Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana Page 5

He stopped, unable to go on.

"What's the use of this!" he whispered. He stood up and turned his back.

I took up the words as I knew them.

" 'To give His people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,' " I said. " 'Because of the tender mercy of our Lord.' "

He stared down at me astonished.

I continued, " 'Through which the daybreak from on high will visit us . . . to shine on those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.' "

He drew back, his face blank.

" 'Into the path of peace,' Jason," I said. " 'Into the path of peace.' "

"But where is he, your cousin!" he demanded. "Where is John who is to be the prophet? Pontius Pilate's soldiers are outside Jerusalem tonight. The fires told us so at sunset. What will you do?"

I folded my arms and looked at him, the picture he made in his fervor and his fury. He drank the rest of his wine and set the cup on the bench. It fell off the bench and broke. I stared at it - at the broken pieces. He didn't even see them. He hadn't heard the cup break.

He drew close to me and crouched down again so that his face was fully in the light.

"Do you yourself believe these stories?" he asked. "Tell me; tell me before I go out of my mind."

I didn't answer.

"Yeshua," he pleaded.

"Yes, I believe in them," I said.

He stared expectantly at me for the longest time, but I did nothing.

He put his hands to his head. "Oh, I shouldn't have told you these things. I promised your cousin John I would never reveal these things. I don't know why I did this. I thought . . . I thought . . ."

"This is a bitter time," I said. "Yitra and the Orphan are dead. The sky is the color of the dust. Each day breaks our backs and hurts our hearts."

He looked at me. He wanted so much to understand.

"And we wait on the Lord's tender mercy," I said. "We wait on the Lord's time."

"You're not afraid it's all lies? Yeshua, are you ever afraid that it's all lies?"

"You know the stories that I know," I said.

"Not afraid of what's about to happen in Judea?" he demanded.

I shook my head.

"I love you, Yeshua," he said.

"And I love you, my brother," I said.

"No, don't love me. Your cousin would not forgive me if he knew I talked about these secrets."

"And who is my cousin John that he should live his whole life without ever confiding to a friend?" I asked.

"A bad friend, a restless friend," he replied.

"A friend with much on his mind," I said. "You must have been noisy among the Essenes."

"Noisy!" He laughed. "They threw me out."

"I know," I said. I laughed. Jason loved to tell the story of how the Essenes asked him to leave. It was almost always the first thing he told a new acquaintance, that the Essenes had asked him to go.

I picked up the potsherd and started to cut again, fast, holding the measure perfectly still. Straight line.

"You will not ask for Avigail's hand, will you?" he asked.

"No, I will not," I answered, reaching for the next plank. "I'll never marry." I went on measuring.

"That's not what your brother James says," he answered.

"Jason, leave off," I said gently. "What James says is between him and me."

"He says you will marry her - yes, Avigail - and he will see to it. He says her father will accept you. He says money means nothing to Shemayah. He says you're the man her father won't - ."

"Leave off !" I said. I looked up at him. He was towering over me now as if he meant to threaten me.

"What is it?" I asked. "What's really inside you? Why won't you let this go?"

He came down on his knees, and sat back on his heels, so that we were eye to eye again. He was thoughtful and miserable, and when he talked his voice was hoarse.

"Do you know what Shemayah said about me when my uncle went to ask for Avigail? Do you know what that old man said to my uncle, even though he knew that I was behind the curtain, that I could hear?"

"Jason," I said softly.

"The old man said he could see what I was from a mile away. The old man sneered. He used a Greek word for it, the word they used for Yitra and the Orphan. . . ."

"Jason, can't you see through all this?" I asked. "The man's old, bitter. When Avigail's mother died, the man died. Only Avigail keeps him breathing and walking and talking, and complaining of his sore leg."

He was beside himself. He didn't hear me.

"My uncle pretended he didn't understand him, that wicked man! My uncle, you know, he is a master of formalities. He didn't acknowledge this insult. He simply rose and said, 'Well, then perhaps you'll consider . . .' And he never even told me what Shemayah had said, that he had said - ."

"Jason, Shemayah doesn't want to lose his daughter. She is all that the man has. Shemayah's the richest farmer in Nazareth and he might as well be a beggar at the foot of the hill. All he has is Avigail and he must give Avigail to someone in marriage sooner or later, and he's afraid. You come, in your fine linen and with your barbered hair, with your rings, and your gift for words in Greek and in Latin, and you make him afraid. Forgive him, Jason. Forgive him for the sake of your own heart."

He stood up. He paced.

"You don't even know what I'm talking about, do you?" he asked. "You don't understand what I'm trying to tell you!" he said. "I think one moment you understand, and the next I think you're an imbecile!"

"Jason, this place is too small for you," I said. "You wrestle with demons every day and every night in all you read, all you write, all you think, and probably in every dream you dream. Go to Jerusalem where there are men who want to talk about the world. Go to Alexandria again or Rhodes. You were happy on Rhodes. That was a good place for you, with plenty of philosophers. Maybe Rome is where you belong."

"Why should I go to any of those places?" he asked bitterly. "Why? Because you think that old man Shemayah was right?"

"No, I don't think so at all," I said.

"Well, let me tell you something, you know nothing of Rhodes or Rome or Athens, you know nothing of this world. And there comes a time when any man can be fed up with fine company, when he's tired of the taverns and the schools and the drunken banquets - when he wants to come home and walk under the trees his grandfather planted. I may not be an Essene in my heart, no, but I am a man."

"I know."

"You don't know."

"I wish I could give you what you need."

"And what is that, as if you knew!"

"My shoulder," I said. "My arms around you." I shrugged. "Kindness, that's all. I wish I could give it to you now."

He was amazed. Words boiled in him, and nothing came out of him. He turned this way and that, then back to me. "Oh, you had better not dare to do that," he whispered, staring down at me with narrow eyes. "They'd stone the both of us, if you did that, the way they stoned those boys." He moved towards the edge of the courtyard.

"In this winter," I said, "they very well might."

"You're a simpleton and a fool," he said. A whisper from the shadows.

"You know Scripture better than your uncle, don't you?" I looked at him, a dim figure now, against the lattice. Specks of light in his eyes.

"What has that to do with you and me and this?" he demanded.

"Think on it," I suggested. " 'Be kind to the stranger in your land for you were once a stranger in the land of Egypt.' " I shrugged. " 'And you know what it means to be a stranger.'. . . So tell me, how are we to treat the stranger in ourselves?"

The door of the house opened and Jason slipped back against the lattice, startled and shaken.

It was only James.

"What's the matter with you tonight?" he demanded of Jason. "Why are you hovering about in your linen robes? What's the matter? You look like you've lost your mind."

My heart shrank.

Jason snorted with contempt.

"Well, it's nothing a carpenter can fix," he said. "I'll tell you that much." And then he went off, up the hill.

James made some soft derisive sound. "Why do you tolerate him, why do you let him come into this courtyard and carry on as if this was a public marketplace?"

I went back to work. I said,

"You like him a lot better than you let on."

"I want to talk to you," James said.

"Not now, if you'll forgive me. I have these lines to draw. I told the others I'd do it. I sent them home."

"I know what you did," he said. "You think you are the head of this family?"

"No, James, I don't." I continued with my work.

"Now is when I choose to talk to you," he said. "Now, when the women are quiet, and the little ones are out of the way. I've come out here to talk to you, and for that reason alone."

He walked back and forth in front of the planks. I laid the planks side by side by side. Lines straight.

"James, the town's asleep. I'm almost asleep. I want to go to bed."

I drew the next line as carefully as I could. Good enough. I reached for the last plank. I stopped for a moment and rubbed my hands together. I hadn't realized it until now but my fingers were almost rigid with cold.

"Yeshua," James said in a low voice, "the time has come and you can avoid it no longer. You will marry," he said. "There is no reason any longer for you to put it off."

I looked up at him.

"I don't follow you, James."

"Don't you? Besides, where, where in all the prophecies does it say that you won't marry?" His voice was harsh. He spoke with uncommon slowness. "Whoever declared that you should not take a wife?"

I looked down again, careful to do this slowly, to move slowly so that he felt in no way more challenged than he already was.

I finished the last line. I looked over the planks. Then slowly I stood up. The pain in my knees was intense, and I bent to rub the left and then the right.

He stood with his arms folded, in a cold anger, far removed from Jason's hot currents. But in his own way, he was even angrier, and I looked past it as best I could.

"James, I will never marry," I said. "It's time we stopped this dance. It's time we put an end to it altogether. It troubles you . . . and you alone."

He put out his hand as he so often did and held my arm just tight enough for it to be painful and he didn't move.

"It does not trouble me alone," he said. "You try my patience to the limit, you do."

"I don't mean to do that," I said. "I'm tired."

"You're tired? You?" His cheeks flushed. The light of the lantern made shadows in his eyes. "The men and the women of this house have come together on it," he said. "They all say that it is time you married, and I say that you will."

"Not your father," I said. "You won't tell me that your father says so. And not my mother, because I know she would not. And if the others have come together, it's because you brought them together. And yes, I'm tired, James, and I want to go in now. I'm very tired."

I pulled loose from him as slowly as I could, and I picked up the lantern and moved towards the stable. All was done there, the beasts were fed, the place was swept and clean. Every harness was on its hook. The air was warm from the beasts. I liked it. For a moment I let it warm me.

I came back out into the yard. He had snuffed the other lantern and he stood fidgeting in the darkness and then he followed me into the house.

The family had gone to bed. Only Joseph remained by the brazier and he was asleep. His face was smooth and youthful in sleep. I loved the faces of old men; I loved their waxen purity, the way the flesh melted over their bones. I loved the distinct shapes of their eyes beneath their lids.

As I sank down by the coals and began to warm my hands, my mother came in and she stood beside James.

"Not you, too, Mother," I said.

James paced as Jason had paced. "Stubborn, proud," he said under his breath.

"No, my son," my mother said to me. "But you must know something now."

"Then tell me, Mother," I said. The warmth felt delicious to my stiffened fingers. I loved the glitter of the fire right beneath the thick gray ash of the coals.

"James, will you leave us, please?" asked my mother.

He hesitated, then he nodded respectfully, almost bowing in his respect, and he went out. Only with my mother was he that way, unfailingly gentle. He drove his wife often enough to the brink.

My mother sat down.

"This is a strange thing," she said. "You know our Avigail, and, well, you know this town is what it is, and kinsmen come asking for her from Sepphoris, even from Jerusalem."

I didn't say anything. I felt a sudden exhausting ache. I tried to locate this ache. It was in my chest, in my belly, behind my eyes. It was in my heart.

"Yeshua," my mother whispered. "The girl herself has asked for you."


"She's far too modest to come to me with it," my mother whispered. "She's spoken to Old Bruria, and to Esther and to Salome. She's spoken to Little Salome. Yeshua, I think her father would say yes."

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