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28 Portrait of the Virgin Who Said No to Gabriel This is the one Giotto never painted. She looked up from baking that morning, hearing his feathers settle and his voice scatter like gold coins on the floor. He told her, his forehead sweaty from the long trip. Me? she breathed, Oh sure! But after he walked away, she couldn’t forget his look, the strange way his feet rang like horseshoes on the stones. What she’d been wanting before he interrupted was not the Bach Magnificat, I can tell you, not stained glass. Nothing risky. Just to keep her good name. Small as she was, how could she keep in her heart those centuries of praise? But I praise her anyway for wanting a decent wedding with napkins folded like hats and a good Italian wine. I praise her name, Lenora. I praise the way she would practice carefully, making the L like a little porch, where she could imagine standing to throw a red ball to some children she loved. I praise the way, year by year, she let herself see who that visitor was. Think of her collecting belief slowly, the way a bird builds her nest in an olive tree. Then finally how one year, after the leaves fell, she was an old woman looking at the truth, outlined against the salmon sky, knowing it was true. For not despising her own caution then, I praise her. For never feeling envy. And for the way, once, she stepped past her fear to hand a cup of water to a thirsty carpenter fainting by her door. In every room of this gallery I think I see her picture. —For Henry William Griffin ...


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