At long last, Mary retired. We had all hoped that she would settle down with Bert, but did you know he had a wife? Yes, a famous chimney sweep in her own right, who is probably best remembered for her huge and public feud with Aleister Crowley. I don’t know if anyone can remember who started it or what it was initially regarding, but by the end, Crowley couldn’t come within five feet of a chimney without being covered in soot or, on a day when she was feeling particularly rowdy, hot embers.
This was why Aleister was more than happy to give Mary one of his infamous black daisies. He was hoping she would either “He loves her not” Bert and his wife or “He loves me” Bert and Mary. Revenge! People forget, though, that Mary had a streak of decency. She “He loves me not”ed up Bert and nursed her own broken heart and that was the end of that “nonsense” as she called it.
So, settling down with Bert was out.
“What will I do with my time?” she asked. And it was heartbreaking, but she couldn’t keep up with the children any longer and did you know we caught her just putting some children in the freezer during the day? When they overwhelmed her, in they’d go, and she’d haul them out and thaw them out right before their parents got home. Oh, no, it’s worse than that. Did you know the Banks had four children? Not just Jane and Michael, but the little twins John and Barbara? Where were they in the movie?
Stowed away in the bread box.
And that was her in the prime of her life—stowing babies in bread boxes. It only escalated from there. I’m still not convinced we ever found all of the Stewart children. Someday, someone’s going to open a closet or lift up a floorboard and find a child who should be a grandparent by now. I have no idea how we’re going to explain that.
There were always rumors that she and Bert had had a child, in secret. But no person who looked like some mixture of the two of them ever visited. I stayed with her quite a bit after she got sick and she never mentioned a child, let alone whether she had stowed it someplace.
“What will I do with my time?” That’s what she asked.
“Do something you’ve never done before,” some folks advised.
“Do something you’ve always wanted to do,” I said. But this suggestion only seemed to make her sad.
“It’s too late for that,” she said. And, of course, I thought this was regret about Bert. We’re so anxious to turn every story into an epic love story. “I can’t even walk anymore.” She slapped the arm of her wheelchair.
I didn’t know what to say.
But later, a package came for her. The box was long and relatively thin. She took it into the kitchen and spread the contents out on the table. One broom, one pointy, wide-brimmed hat, and one pitch-black dress.
“Oh,” she smiled. “Help me try this.”
I held the broom next to her chair and she lifted herself up and over onto the broom. It was wobbly at first and I found myself holding much of her weight while she figured out how to balance. But once she had it, she was as comfortable as a parakeet on a swing. She flew slowly around the house.
“All right,” she said, her grin growing wider. “This is wonderful. People could fear me.”
One evening, right before the moon rose, she put on the rest of the outfit, got on her broom, and I opened the front door for her and watched her go off into the night.
As far as I know, that was the last anyone ever saw of her. But I do believe she was doing exactly what she always wanted to do when she left.