“Baby Jesus of the Hands,” fresco, by Bernardino di Betto, AKA “Pinturicchio,” 1492.

“Baby Jesus of the Hands (detail),” fresco, by Bernardino di Betto, AKA “Pinturicchio,” 1492.

by Samantha Memi

15-year-old Mary, pregnant by the spirit of God, wearily makes her way through the streets of Bethlehem with her 160-year-old husband, Joseph. “Oh Joe,” she pleads, “I can’t go on. I’m fair done in.”

“Just a few more steps. Look, here’s an inn.” Joseph bangs on the door. “I’m sure they’ll have a room.”

Creakily the inn door opens and a scruffy old man peers out. “Whad’ya want?”

“We need a place to stay,” says Joseph.

“We’re full.”

“But my wife is pregnant.”

“Well, tell her to be more careful next time.”

“Please,” cries Mary, “have mercy.”

A voice booms from inside the inn. “Eli-jah!”

“Wha-at!”

“Oo is it?”

“Tourists.”

“We’re full.”

“I told ‘em already.”

A warty hunchback crone pushes her way past Elijah and looks at Mary. “Why, she’s just a child.”

“Have mercy,” pleads Mary, “I can’t have my baby in the street.”

“She’s right,” says the crone. “She’ll make a mess. Give ‘em the stable.”

“A stable,” shrieks Mary. “What am I, a horse?”

Elijah sneers, “Perhaps you’d prefer our Executive Penthouse with en suite birthing pool?”

Mary smiles. “Oh, that sounds nice.”

Elijah looks at Joseph. “You’ve got a right one there.”

“We’ll take the stable,” says Joseph. “How much is it?”

“Two shekels.”

“Two shekels!” shrieks Mary. “For this we could have the Savoy.”

Did we tell you to come to Bethlehem when you’re pregnant and all the hotels are full?” cackles the crone. “Elijah, get the money and show ‘em where to sleep.” She disappears back into the inn.

Elijah takes Joseph and Mary into the stable and lights a lantern for them. “The straw was fresh last week. There’s only been a few goats. Sleep well.” He collects the money and leaves.

“So now I’m going to have my baby with bits of straw stuck up my bum,” says Mary as she lies down. “That woman was weird.”

“You’re a pregnant virgin, and you think she’s weird.” Joseph lies beside her. The lantern flickers.

“Joe?”

“Hmm?”

“Thank you for staying with me.”

“Would I do anything else?”

“Most men would have left.”

“Why? Because you had a one night stand with a ghost? If necrophilia is what makes you happy—at least the competition won’t be too lively.”

She cuddles close to him and they fall asleep in each other’s arms. All is quiet. Bethlehem sleeps. The night seems peaceful but…

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrgh!!!!”

Cocks crow, dogs bark, horses neigh. Lights flicker in every house, the terrified inhabitants fearing the dybbuks have arrived.

Mary, with bulging eyes and scarlet face, sits in the straw, huffing and puffing. Her cavernous mouth opens big enough to eat the moon.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrgh!!!!”

Panicking, Joseph tries to calm her. “Mary? What is it? Are you in pain?”

“No, I’m clearing my throat. Of course I’m in pain. I’m having a baby. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrgh!!!!”

Elijah comes in, carrying a lantern, “Oy, what’s with all the noise?”

“It’s my wife, she’s giving birth.”

“She’ll have us done for disturbing the peace. I’ll get Aileen. She helps out when the sheep are lambing. She’ll know what to do.”

Mary, wide eyed and fearful, looks at Joseph. “Sheep! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrgh!!!!”

“Aileen!” Shouts Elijah.

“Wha-at!”

“It’s the girl in the stable, she’s having her baby.”

“Well, tell her to keep quiet about it. Hasn’t she heard of scientology?”

“Can you come down?”

“All right already.”

Elijah shuffles to the door. “I’ll go fetch water.”

Mary grabs Joseph’s arm and her fingernails dig into his ancient flesh, “Joe, what if the baby takes after his dad. It’ll be a ghost. A tiny wee baby ghost.”

“I’m sure it won’t.”

“What if he comes out half invisible, and walks through walls. They’ll say I’m a witch. They’ll put me on a pole and burn me like a street lamp.”

Joseph puts his arm round Mary. “It’s just a baby, Mary. I’m sure everything will be all right.”

“I hope you’re right, Joe. I’m sorry it’s not your baby.”

“If it’s as pretty as you, why should I care.”

“You’re a good man Joseph, a good husband, and I know you’ll make a good father. And if our baby looks like that centurion who stayed at my mother’s last winter, I’m sure you’ll understand it’s just coincidence.”

“What centurion?”

“Oh. Um. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrgh!!!!”

Warty Aileen comes in and shouts, “What in the name of Jehovah do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m having my baby.”

“Well, there’s no need to wake the Roman army.

“Oooo oooo ooo oooo,” replies Mary.

Elijah enters with bucket of water. “She’ll wake the army.”

“I told her already.”

Mary moans.

“Are you comfortable?” asks Aileen.

“Not so bad,” says Joseph.

“Not you, her.”

“Yeah I’m fine,” says Mary. “Lying in a load of prickly straw, and slipping around in animal dung. What more could you want when you’re giving birth?”

“Good. Nothing like a load of straw to make childbirth comfortable, that’s what my mother used to say.”

“And where’s she when she’s needed?”

“She died, giving birth.”

“Well, that cheers me up.”

“Now, let’s see how you’re doing. Oh, my dizzy pharaoh. A couple of minutes and it’ll be out. Now hold on tight and I’ll give it a good tug. Are you ready?”

Sweaty Mary, huffing and puffing, nods.

Aileen grabs. “I’ve got it. I’ve got it. I’ve got it. Hang on.”

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrgh!!!!”

“It’s coming. It’s coming. It’s coming. Hold on. There!” Aileen holds up a streaky shreiky baby. “It’s a boy.”

She wraps him in a shawl and hands him to Mary. “That wasn’t so bad, was it.”

“Oh, what a little sweety,” purrs Mary, with a smile as bright as the sun. “Thank you so much for your help.”

“We women should stick together, so I’ll only charge you a shekel. Plus a shekel for getting me out of bed. Have you got a name for him?

“I rather like Metushelach,” says Joseph, “but Mary prefers Jesus.”

“Nah, go with Metushelach. Who’s gonna remember a name like Jesus?”

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Samantha Memi is a happy-go-lucky sort of girl. At night she stands on street corners hoping her happiness will earn her some money. samanthamemi.net