Mary stared at her reflection in the looking glass with dismay. “But Ma,” she whined, “why do I have to dress in boy’s clothes?” She pulled at the unfamiliar tug of the breeches between her legs.

“Because you are a boy, Mark.”

Mary didn’t see the desperation etched in her mother’s face. “No, I’m not; I’m a girl,” she giggled, convinced her mother was playing some strange game. She received a resounding slap to the face that made her skin sting and tingle, bringing tears to her eyes.

“Not any more!” shrieked her mother. “The only money I have is what your grandmother sends for Mark every month.” Mark had died in infancy, just before Mary was born. “She’s never heard of Mary Read.”

Mary was stunned into silence; the only sound in their parlour was that of the birds twittering in the bushes. “Why not?” 

“Never mind that. Mary Read doesn’t exist anymore. We’re moving to London. You have to convince your grandmother that you are Mark, or there’ll be no more money. We’ll be on the streets.”

Mary didn’t really understand and didn’t want to leave the countryside with its fresh, clean air and fragrant meadows. She hated Wapping and the London docklands from the moment they stepped out of the carriage. The sheer volume of noise, from the hawkers to the bustling crowd, was overwhelming. The stench of rotting fish and gutter filth made Mary wrinkle her nose, and for the first time, she was grateful that she wore breeches rather than skirts that would drag through the muck.

“Grandmother is an old woman; soon she’ll die, and we’ll inherit her estate,” Ma insisted. But grandmother lingered for years, and Mary had to fool everyone that she was Mark. One wrong word, and their game would be up.

Eventually, even Mary began to believe the lie. Her mother was a cruel and vindictive woman. Once her grandmother died, she could no longer bear living at home. 

At the age of thirteen, she ran away and sought employment on a ship.

And from there, her legend grew.

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    Margarida Brei
    Margarida Brei(@margarida-brei)
    1 month ago

    From bullied daughter, to a disguise to piracy, Mary Read led an exciting life. Her mother was a cruel disillusioned bully!

    Julie Harris
    Julie Harris(@julie-harris)
    1 month ago

    I totally enjoyed this story, Carrie, marveling at your vivid imagination. Then, Margarida’s comment suggested that maybe Mary Read was a real character. I looked her up and was fascinated to find out that she was absolutely real. Your story brought her to life for me and led to some exciting research. What a great, unforgettable story! Will there be more about Mary/Mark in the future? Hope so! I love your picture… Read more »

    Deborah Goulding
    Deborah Goulding(@deborah-goulding)
    1 month ago

    Carrie, I like all your pictures that match each of your stories! Well done on this! I wouldn’t know how to create such vivid images. This story is one of my favorites by you. The mother was a cruel, dishonest and wretched person. Her treatment towards her daughter was wrong on all levels! I hope you are publishing a book of flash fiction!

    Linda Rock
    Linda Rock(@linda-rock)
    1 month ago

    I have to agree with others, Carrie, this is one of your best. I love how you bring real life stories to us, some of which we have never heard of before. Your description of Wapping and Docklands reminds me of Charles Dicken’s novels, that’s how good it is. More please!

    Lotchie Carmelo
    Lotchie Carmelo(@lotchie-carmelo)
    1 month ago

    The mother did a very wrong thing for Mary. It doesn’t matter if we are poor as long as we don’t cheat and deceive others. She will surely reap what she has sown. I do also enjoy your real life story, Carrie. Well done.

    Lotchie Carmelo
    Lotchie Carmelo(@lotchie-carmelo)
    Reply to  Carrie OLeary
    1 month ago

    Oh! I see. But greediness is still not a good thing. Thanks for pointing out, Carrie.

    N Jungeberg
    N Jungeberg(@n-jungeberg)
    14 days ago

    My goodness…you really do learn something new every day! Now I have to google Mary Read! Your writing whetted my appetite and isn’t that what good writing is supposed to do? BRAVO!

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