Mary was mindlessly kneading the bread dough, humming a tune she made up in the moment, when she realized someone was calling her name. She turned, thinking it was her father walking up to the house, even though he wasn’t due home for hours. She opened the front door but no one was there.
She went back to the cooking area, brushed the dough with a little olive oil and began to ply it into a long rolled shape. Her parents had gone to the marketplace, to trade and bring home fresh spices, fabrics, and other home goods and taken her little brother with them. The thick board under her hands was worn smooth and seasoned to a tawny brown from years of kneading and oils.
There it was again, a little louder. Mary turned, this time feeling frightened. “Who is it? Who’s there?” She was faced with an unrecognizable being, sensing only that it was not human.
“Mary, I am an angel.”
She stepped back, nearly knocking over one of the wooden chairs. She grabbed onto the back of it, unsure if it was to steady the chair or herself. She felt the carved floral motif, on the back of the chair. A design unique to pieces Joseph built.
* * *
The first time she could remember meeting Joseph, she had gone with her father to visit the local carpenter. Her father had done business with the family before and wanted to place an order for a new chair for their home. Her mother had given birth to a boy and her father wanted to commemorate the birth with a new chair that her brother would eventually need. They were welcomed warmly and offered congratulatory hugs and kisses.
Mary was still young enough to have her hair uncovered back then and Joseph noticed immediately. Her hair had a sleek, auburn sheen to it. He had enough sisters to know she would have it covered by next season. He felt awkward in her presence and before he could retreat to the workshop, his mother called him back in.
“Joseph, gather fresh figs and olives for Mary to take to her mother.” She sent them both out together, handing Mary a cloth lined basket. Mary could barely keep up with Joseph’s brisk pace. She was eleven and he was fifteen. He resented her beautiful, uncovered hair and his mixed attraction to her. She wondered why he walked so fast, but didn’t ask. She hummed softly to herself instead.
The next week he accompanied his father to deliver the chair. Mary was humming while hanging the laundry behind the house and would not have even noticed his arrival if her older sisters hadn’t begun to whisper and giggle to themselves about him.
“Did you see him? I think he glanced my way.” The oldest sister said.
“He’s not as handsome as his brother David.” the next sister added. With furtive eyes and infectious smiles, the two older sisters giggled as they created reasons to enter the house and help their mother.
They were called inside as the chair was presented. It was a lovely chair. Built by hand with attention and care by Joseph’s father, for a son that was celebrated. Joseph shyly presented another gift to Mary’s mother. He had created a small, child size chair for the new baby. His father laughed and shared, “I warned him, if he gave his work away for free, everyone will want one.” He slapped his son on his back, beaming with pride.
Mary admired the chair closely, after everyone left. The legs were firmly attached to the miniature seat. She sat on it and realized it was exactly her size. Her brother would not be big enough to use it for many, many years. She ran her hands along the smooth edges, every corner sanded soft and round. On the back of the chair, was a hand carved floral motif, in the center of the middle flower, almost too small to see, was the letter J.
* * *