Mary Bennet (or Aunt Maz, depending on who you asked) had lived an incredibly extraordinary life.
She was born in 1926 and at the time, no one would have said she was extraordinary — in fact many people would have said she was horrifically ordinary.
She wasn’t pretty.
She wasn’t smart.
She wasn’t funny.
She wasn’t well liked — or even well loved by her parents.
Nearly everyone thought the same thing about poor little Mary, and by the time she was ten she was used to everyone telling her to stand a little taller, smile a little sweeter, to talk a little softer.
When she got older, her own Mother for the life of her couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t more concerned with how forgettable she was. And she told Mary as much, how could she expect to get a husband when the man wouldn’t even remember your name the next day?
Mary would often bow her head in shame and silently vow to do better. She didn’t want to be poor little forgettable Mary her whole life, but she didn’t know how to be anyone else.
She was seventeen when she could recite her Mother and Father’s goading speech off by heart. They thought the spiteful words might inspire change in their painfully ordinary daughter.
They didn’t know each time they told her she’d never get a husband that her heart would skip a beat.
She didn’t want a husband.
She didn’t need a husband, not when she had already had Rose.
Rose who had shared her bed with her. Who’d stayed up with Mary, basking in candle light after sex to whisper all the reasons Mary wasn’t forgettable.
Why she was pretty.
Why she was smart.
Why she was funny.
And why she was so totally, utterly loved.
That was why Mary left her parents. And the dull town she was raised in, where everyone viewed her as someone to be pitied.
She didn’t deserve their pity. Rose told her that when they left.
She told Mary that they should turn their pity onto one and other, because they had looked at Mary and seen someone who wasn’t special, and that was a travesty.
They travelled and grew together. Visiting almost every part of America. Joining almost every pride movement they could find, fighting alongside everyone who would fight with them for equal rights.
Rose maintained until the day she died that her favourite memory of Mary was from when they had been fighting against the corrupt police, corrupt government, alongside each other.
“It was because,” she admitted coyly over a glass of gin one night. “That was when you truly began to believe in yourself. And nothing made me happier when I saw that change. It was like a switch went off in your head and you started seeing yourself for how you really are. Extraordinary.”
Those words made Mary cry, although she never admitted it, she always said she just got smoke in her eye.
Mary’s happiest memory was when Rose brought Travis home. It was just after they’d settled down, Rose had found a grey hair and dramatically exclaimed she was getting old (Mary thought she was anything but) and that they’d have to find a cottage.
A cottage ended up being a farm house and an alarmingly large plot of land. Neither women knew what to do with it, but once they looked at the old farmhouse they fell in love.
It was the next day Rose brought Travis home. He was a puppy, no one knew what breed, with shaggy hair and a very loud bark.
“He’s been abandoned,” Rose exclaimed, “I couldn’t leave him.”
Mary agreed of course, they couldn’t leave him. So they named him Travis and welcomed him to their new home, and weren’t stern enough to keep him off the bed.
There were three stray dogs after Travis that year; Jack, Lucy and Roger.
Mary used to joke that soon the dogs would outnumber them and all their farmyard animals, because Rose just couldn’t leave a stray (not that Mary could either).
That’s why when Mary wasn’t so surprised when Rose brought Lewis home.
Lewis was thirteen when he entered their home, a small wisp of a boy, terrified of his own shadow, that she found hitchhiking when she was driving home.
Mary chided her on not being safe, picking up hitchhikers was dangerous, especially for a woman on her own.
Rose smiled fondly at the concern and gave her a soft kiss.
“I knew he just needed kindness. I was right, he was kicked out. He’s all alone.”
And kindness they gave him, and within a year he was no longer terrified of his own shadow, and Mary was shocked at how much she loved the small boy.
He was the one who showed her how to make jam. And before she knew it the fields were growing strawberries and the two of them were selling jars to all of their friends.
All of these are the reasons that they murdered a man.
Rose had just brought another child home. This was a small girl, no older than eight who Rose saw when she walked past an orphanage.
“She was looking out the window, alone and so sad. I couldn’t stop myself walking in and they just let me walk out with her,” Rose tutted to Mary late at night. “That’s not safe. We’ll complain in the morning.”
They never did get around to complaining. First thing in the morning, a small, sad man knocked on the door. “Mr Bolton wants to buy your land.”
“The land isn’t for sale,” Mary told him.
“I don’t think you understand ma’am,” he replied.
But Mary understood fine and it didn’t mean the land was for sale.
She told him as such, yet the man wouldn’t leave until he has spoken to Lewis. He looked amazed that Mary did in fact understand and that Lewis told him the same.
“I don’t understand why he wanted to talk to me,” Lewis said once he left. “It’s not even my land to sell.”
Mary sighed, she wasn’t sure how to explain their struggle.
This continued for a month. If the small, sad man was lucky Mary would answer the door and give him a curt no before shutting the door and ignoring his sad moping for a while.
If he was unlucky it was Rose. She would spot him coming up the driveway and get Lewis and Elise to help her scoop up jars of dirt to then thrust into the small, sad man’s arms and start spouting wild prices for the jars of land. Leaving the man red and spluttering holding two large jars of dirt.
Mary would laugh, she couldn’t help herself. Rose would come in laughing with the children and her heart would swell with the love she felt. Before she never imagined she would be so in love and have children.
Now she couldn’t imagine anything else.
It was the first of October when everything changed.
“Mary you take the kids to town today,” Rose groaned. “My head is killing me.”
Mary fussed and made tea but Rose was adamant that all she needed was a nap and she’d be right as rain, and Mary trusted her.
Trusted she’d be safe.
So she left, with the children and the dogs and took a walk to town. She explained to Elise why the leaves were starting to fall and congratulated Lewis about school.
It was nice.
When she got back, everything changed. The windows of the farmhouse were smashed, and when she ran through the door she saw Rose on the couch, crying.
“It was disgusting,” she whispered later on, when she’d calmed down and the children went to bed. “He said he’d come back every day. He’s gotten what he’s wanted so far and what’s worse — there’s not a damn thing we can do about it.”
His offer for their land had dwindled, now what he was offering was barely enough to put them in a motel for two nights, let alone a new house.
Mary thought of Elise and Lewis. Of their dogs. Of Rose, the woman she’d given her heart too, who’d given her unconditional love and support in return.
“No,” Mary said firmly. “We’re not going anywhere.”
There were very few words spoken between the two of them, but they came up with their plan.
The next day the small, sad man showed up, they told him to tell Mr Bolton that they would sell. He just had to come with the paperwork later on at night, when the children were in bed. They didn’t want to worry them, after all.
The small sad man seemed overjoyed to finally have something positive to report back to his boss and left in a hurry.
That day for Mary passed in a blur of making jam and silently comforting Rose.
“We don’t have to do this,” Mary promised her when they saw him walking towards their house. “If you don’t want too we won’t.”
“I do,” Rose said. “We’ve fought against this our whole lives. I’m not giving in now.”
Mary agreed, and kissed her.
Mr Bolton was a grotesque man and Mary almost leapt over the table and killed him then and there when he slapped Rose’s ass when she went to fetch the lemonade.
She didn’t, instead she forced a coy smile and gestured for him to continue.
That moment of restraint was worth it when he woke up in their barn. His confused and scared expression made Mary happy she’d waited for the drugs to kick in.
He opened his mouth to shout but both Rose and Mary raised their large knives, making him stay silent.
“You’ve been very rude,” Rose hissed. “You won’t intimidate us out of our home.”
“Did no one ever teach you to keep your hands to yourself?” Mary said sinisterly.
Then the two women lent forwards and placed the makeshift gag in. The pair of them watched for a moment as he tried to shout and pull his way out of the rope tying him to the chair, but to no avail. He could only watch in petrified horror as they both approached him, knife in hand, to cut his off.
“You know,” Rose said nonchalantly, leaning back to admire their handiwork. “I didn’t think it would be that easy. Barely any effort to cut through the bone at all.”
“I know,” Mary agreed, leaning over to brush a loose strand of Rose’s hair behind her ear — she didn’t want blood in her hair after all — “I really did expect worse.”
“The interesting thing about pigs,” Rose said, crouching down to face Mr Bolton as he regained consciousness. “Is that they will eat anything.”
And with that, she picked up the knife and thrust it through his eyeball.
The two women sat in silence for a few moments after.
“I thought I’d feel guilty.” Rose said, breaking the tension, standing up. “I feel relieved y’know?”
“Same,” Mary hummed in agreement, regarding the dead man in front of her with little interest. “Why don’t you go and run us a bath? I know you’ve had headaches today. I’ll put him in with the pigs.” Rose nodded and left to go back to the house, smiling as she heard;
“You babies are hungry aren’t you! Yes you are.”
Mary did love those pigs.
They waited two days before going into town, both scared about the consequences but not filled with regret. Rose was the one who finally bit the bullet; -
“I’ll go and get some more jars. You’re making enough jam for the whole country in here.”
Mary fretted while Rose was in town, but within the hour she came back.
“No one seems to care. I saw the sheriff and when he looked at me I thought he knew — but then he just said the man upset a load of people so they were gonna look through it in ‘due time’ I’m telling you Maz, he didn’t care.”
Mary didn’t have much to say to that apart from to turn and kiss Rose, despite the playful sick sounds their children made behind them.
A year later, two new children and three new dogs; Rose died.
A brain tumour, that’s what the doctor thought.
Mary couldn’t wrap her head around it, one minute she was there, the next minute she woke up and she was gone.
She couldn’t make sense of it, Rose was this immovable force, as vital to her as breathing and now her forever wasn’t forever anymore, and frankly, she couldn’t deal with that.
Many years later, when she had to console loved ones who lost their partners, she admitted that if it wasn’t for her children she’d have laid back down next to Rose and died with her.
Instead she went through the motions and began to try and heal. Not for herself but for the children.
Mary however firmly believed that was that. Rose was always the one who could always spot someone who needed help a mile away, and Mary didn’t believe she could do that. She was scared everyone was right, she was ordinary but Rose was so extraordinary that it rubbed off on her.
She believed that for three months, until one day, when she was walking through the strawberry field, she found a box of abandoned kittens. She broke down over them, the sound of her sobs covering their meows as one thought went around her head;
“I need Rose, I can’t help you.”
This went on for some time, until her sobs faded into hiccups and she looked at the kittens again. She knew what needed, some food, shelter and love. Mary could do that, she could.
Those kittens healed her, and although she never healed from Rose she grew because of it. Before long everyone in the small town knew Mary. If anyone thought a kid needed help they went to Mary. Bullied kids knew they could go to Marys after school and she’d let them pet the animals, give them biscuits and jam and listen if they needed to talk. Queer kids knew she would be a safe place if things got dangerous at home, and before long her door was always open and the large farmhouse was always full and Mary loved it.
Sometimes when the kids left, they would take a dog with them, Mary was always sad to see both go but knew the reunion would be sweet. Her children always maintaining that they came for the free jam (which Mary would give out by the box) but it was all in jest, she saw so much of Rose’s sense of humour in them she often wondered if Rose’s spirit guided them as much as she did.
The only dog which never left was Travis. He got so old, his limp was almost as bad as Mary’s, and they had both begun to go blind, yet neither of them slowed down. Age unable to get in the way of their lives, until it stopped them completely, both dying in their sleep.
Mary was laid to rest next to Rose, their relationship in life was mostly unspoken, with laws against it. Their graves however were on land passed onto Lewis and Elise, and they refused to disrespect them like that.
So Marys grave said;
The funeral was a busy affair. Mary was so deeply loved that despite how much land they had it didn’t seem enough. Stories were passed from their children, to friends, to other children who had never met. Some stories were well known, others were little secrets which were harmless enough to share, but the one question no one could ever answer was;
What did Mary and Rose do with Mr Boltons hands?