Joseph’s Dilemma

Matt Bell

Mary was born with a lead marble in her belly, distending her still umbilical navel. By the time she was fifteen, it was the size of a watermelon, curving her spine with its weight. She moved from town to town, followed by cries of witch and oracle and the constant threat of stoning, with only the carpenter Joseph to protect her.

Finally, in Bethlehem, Mary would run no more. “Let them stone me,” she said. Joseph pleaded with her, but she would not go on.

That night, in a dream, Joseph heard a voice: “Speak to her belly. Coax the boy out. His Father wishes it.”

Joseph tried, but he was not a man who cooed. When Mary laughed at him, his eyes crossed and his pupils dilated. He stood, grabbed his staff and struck her once across her belly. Water flowed from beneath her robes and soon the baby followed.

Nervously, Joseph handed the child to Mary. A crown of dripping blood encircled the boy’s forehead, but still Mary smiled at her son. The baby smiled back, flashing a full mouth of teeth, white and gleaming in the moonlight.

When the angels arrived, they stood at the edge of the manger, mouths agape, then slowly backed away. Guilty, Joseph hid the staff behind his back, and prayed they wouldn’t notice him.


Matt Bell writes from Saginaw, MI, and has been published in Cellar Door, The Driftwood Review, The Drexel Online Journal, and Me Three, among other places. He can be found online at, where he also co-writes a daily micro-fiction column entitled Dancing On Fly Ash.