1In the beginning came the pallor and the light pains. In those days, Maria da Conceição began to also have dreams of winged beings who seemed to her to be angels.
2Now, the pains grew and Conceição, already so pale, turned transparent. When that happened, she was no longer eating and her stomach had grown beyond its normal size.
3Conceição’s parents initially thought that their daughter had committed fornication, disobeying the law of Moses, lying with some man before matrimony.
4But the pastor of the church, an upright man in whom she could confide, told them that the girl had gotten pregnant from the Holy Spirit. “Conceição, blessed art thou among women, blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”
5Neighbors of the now saintly one, doubting the words of this man in a suit and necktie (who brought together a multitude of poor people every day to sow the divine words), called for the doctors to visit her.
6Before they could conclude their consultation, the doctors were expelled from the house under insults and curses. “Hypocritical Pharisees, how do you dare doubt the word of the pastor?”
7Afterwards, a woman made her way to one of the doctors and asked him: “Is the pastor sure? Will she be the mother of God?” The doctor answered her: “No, my dear lady, she’s the mother of a monster.”
8From that day forward, Conceição stayed locked up in her house. The pastor told the girl’s parents that he had received a visit from a heavenly angel, announcing the birth of the Messiah the following week.
9The days crawled forward. During this time, the residents of this area (one of the most wretched in the region, where children played with worms) converted to the religion of the pastor, guaranteeing peace and happiness after death.
10Finally, the great day arrived. Conceição, who had remained shut away until then, was taken to the church. Her emaciation only heightened the voluminous size of her stomach.
11Now free of any bindings and laid atop the altar, Conceição screamed with hallucinations and debated with the forces that lingered there. The cries were so loud that they stifled the “Glorias!” and “Hallelujahs!” of the faithful.
12The pastor asked that everyone present keep their eyes closed, since the birth of the Messiah would be too dazzling. The faithful obeyed, and so they were until the cries of the girl ceased.
13Their eyes opened and did not see the pastor, only the cadaver of the girl atop the altar, victim of cancer of the ovaries. Everyone retired from the church slowly, including the parents of Conceição, leaving only the silence and the Holy Spirit hovering above the room.
Jean Wyllys is a journalist, activist, member of Brazil’s Congress representing Rio de Janeiro, and the author of several books, including the award-winning collection Aflitos, from which these stories are drawn. A native of Alagoinhas, Bahia, he is the second openly gay Brazilian federal legislator.
John R. Keene is the author of Annotations , Seismosis , with artist Christopher Stackhouse, and the collection Counternarratives. He is the translator of Brazilian author Hilda Hilst’s novel Letters from a Seducer. He teaches at Rutgers University-Newark.