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Authors: Diana Wallis Taylor

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Mary Magdalene: A Novel (10 page)

BOOK: Mary Magdalene: A Novel
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20

T
he eyes looking back at him were not Mary’s. Strange sounds came out of her mouth and she sank to her knees. “Leave me alone,” she growled.

Hearing the guttural voice, Nathan backed against the wall, his heart pounding in his chest. This was the worst he’d seen her. He wanted to cry out to the Most High, “I cannot take this anymore. It is too much.” Day after day, month after month, year after year, the woman he’d loved was no longer. Instead he lived with a sick woman who resembled a crone more than the beautiful woman he married. In spite of Keturah’s constant care and help, their household had become a place to dread at the end of the day. He slipped out of the room and bolted the door behind him. After her mother’s death, he’d had to resort to locking Mary in her room for her own safety. In spite of Eliab’s watchful eyes, she had craftily escaped a couple of times, wandering through the marketplace and tearing at her hair. If it were not for the faithful Eliab bringing her back home, he didn’t know how she would end up.

Nathan moved slowly down the stairs. How long would they have Eliab? Keturah could not handle her alone anymore and even young Mishma cowered away from Mary now.

Nathan passed Eliab, who sat as he did these days, his back to the wall in the sun, staring off into the distance. He was getting older and his hair was nearly white. As Nathan observed him, he wondered if the former gladiator was thinking of his home far away across the great desert. Eliab had remained with them after Jared’s death, for he had promised Jared on his deathbed that he would watch over Rachel now that she was alone.

When Nathan moved Mary back to her mother’s home, Nathan wondered how long Eliab would stay. When Rachel had died, he wondered if Eliab felt he had repaid his debt to the family. He was sure Eliab would leave them now, and in his heart Nathan felt it would be soon. Eliab seemed to be waiting for something but kept his thoughts to himself.

Nathan had noted Mishma’s behavior in the last few months. This was no atmosphere for a young boy. The boy’s natural sympathy for Mary had turned to fear. He would not come near her and then seemed relieved when Nathan finally had to lock her in her room.

Nathan turned toward Keturah, whose eyes seemed guarded as she watched him approach.

“How is she?”

He shook his head slowly. “I had to bar the door again. The evil one takes more and more of her. I don’t know how much longer I can endure this.”

“You have borne more than most men would have, Nathan.”

He raised his eyebrows. The comment was unlike her. He thought for a moment. How long had she been with them? Too many years. She had not sought marriage again, devoting herself to her son and Mary. One evening Mary had shared with him the circumstances of Keturah’s first marriage and how she had lived with an abusive husband. She told him Keturah had nearly lost her son to one of his rages when she was pregnant. It had almost been a blessing when he died suddenly in an accident.

Nathan thought on all these things and knew he must make a decision in some way. What was he to do?

“I must leave for Capernaum. I need to deliver the boat to Zebedee and his sons. When I return, I must decide what to do about Mary.”

“Will Zerah go with you?”

“No, I promised the next trip to young Daniel. He’s been a big help in the boatyard and has been begging to go along on one of my delivery trips.”

She nodded, and Nathan noted that the same lines of fatigue he had seen on Rachel’s face now touched Keturah’s. He watched her knead the bread dough. She should have a life of her own, a husband and father for Mishma. Yet she stayed.

The soft folds of her shift moved with her and Nathan felt an emotion suddenly constrict his heart that he hadn’t felt in a long time—the longing for a woman. Keturah was comely, a good mother and an able homemaker. On more than one occasion, he’d struggled with the temptation she presented living with them. When Rachel was there, it had been acceptable, but now Rachel was gone and he knew he must either send Keturah away or find a husband for her. He cringed inwardly, thinking of the words of their rabbi the previous Sabbath.

“It has come to my attention that after the death of your mother-in-law a young woman remains in your home.”

“She cares for my wife, who is ill.”

“It is not a good situation. We know of your wife’s illness. It has continued for many years. This young woman must not remain unprotected in your home.”

Nathan nodded. “I understand.”

Now, as he thought back on the rabbi’s words, he stopped at the gate and suddenly turned around. Keturah was standing in the courtyard watching him, and in that unguarded moment, her feelings were in her eyes. They stood staring at each other in silence, and Nathan felt an overwhelming urge to take her in his arms and comfort her, yet he knew if he did, he was lost.

He spoke first, but it was not what he wanted to say. “I pray things will go well with Mary while I’m gone. Huldah will help you and you have Eliab to watch over the household and protect you.”

The moment passed. Keturah turned away abruptly and began to shape the dough into loaves. There was no resistance left in her.

He needed to be at the boat. He picked up the leather pouch of food Keturah had prepared for his journey, slung the strap over his shoulder, and strode briskly toward the docks, wrestling with his thoughts.

You love the boy, you could be a father.

With Keturah you could have more children.

Why should you stay with a woman who cannot be a wife?

Mary’s words, flung at him in saner moments, haunted him,
Leave me, divorce me, we have no life together.

Everyone would understand Nathan taking another wife under the circumstances, but then what could he do with Mary? He searched his heart. Did he still love her? It was true, they had no marriage. Mary couldn’t bear to have him touch her. The forces that drove her caused her to cry out in fear lately whenever he came near. Bitterness raised its ugly head as Nathan contemplated his circumstances.

Several fishermen were washing their nets, flinging them out again and again into the water to remove the sand and pebbles that clogged them. Some were mending their nets, torn by the violent waves from the sudden storms that plagued those who fished the unpredictable waters of the Sea of Galilee.

When he neared the boat, Daniel waved at him and Nathan brightened a little. At least this trip he would not have to put up with a sour mood from Zerah, who had not shown up at the boatyard yesterday. No doubt recovering from one of his drinking sprees. Young Daniel would be better company.

The sea was relatively calm as they hoisted the sail. Nathan was proud of this boat. It showed their finest workmanship, and he knew Zebedee and his sons would be pleased. Their young apprentice at the boatyard begged to go along and Nathan relented and gave him permission. Now he scampered like a young monkey, doing Nathan’s bidding as they readied the boat for its maiden trip to Capernaum. When he’d delivered the fishing boat, he would find passage on another boat heading for Magdala and return home.

A slight breeze blew and the sail filled, moving the craft across the water. Nathan turned his face into the wind and breathed in the salty air. He loved the sea and had sailed their new boats to ports on the Sea of Galilee as often as was possible. It lifted the burden he bore. Now, he listened to the cry of the ever present seagulls as they hovered over the boat, looking for scraps.

Daniel waved his hands at them good-naturedly. “You scavengers! We have no fish for you on this trip.”

The birds seemed to sense this and eventually moved away over the water, looking for a more promising source of food.

The craft was made to cut through the water, and with fair weather they reached Capernaum in good time. Daniel leaped to the dock to tie the line and secure the boat. A lone figure stood waiting for them. Zebedee.

As Nathan stepped out of the boat and approached the older man, he was startled to see the sad look on the fisherman’s face. Zebedee looked distracted.

“Would you care to inspect the boat, sir?”

“Yes, yes, of course.” Zebedee walked closer and looked over the sleek craft from head to stern. “It is good.”

Nathan frowned. “And how are those two strapping sons of yours?” He meant only to make conversation, but Zebedee’s face was suddenly as dark as a storm cloud.

“Gone, both of them, their two cousins, Peter and Andrew also.”

“Gone? Where?”

“They are off to follow an itinerant rabbi gathering followers. He came to our boats one day and merely said, ‘Follow me,’ and my sons left our boat and walked away with him.” He shook his head slowly. “I don’t understand. They just left. They have wives and children and now I must take care of their families.”

Nathan stood dumbly, trying to imagine what Zebedee was telling him. A man counted on his sons to follow him into his trade, and now it was as if Zebedee had no sons at all.

“Who is this rabbi they are following? Is it the prophet you told me about earlier?”

Zebedee waved a hand in the air. “No, it is not the man called John. It is a new teacher by the name of Jesus. He goes around the countryside telling people the kingdom of God is at hand. They say he heals people. Preposterous stories! Who can believe these things? I say he’s a sorcerer.”

He had Nathan’s full attention then. “Healing people? In what way?”

Zebedee shrugged. “I hear conflicting stories. Some say he has caused a blind man to see, healed lepers, driven out demons—”

“The man has authority over demons?”

“So it would seem, but unless I can see these things for myself, who can believe all he hears?”

Nathan thought of Mary. A glimmer of hope tugged at his heart. He needed to find this rabbi and see what he could do. He had nothing to lose. Then he remembered he needed to complete this sale.

“Are you satisfied with the boat, sir?”

“It is well made. I am pleased.” Then Zebedee remembered his hospitality. “Come, young man. Share a meal with my family. We will talk more.”

Daniel was still standing by the boat. Zebedee nodded toward him. “Bring your young friend with you. My men will guard the boat.”

Nathan and Daniel followed Zebedee down a series of narrow streets to his home. It was a simple one story with steps up the side leading to the rooftop where the family could sleep in the heat of the summer. The courtyard was surrounded by a wall with no gate. Two goats grazed on a pile of hay in one corner and a few sheep moved restlessly in their cramped pen in another corner. Three large clay jars containing water stood by the side of the house in the shade.

Two women came out of the house, one holding a baby on her hip. Zebedee glanced toward them. “Miriam, the wife of my son James, and my grandson, Eli. Also Dinah, the wife of my nephew Peter. A houseful as you can see.” He shook his head sadly.

There was also sadness in the faces of the women as they gazed at Nathan a moment before respectfully lowering their eyes.

Another woman came out of the house and Zebedee introduced her as his wife, Salome. A thick carpet was unrolled on the ground and the men sat cross-legged as the women began to bring wine, bread, fruit, and date cakes, which they spread before their guests.

Daniel waited until Zebedee spoke the prayer of thanks before the meal, and then began to sample the variety of food, especially the platter of fish that had been fried to perfection in olive oil and leeks.

Zebedee settled himself and, as a good host, inquired about their journey and Nathan’s family. Nathan spoke briefly about his mother-in-law and father-in-law’s deaths.

Daniel watched covertly, no doubt wondering what Nathan would say about his wife.

“My wife suffers from an illness. It is worse since the death of her mother recently.”

Zebedee’s dark eyes studied Nathan’s face, and Daniel had the feeling the older man saw a lot more than they realized. Zebedee stroked his beard and remained quiet, only nodding at Nathan’s words.

Finally Zebedee spoke. “The fishing has been good and I am able to provide what is needed, but I must now work without the help of my sons. My brother is in the same circumstances. Both of his sons, Peter and Andrew, have gone after this rabbi.”

BOOK: Mary Magdalene: A Novel
6.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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