Mary – Mary is not quite what you think. While commonly thought to be an Anglicized version of a Hebrew name meaning “wished-for child,” a form of the Hebrew Miryam, which is a form of the Latin Maria and Greek Mariam. Mary is also said to mean bitter and rebellion. The root of the name Mary, however, is thought to date back further, derived from the Egyptian name Mry, meaning beloved. Mary is also a slang term for a gay man. Mary was the 127 most named female name in the U.S. in 2016; yet is the #1 name for girls born between 1917 & 2016. There were more than double the number of Marys (3.47 million) born in the last hundred years in the U.S. than the second most popular Patricia (1.57 million).

As I try to read about a blind girl during World War Two, I hear three old ladies chatting behind me over coffee. One is quiet, in a lime green shirt. One wears a loud “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat” and opens a straw with still-nibble fingers. I think she must have made the coat herself. It looks custom and painstakingly constructed. The third wears a crisp royal blue button down shirt rolled up mid forearm. They call her Mary.

The women talk about Mary’s granddaughter, who needs surgery. They worry about it. Where? When? Why?

“A protrusion,” Mary says.

“Oh my,” Lime Green responds.

“What would happen if they don’t go to the University of Utah’s children’s hospital,” Dream Coat asks Mary.

“She’d develop a horn in the middle of her forehead,” Mary says matter of factly. “And for a girl… Well, you can you imagine.” She takes a sip of her drink. “The taunting she’d get.”

“Oh, yes. Yes!”

“How horrible.”

They sip their coffees out of oversized ceramic mugs in silence after that. Dream coat bites on her straw nervously. I think of a magical unicorn, while they seem to be contemplating a devil.

“Modern parents have it so rough,” Mary says to the others, finally breaking the tension.

“Kids don’t respect authority, think they can do what they want. With their phones and all.”

“It’s so much harder.”

They nod in agreement with each other.

The conversation changes to Ferguson, Missouri.  Why all those problems in such a small town, they wonder aloud.

“How come they are using the things of war on the people there,” Dream Coat asks.

“The job of a policeman has changed a lot,” Mary remarks.

“Oh, yes,” Lime Green agrees.

The conversation ebbs and flows like this, like a river hitting rocks and frothing up but continuing downstream unstoppable from topic to topic. It has clearly been going on like this for years. I imagine it will continue until dammed by the wood of death turning the river into a pool of stagnant water when just one of the ladies remains, alone with her thoughts.

I sit there alone downing coffee from a paper cup. Overhead the speakers begin playing Billy Joel singing about sharing a drink they call loneliness.


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