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   a    s t o n e    w i t c h

---   M I C H A E L   L U N N E Y  

The nuns do not hear Celia talk. She asks for nothing; she accepts nothing but dinner; and when she is finished, she always leaves.
      But Celia talks. The women who come to Nazareth House hear her in the Port Authority and they hear her out on the street. "You remember Celia from before," they tell Mary. "She's a witch -- she's a stone witch. You know her, she always hangs at the Port. She love it there."
      "No," Mary says, "I don't know her."

Each day before dinner, locked in the bathroom on the third floor of Nazareth House, Celia reapplies the white powder she uses to carefully cover all of her exposed skin. When she finally does come downstairs, Celia searches out Mary in the dining room and she will not sit until there is a seat from which she can whisper and Mary can hear.
      "But, Mary--" the women say, "she been coming to the house for years. You don't remember because she's just been in jail for eighteen months and she's not so skinny now. She's been in jail -- and now she's out here. Oh, my, she big and healthy now."

The Sister sees Celia leaning towards Mary, whispering things, but Mary remains unmoved (Mary knows she should tell the nuns that Celia threatens her, but Mary doesn't pay much mind to the crazy white girl who's always muttering to her in the dining room). Celia finishes her dinner and then stands to leave. She bends to Mary and whispers one last thing.
      "Dog," she says.

It's six o'clock on a Friday evening in a still-cold March. There's no one on the street but Celia. She waits for Mary to come out of Nazareth House. The sun has not set and the street lights come on. There are two faint shadows of her on the sidewalk. A thin rain begins.
      And Celia stands there in that rain, and she stares at the door across the street, not caring. When she sees Mary come out, she backs into the darkness. And she waits.
      "Bitch," she says.

Mary is an old woman with no home. During the day, she sits in the Westside Cluster or she sits in the Open Door. At night, she has a bed in the basement of the Holy Cross Church (until they close in the summer).
      Yet, for Mary, this a time not so different from any other. Mary fights to remain useful and she's always kind. For forty-seven years, she had been a mid-wife in the Bronx. Of those years, Mary says this: "They'd come to me for everything. It's always been hard times; always too many people needin' to be healed."
      And tonight, like most nights, Mary will do what she can for her friend, Dorothy. Mary leaves Nazareth House and walks toward 9th Avenue in the rain.

Celia steps from the doorway and follows. Night has come but she does not care. Finding a place to rest does not concern her; sleep and fear mean nothing.
      She follows Mary.
      "Bitch," she says. "Cat."

On the southwest corner of 40th Street and 9th Avenue, a garbage fire burns -- it's caretakers across the street on the Salvation Army's sandwich line. This careless fire of loose paper will burn quick and hot, the wind lifting up ashes and the pages of a burning Times.
      Celia stops and, shyly moving her hands toward the heat, watches the rain fall into the fire. And when, at last, she does look away -- Mary is gone.
      "Cat," she says. "Cat, cat."

There is the mournful wind and there is the rain beating on the window. There is only the bed to sit on (an old bed with old covers, neatly made). Mary sits with Dorothy in room 926 of the Times Square Motor Hotel, quietly drinking tea and dunking toast.
      "Mary didn't forget me," Dorothy says.
      "Mary never forgets you, darlin'. How do you like that bread?"
      "Oh, you know I like it," Dorothy says.
      "And what about the black bread with the raisins?"
      "Oh, yes!"
      "I'll bring some tomorrow," Mary says. "And tomorrow is chicken. I'll bring some of that."
      "The sisters don't mind?"
      "Darlin'," Mary says, "what little I take, they don't miss."

There is the unseen moon and there is the rain. Celia is wet and she should be cold (the women at Nazareth House say that she is made from stone). The weak fire flickers and the drug-thin men do not return to the corner with their window rags.

The room is gray and the walls are bare but for a cross and the shadow of a cross.
      "Yes, Dorothy?"
      "They don't mind you takin' that bread?"
      "No -- I told you. They ask after you all the time, darlin'. 'You lookin' after our Dorothy?' they ask--"
      "Yes--" Dorothy says.
      "And I say, 'Yes, Sister.'"

Now the fire gives off little heat and not very much light. Celia no longer remembers why she has stopped -- and she leaves the dying fire to the rain and walks north on 9th Avenue.
      "Bitch," she says.

Dorothy is in bed with her coat still on, and because she's so tired tonight, Dorothy lets Mary wash the few dishes in the small, water-stained sink. When she's finished, Mary turns out the light and crosses back to the bed.
      "Mary," Dorothy says. "Thank you, Mary."
      Then the old women are quiet and still, their hands clasped. One of the curtains is torn and there's light on the bed from the Hotel Carter sign across the street.
      "Mary," Dorothy says, "don't leave."
      The rain does not stop. But Mary believes that she must leave and claim her bed at Holy Cross.
      "Darlin', you know I can't stay," Mary says. "They'd take away your room. And they'd give away my bed."
      "Please, Mary," Dorothy says. "Wait for the rain."
      "Darlin'," Mary says, "you know this rain'll never end."

It's almost ten o'clock. Celia is on 43rd Street, across from the Holy Cross Church, in the rain, waiting. Women are entering a side door that leads to the basement.
      43rd Street is now windswept and silent. Mary's late, but Father Black isn't concerned yet (he knows what she does for Dorothy). Mary wants to walk faster, but this rain is truly merciless.

Celia looks toward 8th Avenue but doesn't see Mary. It starts to rain harder. She steps into the shadow of a doorway -- and she waits.
      "Dog," she says. "Cat!
      "Cat! Cat! Cat!"

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