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The Virgin Maria

by

Kevin B. Duxbury

"Wake up!" He shouted.

Maria flinched under her covers, startled by her husbandís sharp tone. The side of her face was still tingling from the beating sheíd received the night before.

"Itís time for church," he said. "Comb your hair and put on some make-up. Try to blend in that bruise on your face."

She touched her face lightly.

"Maybe next time youíll have dinner ready on time," he said sternly.

"Now hurry up. I donít want to be late."

Maria folded back the expensive comforter she had slept under and rotated herself out of bed. She wrapped herself in a fine silk robe and walked around their large bed and into the adjoining bathroom. She reached into the shower and turned on the water, then sat on a small stool in front of her vanity table. She looked into the large mirror and examined her reddened cheek, then turned her head and compared it to her natural color.

Maria was a young woman of only twenty-nine. She was a beautiful woman, with long dark hair which fell about a face flourishing with Mexican features. She took good care of herself, minding what she ate and continually exercising to maintain her thin, toned physique. To complement her beauty, Maria was also well educated and very intelligent. She had earned her doctorsí degree in Pediatrics and was working at a local hospital in the childrenís ward. It was there at that hospital that she met her husband, Dr. John Smith, a tall, Caucasian man with a firm build and a confidant demeanor. Maria and John dated for about a year and were married in the spring. The first year of their marriage was good, and Maria was truly happy, but she was unaware of her husbandís extreme jealousy and controlling nature. He told her that he wanted to have children and start a family and convinced her to leave her job. That was four years ago, and they still had no children.

They bought an expensive, luxurious home in the rolling hills of Valencia, California. There, Maria became a homemaker, caring for their mini-mansion and assuring nothing was out of place. She thought to herself that the job of homemaker must be extremely important. Why else would she be punished with open handed slaps to her face, neck, and buttocks whenever something was left out of place or not done properly.

Maria showered, then fixed her hair into a long braid. She then skillfully blended her bruised face with make-up, hiding the redness left from the night before. She dressed herself in a dark skirt and matching coat, then put on her gold necklace and matching earrings. She looked upon herself in the mirror and smiled subtly, happy with the way she looked.

"Are you ready yet?" he yelled from the next room.

Maria shuddered with fear. She grabbed her small black purse and quickly walked into the living room, only to find her husband standing authoritatively before her. He was dressed sharply, wearing a dark, expensive suit and fine shoes. He eyed her from head to toe.

"You should have worn your hair up," he said.

He removed his keys from the glass dish which sat on a small table by the front door, then walked out. Maria followed her husband out to the driveway and to a very large, very expensive Lexus. John pressed a button on his key ring, deactivating the carís alarm and unlocking its doors.

Maria opened her own door and sat quietly beside her husband. He backed the  car out of the driveway and onto the street, then headed for the local church.

The large bells of the old Catholic church swung gracefully, flooding the streets with their melodic tones. John walked briskly from the church parking lot toward the main entrance with Maria close by his side. They walked arm in arm, giving the illusion that they were a normal, happy couple.

"Dr. Smith," an overweight, balding man said.

He also wore a nice suit and walked with his wife by his side.

"Itís good to see you," he continued. "How do you like your car?"

"I love it, Fred," John said with a delightful smile. "Howís business?"

"Wonderful," he answered, shaking Johnís hand. "I sold three more just like it on Friday. By the way, this is my wife, Florence."

"A pleasure," John said. "And this is my better half, Maria."

The middle-aged woman extended her hand to Maria. "Of course," she said  with a warm smile. "Itís nice to finally meet you."

"Likewise," Maria said softly.

Her voice was like an angel's.

"We should get together sometime for lunch," she said happily.

"I would like that," Maria said with an honest smile.

"Why not today, after church?" Fred inquired.

"That would be great," John answered.

The two couples walked up the wide stairs and through the large doors of the massive church. As they walked, John whispered into his wifeís ear.

"Donít forget your confession before the service starts," he told her.

"For what?" Maria asked quietly.

John gripped her upper arm tightly and drove his fingers between her bone and muscle. "For being a disobedient wife!" He whispered angrily.

Fear flashed through her body. She held her breath, trying desperately not to let loose her cries of pain. He released his grip, then smiled at her pleasantly for all to see. Maria walked to the confessional both and removed a tissue from her purse. She shook nervously. For the last five years of her six year marriage her husband had beaten, tormented and degraded her. Her nerves were shot, and she felt as though she could not go on any more. She entered the small booth and sat on the small chair, then closed the door. Within the darkness, a gentile voice spoke.

"How long has it been since your last confession, my child?" The priest asked.

"A week, Father," she said, her voice trembling. "But Iím not here to confess what Iíve done. Iím here to confess what Iím going to do."

"I donít understand," the priest said with awe.

"Iím going to take my own life," she said, choking on her emotions. The priest gasped. "Maria," he said. "What has driven you to such a drastic decision?"

She paused for a long moment and wiped the tears from her eyes. "My  husband," she sobbed quietly. "He has been beating me for five years now. He controls every aspect of my life. Iím a prisoner to him, and I canít take it any more."

"Dr. Smith?" He said with shock. "But he is a generous and righteous man, a pillar to this community."

"I know," Maria cried. "But that is only what you see on the outside. On the inside he is a cruel and abusive monster, and I canít take any more!"

He stroked his chin in thought. "How will you take your own life, my child?" He asked calmly.

"My husband takes Zolpiem to help him with his insomnia," she answered. "Iím going to take a handful of them tonight before I go to sleep."

The priest sat quiet for a long moment. Maria had a plan, and he knew that she was dangerously close to completing it. "Tell me, my child," he finally spoke. "Do you have any family outside your marriage?"

"I have a sister in El Paso," she answered. "But why?"

"Maria," the priest continued. "I have known you since you were just a little girl, and Iíve been blessed to see you grow into a fine, intelligent woman. I cannot accept your pre-confession to take your own life, but I can help you."

"How," she sobbed, her voice hopeless.

"I have connections," the priest said. "Go home with your husband tonight, and wait for a sign from God."

"A sign from God?" She asked.

There was no answer. The priest had already left the confessional.

Maria took her seat next to her husband just as the head priest reached his pulpit. Father Alcocer, the priest who had heard Mariaís confession, stood in a corner and eyed her and her husband suspiciously.

"Before we begin todayís service," the head priest spoke. "I would like to take a moment to recognize one of our members. As you all know, there was an accidental fire in our daycare room last week which caused a great amount of damage. It seemed as though we would have to discontinue our daycare program until we could raise the funds to repair the room. Well, one of our members has generously donated ten thousand dollars to the church for the cost of the repairs. The daycare center will re-open next week."

The audience smiled and mumbled with delight.

"But this member has shared more than his money with this church," he continued. "He is a healer among men, and has many a time offered advice and service to those in need, free of charge. He is a model citizen, and a gift from God to this community. Dr. Smith, will you please stand?"

Dr. Smith smiled bashfully, then slowly rose to his feet. The audience applauded loudly. John smiled and waved to the church. He placed his hand on Mariaís shoulder and she flinched at his touch. Father Alcocer, still watching from the corner, frowned angrily.

"Dr. Smith," the head priest said. "You are truly an angel among men, and a gift to this church and this community. We appreciate you and thank God for you every day."

Again the audience applauded loudly. John smiled, and Maria said not a word.

The service proceeded as usual. As the priest spoke, Maria looked about the church at the other couples. They sat close to one another, holding hands and smiling. She wondered if there were other women there who were also putting up a front and living a double life. She noticed a man, a tall thin man, who attended the church every so often. She wondered who he was, why he always looked so sad, and if he would treat her better than her husband. She often imagined herself running away with him and living a happy, free life. But it was just a fantasy, a way of escaping her own life temporarily.

The service concluded, and the members of the church bid each other well and went their own ways. John and Fred took their wives to a very elegant, very expensive restaurant and enjoyed a good lunch. Maria and Florence talked and laughed throughout their meal. Florence was a cheerful woman, and Maria truly enjoyed her company. Maria had very few friends due to her husbandís controlling nature. For a brief moment, she thought she had found someone that she might be able to get together with outside of church, but lunch was over before she could make any plans. The two couples exited the restaurant and said their good-byes, then drove off in their separate cars.

Maria sat quietly in the fine leather seats of Johnís new Lexus. For the first time in a long time, she smiled.

"When will you learn to shut up?" Her husband said angrily.

"What?" She said, confused by his question.

"You were gabbing like a little old lady in there," he said. "It was embarrassing! Nobody cares that you were once a doctor! Nobody cares about your flower garden in the yard! And children? Where the hell did you get the stupid idea that we were going to have children? Youíre not even responsible enough to take care of the house, much less raise a child!"

Maria bowed her head in shame, humiliated by her husbandís harsh words.

"God, youíre stupid," he concluded.

The remainder of the trip went without a word.

They arrived at their home late in the afternoon. John parked his new car in their large driveway, then shut off the engine and handed Maria his keys.

"I have some files I need to bring into the house," he said. "Go open the door for me."

Maria unlocked the door and walked into their home. She placed her purse and keys on the dining room table, then returned to the front door to help her husband. John carried a large box of medical files through the doorway.

"Iíve got it," he said as he carried the files down the hall and into his office. Maria closed the door behind him and went to their bedroom.

She kicked off her shoes and removed her coat, then sat at her vanity table. She removed the bands and clips from her hair and unwove her braid.

"Shit," John said from the next room. "I forgot my briefcase."

Maria saw her husband walk past their room toward the front door and thought nothing of it. She looked upon herself and began brushing out her long, dark hair. John walked up behind her, wearing only his fine trousers and white shirt, and a stern look about his face.

"Where are the car keys?" he asked quietly.

A cold chill flashed through Mariaís body.

"I left them on the dining room table," she said cautiously.

He grabbed a handful of her hair and pulled her from her stool. Maria gasped with pain and fear.

"Do they belong on the dining room table?" he said, raising his voice.

"No," she whimpered.

John drew back his hand and slapped Maria hard to the side of her head. She spun and fell to her face on their bed. She lay there stunned and breathless with fear. John grabbed her by her hair again, raised her head and exposed her face, then slapped her hard. Her face bounced off their soft mattress.

"Where do the keys belong?" He shouted.

She pushed herself up with her hands. "In the glass bowl, on the table by the door," she sobbed.

"Where?" He roared, striking her again.

"In the glass bowl," she cried. "On the table by the door!"

"Why did you leave the keys on the table?" He screamed over her.

"I donít know," she whimpered. "I forgot."

"Liar!" He yelled.

He grabbed Maria by her hair again and forced her to stand. He sat on the bed and bent his wife over his knees. "Stupid bitch!" He growled.

"You want to act like a child, then Iíll treat you like a child!" He pulled the bottom of her skirt over her waist, exposing her panties and the backs of her legs, then began slapping her buttocks repeatedly. He struck her with all his might, causing her to cry hysterically. She tried desperately to block his strikes with her hands. He grabbed her hair and pulled it hard. Maria grabbed at his wrist, trying to relieve the tension
on her hair. He continue to spank her hard and repeatedly. The loud slaps of his hand against her buttox were barely droned out by her desperate cries of pain and fear. He stood and pushed her off his lap and onto the floor.

"When you can act like and adult, we will consider having children," he screamed. "But until then, you can just forget it!"

He stepped over her and stormed out of the room, leaving her sobbing on the floor. Maria slowly pulled herself onto her bed and laid on her stomach. She sobbed for a long while, then eventually cried herself to sleep.

"Maria!"

She pushed herself up, startled by her husbandís stern voice. The clock on her night stand showed 7:23 PM. She walked into the living room and found her husband sitting in his recliner, dressed in sweat pants and a sweat top, and watching a football game.

"Iím not that hungry tonight," he said casually. "How about just making me a sandwich and getting me a beer?"

Maria was stunned and furious, although she did not let it show. It was as though the beating which she had endured just a few hours prior hadnít happened at all. She went to the kitchen and removed some bread and cold-cuts from their large refrigerator. She prepared him a deli sandwich just as he liked it, and poured him a beer. She placed his dinner on a small tray, then carried it into the living room.

"This looks delicious," he said, taking the tray from her as he sat in his recliner. "Sit down," he said. "Watch the rest of the game with me."

Maria leaned over the arm of the large couch and rested on her hip, her bottom still stinging from her husbands strikes.

Nine oíclock rolled around, and the game was over.

"Will you take this, please?" John finally spoke, holding up his tray.

Maria slowly rose to her feet and took her husbandís dirty dishes. He looked her over from head to toe. She stood wearing only her white blouse and dark skirt.
"Why donít we go to bed early tonight?" He asked. It was his subtle way of telling her that he was in the mood for sex.

"I canít tonight," she lied. "Iím having my period."

John frowned at her angrily. "There are other ways you can please me," he said sternly. "Now go to the bedroom and put on something nice. Iíll be there in a moment."

She took the dirty dishes into the kitchen and placed them in the dishwasher, then returned the tray to its cabinet. She walked past her husband without looking at him and went into their bedroom. She removed her clothes and wrapped herself in her fine silk robe, then went to the medicine cabinet and took her husband's medication. She took a glass from the counter and filled it with water, then sat at her vanity table. She sat slowly, flinching with pain as she rested her weight on her stinging buttocks.

She opened the small bottle and dumped itsí contents into her hands. She looked at the handful of tiny pink pills, then looked upon herself in the mirror.  Her face was red, her hair a mess. Rage and anger flowed through her veins. And though her prayer escaped her lips as only a whisper, within her heart she was screaming.

"Father into your hands, I commend my spirit. Father into your hands... Why have you forsaken me... in your eyes, forsaken me... in your thoughts, forsaken me...in your heart, forsaken me? Trust in my self-righteous suicide. I cry when angels deserve to die."

She forced the handful of pills into her mouth, then took a long drink of water. There was a loud, fierce pounding at their front door. It startled Maria so much that she blew the water and pills from her mouth and all over her vanity table. She looked at the mess in dismay and sighed.

"What the hell?" She heard her husband say.

She quickly walked to the front door, arriving there just as her husband opened it. Before him stood the tall thin man from church, accompanied by a tall black man sheíd never seen before. They both wore the tan and green uniforms of the Los Angeles County Sheriffís Department.

"John Smith?" The thin man inquired.

"I am Doctor Smith," he responded. "What is the meaning of this."

The thin man grabbed onto Johnís shirt and pulled him from the doorway, then threw him down on his own front lawn. The black deputy then drove his knee between the doctorís shoulder blades, and the two wrestled his wrists into handcuffs.

"What the hell are you doing?" John demanded. "Get off me!"

"Mr. Smith," the thin deputy said athorativly. "You are under arrest for violation of 273.5 P.C., Felony Spousal Assault."

They lifted him to his feet.

"What the hell are you talking about?" John protested. "I donít beat my wife!"

"Deputy Collins," the thin man said calmly. "Did you hear the sound of slapping and cries for help just now as we passed this resident?"

"I sure did," the black man answered.

"What?" John screamed. "What kind of setup is this!"

They escorted the doctor to their awaiting radio car. As they rounded the side of the house to the driveway they came face to face with Father Alcocer.

"Father," John pleaded. "Tell these fools to let me go!"

Father Alcocer looked upon him sternly. "May you see the error of your ways," he said. "And my God have mercy on your soul."

John looked upon the priest with confusion. The two deputies forced the good doctor into the back seat of their patrol car, then the thin man approached the priest.

"Heíll probably make bail by tomorrow evening," the deputy said.

"That will be plenty of time," the priest said happily. "Thank you so much. I know you two are taking a great risk by doing this, but I assure you, it is Godís work you do, and He will protect you."

The deputy smiled. "Take care, Father." He looked to Maria and smiled, then went to his car and drove away.

Maria ran to the priest. "Father," she gasped. "Whatís going on?"

"Go and pack some things," the priest said. "Tomorrow I want you to go to the bank and see Mr. Selheim. He will help you withdraw a substantial amount of money from your husbandís account." He reached into his pocket and removed a plane ticket, then handed it to Maria. "Youíre on the twelve oíclock flight to El Paso  omorrow afternoon. Your sister is expecting you.

"When you get there, go to the William Beaumont Army Medical Center. Ask for Dr. Batson, he has a job in their pediatrics ward which needs filling."

Maria looked upon the priest with absolute shock.

"I told you I had connections," Father Alcocer said with a smile. "You are free, my child. Go now. God loves you, and so do I."



The End
(Or the beginning. It depends on how you look at it.)

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