They said Mary Modesto was pregnant sometime in 1955, I think it was sometime around June, they being Dr. Heath and the nurse and an obstetrician who stops by from Glens Falls on a regular basis. Mary did not have a husband but we didn’t hold that against her, we being me and most of the people in town that I know. Unlike what a lot of people say, people in towns like ours can be pretty fair-minded, and we hold our judgment and we who are not without sin do not throw first stones, especially when we like you, and everybody likes Mary or at least there’s no reason not to. She’s regular people, she treats those around her pretty good for the most part, and she doesn’t put on airs or act in strange or defiant ways because her parents came from someplace else, not New York City in her case but some place like that where the people who come over from the old country are all looking to start up their lives fresh in order for their children to find a better life in America. When Mary said she didn’t know who the father was, we just kind of glanced at each other but we held our peace. We tried not to pass judgment. Somebody, I recall it might have been Toby McFalls, said it was likely Gil Berry, who was always, even when he was thirteen and fourteen, kind of a tomcat. Then, when we heard that Mary told her best friend Amy Kuhn that she was still a virgin, we still didn’t say much. But you could tell people might now be thinking there was something odd about Mary. But like I say, even then we didn’t say much.
All kinds of people have passed through our town over the years. There’s good hunting here, deer and pheasants, and good fishing too in the many streams that float along just outside the town limits. But just as much as that, we’re on a pretty direct line with Cornell University to the west and Skidmore east and a little more north. Also, people come over from High Falls and Woodstock, just poking around for the most part but sometimes they’ll stay a few weeks, they rent rooms in the old dormitory from the McPhersons, and they stay awhile often for the relaxation you can get here and the peacefulness and the opportunity to do their work, art work and photography and poetry too, without their ever being disturbed in the nice bright warm sunshine. Some of them are odd sorts, I must say. The oddest one I ever met was a painter who lived in Albany because his wife had a job there with the government, and they had a child, poor fellow, who was handicapped with autism. For safety’s sake he wore a helmet to protect his head, and his father used to smear paint on the helmet so that when the boy banged his head it would leave interesting patterns on the wall, which his dad would copy out blotch by blotch on the canvas that painters like him use.
But getting back to Mary Modesto, 1956 came along and soon it was the summer of that year, a cool pleasant summer as I recall, and then the winds picked up and by and by the snow fell and it was Christmas, which comes but once a year but it does come every year for sure. It was very confusing for all of us, for Mary’s friends and well-wishers and even for some of the visitors who learned about it by chatting with Chet over at the hotel or with the McPhersons at the dormitory. Mary Modesto was still pregnant, isn’t that odd? Mary looked around six months pregnant, but nothing was moving, her belly was the same size as it had been over the summer of 1956 and back in late 1955, and meanwhile nobody was getting born. I assume she hadn’t had her monthly since 1955, but that was no business of mine and I’m not the kind of guy to ask.
So we started wondering if Dr. Heath and the nurse and the obstetrician from Glens Falls who visits us regular were necessarily correct in their diagnosis. I’m not sure “diagnosis” is the right word when it comes to pregnancy, but you get my point.
Anyway, Dr. Heath was having lunch at the hotel, and Chet tells me he went over to him and said, “May not be my business, Doc, but this thing with Mary Modesto has got us all wondering.”
“Got me wondering too,” said Dr. Heath.
“What about that fellah from Glens Falls?” asked Chet.
“Oh yeah, him too. He’s wondering a bunch.”
“Well, so what can it mean?”
“Don’t actually know at this point,” said Dr. Heath.
“Gee, when are you going to know?” asked Chet.
“Can’t really say. All we can do is run more tests.”
Mary, for her part, was walking around in sort of a daze and you could tell it was hard for her to answer the questions that some people were starting to ask, though they were as polite as they could be in asking them. Amy, as I said, was her best friend, but all Amy could say was “I don’t know. Nobody knows.” Dr. Heath and the obstetrician from Glens Falls tested and retested. Nothing had changed, they said. She was pregnant and there were the sounds of life inside of her. They took x-rays and they said they saw it. More months went by and Mary Modesto could be seen walking through the streets, into stores like the hardware store she went into one day because she said she needed a hammer and screwdriver to fix things. We worried she was going to do something rash and violent to end the ordeal but Amy said no, she really did need a hammer and screwdriver to fix things,
As 1957 went on and nothing changed, people started thinking of reasons for it. Some called it a medical mystery. Others had a kind of theory that Mary could trace her roots back to dark places in the old country, and that, you never know, there was a spell on her and hers. I thought that was pretty ignorant talk but I didn’t have anything better to offer by way of explanation. Meantime word spread around and curiosity seekers arrived from as far off as New York City, Montreal, as far west as from Pittsburgh. Newspapermen came from local papers in Troy and from all the way in Boston and were asking people questions. Dr. Heath made himself scarce and so did the obstetrician from Glens Falls. A team of specialists from the state university was summoned, I guess by Dr. Heath, and their examination confirmed that she was six months pregnant and that there was certainly a living thing inside of her. 1957 wore on, and most of the newspapers lost interest, understandably. How many times can you tell the world that a baby has not been born?
I saw Mary on the street, I think it was around September of 1957, and she said, “I’m so tired of being poked at.”
Meantime, things in the world didn’t stop happening. In fact, big things were happening, and not such good things, like when the Russians sent up their Sputnik. That scared people. It sure scared me. What if they could shoot at us from outer space and we couldn’t do diddly in response? And I sure didn’t know the Russians were that smart in the first place. Now I knew. So we all walked over to the meadow out by Rocky Ryan Park, which is so pretty in the fall of the year, even as late as October, and we looked for Sputnik in the sky and nobody could see it. Except Mary Modesto came by, and she said, “I think I saw it.”
“Maybe she’s in with the Russians,” Gabe Lessing said on the sly.
“Go fiddle your fanny,” I heard sweet old Dorothy Young answer him. Good for Dorothy. Dorothy is the sweetest soul, always has been. She knows it’s not Mary’s fault if she’s just six months pregnant after getting pregnant two years earlier. And overall it was so nice to see Dorothy Young then, it was such a sweet comfort to see her face which was so sweet even though the Russians just mounted space.
By late 1958, Dr. Heath and the obstetrician from Glens Falls were reckoning that Mary might be seven months pregnant, but they didn’t seem so sure even of that. Sometimes you could see Mary sitting over by Toby McFalls’, or sometimes on the bench in front of the hardware store, just hanging down her head and seeming to mutter who knows what. A funny thing also happened in late 1958 at Tuff’s Diner when Gil Berry was eating there, and Gil just stood up and proclaimed, “I got nothing to do with it! I got nothing to do with it!” There were a bunch of people at the diner at the time but, honestly, nobody really cared at this point who the father was, seeing as how they were a lot more concerned with what the father, whoever he was, was the father of.
That’s about the time when I saw Brad Jaeger at the Easy Time Lounge, and he said to me, “You know what I think?”
“What? You talking about poor Mary?”
“Yeah, I don’t think it’s a baby at all.”
“What do you think it is?” I asked him.
“I think it’s a stone in the bone.”
Sounded plausible, I guess, and word spread. Now you know, a thought like that can get to be general consensus, and general consensus is just about impossible to hide from anyone and, in this case, everyone included Mary Modesto. From what I could learn, that consensus just broke poor Mary’s heart once she heard of it and thought about what it meant if it were true. I have it from Amy Kuhn, God bless her, Amy who to this day is such a loyal friend of Mary’s. Mary confides in her and tells Amy her deepest most painful secrets. Amy doesn’t betray those confidences but sometimes just out of concern for Mary and because her own heart is breaking she just has to say something. Amy’s father was like that too, he was always telling you something about somebody because it was deeply troubling him. So Amy told me this.
Amy told me that Mary has been loving her baby so much since 1955. She caresses her belly. She talks to the baby. She tells the baby how much she will care for and cuddle with and kiss and tickle and tease. She tells the baby his name will be Shane if you are a boy or Leigh Ann if you are a girl. She tells the baby how happy life will be in the town but that you can still have wonderful adventures all over the world and then come back home to be loved again and hugged again, always and forever and always.
So you can imagine how awful Mary Modesto must feel to think that the baby inside her isn’t really a baby at all, but just a big old stone in her bone.
“How do you get a stone in your bone?” Amy asked me one day when I saw her coming out of Mary’s little house that she shared with old lady Davis and a handyman named Weil who also rented rooms from the Fry family that owned the property. We were strolling down Walnut Lane together.
“I guess something just starts to calcify,” I said. “I don’t actually know the details.”
“So maybe she really is a virgin?” asked Amy.
“I sure don’t know,” I said.
“But this has never happened to anybody before, don’t you think?”
“I never heard of it before, but I guess I don’t know,” I said.
“Gosh,” she said. “How does it start? Does something get put inside you or is it already there?”
“I wish I could tell you,” I said.
I remember when 1960 came and Mary was still six months pregnant, there was a kind of quiet recognition around town that a new decade was dawning and still there was Mary still carrying it around. It was all a fixture by now, for sure. Most of us by now were figuring it was really a stone in the bone. There wasn’t actually all that much more to say or talk about. Even people’s curiosity about it was less than what it once was, with the passage of time and all. “There’s Mary and that stone,” people would think to themselves, I guess, and then just go about their business. Me, sometimes I’d think to myself, “Maybe we should give the stone a name.” I don’t know why I thought that. I don’t know why I thought that might have been a kindly thing to do. Probably not such a kindly thing, as I reconsidered. Probably just make Mary Modesto feel like even more of a freak if what she was carrying were to have a name like Joe or Sally.
Time was passing and other things were going on in the world as the years went by. In 1962, there was the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example. Everybody was afraid they’d die. One evening that time in October when the park and the meadow are still so pretty even this late in the fall, we were all sort of gathered in Rocky Ryan Park, and we were looking for Russian missiles in the sky and nobody said anything except when Mary Modesto got there, she said, “I wish I could see something.”
“You’re better off not seeing anything,” said Brad Jaeger, and Mary stood there and didn’t say anything more, she seemed so tired, and Amy Kuhn stood by her side and didn’t say anything either. That was a tense time. We finally started walking away, it must have been close to midnight, and Amy whispered to me, “Can I talk to you a little bit tomorrow?”
“Poor Mary,” she said the next day as I gave her a cup of coffee. “There’s something she don’t tell anybody but me, but I hope I can get some advice from you anyway.”
“I won’t tell anyone.”
“Mary is a good-looking woman,” said Amy. “Even now that she’s older, she’s good-looking. Maybe better looking. Except for her stomach, she has a good body too. But damn, she gets lonely. She wants a man. She wants to know what it’s like.”
“That’s only natural,” I said and looked away, I guess I looked away in case Amy was hinting something to me seeing as how I’d been alone for the past couple of years.
“I feel so bad for her,” said Amy.
“You know what scares me?” I said. “It’s bad enough that Mary can’t get what’s natural for her to want. But what scares me is that some guy might want her just because she has a stone in her bone. You know, like it would be a novelty experience. That would be worse for her than being all alone and pining away.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” said Amy. She got up and said goodbye and no more was said about it.
By 1969, Dr. Heath was passed away and so was the nurse and the obstetrician from Glens Falls retired. That was the year man first walked on the moon. Instead of heading out to Rocky Ryan Park, we gathered around our televisions, at home and at the Easy Time Lounge and we heard the astronaut say it was one small step for a man but a giant leap for mankind. They brought rocks back from the moon and it got you to wondering what was next. I would often look up and say to myself, “A human being has walked on that moon, actually walked on it, and only once in all of history and it was during my lifetime!” Even so, the moon still seems to be as cold and mysterious and silent as it always was to me before.
I didn’t see Mary Modesto for weeks afterward, I guess it was just happenstance that I didn’t see her, but one day I did see her waiting for her order on the take-out line at Tuff’s Diner. I guess there’s not much more to tell, at least not as yet. I wish I could tell you more right now about how things are working out, but I can’t. You know what they always say: The more things change, the more they stay the same.