Blake Chernin

Typhoid Mary Would Like to Address You From Her Lonely Bungalow on North Brother Island, Where She Was Imprisoned During the Years 1907-1910 and Again from 1915 Until Her Death in 1938

Here’s how the morning goes: first wakes the sun, next wakes Typhoid Mary. Because she does not snap her fingers, the rest of the aul world stays sleeping in their beds where she left em, ‘cept her wee dog. She looks out the window, and watches the sun travel its whole way through the sky seventeen and one half times before breakfast, ‘cause this is what Herself is wanting to see today. 

It is only when her wee dog nudges its face against her bare leg that Typhoid Mary turns away from the window, thus shutting down the sky, and gets down the tin of oatmeal for their breakfast. Every week, a nurse all in bleached cotton brings Typhoid Mary her provisions. Oats and potatoes. Some eggs, maybe, some tinned meat if Typhoid Mary has been particularly quiet lately. The nurse always stares Typhoid Mary, eyes studiously placid between thick mask and pressed cap. Typhoid Mary always offers to cook for her. Typhoid Mary’s mother raised her up good and all. Typhoid Mary is awfully proud of her cooking, even with the meager ingredients she has on hand. Nothing like the fine wares were at her disposal in all the big houses in Manhattan. 

As Typhoid Mary stirs her porridge, she hums the Shan Van Vocht, not out of any nationalist inclination but merely because the tune is so mindlessly, endlessly recurring. And what color will they wear says the Shan Van Vocht. And what color will they wear says the Shan Van Vocht. And what color will they wear says the Shan Van Vocht. Although she has turned from the window, Typhoid Mary feels the sun at her back. He’s gripping her shoulders, kissing her gentle-like on the gnarl of bone where her neck meets her spine. Hers is the only window in the world that the sun is streaming through at the moment. 

Typhoid Mary has a body and that body is full of little knowledges: how to bake bread serve fine ladies and gentlemen make the peach ice cream that is just to die for how to multiply and multiply and spread.

Typhoid Mary used to have another name—Mary Mallon Mary Marone Mary o’Malley? But Typhoid Mary is proud, and if she is given a title she is going to uphold it. Back in County Tyrone she’d daydreamed often of lounging with a title in a Big House, compelling frantic little women like Herself to bring her things to eat, and here she was now, a fancy title, all these doctors always clamoring about, tryin’ to take little bits of her blood and skin and spit. Typhoid Mary’s wee dog would snap at them all, and Typhoid Mary would give him little scritches behind the ears. 

Typhoid Mary is a carrier. So they tell her. Deep down in her torso, in some wee little bump of flesh called a gallbladder that Typhoid Mary knows very little about and has very little to do with, typhoid multiplies and festers. 

Typhoid Mary’s porridge is done so she takes it off the stove. She globs a bit onto the floor on to the spot reserved for her wee dog’s food. That spot gleams against the dirty floor. When Typhoid Mary is feeling particularly bored, she half-squints her left eye, and is thus able to see the fractured molecules of the worn-away floor. She thinks that by the next time she chooses to leave, her wee dog will have lapped away down to the bubbling something inside the Earth’s crust. Or who knows, maybe she will leave tomorrow. Shrug on a new name like a jacket and make peach ice cream in a house with stained glass windows. Her wee dog licks up his thick meal, and Typhoid Mary spoons exactly half of the remaining porridge into one of her two chipped bowls and brings it to the table to eat.

At first, Typhoid Mary had felt a bit of fear when illness entered her Big Houses. After the first few times, though, the fear had been replaced with a kind of fascination—an aesthetic appreciation; of the pink dots like rosettes that graced the pale bodies of the fine ladies she served. And there was a music to typhoid, to be sure. The low slowed-down thrum of the heartbeat, a war drum. And the guttural rattling of the lungs. Typhoid Mary would hear this as she brought her fine ladies broth and bread into their bedrooms; the scraping, ancient sound of failing lungs seemed to come instead from deep inside the earth, under bog and bedrock, coming up back through the thin soles of Typhoid Mary’s shoes, shivering her body deliciously. When they told her that she was the cause of these sounds, this cosmic music of bed and body, Typhoid Mary felt a tingle in her calloused fingers and she knew that this was God Himself making her the conductor of a chorus of delirious and wealthy women. The first time they shut the door on the bungalow, God whispered to Typhoid Mary snap your fingers and she did and God whispered to her again a great boulder has freed itself from this island and tumbled into the East River folks in every borough heard the rumble and Typhoid Mary knew then that she could do anything. 

The sun is in her eyes. She tsks at him and he scoots right quick up to the highest part of the sky. She hasn’t yet snapped her fingers yet. The rest of the world is still sleeping. Tomorrow, when she wakes them all up, they will all stretch as one in their beds, spines cracking into place. They’ll all put bare feet onto cold floors because they all will have misplaced their slippers. They will continue on with tomorrow thinking rather stupidly that tomorrow is today. They won’t miss today at all. This is, of course, if Typhoid Mary chooses to wake them. She hasn’t decided yet! 

Typhoid Mary, if pressed, would describe herself as a handful of peachy ice cream. Typhoid Mary runs thick and cold through the cracks of her own fingers.

Typhoid Mary knows how to recite three poems in Irish and the Our Father in Latin. Typhoid Mary knows that even the finest dressed ladies sometimes shit out great quantities of blood, like the common man, although not like Typhoid Mary, who isn’t at all common. 

Typhoid Mary cracks her knuckles and hears a building topple. The falling steel echoes through the split air; it is the sound of a loy hitting a rock in the field. The sound of the earth’s rattling lungs as rosettes begin to bloom and dot its surface. The whole blue dot screaming out for more of Typhoid Mary’s lovely soothing ice cream. So good on the throat. Typhoid Mary did that by Herself, so. 

Typhoid Mary decides it’s time for night now, so she blinks, and now it’s night. The chipped bowl in her cupped hands is tacky with mostly-dried porridge residue. She goes to the pot and scrapes the other half of the porridge into the bowl. Her wee dog is scratching and scratching at the door; poor thing, doesn’t he know that there’s nowhere else at all? Seeing her stir, he wends his way around her feet, props his two front legs against her leg. She takes him up with her to the table, sits him on her life. Typhoid Mary and her skinny wee dog share porridge from the same spoon. The Shan Van Vocht tries to join them for dinner. Her emaciated body is made of smoking peat. Typhoid Mary rolls her eyes. Back in County Tyrone, who ever saw this one? And now that Typhoid Mary had made a name for Herself in Manhattan, well here she is gnawing at the door. Typhoid Mary waves her into dust with her crusted spoon. As she takes another mouthful, she shrugs and sinks all Ireland into the sea for good measure. Nobody on the island notices because they are all still asleep. 

Typhoid Mary is a carrier. She carries the whole world in her bowels. 

Typhoid Mary is exhausted. She has, after all, had a very busy day. She scoops her wee dog off her lap. He stretches then pads over to his shiny spot, circles three times, and lays him down to sleep. 

Typhoid Mary leaves her spoon and bowl on the table and lays down in her cot with her cotton dress still on. Typhoid Mary lifts her hand in the air above her head. She looks through the darkness at her open, teeming palm, and thinks it is good. Typhoid Mary closes her eyes, and the moon dissolves. 

"End of Days" by Julia Beecher

Blake Chernin is a writer who is extremely from New Jersey. She received her BA at
Muhlenberg College and is currently an MFA candidate at Purdue University. She is a fiction
reader for the Sycamore Review, and her work has been previously published in Tilde Literary
Journal. twitter: @bcherns