The Virgin

by Jaye Nasir

This had happened semi-regularly since I was a kid: some girl, prettier than I was, more well-liked, more easygoing, seemingly less aware, would latch onto me in some class, and make me into her best friend for that year, or term, or whatever. I was sidekick material, lacking definitive qualities, eager to be defined by my proximity to someone else. Whatever the reason, it was better than being ignored. My unconscious awareness of this pattern, though vague, was probably what kept me from being too shocked when Amal, bending against the hierarchy of high school and across our very disparate social circles, took an interest in me.

It began only because we ended up, sheerly by chance, sitting two seats down from each other in the waiting room of the Planned Parenthood on Magdalene Street. I had only one headphone in so that I could hear my name when it was called, and a book open in my lap from which I kept rereading the same simple sentence, unable to comprehend it. I had noticed Amal, put a name to her face, and given her an uninvested look of acknowledgement before looking down at my lap again. It was best to pretend not to know people before they could pretend not to know you.

“Hey,” she said, very casually, leaning over the plastic folding chair between us. “We have English Comp together, right?” She was chewing gum, and her voice was curled like a smile, as if somehow even with that simple question she was making fun of me.

“Yeah,” I said, pausing my music. We had Physics, too, but I wasn’t going to say so. “Hey.”

“So, what are you in for?” She popped a bubble, twirling a strand of her silky, dark hair around her finger.

It was such a brazen, rude question. I turned to look straight at her, and she stopped chewing. Our faces were not excessively close, but close enough that I was uncomfortable. Her eyebrows were up, her lips tilting at their edges. She had an air, as she always did, of either knowing something everyone else didn’t, or else simply being smugly and blurrily stoned.

“Just,” I said, “a birth control refill.” I was pleased to say it, because it made me sound like I was sexually active, which I was not. I had been taking the pill since I was fourteen to keep my acne under control.

“Hmm.” Amal pulled her finger from the ringlet she’d made, letting it unspool, then began twirling it again. Her expression was mysteriously vacant.

“What about you?” I asked, showing that I could be just as nosy and uncaring.

The fluorescents hummed above us, the uneasy bustle of the waiting room coiled at the edges of our conversation.

“I’m getting a test,” she said, smiling like she was telling a joke, “to find out if I’m pregnant.”

My gut clenched in alarm, and I opened my mouth, not sure of what to say, but it didn’t end up mattering. One of the nurses called Amal’s name, and, without a backwards glance at me, she rose and walked over to an open door.


In English Comp, we didn’t have assigned seats, so Ms. Hong didn’t object when Amal moved two seats up to sit next to me. I had no proof that she had moved for this reason, and, in fact, she barely glanced at me once for the whole class period, but I suspected, once class was over and she began packing her pencil case with unnecessary slowness, that she wanted me to ask about her pregnancy test. I became aware of this trait of hers as early on as this, that she liked to shock people, to perform. The intuition that there was a rabid, self-conscious mind working behind her veneer of dreamy blandness made me feel less alone.

Standing up, I asked, quietly, “So, uh. What did your test say?”

She stilled and looked up at me through her mascara-heavy eyelashes. “That miracles are real.”

Most of the class had drifted out into the hallway. The snap of her pencil case closing was overly loud. I felt awkward, didn’t know how to respond to that. Was Amal one of those hokey religious kids who all went to camp together? Suddenly, no matter how pretty she was, I wanted out of the conversation.

“Oh. So. Is that a yes or a no?” I picked idly at my cuticles—a nervous, ugly habit.

Amal stood up. Her face was blankly angelic. “It’s a yes.”

As soon as I began walking toward the door, she fell into step beside me.

“Okay.” I nodded awkwardly. “But it’s a—good thing?”

She shrugged. “Not really.”

“But it’s a miracle?”

“I don’t think miracles have to be good. I’ve never thought about it before, but now I’m sure they don’t have to be.” She kept her face trained forward as she spoke, and she walked slowly, much slower than my usual pace between classes, as if she had nowhere to be, nothing pressing on her mind.

I swallowed, thumbs hooked around my backpack. “Oh, yeah?” I was trying to act normal, to pretend this conversation was normal. “Why?”

“Because,” she said, stopping and looking sideways at me, “I’ve never had sex.”

Then she turned into the classroom at her left, leaving me alone in the hallway, having just walked her to her class without realizing it, and feeling eerily as if I had just spoken to someone who was not altogether there—at least not in the way that I was there, or the way that everybody else around me was.


What kind of person do you have to be to tell a random acquaintance about your sexual history, unprompted? What kind of person do you have to be to believe that you’ve become pregnant without having sex? These questions, and a few others, defined my relationship to Amal for a long time to come. The others, the important others that lasted not just through those first few weeks of friendship but all the way to the end, were: What does she want from me? And, just underneath that, pulsing quietly: Why am I so eager to give it to her?

Starting after that day, I was always aware of her as soon as she entered a room, and my chest constricted whenever she looked at me. In English and in Physics, my eyes would unconsciously return, again and again, to the spot where the hem of her shirt met the waistband of her jeans. The sound of her voice gave me the same sick feeling that being up very high and looking down did. The sound of my name in her voice made me spark to attention.

“Vi?” she said. “Wanna be partners?”

I swallowed, nodded vaguely, as if I did not care at all. Amal moved her chair over to my desk and we bent our heads over the assignment that I suddenly had difficulty understanding. Her hair smelled like rose water.

Later on in life, it would become easier for me to detect this feeling as it arose, to define and assimilate it, and I would be able to enjoy having crushes, even unrequited or impossible ones. I would come to like the feeling of my heartbeat kicking up, knowing as soon as I saw a certain person’s face in sunlight or heard their particular laugh that I was an animal with a body that was alive and full of blood. But, in high school, I did not enjoy them.

In high school, a crush was a form of psychological torment.

“We can work on it at my house,” Amal offered, “if you wanna come over?”

“Okay. Yeah,” I said, not meeting her eyes for more than a second. “That works.”


Getting ready to go over to Amal’s, I put on something cute, stared despondently at myself in the mirror, and then took it off and instead dressed as I always did: jeans and a hoodie, dark colors. I felt dazed and profoundly stupid as I rode my bike to a much nicer neighborhood than the one where I lived with my dad. The only thing that bolstered my confidence was the fact that Amal, despite being much more popular than I was as well as objectively more physically attractive, also seemed to be pretty unhinged.

I took it for granted that she was lying about conceiving without ever having sex. I wasn’t even convinced that she was actually pregnant. I had overheard some girls in the bathroom once, last year, saying that she was a crazy, lying bitch. I had barely known who she was at the time, but that memory kept returning now, rose-colored, tinged with romantic nostalgia. Maybe I was also becoming slightly unhinged.

Her house was big and very clean, and her parents weren’t home, but her little brother was playing Xbox in the adjacent room, yelling at the TV at the top of his lungs. Amal was in sweatpants, hair up, but still wearing make-up. She kept offering me food from the enormous, gleaming refrigerator, but I was too nervous to accept anything. She seemed totally disinterested in the assignment, and didn’t bring it up once, although I had gotten the worksheet out and put it on her kitchen counter between us. She made us both smoothies, despite the fact that I said I didn’t want one, and then I watched her drink hers while she talked on and on about people at school I barely knew.

When she began taking a bunch of prenatal vitamins, I broached the subject.

“So, uh. You’re definitely pregnant?”

“Yeah. I got an ultrasound yesterday, and my mom went with me. She’s really freaking out.” From the ironic tilt of her lips, she appeared pretty pleased by this fact.

“Did you tell her”—I paused, struggling with how to phrase it—“what you told me?”

Amal gave a high, cackling laugh. “Of course not. Oh my god, can you imagine? No. No, my mom, luckily, isn’t religious at all. I think she was raised Baptist? We never go to church, although she lies to my grandma and says we do. And my dad’s supposed to be Muslim.”

I blinked. “Supposed to be?”

“According to the family,” she said the word family as if it was Family, title case implicit, “he’s not doing it right.”

I chewed on the inside of my cheek, then said, “So, they wouldn’t believe you.”

She snorted, swallowed a large pill, then set her glass of water down with a clank. “I don’t think they would even if they were Jesus freaks. They’re educated people, you know? They don’t believe in miracles. I mean, you don’t believe me, do you?”

On those last couple of words, her voice lost confidence, and she looked down, glancing at me only through her eyelashes. Something about this show of vulnerability felt very put-on.

“Well.” I laughed awkwardly. “It’s not really possible, is it? I googled it, just to make sure, and—”

“Me too,” she said. “There’s something called parthenogenesis, which is reproduction without fertilization, but in humans, it just produces this kind of, like, tumor made of genetic material. The ultrasound was to make sure that it wasn’t that—that it’s a viable fetus.” She blinked, completely undaunted by the look I was giving her. “And it is.”

She was crazy, I thought. Or she was lying. Or, like those girls in the bathroom had said, she was both.

“Are you sure you didn’t—that you’ve never…” I stopped short. It was a pretty fucked-up question to ask.

Amal realized it, too. “What, like, maybe I had sex and never noticed it?” Her tone was unpleasant, but she was still wearing that vague smile. “Or maybe somebody drugged me and—”

“Okay, I get it. Sorry, I’m not trying to say—”

“I’ve thought about it. I really have. I’ve run through every possibility in my head a million times. The last time I passed out at a party was in the summer, and all the doctors are saying the baby must have been conceived in November or December. I just told my parents I don’t know who the father is. They think I’m protecting some guy, but I’m really protecting myself. If I told them the truth…” She paused, eyes glazing slightly, shaking her head. “They’d think I was crazy. But I’m not crazy. As fucking weird as this is to you, Vi, it’s a thousand times weirder for me.”

She was speaking with absolute confidence, and although I still did not believe that what she said was the truth, I was starting to believe that she thought it was. Could it be some freak medical accident? Could somebody have done something to her without her knowing?

I felt vaguely ill, and swallowed some of my smoothie, which was melted, room temperature, and unappetizing. After a long silence permeated only by the little brother’s high-pitched squeals of murderous excitement, I said, “I believe you.”

Why did I say it? Because I was very, very stupid. But it was evidently the right thing to say. Amal immediately brightened, and gave me a long look that I was sure I was misinterpreting. But I wasn’t.

Leaning forward, she placed her chin in the palm of her hand and said, casually hitting me with another curveball, “I’m not actually a virgin.”

My chest rattled with confusion and interest that I tried to disguise. “Um?”

“Really, it’s such a bullshit, antiquated concept, anyway, like—I’ve had sex. Just not ever with a boy.” Her smile, shy and conniving, was growing as she spoke. “I mean, you know, somebody with a penis. That’s what I mean. Somebody who has a penis. A penis-haver.”

“Okay,” I said, sitting up very straight, face flushed. “I get it. You can stop saying penis.”

Amal laughed, as if her whole intention had been to make my voice shake with unease like that. “What?” She tilted her head. “Are you afraid?”

I scoffed, postured, tried to roll my eyes, still reeling from what she had just, unmistakably, implied. “Of penises?”

She shook her head, eyes still shining with amusement. “Of me.”


Even if she was crazy, it didn’t matter to me. The body does not think, does not reason, or weigh one option against another. All it does is want. Whether I believed her or didn’t believe her, it didn’t stop me from wanting to make her laugh, to brush my fingertips against hers, or make her eyes go wide in that expression of sudden recognition that I could tell was not at all performed.

She really was pregnant, which I found out from hanging around her house a lot and listening to her parents argue with her through the walls. Although it didn’t make any rational sense, I began to be taken in by the magnetic, unrelenting force of her own belief. It wasn’t because of anything she said—though occasionally, abruptly, she would tell me something like, “Did you know that female turkeys can produce fertilized eggs on their own if the male turkey population is low enough?”—but rather because she, more than any other person I had ever met, seemed so eternal and so self-contained that she might as well be capable, against all physical logic and scientific knowledge, of asexual reproduction.

Once she said, out of nowhere, “To this day, millions of people believe that the Virgin Mary was impregnated by God or an angel or something like that. Literally millions.”

“Yeah,” I said, pushing back slightly against her mania, “but people believe all kinds of shit. That the earth is flat. That the moon—”

“Is fake, I know.” She rolled her eyes.

“Uh. That the moon landing was faked. I don’t think anybody doubts the existence of the moon.”

She ignored me, eyes alight, twirling her hair around her finger. She complained that mine was too short for her to play with. “I’m just saying.”

“I know,” I replied. “I understand.”

And, in a way, I did, though I couldn’t have explained her to anyone else. When a couple of my friends asked why Amal Shaheen and I were suddenly besties, I just shrugged and said something noncommittal. What I felt about Amal existed somewhere lower than language. The way she looked standing under the flowering cherry tree outside the school, waiting by the bike rack for me to come out so that she could tell me when to come over to her house, or not to come over—I still cannot describe it. I felt like my entire life, my past and my future, were crystallized in her, her movements, the unconscious expressions flickering through her eyes when she thought nobody was looking. There was even something brutally attractive about her disinterest in consensus reality or standard modes of behavior, her inability to be polite or restrained or reasonable. It was like, just by existing, she was breaking the strangling confines of my life. She was breaking me open and crawling inside.

We first kissed in the dark, in the driveway outside her house. Then we kissed in her house, in her bedroom, early in the evening, when her parents were both still at work. We kissed at school when we were sure nobody was around, and we kissed on that bike trail that wound through the woods. We kissed each other’s lips and knuckles and chins and cheeks, the crowns of each other’s heads, shoulders, bellies—not lower. She pawed at my waistband and I stilled her hand. Couldn’t breathe. Although virginity was as made-up as she said it was, I felt pinned beneath its weight, ashamed of my own cluelessness.

Amal liked my nerves, liked my inexperience. She liked leading me, being the one in control. Beneath her clothes, she was starting to show.

Once, sitting on her bed, in her bedroom which still at that time contained all her childhood furniture, I asked, trying to sound unconcerned, “So, you’re going to have it?”

She didn’t look at me, and instead spoke to the long shadow cast by her bookcase. “I guess I am.”

I swallowed, folded and unfolded my hands, and tried to meet her eyes. “Do you want to, or are you just—I mean, do your parents—”

“My parents don’t want me to have it. Especially my mom. She says it’s going to ruin my life, and she’s probably right. My dad’s more—he doesn’t like to talk about it. I think he’s against abortion, but he’s also against being a grandfather at his age. We’ve been looking into adoption, but I don’t really want someone else to have it.”

“Do you—want a kid?” I asked, haltingly.

“Not really. I mean, maybe someday, but now is way too soon, you know?”

“So, why…?”

“Because I don’t know where it came from.” She spoke with such baseless conviction, staring dead ahead at nothing. “What if I was abducted by aliens? What if I really was impregnated by some fucking pervy angel and now I’m carrying the next messiah? What if this baby’s going to save the world, and then I don’t have it, and—”

“Do you really believe that, though?”

“Yes,” she said, “I do.” I suspected that she was saying it just to be contrary.

Before I could come up with a response, she asked if I wanted to go get pizza, then got up and started changing her outfit without waiting for me to answer. I watched the line of her back as she took off her shirt and, with an enviable lack of physical shyness, searched her closet for another.


Soon she was showing through her clothes. Rumors that had circulated through the school for months got confirmed. The more everyone talked about her, the more she glowed with self-satisfaction, completely absent any apparent shame or fear. A few people called her names behind her back, but most of her friends—cheerleaders and athletes, perfect gleaming girls formed of foundation and extracurricular activities—stood by her. Nobody knew we were dating, so the football team still flirted with her. Even if they had known, it probably wouldn’t have stopped them.

If she had been unpopular in the first place, a nobody—someone like me—it definitely wouldn’t have happened like it did, but because her parents were rich, and she was effortlessly hot and seemingly so unconcerned with what other people thought of her, she became something like the senior class mascot. The upper social echelon closed ranks around her, protecting her from anybody who said anything vile about her pregnancy. I overheard some girls planning her baby shower. At lunch, apparently, she discussed names. We never sat together, though she would make eyes at me across the room. She had this mischievous little smile that, I told myself, was only for me.

I could tell, in my gut and in my half-remembered dreams, that something was very wrong—with us, with her, or maybe just with the baby. More and more, she spoke about it like it was some kind of chosen one, some Jesus Jr., and she started dressing only in white, which suited her but was alarming nonetheless. We still met up to make out surreptitiously, but less often, because she was always busy. Against the odds, her pregnancy seemed to make her even more popular than she had been before. She posted about the baby constantly. When I touched her, I didn’t put my hands anywhere near her belly. I didn’t want to feel that there was something alive in there.

I suppose I compartmentalized a lot. She seemed far too young and small to be a mother, and also too selfish. When I fantasized about the future, it was always just the two of us. There was never any kid. I had dreams sometimes that I was in the delivery room with her—nonsensically, like I was some harried, clueless father—and the birth took far too long, whole eternities. I would be stuck in a crowd of people in white coats, bodies jostling, and the baby would always come out wrong: dead or misshapen or looking just like me.

She could tell her pregnancy made me nervous, and would tease me about it, would calm me, would thank me, would ignore me for days. She wasn’t a good girlfriend. I’m not even sure she ever was my girlfriend. It was more like she was my oracle and I was her hesitant disciple. In hindsight, our relationship was always uneven, never healthy, but I’d be lying if I said there was nothing redeeming in it. When we walked through the woods together, she knew the names of all the birds. When, eyes watering, I talked to her about my mother, she kissed me all over my cheeks and temples. She was ticklish. She had a ferocious sense of humor. After I gave her my locker combination, she would leave me notes, packed lunches, and, once, a huge golden sunflower. On the day that she found out the sex of the baby, before she even posted about it, she called me.

“Female,” she said. “That’s good, it’s so good.”

“I guess?” I said, unsure. I had never had much fun being a girl.

“It means,” she told me, “that the next savior of humanity is going to be a woman.”

I couldn’t tell, at that point, whether or not she was joking.


The cheerleading squad and the girls’ volleyball team started to act strangely. Every member began dressing in white every day, and at lunch they would sit in a circle outside, with Amal in the center, holding hands and singing what sounded like hymns. The faculty became concerned and tried to put a stop to these meetings, but the girls insisted it was a religious practice, and therefore protected under the law. There were some school board hearings about it, which I didn’t go to. Amal said that they were so boring, that she’d rather kiss me than talk about it. But each day the circle only got bigger, and in the halls I would watch these white-clad weirdos open doors for Amal and carry her books, as her belly grew and her movements slowed.

When I asked Amal about her “little cult,” she just shrugged and said she hadn’t organized it. “It’s a trend,” she’d said. “People will clique up over anything.”

Still, by the time graduation came around, half the people in our grade were wearing white under their gowns. The ceremony was long and dull. I had, at one point, been on track to become valedictorian, but it hadn’t happened in the end. I had gotten distracted. Dad said he was so proud of me, anyway. He asked if a girl in my grade was pregnant, and, not meeting his eyes, I said yes. That was the first time we ever spoke about Amal.

That night, I went to the graduation party at her house, which turned out to be more like a baby shower. Most of the senior class was there, acting out some parody of a religious service, lighting candles and singing songs that they all already seemed to know the words to. People were clustered around the pool in her backyard, though nobody was swimming or even wearing swimsuits. I heard the word baptism being thrown around—a word that I didn’t fully understand, but which struck me, for some reason, as being closely associated with drowning. As the only person not dressed in white, I was treated to smug, assessing glances. Gemma, a girl on the tennis team who I was sure did not know my name, handed me a drink with a false, ingratiating smile. I accepted it politely and then headed directly to the kitchen to pour it into the sink. My wrist shook slightly as I navigated the dim house. There was something jagged in the hymns that poured in from the yard.

The dawning realization that all of this wasn’t just a gimmick, but that something genuinely fucked up was going on, was not what made me end things with Amal, though maybe it should have been. Instead, it was walking into the kitchen to see her and Eddie Minjares making out against a counter.

I froze in the doorway, then quickly turned around, embarrassed as if somehow I were in the wrong. I left the cup on a random side table and navigated the house through tunnel vision, pulling on the jacket I’d taken off just a few minutes ago and stepping out onto the dark front porch without feeling the breeze. My head buzzed as if with television static.

Just after I closed the door, it opened again, and yellow light pooled at my back.

“Vi.” Amal’s voice, usually so easy and self-assured, sounded different.

I didn’t turn around, but I did stop there in the driveway, heart thudding in my chest like I’d just been slapped.

“Vi,” she said. “Come back inside. Tonight's gonna be so fun.” Her voice was gentle but unapologetic.

Whereas the betrayal had only made me feel like my organs were soaked in formaldehyde, like I was already dead, this forced nonchalance made me seethingly angry. I spun around on my heel and said, in a voice I’d never used with her, “You’re fucking crazy.”

She straightened slightly, silhouetted by the light from the house. She was in a long white dress with a crown of flowers laced into her hair, and although I knew she was some kind of cult leader, she looked more like a virgin sacrifice.

“And all of those people in there,” I added, pointing at the house, “are fucking crazy, too.” Then I turned to go. I had styled my hair. I had dressed nicely. Tonight was supposed to be—it was supposed to―

“I’m not crazy,” Amal called after me. She sounded more annoyed than anything else. Then she said, to my back: “The baby’s… Eddie’s. We had sex at Kimmi’s New Year’s Party, and he—he was an asshole about it. So I pretended it had never happened.”

For some reason, rather than freaking me out, this calmed me. I felt like such an idiot, felt like throwing up, but somehow this news—I should have known it would be something like this—tightened reality up, reassured me that Amal was not at all special, but was in fact nothing more than a fucking phony narcissist.

I let out a breath, and looked over my shoulder. “But he’s not an asshole anymore?”

Amal gave me a knowing and very familiar smile. “He’s a true believer.”

I could have hit her, but I just balled up my fists at my side, and said, “You are crazy. You’re a fucking psychopath,” and kept on walking.

“Yeah, maybe,” Amal called after me, coming down from the porch to the middle of the driveway. “Maybe I am.” As I knelt to unlock my bike from the street sign, she seemed to panic, to realize that I was no longer buying what she was selling. “But Eddie’s not important! If I’m Mary, then you’re—whatshisname? You know, Jesus’ adoptive dad? Who cares what’s real?” Her voice was taking on a frenzied note. “Nothing’s real, nobody’s real!” she yelled at me, as I climbed onto my bike. “Come back inside, Vi. I was lying. Eddie isn’t the father. I made that up. Vi, come back!”

But I didn’t go back. I couldn’t even look at her. I was afraid that if I did, I would choose to believe whatever she told me, no matter how deranged, how obviously untrue. I rode down the street and out of the neighborhood, the lampposts blurring past me like hazy angels.


My summer vacation was spent in a slog of depression. Dad tried to take me out on bike rides, to get me interested in our favorite shows, in playing gin rummy, going bowling, and all the other shit we’d done to cope after mom left. Somehow this was worse than that—not because Amal was more important than my mother, but because I was older, more aware, able to process my pain in a way that I hadn’t been at eight. I smoked a lot of weed and spent all my time online. Since I’d severely neglected my friends for half of senior year, everybody had more or less given up on me. I, too, gave up on myself. I wasn’t excited about college. The most emotion I could drum up was about my high score in Candy Crush Saga.

Amal texted me a lot at first, and left voicemails, and though I reread and replayed all her messages dozens of times, I never responded. I tried to ignore the news, even when people sent me articles and posts. Amal’s “supporters” from school had done a huge march downtown. Even teenagers who hadn’t gone to our school had joined in. Because it was mostly girls, people were calling it mass hysteria. Then someone coined the phrase “TikTok televangelism.” A local reporter suggested that the generalized apathy toward the spiritual that had been normalized in youth culture for so long had led to a sudden reversal, a religious fanaticism. Many theorized that psychedelic drugs were involved. Some people called it neo-Christianity. More called it Satanism. The girl at the center of it was called “an Arab Manson” by a member of the county school board, but she was also interviewed on the local access channel, and her story made it all the way to the homepage of the Weekly World News. Her Instagram follower count grew by the day. I knew because I constantly, masochistically, checked it.

Most of that happened in July. In August, things got worse. Some of Amal’s followers got arrested for “rioting,” and I heard she’d had to take out at least one restraining order. Some anti-abortion protestors started putting her face on signs, which I knew she must have hated. Then, halfway through the month, when I had almost fully regained my will to live, she called me. I didn’t pick up, just stared at her name on the screen, then listened to the voicemail that she left as soon as it came in, already knowing—despite not wanting to—why she was calling, what week it was.

At first, the recording was just of her breathing softly, and all at once I could smell her and feel her laughter like a shiver up my spine. Then she said, in that absent voice she always used: “Vi, my water’s breaking. I’m in the car now, on the way to the hospital. St. Perpetua’s. Can you please come? Please. I know you don’t want to see me, but I really need you. More than anybody.” There was a pause, and I could hear a faint shuddering breath. “Vi. Violet. Please. What I said about Eddie—it was a lie. I thought—I was just coming up with an excuse for why I was kissing him, trying to think of something forgivable. Really, I just did it because I’m fucking selfish. I’m selfish. I said it was his because I wanted you to think I wasn’t crazy, that I knew I wasn’t a saint, that everything was explainable and simple—but it’s not. It’s not.” I could hear that she was crying. “Violet, this baby has no father, do you understand me? There isn’t―”

Another voice said something indistinct, and then the call abruptly ended.


I deleted the voicemail so that I wouldn’t listen to it again, smoked enough weed that I was practically comatose, and fell into a heavy sleep wherein all my dreams were overly bright, as if under hospital fluorescents.

By the time I woke up in the morning, Dad had long since left for work. I had no new messages from Amal, or from anybody. The apartment was silent, and the street outside was empty and already hot. I dressed discreetly, ate a bowl of cereal, and went to the bus stop. It wasn’t so much that I made the decision to go to St. Perpetua’s as I accepted that it was happening. I knew that Amal was lying about Eddie, about the baby, about everything. But I still went.

Maybe if I had checked my Instagram feed, I would have been prepared for the circus in the parking lot, but I hadn’t and I was not. I waded through crowds of people dressed in white, holding signs and crosses, armfuls of flowers. People singing, people chanting. It looked less like a congregation and more like the set of a music video. I didn’t think most of these kids were doing it for anything but the aesthetic, or because it was what everybody else was doing, or because their parents hated it. Scarily, there were adults out there, too, also in white. Even old people. Even Mr. Slaby, one of the gym teachers from school. I felt disoriented, like I wasn’t fully in my body. The laughter of the people around me was too sharp.

Inside the maternity ward, it was quiet. The waiting room was practically empty. When I asked the receptionist for Amal’s room number, she said I’d have to wait outside the hospital with everybody else. “None of you are allowed in here, or didn’t they tell you?”

I said, “I’m not one of them. Your website says visiting hours are—”

“Visiting hours are for friends and family, not fans, or whatever else. If you’re her sister, then you can go in, but otherwise—”

“I’m not her sister,” I said, with too much force.

The receptionist gave me a disinterested look. “Then you’ll have to wait outside.”

I opened my mouth but said nothing. I didn’t know how to argue with adults who weren’t Dad, and I was too embarrassed to try. As I turned around to leave, my disappointment tinged with a sense of relief at having narrowly escaped something, I caught sight of Amal’s father walking down the hallway toward us. When he saw me, his face lit up with recognition.

“Violet,” he said as he approached, “I’m so glad you’re here.” He looked happier to see me than he ever had. I had never even seen him smile before, and had always assumed that he didn’t like me. He spoke briefly to the receptionist, then turned around and nodded for me to come along. I followed him in a fugue of fear. Would Amal be awake? Would I see the baby? The floors and walls blurred together, white on white. As we approached her room a heavy hope thudded in my chest, but I wasn’t really sure what it was for.

Her mother was at her bedside, and there were other relatives, too—what looked like an aunt and maybe a couple of cousins—setting up their bouquets in vases, chatting. Amal was on the bed, looking small and strained and much younger than she had ever looked before. In her arms, she held a bundle of cloth with a hint of pink skin peeking out of it. I paused in the doorway, not because I wasn’t prepared to see her, but because of the thing hanging above her, over the bed, near the ceiling.

It was white. Not white like a white person, but white like walls, like sheets of paper. A sterile, ecclesiastical white. It looked like a statue, like it was carved of perfectly smooth, unblemished stone—only it wasn’t fully solid. The light coming in the window shone through it. It floated, right above Amal and the baby, in a white robe, with a white veil parted to show its porcelain face. Its lips and its eyes were as white as its skin. Its fingers with their long fingernails, sticking out from the sides of its robe, were the same empty color. It wasn’t moving much, but I could see that it wasn’t perfectly still, either: its fingers shivered, its expression changed. Though it had no pupils, I had the distinct impression that it saw me, because its lips twitched and stretched apart into a smile. From the seam of its mouth, light poured.

I was confused for only a few seconds and then I was solely terrified. Amal’s father was trying to get me all the way through the doorway, but I couldn’t move. He didn’t seem bothered by the specter at all, and it was only when I looked at him and saw his reassuring smile that I realized he did not see it, that it was not really there. I looked around at the family. None of them glanced at it once. They seemed much more interested in me.

“We’re so happy you’re here,” Amal’s mother said, warmly and nervously. More quietly, she added, “She’s been asking for you,” and ushered me into the room.

I looked again at the figure floating above the bed. Despite how it looked, I knew with every hair on the back of my neck that it was not an angel. Light spilled out of it and down onto Amal, irradiating her in its glow. She sat serenely in the bed, rocking the baby, watching my face. I kept my distance.

Maybe she was only following my eyes, maybe I was hallucinating and she was just trying to figure out what I was staring at—but I don’t think so. When she looked up, right at the white figure, her gaze held something, and she gave a very slight, very familiar smile. Slowly, she brought that smile down toward me. The next time I blinked, the white figure was gone, its ethereal light gone with it.

Rather than moving toward the bed, I took a step back. In some ways, I had always been afraid of Amal, but the fear was deeper now. It touched everything. And I realized, as the child cradled in her lap let out a soft, uneasy whimper, that it was now not only Amal that I had to be afraid of.

Jaye Nasir is a writer based in Portland, Oregon whose work blurs, or outright ignores, the line between the real and the unreal. Her poems, essays and speculative fiction have appeared in many small publications, both local and international, as well as interdisciplinary art galleries, live readings and other hybrid media. Like this story, much of her fiction is inspired by the mysterious, speculative and psychologically complex elements of Catholicism, the religion she was raised with, and its connections to sexuality, feminine selfhood, violence and transcendence. Follow her work on Twitter @jayenasir or read more from her at

“The Virgin” by Jaye Nasir. Copyright © 2023 by Jaye Nasir.

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  1. Where to begin, such a wonderful twister. Maybe I'll just say, I know the impossible crush.


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