Today, we’re pleased to present an excerpt from Laura Catherine Brown’s novel Made by Mary. In Brown’s bleakly comedic novel, which incorporates elements of magical realism, she explores questions of society, gender, justice, and motherhood. The novel centers around a couple, Ann and Joel, seeking to adopt a child in an unconventional manner–which in turn alienates Ann’s mother Mary.
Ann walked the perimeter of the construction site that would be their new home. The din of drilling, banging and hammering rattled her bones and she longed to shoot forward into the future when the house would be complete, with white siding, a bay window in the living room and a swing set where their trailer now stood. She wanted to lounge on the wrap-around porch with her son, Ethan. She had already named him. She stopped to watch the framing crew layer wood over the foundation’s crawlspace. Shyly, she waved to the men who paused in their work. Building a house and building a baby, both out of her control. So much of her life occurred beyond her control.
She crossed the dirt to the trailer where Jessica sat on doorstep, polishing her toenails deep red. Mid-June and Jessica had hit the 29-week milestone, bringing her firmly into her third trimester. “I can barely see my feet anymore because of the damn baby,” she said. “And I can’t go anywhere with my nails still wet.”
“Wear my flip-flops. We don’t want to be late.” Firm but good-humored, like a mom who cooked breakfast, attended PTA meetings, helped with homework, and never smoked pot or prostrated herself before the Goddess as her own mother had—Ann kept Jessica on schedule. They were going to meet the adoption lawyer.
The sickly stench of Jessica’s nail polish filled the car. Ann rolled her window down. Jessica placed her feet up on the dashboard, her toes spilling over the edges of Ann’s flip-flops. She seemed in a talkative mood. “Right after we fucked, oh sorry, made love, I had this strange fizzy feeling, like a sparkling inside. That’s when the baby landed, like magic. Your mom believes in magic.”
Ann’s mother, Mary, had paid Jessica a visit while Ann was at work, and regaled Jessica with stories of the threefold Goddess and how her own bronzed baby shoes had channeled Jessica into their lives. Mary had captivated Jessica, as she did almost everyone. Ann took the curves fast. Warm wind whipped through the car window, diffusing the smell. The bucolic blue sky and the wildflowers erupting colorfully along the roadside seemed evidence of a world that conspired with Eros and the Threefold Goddess, causing strange fizzy feelings and babies landing by magic. Ann’s big toe cramped as she pressed the gas pedal.
“We were at a bed and breakfast called the Windy Manor. There were so many pillows piled on this canopy bed, I was like floating on them. And the sheets were soft as clouds. But afterwards, dude dropped me off in town with taxi fare. Said I knew what the deal was.”
Ann pulled into the gravel driveway where the renovated barn of Slocombe Builders stood on a small lot. Next to the barn, a prefab building served as Joel’s office. He was supposed to be ready. She glanced over, shocked to see Jessica crying.
“You deserve better,” she said. “So does the baby.” Keeping it neutral, not “your baby” or “my baby.” She tried to embrace Jessica. But Jessica thrust out both elbows, violently thwarting her.
Her husband, Joel, approached from the barn in his apron, covered in sawdust. “Be right there!”
“Wow, you’re all dusty!” Jessica threw herself out of the car, giggling as if she hadn’t just been crying. She ran to Joel and brushed the sawdust off Joel’s chest as if the two were on intimate terms.
“They say this is complicated but it doesn’t have to be.” Eliza Little, the lawyer who charged $250 per billable hour, settled behind her desk in a kneeling apparatus, her hips propped on a cushioned seat and knees resting on a padded platform. “All of you legally reside in New York, am I right? Good. State law stipulates that adoptive couples can pay not only for medical expenses but also for housing, maternity clothes and counseling for a birth mother, not to exceed three thousand dollars, to avoid even the suggestion that the baby is being purchased.”
“I’m not doing any counseling,” said Jessica. “That shit will make you crazy.”
“Do we know who the father is? Is the father on the same page with this adoption?”
“The father’s so cold, he’s freeze-dried.” Jessica had rolled the waistband of her stretch pants down below her belly, exposing her pink flesh. She seemed lit from within.
“I think she means the father’s not in the picture,” said Ann. She saw Joel’s eyes sliding along the profile of Jessica’s shoulders to her breasts; his lips open in frank admiration, and she clasped her hands tightly, twisting her palms. Her own body had never seemed so bony and sharp in comparison, her way of being so exact and orderly and brittle.
“I know you. You belong to the hippie house. Mary and I used to do the Weight Watchers. I bought this ring from her.” Eliza pointed her beringed finger at Ann. A bezel-set emerald in a silver band, it looked too delicate for her pudgy hands. “How old are you?” she asked Jessica.
“I need to see a birth certificate or documentation.”
“Don’t have it,” said Jessica.
“You should get yourself an attorney, little missy. I can’t represent you. It’s a conflict of interest. And you two will have to undergo a home study. It’s the law. A certified social worker comes to your house and attests to your eligibility. People have nervous breakdowns over this—just warning you.”
Eliza Little had drawn up a contract, though it wasn’t binding, she said, until she received all necessary documentation. “Mr. Slocombe here tells me you’re living with the adoptive couple,” she frowned. “Very unconventional.”
Joel wrote out a check and they fled the chilly air-conditioned office for the bright warmth of the street. Ann walked alongside Jessica. “I didn’t know where my birth certificate was either,” she said. “All my life I thought I was born on August 16th. But last year when my grandma died, I found out I was born on August 10th. And I wasn’t born at the Woodstock concert but in a hospital in Colorado Springs.” It’s just a piece of paper! Mary had said, not comprehending that it represented the origin of Ann’s life.
Jessica flipped up the hood of her sweatshirt and quickened her pace. She stalked into the pizza place ahead of them and slid into a booth. When she finally spoke, she glared at them through the slit of her hood. “That lawyer makes this whole thing a big giant hassle. Why can’t you guys have kids? Are you shooting blanks or something, Joel?”
“I have a syndrome. I was born without a uterus.” Ann didn’t mention the other part, the shallow indentation, the cul-de-sac she no longer had the privacy to stretch. She stared at the wedding band on Joel’s finger. She had left hers on the bathroom sink, loath to wear a ring identical to her mother’s. Mary had created Ann and Joel’s rings as a wedding gift, which was kind and generous, until she’d created another for herself, which she called her mother-ring, an expression of solidarity.
“No uterus? I never heard of that,” said Jessica. “Must be a total sucky bummer.”
The sympathy surprised Ann. She felt pathetically grateful as she watched Jessica gently place paper napkins on her pizza slice. Oil seeped through, turning them yellow. She glanced up at Jessica’s wide innocent face and realized Jessica was addressing Joel.
“Men need to spread their seed,” said Jessica. “You don’t have an outlet.”
“Actually,” he said. “It’s harder for Ann than for me. It’s hard for me because I love her, and she’s suffering.”
“I wish someone loved me,” said Jessica.
“We love you,” Joel placed a hand on Jessica’s arm. “Don’t we, Ann?”
“If she was nicer to me, I might love her,” Ann almost said aloud. But she controlled herself, clamped her mouth into a smile and merely nodded.