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TINTORETTO_-_Magdalena_penitente_(Musei_Capitolini,_Roma,_1598-1602)_-_copia

A life of sin leads you to some funny places, dark and dangerous ones sometimes, but then women who do as I used to, take that on as part of the job – if you know how to manipulate men, you can usually sweet talk your way out of such places – even if it sometimes demands a price; it’s part of what you sign up to when you become a fallen women – yes, that was what they called me back then – some still remember it against me – they always will. Ironic then, really, that it was not my sin but my rejection of it which took me to the darkest and most dangerous place I have ever been: at the foot of that Cross on that blackest of Fridays – it felt my heart would break. Had he saved me from my sins to lead me here – and abandon us all? How could we bear it? His poor mother, stoical in a way beyond my understanding – just standing there, tearful, yes, but strong too – giving us all strength.

Men speak to me of hell – they used to speak to me of it a deal more – but I do not respond; I know hell – intimately. It is when you do, again and again, what wearies your spirit, and you do not even want to do it, you actually want not to do it, but you cannot exercise your will – your will is dead. Day after day – or rather night after night. Riches came, fame of a sort, and in that world I was valued – or at least highly-priced, which seemed the same thing then. But the weariness, I swore it would kill me – being dead would have been better I often thought. Then he came to town. He saw me, I saw him – I felt drawn to him, though whatever possessed my will did not want that to happen – but his pull was magnetic. He touched my forehead – that, I recall thinking, wasn’t where men usually started by touching me – and then, well I don’t know. The world went pitch black, there was a rushing sound, like the noise of a wind driving the rubbish left in the street – and then there was just me and him – and I was whole. Whatever had possessed my will did so no longer – he looked at me and told me my sins were forgiven; a moment ago I would have reached for mocking words – now only tears came. I followed him thereafter. There were other women with us, as I told that Luke fellow when he came asking me, and others, for our memories because those beyond the sea who never met him want to know more; more, as I told John once, not all the books in the great library at Alexandria could tell you all about Jesus of Nazareth.

So, when some of the disciples came back that night to say Jesus had been seized in the garden of the olive press, we were startled and alarmed. It had been a possibility, we knew, but who had led them there. John Mark said it had been Judas; that made sense, horrible self-righteous prig of a man – didn’t like me being there, but liked my money.

The men stayed in hiding, which was probably sensible. But me, Mary his mother and her sisters, we ventured out. The crowds lined the way to the place of the skull. I cannot speak of the horror. The thud of the nails still haunts my dreams – and the blood, the blood, streaking onto the rough wood of the cross and staining it. It began to rain. We saw his life ebb with the blood. We saw such things – and even now, as I told that Luke fellow, I cannot speak of that day easily.

He died quickly – by the standards of those crucified with him. I heard some conversation, and told Luke and John Mark what I heard; I know young John heard other words, but I was too lost in tears and cannot bear witness to them. We stood, as in a great storm, his pale face illuminated by the flashes of lightning – and at the ninth hour he gave up his spirit. It felt like the end of the world – certainly the end of our world.

But women have things to do for the dead, and once he was laid in a tomb, we went there, and we anointed his body with sweet perfumes. There was more we would like to have done, but with the Sabbath upon us, we went – in silence and sorrowing. I remember thinking as we left that of all the dark places sin had taken me, none was dark as this place where love had brought me.

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