Bathtub Madonna

Flash nonfiction by Ashlie Stevens

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The Virgin Mary is tucked in a dingy makeshift alcove, a tipped bathtub on concrete blocks—sanctifying the grade school off Norris Avenue and the nearby ice cream shop. Mary is hewn from marble, with her carved arms outstretched. Palms facing the top of the tub. Facing the dogwood blossoms. She’s missing her left ring finger, but her arms are lifted parallel to the sky—toward the infinite ceiling of the backyard cathedral—just the same.

I gaze at her through the chainlink fence.

I don’t move or breath.

I think, instead, of all the Southern Baptist men in slick black suits—one after the other, all my life—who have preached at me from their pulpits. I think, instead, of those men who spoke on a woman’s place in the church, on our sexuality (dangerous like Jezebel, Rahab, Salome). I think then of a portion of those men who treated girls like women, like objects—the used goods cautioned against in basement Bible studies and on youth group retreats.

I look back at Mary; I wonder what those men would have said about her when she was heavy with child, deceptively pure. Despite her humble sanctuary she deserves veneration. Should I genuflect? Do I cross myself? In the end, I just move on. I’m not really Catholic anyhow.


Ashlie Stevens is a freelance journalist and creative nonfiction writer from Louisville, Kentucky. Among other publications, her work has appeared in The Atlantic‘s CityLab, Slate, Salon, Hyperallergic and The Flounce and is upcoming in the anthology “Feel It With Your Eyes.” She is currently pursuing her MFA in nonfiction writing at the University of Kentucky.

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