This is the seventh installment of a short novel that I began posting during the season of Easter and Passover. For a brief introduction and a glossary of Hebrew and Aramaic words, see the first installment.
Her face -- look at her --
Like the sun!
Radiant, like Moshe our teacher, descending from Mount Sinai --
Like a mother watching her children at play!
They dare not speak aloud, for besides the squadron surrounding her, prodding her with the tips of their javelins, there are soldiers posted at all the intersections. Yet at each doorway the procession passes, each shop stall, each window, he can hear the murmurs --
A queen on her way to her anointing, you'd think she was, not -- not this --
In his bruised arms he carries one end of the cross-beam, heavy as a ewe before milking.
Yosef carries the other.
She looked at us!
No, are you sure?
Yes, as Adonai lives -- she smiled at the baby!
Only at rare moments, at turns in their path, can he see her face, and then only for an instant; but often a gap opens between the soldiers and he can see her back. He sees it bending, shrinking from the iron goads. He sees the neck thickening, twisting, like the trunk of a cedar on a ridgetop, so hounded by wind that it can hardly breathe. He sees the labor of her torso, the breath coming faster, thinner, hard-won. He sees her aging with each step, her brown hair veining with silver.
How young she looks!
Like a maiden!
The crossbeam slips from his hands, slick with sweat, smashes his foot, he stumbles, Yosef stumbles, the Romans hoot with laughter. He stoops to retrieve it. Now it's his turn to feel the iron -- in his scarified buttocks, which doubles the soldiers' glee. Even some of the bystanders giggle.
They have not beaten Miryam, or not much, which is strange: for all their goddess-coddling, the Romans are not sentimental. Perhaps they sensed -- or learned from the first, experimental blows -- that pain, her own pain, does not concern her. On the birthstool it has held her close; it has lodged in her muscles for so many days of work, in her chest for so many nights of hunger, that it has lost all terror and is merely pain.
Her indifference shames them, maybe -- these hard, armored men. As there's no joy in beating her, why break a sweat? Let the cross take her measure...
Like a bride beneath the canopy.
And who's the bridegroom? The Holy One?
Shah! You talk like the goyim.
No, like the prophet: And I will betroth you to me forever, I will betroth you to me in uprightness, and in judgment, and in kindness, and in womb-mercy...
So? There he's talking to Israel.
And where is Israel now? Where, if not --
A soldier glares at the two Prushim, who suddenly take an interest in the wares of a costermonger.
Only Yosef dares to raise his voice.
Yosef -- rivers of salt coursing down his flesh, oceans from his eyes, so that with each step he seems to be dwindling, so that by the time they reach the Place of Skulls he will be a skull-headed, taut-skinned fetus, a tadpole --
Every few steps cries out, to the crowd along the route, to the crowd that is assembled and not assembled, that emerges from the stonework and fades back in --
Adonai will save her! Just watch!
They watch him with pity, with anguish, with morbid interest: with, despite themselves, a feeble, not quite suppressable hope.
Adonai, he cries, sobbing, will not stand idly by the blood of his servants! The time is at hand!
The soldiers don't know what he's saying, but they can read his voice, the torque of his body. For the first few minutes they laughed; now they ignore him.
[to be continued]
Copyright 2007 by Evan Eisenberg