illustration for Immaculate

Jesus is my baby and I am his mama, I know this for a fact. He chose me to return him to this world to save us all who are worthy of being saved, because he knows I love him and my body is untouched by sin. 

I never knew spring could last such a long time until I was carrying Jesus in my belly. There are lots of ways to watch a day go by and I must have tried every one of them. The two of us have walked the streams and climbed the trees, and I have sung every song practically that exists. I’ve seen the light touch every leaf on My Tree, and I’ve seen the cabbages get fat enough to eat from seed. I have eaten almost the entire world. 

Before I was Jesus’ mama I was forsaken. He knows that Mama and Pap were chosen to be angels when me and Reuben still needed them. Little did we know that Jesus would come to uphold us with his righteous hand. Only I get to uphold him first. 

Mama and Pap, they went fast, which is what we can be grateful for. It wasn’t long and drawn out like how some people go, like I heard. It was the snap of a finger on a picnic in summer and praise be to God Reuben was there. I was there, too, but I don’t like to think of it. All I will say is they ate something they shouldn’t and then they were dead. Me and Reuben did not eat one bite after that and instead we watched it get dark. When Reuben went to get the shovel to put them in the ground, I ran away to My Tree and didn’t come down all night. Did you ever look into the dark so long that all of a sudden it’s like there’s things swimming around in it? I saw all sorts on the blank yard, like you’ve never seen before. Sharp, ice-cold arms that came curving out from nowhere and then, just like that, were gone. I told you I didn’t like to think of it.

Jesus knows that I’m sorry I didn’t pray over their bodies. I only said my prayers in My Tree, but Reuben tells me every day that he gave them the burial they deserved. For a while, Home without Mama and Pap was like a house without doors, but maybe that’s a bad way of putting it because we never went very far to begin with. Reuben and them have been to Town but I never. It’s okay, though, because Home is where the heart is, even though Mama and Pap are gone now. I have been outside of Our Yard to climb Other Trees and walk in Other Stream, but I like ours better. 

Especially My Tree. My Tree is my tree because we’ve never existed a day without each other. Pap planted an appleseed the day I was born and to this day it is My Tree. For a while it was very sad that Mama and Pap were gone because we had to do all the things they did, and it was a lot more work, but now it’s not so bad because we got used to it. Only maybe it’s still bad for the people in Town because it was three times now that a man came looking for Pap. He came in a truck like ours, but with words on—only I couldn’t say what. The man had orange hair all over, like on his head and his face, but also his neck and arms. His clothes looked sharp at the edges, and he had something shiny on his chest and a big, lumpy belt. The first time, I saw him but he didn’t see me, and I ran for Reuben because he’s older and a boy. I didn’t hear what Reuben said to him, but he left. Only then the man came back again another day while I was at Other Trees and Reuben said he looked all around the house, inside and out. The third time was today. 

Reuben, he is four years older, which means he is eighteen—but it changes every year, same for me. Me and him used to play a lot. We used to play house and hide and seek and tag. Sometimes he would play with my doll Sally with me and sometimes I would wrestle with him, but not when Mama and Pap could see because little girls aren’t supposed to wrestle. Now that they’re dead and I’m not little, it’s okay again, so sometimes me and Reuben wrestle. I guess that means we still play. 

When I was a little girl I had two friends named Bethie and Maisie. Bethie was really pretty like nothing you’ve ever seen, not even in picture books. Her nose was kind of big and sharp-looking, like it could cut you, and she had big brown eyes and curly dark hair. Maisie looked more like me, with blue eyes and pink cheeks and long hair that didn’t make curls at all. But her hair was yellow and mine is brown like Bethie’s. When they would come we would play dolls and do tea party, but then when I was six, they both moved away from Town and there were no more little girls in Town, Mama said. 

Jesus knows that patience is one of my virtues. I can spend a whole day in My Tree and it might seem like I’m doing nothing at all, but really I’m thinking about life and everything that ever happened to me, which is a lot of stuff. When I ask Reuben to sit in the tree with me, he says he doesn’t have the patience for that. 

Sometimes I get afraid. When I’m afraid, I tell stories, like what Mama used to when my head was hot and I saw bad things when I closed my eyes. There are so many things to be afraid of, like not growing enough food. I don’t remember the last time it rained. Another thing I’m afraid of is Town. I pray for Reuben when he goes there. When he comes Home his eyes are red and he looks wretched tired, like he never slept a night in his life, and his breath stinks sour like what Pap’s used to sometimes after Town. I don’t like to think about what that man from Town wants with Reuben. 

I’m tired of stories, so I’ll tell about all the things that ever happened to me. Here’s one: A long time ago, when I was twelve, Pap saved my life. I was down by Other Stream and I saw such a strange thing you’ve never seen before. It looked like a big bug in the sky, about the size of an apple, but not the same shape. It was the shape of a bug, with legs and tiny little wings, too, but not a bug that I ever saw in Insect Almanac. It had a sort of shell that looked like the smooth white on the refrigerator, and it made such a loud buzz. It was flying right above me, just past my arm, and I couldn’t reach it. And before anything else, Pap came out of nowhere and knocked the bug out of the sky and smashed it with his boot. Then he grabbed me up tight and ran me fast back to the house. What was that big bug, is what I wanted to know, and Pap said it was a thing of evil that wanted to capture my essence forever. He said it could take one look at me and memorize everything about me like I was a picture in a book. There are things in this world that pretend to be God, he said, and they want to know everything about us. Except they are not good like God and all they want is to take over our souls so they can control us. That’s what he said. And when I turned to look at him his big red hand came down on my cheek and then again. And he said, never go back to Other Stream. Only I have to say, I kept on going. Since then I have never seen a big bug like the one I saw. 

But maybe more than evil things, lots of things are good, like canned corn, which is the most delicious thing you could ever eat. Mama and Pap used to get it from Town sometimes and now Reuben does, too, and one time I asked him how they get the corn like that, but he said he didn’t know. Another thing that’s good is that my baby Jesus is coming soon and everything will be okay. Lots of times he pokes me from the inside and turns around and around. It can hurt a little, but not like Pap’s hand. Also another good thing is that maybe Reuben will find me a husband soon, like Pap was going to. Won’t my husband be surprised when he meets my baby Jesus? I think he will be very happy because he will know that my body is untouched by sin. I will make a good wife and give Jesus lots of brothers and sisters.

And another thing I like a lot is when some evenings Reuben reads to me from the Bible. There are lots of characters inside, even one with Reuben’s name, but my favorite is Mary, mother of Jesus. She held a miracle in her body and now I do, too. They call it Immaculate Conception when Jesus began to grow inside her, because she was a pure virgin. That means she only had good in her heart and was never mean, just like me. There are some words in the Bible that Reuben doesn’t know how to say, but mostly he can read everything, which is hard to do. The Bible is the holiest book and there are some things in there you can never understand unless maybe you are enlightened like Jesus, but it’s nice to listen anyway. I love to listen to Reuben’s voice. It is low and soft—not like Pap’s, which was very rough from his bad lung. After Mama and Pap went to Heaven, me and Reuben moved into their bed. We keep each other from being sad. I think I couldn’t go a day without his chest under my ear. 

One time Reuben asked me if it was a good thing that Mama and Pap were dead. It was a dark night, a long time before morning, and the air was loud with the frogs. Reuben was just Home from Town. He was all soaking wet like after a bath or a swim, but with all his clothes on. And I said I didn’t know if it was a good thing. God wanted them, so maybe it’s not bad for God, even if it is bad for the people in Town. Reuben cried lots that night. I said, it’s okay, Reuben, it’s okay, don’t cry. Everything is going to be okay. 

I think the reason that Reuben is secretly a little bit glad that Mama and Pap are dead is because of things they did when they were alive. Like that time that Pap knocked the evil out of the sky. After he brought me Home, two men came to the house with a truck and knocked loud on the door and shouted. Then, Pap went outside really quick and I heard them fighting. Mama made me go to the bedroom, but I still heard. They were yelling and grunting and I bet Pap hit them like he hit me, but maybe harder because they were all boys. Then a little later we heard their truck going away with a screech sound and Pap made us all go to sleep without any supper because he said we invited evil to the house. And the next day and the one after that, we didn’t get to eat anything. 

Maybe when Jesus comes he’ll bring the rain. We have all kinds of food in the yard, like the Garden of Eden almost, except here you can eat the apples. Only we need the rain for the food to grow. That’s how gardening works. So if it doesn’t rain soon, maybe some of the food won’t grow, which will be bad later on when we’re supposed to eat it. We can get food from Town, but Reuben has to trade money for it, and we can’t grow money like we can grow food, so if we run out, it’s gone forever. Pap used to know how to get more money, and, two times, Reuben did it, too, but that’s it. That’s why we mostly try not to get food that way, except sometimes a treat, like canned corn. 

Another thing is, you have to be very careful in Town. But not everyone is bad there. If Jesus will save all of us who are worthy of being saved, that means some of them in Town are probably worthy, but there’s lots of bad people there, too. I don’t know why the good people stay. Maybe there’s not lots of other places to go, like where Maisie and Bethie went. The good people couldn’t even stay here because there’s not enough food and only one bed. There’s the places me and Reuben slept before we went to Mama and Pap’s bed, but it’s so cold at night sometimes, so we put our blankets with the ones on the bed and now it’s finally warm enough. 

I love the bed. It’s the best thing in the world to lie on. Sometimes I think I could stay on it all day, but then I think about My Tree, so I go there, or I take a walk. And also there’s the cooking and the washing, which I have to do because those things won’t do themselves. Wouldn’t that be funny? To see potatoes peeling all by themselves? These are some of the things I think about and they make me laugh. Reuben likes to listen to the funny things I can come up with and we laugh or sometimes I laugh really, really a lot and he just watches me with a big smile. Sometimes I get such a funny feeling when he looks at me like that. Not funny like to laugh. Funny has two meanings, which is funny. Sometimes funny means that you can’t explain it, but I’ll try. I get a hot and damp feeling on the spot that Mama told me not to touch. But Reuben touches it when we wrestle, which is okay because it’s not me touching it. Actually, when we wrestle it’s kind of different from how we used to, but it’s more fun. What we do is easier to do without any clothes on, which would make Mama and Pap so mad, but they’re dead, so they can’t tell us anything. Besides, Pap was the one who taught Reuben how to do it, so it’s not bad, only Reuben says he likes it better with me. 

The only thing is, now that Mama and Pap are angels, they can see the things we do, so maybe they would be mad, but I think mostly they would be proud that we do all the things they taught us, like the gardening and the washing and all that. Plus, now that I have Jesus in my belly, I know that I’m not bad because, if I was, why would he choose me to be his mama? 

When at first Jesus came into my belly, I didn’t know what was the matter because I was so sick and tired. Not like sick and tired of doing something, but I was sick to my stomach and I just wanted to sleep. And then my belly started getting fat and also I stopped bleeding out of nowhere. Thank God that Mama was still alive when I started bleeding because she showed me how to take care of it with special cloth, and how to boil it after. Anyway, I realized I didn’t bleed in so long, and my belly was getting fat. But Reuben remembered when Mama was pregnant with me and he said her belly was just like mine! So we learned that Jesus must be in my belly because I’m not even married yet. 

After Jesus is born, I hope that Reuben finds me the right husband and a good wife for him. And maybe we could make another bed so everyone has some place soft to sleep.

Mama and Pap used to live in Town when they were young and they said we’re the luckiest people in the world to live where we live. I know there are lots of places in the world, like Bethlehem and Serengeti—and they probably all have people—and Our House is the best. It has the bed and it has the kitchen, which has the refrigerator and the oven and the stove and the sink with water that comes out for washing, and it also has a rocking chair, which is very nice, and a table and more chairs, and it has a rug with Nativity Scene, which is very beautiful. And even outside there’s another little house with a toilet where you can go when you need it. Imagine not having a toilet. Maybe there are places in Town that don’t have toilets. I don’t like to imagine the smell of Town. 

But Mama told me there’s one very good place in Town: Church. She said it’s bigger by far than Our House, and there’s a long skinny part called a steeple with Jesus’ cross on it. And she said there are things called statues, which are made out of rocks and look just like animals, only they don’t move. She showed me pictures in Animal Almanac, and she said one of them is called a Lion, and there were also Horses. 

I’ve seen Horses. Sometimes they drink from Other Stream and I watch them. I could watch Horses all day, and I have. They are big and strong with long hair and what’s called a tail, which some animals can have. The tail has hair, too, the same color as what’s on the head. Horses can move very fast, but mostly they just stand on four different legs and they eat grass. I tried eating grass once, but it wasn’t as good as it looked. When they go, I don’t know where they are going home to, but they know how to find it. They run with a big sound that I can even feel on the ground, and they run until I can’t see them anymore. 

There’s Horses and Lions made from rocks at Church, and there are doorways and windows that are round at the top, and colorful glass on the windows, which I bet is so pretty.

Mama said there are pictures on the windows, like what you see in books, but made out of glass, and they’re pictures of people from the Bible, like Mary and Jesus. And inside, there’s another statue that Mama said is smoother white, maybe like the refrigerator, and she said it’s of Jesus on the cross. But it’s not a bad thing. It’s more like everyone is so happy that Jesus died for our sins. Sins are when you do something God doesn’t want, like eating too much or not sharing or acting in anger. Whenever you do something God doesn’t want you to do, you have to confess it to Him. Pap had to confess almost every day. 

When my baby Jesus is born, I hope he never has to die at all, except when he takes us all to Heaven. I always loved Jesus, but I think I love him even more now that he’s in my belly. When he is born, we’ll all live happy lives with miracles and no one will ever get hurt. There were some times when Reuben was really hurt because of wrestling with Pap and he was crying and then he always had to take a long time to get better. He said it was hurting to walk. And Mama never helped him when he called out to her. He called, Mama, Mama, but she would shut the door on him and just do the washing and things like that. Reuben was always quiet until they died. But now, sometimes at night, he tells me about things he thinks of and I tell him about my things and we think about what Jesus will be like when we get to meet him. 

Besides Maisie and Bethie and their moms, Prudence and Laila, and the man who comes in the truck with words, and the men with the evil bug, I have seen some other people. One time it was what looked like a woman in men’s clothing on a Horse by Other Stream. She had long brown hair in a braid down her back, but she was so far away it was hard to see her face. But I saw her and she saw me and she waved at me and I waved back. And the Horse started carrying her closer, but slow, and I up and ran away. Another time there was a short woman with grey hair and so much skin on her face all bunched up who came to the door when me and Mama was cooking, and she said, evil! You’s an evil witch, keepin’ her away from her granny! Then she held a funny-looking little box to her eye that all of a sudden went bright like the sun in my eyes and made a strange sound, almost like biting an apple. Mama turned pink on her face, and then Pap came fast and put the woman inside his truck and drove her away to I don’t know where. After that, Reuben kept on looking at me all day. 

When the orange-hair man in the truck with words came today, his truck had lights going on, off, on, off—but red and blue like you’ve never seen on trucks before. When he got out the truck, he went right up to the door. Here I was, in My Tree, and he didn’t even see me ‘cause of the branches, and also I can be so quiet and still. When Reuben went to talk to him, the man put his hand up and said something I couldn’t hear. Then he tied up Reuben’s hands behind his back in something shiny, and he started to take Reuben to his truck. Before he got inside, Reuben shouted out, 

I will protect my Liberty! 

And the orange-hair man said to shut it. He must have thought Reuben was only talking about freedom, but I knew it was a secret message to me. Mama told me that when I came hurtling into this world, she knew I was special. She said I came as an order from God that we must always be free, and that’s how come I got the name Liberty. 

And that’s how come I know Reuben will be coming back to me. 

I will confess, though, I am afraid. I have shivers down my spine, like Mama used to call it. The dark is coming alive like it does when you look at it long enough. There’s those ice-cold arms. And just there past the branch is a Lion, I think, and I don’t dare move until Reuben’s whistle is in my ear. I’ve gone and wet myself all over, and my belly aches something terrible. Most of the time I can be so quiet like I’m not even there, but now I am making a sound like you’ve never heard before. Now there’s Mama and Pap looking like how they looked when they were going to Heaven, with their mouths wide open and their hands on their necks. Now there’s that evil bug coming at me. 

Now there’s blue and red going on, off, on, off, on, off. Now there’s white lines of light going every direction until they land on me, and there’s voices I don’t know saying things I couldn’t understand if I tried because the pain is so loud. But no, there’s a soft voice up close now saying here now, honey, sweet Liberty girl—only it’s not Reuben. It’s the woman with the bunched up face, holding out a hand like to pick an apple off the tree. A horrible screech fills up my ears, and it’s not until I take a breath that I notice it came from me. The woman says, that’s it, darling. Granny’s girl is going to be just fine. Everything is going to be okay.

Viva Wittman has a six-year background in writing and editing, comprising both long- and short-form projects. She began copyediting in 2016, and over the years has edited over a dozen full-length books. Growing up off the grid in the jungle of Maui, Viva was taught to appreciate the wildness of the earth and think acutely about our place within it. She is the youngest of six in a racially-mixed, blended family, and both of her parents are makers by trade. Viva’s dad steeped their home in music, and her penchant for writing comes largely from her mom, who is an independent author. Viva and her siblings were encouraged to read young, and her early childhood was largely centered around her parents’ little bookstore in the heart of Paia. Wittman holds a BA in Liberal Arts from Bennington College.

Instagram: @vivawittman