft toys from the attic and scattered them on her bed amongst
slinky silk underwear she’d stolen from a shopping mall.
In a cloud of her mother’s perfume, she prowled through the night intending to
throw her virginity in the face of the most repulsive barfly she could find. She
remembered a film where the slick heroine spat to the shady loser she was about to
waste with a gun that revenge is a dish best eaten cold. Let Jesus weep when He looks
down and sees me stepping out with Satan.
Like an airfield at night, there were rows of tiny lights embedded in the floor,
glowing in the darkness so the lonely didn’t get more lost than they already were.
Mary took off from the barstool and crash landed near the jukebox, telling herself that
the low light was playing tricks on her eyes because the man in the booth looked just
like the photograph of her dad. And with Christmas approaching, he’d bought her
gifts. A circle of colourful plastic toys surrounding his beer to make up for abandoning
her all those years ago.
‘Rare beast.’ Mary chuckled. ‘Someday they’ll put you in a big glass case inside
The man picked up a silver robot with flashing blue eyes which marched across the
‘Glass case?’ He said, pushing a red candle across the table to see her better.
Mary nodded. ‘With a Latin inscription. It would say something like...man who
took care of his child, twenty-first century. In Latin, rare beast would be something
like Rarus Beastus.’
The robot advanced on Mary, flashing blue eyes hypnotic.
‘Been a long day.’ The man sighed, gazing into his beer as though it were a crystal
ball. ‘My batteries are low.’
Mary straightened her back, vexed that he wasn’t ogling her breasts like lamb chops
do. ‘The toys. For your kids, right? Christmas?’
The man shook his head. ‘Samples. I’m a salesman. China has us beat for quality
and price. No kids.’
Oh shit, Mary thought, no kids. My dad ran away because my dad is gay. My dad’s
a ‘friggin Tonto.
‘If you sell toys...’ she finished her drink in one needy gulp. ‘...you must care about
‘Not really.’ The man said. ‘You don’t look old enough to be drinking.’
Mary sighed through an exaggerated pout. ‘Are you gay?’ Quickly regretting being
so forthright she babbled on. ‘I mean, no kids. I just buried my mother. Turned
eighteen the same day. Saved me from being fostered by wacky Aunt Dorothy who
hates my guts. I drink like a fish. You like fish? Chocolate ice cream?’
The robot kicked its legs back and forth furiously when the man picked it up.
‘Met a gypsy once.’ He said solemnly. ‘Car broke down on some godforsaken road.
She came out of nowhere, eyes like burning coals. Told me I wouldn’t marry until late
in life. A rich widow, apparently. I figured the gypsy said that out of pity on account of
how ugly I am. What woman would want a baby that looks like me? That widow
better be blind as well as rich. I never understood why any guy would want to stick it
into another guy. Maybe when they were young and having dreams about damsels in
distress, their crazy mothers whispered poison to make them gay. Never could figure it
Mary felt so sorry for him she suddenly wanted to take him in her arms. ‘Cold beer
at my place.’ She said, feigning the confidence of a veteran libertine before the alcohol
pulled the carpet out from under her feet and made her sound like a demented ingenue.
‘Give me a toy, and you can have sex with me.’
Driving through the snow, he slid a moist hand along her thigh. Mary thought of the
recreation lounge in hell, hoped they had cable T.V. and that her mother was watching,
the Honda’s windshield wipers sweeping snow and blood away from the cracked
screen; the film titles were beginning to roll, a cheesy porn movie called A Virgin In
Her Parent’s Bed With A Rare Beast.
As they pulled into the driveway, she reminded herself to hide Jesus with the nail in
His crotch behind a frozen pizza. She wouldn’t want her dad to think his little girl was
She burnt the toast that went with the runny eggs that went with the weak coffee she
made him for breakfast, and whilst he was singing some stupid love song in the
shower, she sniffed the sticky aftermath of fornication on her fingers before painting
over chipped varnish on her nails.
When it was time for him to leave he opened the suitcase full of toy samples and
told her to choose one. That creep Jesus had never made good with her sex change, so
she chose a boy’s toy, a blue plastic water pistol. Her dad laughed, patted her ass and
said well I’m the first notch on your gun. She laughed too, put the first spot of nail
varnish where sharpshooters carve notches and vowed to keep her daddy’s Christmas
present forever, no matter what.
There was egg on his chin and a patch of bloodied toilet paper on his shaved jowls
when he kissed her goodbye. She looked him over and thought, yup, that gypsy was
right, you’re one ugly sonofabitch. He said he’d be back, but she knew that she’d have
to go out in the dark searching for him again, lure him home with the promise of beer
and bed before the time came for him to go onto the barbecue flames.
It wasn’t long before the water pistol had a lot of nail varnish notches, and that
every guy in town was telling every other guy in town that Mary gave out good and
gratis, lamb chops coming and going in a blur of lost days and nights.
At dawn on a joyless day, a groggy and dishevelled Mary stumbled into the kitchen
and heard her name called. There was no one outside the front door, and the latest
lamb chop was still asleep in her mother’s bed. When she heard her name called again,
she intuitively opened the freezer to find that Jesus had got down from the crucifix and
removed the nail from His crotch. Dressed in a white djellaba, aviator Ray-Ban’s and
rubber flip-flops, He was seated on a box of frozen enchiladas.
‘Can’t keep a good man down.’ He chuckled. ‘Are these enchiladas kosher, or low-
‘I hate you.’ Mary hissed. ‘Whatever happened to my chocolate transfusion change?
You’re supposed to be dead.’
‘Those that follow me shall know eternal life. So natch, I have to have it, otherwise
there’d be no one to follow. Capici?’
‘I hate you. You never said you loved me. I hate all men.’
‘Don’t you see it’s yourself you hate most? That’s why you debase yourself with
men, believing it’s you that has the last laugh. You need medical attention. Analysis.
Your mind is all messed up.’
‘Are you gay? I think you’re gay. You promised me fish ice cream sex.’
‘You’re sick Mary. And I know you’re very frightened by what’s happening to you.
Let me drive you to a hospital.’
When the lamb chop sauntered into the kitchen scratching his scrotum, Mary
slammed the freezer door shut.
‘Who you talking to?’ grunted the lamb chop, lighting a cigarette.
‘No one.’ Mary yelled at the refrigerator. ‘I need to be loved. That’s why I do it. No
one ever told me they loved me.’
The lamb chop blew smoke in her face. ‘Crazy bitch. Talking to yourself? Got a
midget in there with a frozen pecker?’
When he yanked the freezer door open, she fought to close it but he brushed her
‘Fuck.’ Lamb Chop snarled. ‘He’s already been crucified. What kind of sicko
would hammer a nail into His crotch?’
Even though Mary had come to see that she had never really believed in God, there
was undoubtedly a palpable spiritual aura about the convent which humbled her.
A square construction composed of four adjoining wings flanking a courtyard, the
building was no more than sixty years old, but attention to detail in the mock Italianate
architecture endowed it with a mediaeval authenticity. Beneath sun bleached terracotta
roof tiles, its walls were daubed yellow ochre. Elongated windows, cerulean blue
window shutters and limed-oak doors had rounded tops with wrought iron fittings. The
centrepiece of the courtyard was a circular stone fountain topped by a verdi gris
crucifix, where the soothing sound of cascading water fused with the cooing of white
doves. Low box hedges framed manicured lawns and laurel trees flourished in
whitewashed urns lining two symmetrical gravel pathways which intersected at the
fountain. The shady cloisters had vaulted ceilings, tapering sandstone columns and a
flagstone floor worn smooth by the passage of the devout in contemplation. Basking in
late afternoon sunshine yielding to the evening’s chill, the overall impression of St.
Theresa’s was one of austere warmth, of bounteous sterility.
Mary walked gingerly along the gravel path, into the building and along a corridor
with burnished wood floors, and halting briefly to read a notice board, chuckled at an
idea a poster there inspired: May our prayers be answered that good souls within the
community will donate generously towards the renovation of the Chapel Of The
Her optimism at being accepted into the Order was scuppered when she was
ushered into a spartan white room containing an oak trestle table, two straight-backed
chairs, a crucifix on a wall and the poker-faced Sister Dolores, hands and face as pallid
as the white components of her habit, gaze as impenetrable as its black counterparts.
Peering through half-moon eyeglasses perched on her bulbous nose, the sister
slowly perused papers in a grey folder, occasionally fondling the wooden crucifix
hanging from what was visible of her scrawny neck.
When she looked up, Sister Dolores was forthright.
‘Father Bartholomew writes that you have not attended church since your mother
passed. Not exactly conduct indicative of someone professing to wish to devote the
rest of their life to God.’
Sister Dolores’ severity was foiled by Mary’s guile.
‘A momentary lapse. I pray for our Saviour’s forgiveness.’ She whispered, biting
her lip. ‘I couldn’t see why He took my mother away. He moves in mysterious ways,
but by making me doubt Him, I see that He has led me to love him more.’
Shuffling through the paperwork, Sister Dolores frowned.
‘Academic reports satisfactory. Being arrested for disturbing the peace does put a
black mark against your candidature though. Drunk and disorderly.’
Theatrically lowering her head, Mary sighed.
‘Mother was an alcoholic. It’s hereditary. But I’m over it now.’
Sister Dolores closed the folder, slowly placing her hands over it.
‘The Order demands obedience, poverty, and chastity. Are you intact, child?’
The tear which rolled down Mary’s cheek was perfectly timed. She shook her head
quickly and shuddered. ‘Rape.’ She whispered. ‘May God have mercy on that poor
Duping the shrewd nun was no easy matter, but Mary had one more card up her
‘Well,’ Sister Dolores said, ‘I have to say that your chances of being accepted into
the order are not very promising. You should hear from us within a week.’
Mary opened her eyes wide and gulped.
‘A week? I’ll be homeless by then.’
The nun leant forward.
‘Homeless? May I know why?’
‘Obedience and chastity are no problem.’ Mary said. ‘But concerning poverty, I was
so sure that God wanted me to do His good work that I sold the house inherited from
my mother, confident that His mercy would let me make this place my home. And I
thought donating the proceeds from the sale to the fund to restore the Chapel of The
Sacred Heart would be seen by Him as a sign of my penitence for past sins, and a
gesture of my devotion.’
Mary was accepted into the Order as a Postulant. Inducted into community life, she
was assigned arduous menial tasks with eighteen months of good conduct required
before she would be considered as a Novice.
In her cell at night, she knew her prayers for lamb chops to crawl out from under
the cot were sacrilegious: enforced chastity had intensified her carnal impulses, and
was not a discipline she felt she could observe for much longer.
Jesus was the only male she saw now, but since she no longer desired Him because
He had been unfaithful and thought she was insane, she switched the focus of her
veiled yet ebullient libido elsewhere, since The Chapel of The Sacred Heart housed
another icon with whom she had become obsessed.
The life-size statue of the Virgin was a precious antique, carved in wood with a
delicate polychrome finish which shimmered in candlelight. The Virgin was so lifelike
that Mary was sure that she was cognizant, and that her doe eyes were desirous of
every move she made at prayers. Mary was convinced that an unspoken intimate bond
existed between them, but like her relationship with Jesus, it wasn’t of the nature that
the church intended, and one which was novel to Mary who had never been aroused by
someone of the same sex.
On the evening of the day renovation work finally started on the chapel, Mary
peeked inside to see the Virgin shrouded in protective sheeting. Stepping inside, she
negotiated a path between the workmen’s tools and equipment on the floor. From
where they had begun sanding the oak wall panelling, a cosmos of dust particles
floated in the last rays of the sun filtering through stained glass. Between two of the
windows, Jesus too was an eerie phantom within His own plastic cocoon.
With great care, Mary began disrobing the Virgin of the plastic sheeting, panting in
anticipation at the thrill of taboo. Hand in hand, the two women gazed into each
other’s eyes before their opened lips met.
‘Mother,’ came the muffled voice of Jesus. ‘Mother. Beware. The poor child has
been tainted by Satan’s breath. She will only do you harm. Mary. Listen to me. I told
you that you needed help. You should have gone to a hospital, not come to this Holy
When Mary cupped the Virgin’s breast in her hand, it was warm and taut beneath
the folds of the white gown which clung to her body. Trying to peel the garment away
though made her angry as the material resisted her clawing fingers. Grabbing a sheet
of sandpaper from the floor she began undressing the Virgin with long, sensuous
strokes until firm pale flesh became visible through a haze of powdery sawdust.
When the Virgin was naked, Mary laid her on the altar and undressed.
‘Father,’ Jesus wailed, his voice fraught with emotion. ‘Forgive her sins. Drive
Satan out of her body.’
Mary looked up at Him and grinned.
‘No need.’ She giggled, vigorously rubbing her naked body with sandpaper until it
bled. ‘I don’t need help to handle Satan. Ask any lamb chop.’
Michael Loughrey has had fiction published in Hobart, Word Riot, 5_trope, Raging Face, Aesthetica, Future Fire, Sein und Werden, Half-Cut Publications/Leper Colony, Dogmatika and Aphelion magazines. And of course Underground Voices. He also won first prize in in the Authors Network short story competition.