Based on the English Ballad of Mary Hamilton
She had become pregnant with the King’s baby after being at court for two months. The King gave her gifts, and flattered her, and one night, slipped into her bedchambers. He did not stay long. He kissed her goodnight and thanked her.
Two months later, Mary knew she was pregnant.
Mary had tried giving herself an abortion in those first few months of pregnancy. She had heard rumors of herbs that midwives had used. Pennyroyal, wild carrot, even large amounts of rosemary. She drank these teas but her belly continued to grow.
She was now running out of time.
When Mary started to show, rumors started to spread. One morning, she woke up to banging on her bedroom door. She opened the door to find three iron-faced nuns holding an extra set of convent robes. The Queen had ordered them to come and take Mary to the convent where she would birth a bastard.
Mary’s labor was long, and arduous, and painful. The midwives were not sure if Mary would survive. At the 15th hour of labor, they knew the baby inside Mary was dead. She held the baby’s body close to her, crying and cooing and making soft sounds at her baby. Mary felt like her insides had been split apart. She laid in a pool of her own blood, with her dead baby, and would not move.
Something inside her shifted. She wrapped up the baby, and gave it a soft kiss on his forehead. “You will be my little messenger” she said to the baby. Then she walked to the river, and put the little body on a little raft, and sent it downstream.
The baby’s body went down river, and was found by a group of women who were doing laundry on the banks. The baby had the same exact birthmark as the king, on the left side of the neck. Same shape, same color. The women brought the baby to the castle to the queen. Soon, the whole town knew of the King’s dead bastard that had been found on the banks of the river. The queen became silent, and enraged. The Queen needed to punish Mary. The court was already abuzz with talk of Mary the Monster; Killer of a King’s Son.
The Queen sent soldiers to where Mary was staying. When the soldier’s arrived, Mary knew what was about to happen. She asked for one favor before she left. She changed out of her nunnery clothes. She put on her prettiest, cleanest, pristine white and golden dress and laced her hair with golden ribbons.
The soldier’s marched Mary down the street of the town towards the castle. All the townspeople came outside to watch. What does a monster look like? What does a baby-killer look like? One older woman walked up to Mary and spat in her face. Another man from a second story window, threw shit at her. She could smell its rank before it hit her. The crowd stayed silent. Eyes judging. This is what a monster looks like. This is what a baby killer looks like.
Mary steps up to the podium where she will be beheaded. She cannot hear anything. She marvels that the crowd, still silent, looks beautiful to her. She knows that when the guillotine is released, a sharp “click” will sound as the executioner releases the guillotine rope from its lock. The queen begins to speak but Mary cannot hear her. She looks out to the crowd. She is standing in her prettiest, most pristine white dress. Mary thinks that the crowd looks beautiful. Mary thinks that the crowd looks horrid. “Click”
Mary begins to slowly open her eyes. It is not difficult, the light does not bother her. She notices that for the first time in many years, she does not have a burning fearful sensation in her chest. Her eyes quickly take in where she is. She is at the top of the castle tower, looking down. She notices a body, clothed in a blood-stained white dress, recently beheaded, being dragged off the podium. She recognizes herself. She is dead. She knows it with total neutrality. Not bad, or good. Just be. She feels free, light, in the moment, and at complete ease. She feels like nothing can possibly hurt her now.
That night, she slips into the houses of the townspeople. One by one, she slips into their houses. Those beautiful and horrid people. She goes to her first house, stands over the bed, slits that person’s throat quickly with the nail of her index finger. slliiiittt. It is quiet and fascinating. She watches the blood come oozing out and pool around their head. She goes to the next one, and the next one. And the next horrid and beautiful house.
She is freeing them. She is freeing them all.
Mary flies through the night above the city. She flies over, Mary Mary, quite contrary, feeling free to look inside windows, doors, apartments, houses, buildings. She sees family dinners. She sees a man break into a house to steal everything he can, she sees all the delicious terrible awful and beautiful things that people are doing on this night, in this city, forever.
Mary slips into a room. She looks over a crib. She sees a tiny newborn. Mary knows the mother loves this newborn very very much. Mary slips out.
Mary slips into a different house. A woman is worriedly looking at a pregnancy test. She sets it down to wait. Mary floats right behind the woman. “Kill him,” Mary whispers to the woman. The woman’s face snaps open, shocked.
Mary smiles to herself and slips out of the room.
Mary continues to fly through the night.
Mary briefly thinks of her earthly life. She laughs to herself, grateful to not be caught in so much imprisonment. Grateful that she no longer has to fear what will happen to her. Mary knows so much about making choices. Making tough choices and choices that hurt.
I put the pregnancy test down, and my mind begins to race. Three minutes.
As I sit on the bathroom ledge, I feel a cool wind on my face, soothing and chilling both. I hear a whisper in my ear. “Kill him.” My eyes snap open. I feel my cheeks flush in shame. Why would I think such a horrible thing? It felt like a whisper, outside of myself. Kill him? Kill the random man that has put me in this situation? Why would I even think that?
The timer goes off. Three minutes are up. I look at the test-negative.
I breathe again. I look up at the ceiling. “Such an idiot!” I admonish myself. Now that there is no pregnancy, now that I don’t need to figure out what to do, I can get to the task of flagellating myself for a drunken one night stand.
I walk to the window to look at the night sky. At the top of the neighboring building, I see a figure, standing, looking straight toward me. I can’t see the face, and the figure is wearing a long cloak, and I can see their eyes. Their eyes are deeply-set, bright, and even in the darkness I can see blazing rage and inglorious madness inside.
I feel a tingling sense of conjoined terror and curiosity in my limbs. I stand at the window, trying to make my eyes and brain figure out what it is I am seeing. Suddenly I hear the figure speaking, and I recognize it as the whisper from before, and the figure says, “No, you are free. Make him pay for trying to put chains on you,” and then the figure was gone.
I stumble away from the window. I run back to the window and begin to look wildly. The figure has disappeared.
I walk around my apartment checking every window. I both want to see the figure again, and also do not want the figure in the apartment.
“I need to go to sleep. I have been up too long, partied too hard, and am now having hallucinations.” I say to myself, my head in my hands. I resign myself to trying to push the terrifying encounter out of my mind, and try to rest.
As I close my eyes, the weight of the impending possible pregnancy, and the subsequent relief of not being pregnant, fill me up. Gratitude floods in. Tears fill my eyes. Relief. Although I question whether the figure was real, I whisper “thank you” as I slip into sleep.
Paulina Guerrero is a writer, choreographer, folklorist and filmmaker currently residing in southern Indiana. She has been creating and co-conspiring in raucous art-making for most of her life. She lives with her dog and cat, and does all kinds of normal things like eating at tasty restaurants and going on hikes.