Aidan was laying into Anna when he noticed the tattoo. His right hook was back and ready to let swing but this black marking stopped him.
‘What’s that?’ he asked, pointing at the offending tattoo.
‘When did you get that tattoo?’ He sent her sprawling with a backhand.
‘Bruise.’ she whimpered and pressed a hand to her gushing nose.
Aidan’s arm hung suspended as he continued to stare at the blackness that covered Anna’s upper-arm from elbow to shoulder, marring her pale flesh. He crept forward and bent down to get a closer look. It wasn’t entirely black upon closer inspection. The top was yellowish, and in the middle was a spattering of blue, and the face cast a purple hue…
Face - that was definitely a face!
Anna curled into a ball as Aidan bent even closer, sitting back on his haunches, head tilted slightly to the side as he continued to stare. A face with closed eyes, head slightly bent over clasped hands.
Aidan exclaimed, ‘You gone and got the Virgin on your arm!’
Aidan got out his camera phone and snapped a few photos. He went online and typed ‘bruise miracle’ into Google but all he found were pages promoting a cream for capillary removal.
He went to the Vatican website but their FAQ page said that no miracles would be reviewed by the Pope unless the person lodging the miracle had the support of no less than two archbishops. And even once a person found two archbishops to admit that they thought something was a work of God, the Vatican sent out their personal miracle-squad (otherwise known as the Congregation of the Cause of Saints) whose job it was to figure out if the supposed miracle had a divine purpose.
He did find a relatively helpful group on Facebook called ‘is this a miracle?’. People posted photos of what they considered to be miracles and other people gave their opinion. The group had 28,000 members and over 1,000 photographs had been posted. There were lots of photos of Jesus’ face on toast. One man posted a photo of a Ronald McDonald statue weeping red tears and someone else posted a photo of their own vomit and said that if you squinted your eyes and tilted your head, it resembled the baby Jesus.
Anna wasn’t the only person to have a bruise miracle – there were at least forty other photos of bruise faces, about fifteen of which were of the Virgin Mary.
Aidan was sceptical, but posted his photo of Anna’s bruise anyway.
That night when he thought she was asleep, Aidan rolled onto his side and bent his head to Anna’s bicep. His lips were so close that his breath tickled her skin as he whispered a prayer to the Virgin Mary bruise.
‘Dear God, Jesus in Heaven. Please let this be real. Amen.’
And then Aidan planted a soft kiss on Anna’s arm, right on Mary’s face.
For the first time Anna thought that her bruise really might be a miracle.
That night Anna’s Virgin Mary bruise photo was viewed 500 times and received nine comments, all of which said it looked like a tattoo. Although one person posted that the vomit had a better chance of impressing the Vatican.
While 500 people disregarded Anna’s bruise, the Virgin Mary’s eyes opened and she looked up.
The next morning Aidan rolled over and stared into Mary’s eyes. He sat upright and grabbed Anna’s arm. Mary was no longer meek with downcast eyes – now her eyes were open and her chin was lifted, almost as though she was looking up at Anna.
While Aidan posted new photos online, Anna stroked a reverent fingertip along Mary’s cheek and whispered ‘Hello’ to her miracle.
That night Anna’s Virgin Mary bruise photos received 5,545 views and 368 comments were posted.
While 5,545 slightly less cynical people viewed the photos, Mary’s lips curved and Anna was awoken by a tickle on her arm. She looked down to see Aidan’s face nestled in the crook of her elbow, his eyelashes fluttering against the Virgin Mary.
The next morning Aidan rolled over and hitched his breath when he saw Mary smiling at him. While Aidan took photos and went to the computer, Anna returned Mary’s smile.
The next night Anna’s Virgin Mary bruise photos were viewed by 10, 789 people, one of whom was Father Diego Vista in Barcelona, a member of the Congregation of the Cause of Saints. Father Diego had felt a familiar glow when he looked upon Mary’s face in a wine-coloured bruise.
The Virgin’s serene smile always had that affect on him; whether he was looking upon her stone façade at La Sagrada Familia, or seeing her clasped hands on a piece of toast. He felt less divinity towards the vomit, but in most forms the Virgin’s presence always had the affect of orientating him, and making him feel as though he was taking up space in this world.
When Father Diego looked at Anna’s Virgin Mary bruise, he felt the comforting pull of Her luminosity. And that was mostly how Father Diego determined whether or not something was a miracle these days. Of course there was a whole process that he had to go through - mainly in conducting testimonies and presenting various scientific studies to the Congregation councils. But really, Father Diego just followed his gut-instinct. He had come to rely on his own reverence more than the confessions of fame-seeking zealots.
In the early days of his Priesthood, Father Diego had traveled with his fellow Vatican investigators to every corner of the planet - all in the name of miracle. He had been to Portugal, Ethiopia, Budapest, and Namibia. He had seen cripples walk, statues weep and food take face.
But he had yet to see a confirmed miracle.
Most claims could be put down to medicine, hysteria or falsehood or simply the misguidance of hope. That relentless drive that people have to hold in their hands, or see with their eyes something that confirms their belief, and lets them know they are not alone. God Bless those people who think faith is about finding proof, rather than believing in the absence of it.
With the rise of the Internet came an increase in miracle claims. Any born-again with a camera-phone could now snap a photo of Jesus’ face on a urinal-cake and post it to the Vatican, fully expecting their claim to be taken seriously.
But Father Diego was fifty-five years old now. He wasn’t obliged to get on a plane and travel thousands of kilometres to Amarillo, Texas to tell a farmer that the Baby Jesus’ face did not appear on a cowpat.
These days he emailed miracle applicants to tell them their claims had been found wanting. He scoured online forums, viewed pixilated photos and grainy YouTube videos as part of his investigations.
It would take a lot to make Father Diego Vista leave his beloved Barcelona and travel for hours in economy class to conduct a proper inquiry. It would take a miracle.
It would, in fact, take 10, 789 people viewing one Virgin Mary bruise photo.
It would take the radiant pull of that purple-hued Virgin Mary bruise.
It would take Anna’s face, her jade-green eyes staring out in frozen calm, her quiet smile mirroring that of the Virgin Mary on her arm, to make Father Diego buy a plane ticket to Western Australia.
A phone-call came the following day from the Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, explaining that he had contacted the Vatican.
That night, Mary’s hands unclasped and Anna fell asleep to the sound of Aidan’s prayers; ‘Dear God, Jesus in Heaven. Help me be better. Let this be real. Amen’
A letter arrived the next day from the Archbishop of the Ukranian Greek Catholic Church, saying he too had put in a request to the Vatican.
Mary’s hands began to drift apart.
And then on Friday night while Anna was vacuuming and Aidan was watching the footy, a knock came at the door. Anna switched the porch-light on and answered. As Anna looked up at Father Diego, Mary turned her hands and splayed her fingers.
‘Unless it’s the Pope with a cheque, close the fucking door!’ Aidan bellowed from the couch.
‘No cheque I am sorry, I just came to meet the miracle,’ Diego murmured, his words spiced with Catalan and his eyes fixed on Anna’s freshly blackened eye.
He was so tall that he had to stoop slightly at their door, so it seemed as though he was bowing to Anna. His nose was too big, his brown eyes too close together and curtained by shaggy black brows that looked odd with his whitened hair.
Looking at him, Anna felt as if someone had struck a match against her ribcage, she could feel an ignition of warmth.
Meanwhile, Mary made a fist of her right hand.
When Father Diego’s lips curved into a smile, Anna grinned in return. ‘Won’t you come in, Father?’ and she stepped aside to let the light in.
That night Father Diego explained to Anna and Aidan how a miracle worked.
‘Once a miracle is deemed as such the Vatican declares it to be worthy of veneration by the faithful.’ Father Diego’s voice whispered through Anna, and she felt her cheeks heat.
‘What does ‘ventilation’ mean?’ Aidan asked, around a mouthful of mashed potato.
Father Diego smiled tightly, ‘Veneration is permission for Catholics to deem something praise-worthy.’
Aidan wiped his mouth with the back of his hand; ‘Can we charge people for their praise?’
Father Diego shook his head, made the sign of the cross and kissed his rosary beads.
Anna asked Father Diego what other miracles he had seen.
‘None,’ he answered, and smiled at her crinkled brow.
Aidan shoved his chair away from the table and left the room muttering under his breath about ‘fucking, no-good miracles getting my hopes up’.
‘But then, how do you know this is a real miracle?’ Anna asked, shrugging the arm that housed Mary’s face.
‘I don’t.’ Father Diego smiled. He settled a big callused hand atop one of Anna’s smaller ones, ‘People keep looking for proof, and I keep investigating in case they find it.’ Father Diego continued to smile, and Anna’s brow continued to furrow.
Anna gave a small shake of her head, ‘But, what’s the point? You haven’t found a miracle yet, what makes you think you ever will?’
‘Faith.’ Father Diego’s eyes were laughing at her, she was sure of it.
Mary lifted the middle finger of her right hand.
He squeezed her hand, and Anna squeezed back automatically while he spoke, ‘Faith that believers will see what they want to see, and gain strength from inanimate objects just to feel a connection to something bigger than themselves.’
‘What about faith in God to actually deliver a miracle?’ Anna asked, thinking of the time Aidan took a skillet to her back because she’d burnt his pancakes.
Father Diego simply said, ‘With God, all things are possible.’
Anna clamped a hand around her bicep, ‘What if this is not a miracle?’ she whispered, so quietly that Father Diego had to lean close to her mouth to hear her.
‘And what if it is?’ Diego whispered back.
Later that night Anna woke to Aidan’s fingers digging into Mary’s face. His panting breath scolded her skin as he whispered, ‘Dear God, Jesus in Heaven. Don’t you fucking play with me. If this isn’t real I don’t know what I’ll do to her. Amen.’
When he finally let her go, heaved onto his side and started snoring, Anna rolled onto her back and stared up at the ceiling. She thought of Aidan’s swinging fists, and of the sound her ribs made under the heel of his boot. Then she remembered Father Diego’s words, like a fevered whisper in her head; ‘And what if it is?’
The next morning Aidan woke to the vision of the Virgin Mary giving him the bird. He screamed and scrambled out of bed as Anna peered down at the perfectly rigid middle finger that was undoubtedly aimed at her husband.
Once he’d composed himself, Aidan reached for his camera phone; ‘Thank you God, and Jesus in Heaven!!’ he said, lifting the phone.
Anna flexed her bicep, making Mary’s serene face stretch.
‘Hold still or it’ll come out blurry!’ Aidan snapped.
Anna reached out and plucked the phone from his hand.
He stared at her, slack-jawed, as she threw the phone against the wall.
‘Aidan, the Virgin Mary just told you to go fuck yourself. I think you should listen.’
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ he growled, watching as Anna walked away from him.
She didn’t turn around as she replied, ‘Growing a bit of faith,’ and walked down to the spare bedroom she had made up for Father Diego.
Filling his doorway, Anna put a hand on her hip and thrust out her chin; ‘You’re looking at your first miracle,’ she declared.