She was a cripple from birth and her struggle, in spite of the odds against it, had made her sweet-spirited. She knew her husband would come home disappointed and discouraged. A cripple’s life held many disappointments, but none that were beyond the power of her cooking to heal. The market bag was heavy and cut into her shoulder, and the narrow street was hot, but she barely noticed. So it hurt. So it was hot. So what was new? She had a man who needed her.
* * *
That man ran through the Capernaum streets with the rabbi’s words echoing in his head. “You are forgiven. Take up your mat and walk!” A life lived at people’s feet, begging, carried by friends and spit upon by strangers was over. Over!
“It is finished!” he rejoiced as he ran on new legs down old streets. He reached the shore of the lake and stopped too quickly so that he slipped and fell on the muddy sand. He stood up and splashed knee-deep into the water, raised his arms as if he would embrace the world, and started singing.
Of the four men who had carried him to see the rabbi one had gone home to dinner and three ran behind him, originally to make sure he didn’t fall over if his legs gave out and finally out of a stubborn desire not to let a man who had only been ambulatory for one hour out of his entire life outrun them. They ran but without the healed man’s energy, around a corner where they saw him standing in the lake. They were glad for their friend’s healing but they were very glad he had stopped running.
“I think he’s gone insane” said one.
“Wouldn’t you?” said his friend.
The two were as astonished as any when the rabbi said “walk” and their crippled friend stood and walked out the door. The third man was the only one who had believed.
“We’re going to have to repair Abram’s roof” said the one. The Believer looked over his shoulder at the sun lowering toward the hills behind them. “We’ll take him home first, then we’ll fix Abram’s roof” he said. “I don’t think he remembers where home is.”
“Come, Runner!” he shouted. “Time for home, and supper!” The man dropped his arms and waded up the bank. He moved to run again and the shortest and stoutest of his three friends stepped in front of him. “Oh, no you don’t” he said. “We have time to walk.”
The man smiled agreement. “We will walk. Yes.”
“Be careful. You haven’t had much practice at walking yet. It’s like running, only slower” said his friend.
* * *
The woman was elbow-deep in flour and dough, and the home smelled richly of lamb stew. She hummed as she worked the dough. Push, turn, fold, push, turn, fold, rhythmically to the tune of a familiar lullaby she had sung to her husband at the close of other disappointing days. “Aren’t all days tainted with disappointment for a cripple?” she thought. “It is a difficult life for a man, begging, but he has done it faithfully and well. I am not unhappy.”
A head leaned into the doorway.
“Shalom, Abigayil” said the Believer.
“Shalom, Moshe.” Abigayil smiled and cocked her head to look past him into the street. “Where is Mordecai? Have you abandoned him? I don’t blame you. He can be rough on the hard days.”
Moshe grinned at her. “No, but we should have. He is rough, but today he is also fast.” He moved aside and Mordecai her husband stepped over the door sill, grinning and shy, and held out his arms. “Shalom, wife” he said.
Abigayil sat down hard on the bench behind her and put one hand to her mouth. Moments passed in silence so thick the dust could be heard to settle on the floor. Smiles had just begun to fade when she lowered her hand. The flour left a hand print on her face.
“You’ve mud in your hair” she whispered. “And you’re wet.”
“But I am very happy!” Mordecai said, and lowered his arms. His friends slipped away unnoticed.
After a few moments Abigayil said “We have stew. And wine. And bread.” She stood and focused on preparing the bread.
Push, fold, turn. Push, fold, turn. ‘Focus on the bread, think only of the bread’ she told herself.
“A meal for a king” said the man who claimed to be her husband, the man who walked and who looked like Mordecai. “Today, I would not trade places with a king. Today” he slapped his chest “I am a king!” He held out his arms and surveyed his one-room castle, then sat on the low stool beside the table. He stretched out his legs, wiggled his feet, slapped his thighs. He looked at his wife and waited for her to ask him how he had left that morning a cripple on a mat and returned a whole man.
Push, fold, turn. Push, fold, turn, think only of the bread.
“He said to me ‘Your sins are forgiven’” said Mordecai after waiting long enough.
“Only God can forgive sins!” said his wife, more sharply than she intended.
Mordecai slapped his hand on the table and blew flour into his wife’s face. “Exactly!” he said. “He is the Son of God, the one spoken of by the prophets. Look at me. Look at me, Abi!” He stood up, then sat down. “Who but God could do this?”
“A sorcerer” she said. She ripped an egg-sized piece of dough from the lump, rolled it round between her hands and patted it into a flat cake.
“He is from Nazareth, not Ephesus” said her husband. “He looked at me as if he knew me from long ago.” He took a dough ball and tossed it up with his right hand and caught it in his left. “If you had seen him, you would know. You would believe.”
“‘If I had seen him,’ he says” said Abigayil, speaking to the ceiling. “How am I to see him? Women are not allowed to go with the men to hear the rabbi teach.”
Mordecai grinned at her. “This rabbi encourages women” he said.
“Did you know mud is slippery?” He had often cheered her with his foolishness.
“If I didn’t already know that, which I did, I’d know it just by looking at you” she replied. “I’ll get you a clean robe when I’ve finished here.” Mordecai stood and walked to the sleeping area and took a clean robe off the shelf that until that day had been too high for him to reach. He capered and sang as he changed into a clean robe.
Other than the sounds of Mordecai devouring his dinner the man and his wife ate in silence. Not until Mordecai wiped the gravy from the bottom of the stew pot with the last piece of bread did his wife speak.
“A healthy man will seek a healthy woman for his wife.”
‘So this is it,’ he thought, wiping the gravy off the sides of the pot.
“You are my chosen wife. I need no other.” He chewed and swallowed the last bite of gravy-covered bread. “I want no other.” He drank the last of the wine from his cup and looked at his wife’s face glowing in the candlelight, and his heart ached with her loveliness.
“You did not choose me” she said.
“No, your father chose you for me, and he chose very well.”
“How will you earn a living? You can no longer beg.”
‘And this also has her afraid’ he thought.
“Moshe will teach me to be a fisherman” he said. “I begin tomorrow.”
“You don’t know how to swim!”
“I’m learning how to fish, not how to swim.” He chuckled. “The Rabbi did not heal me so I could drown, it would be a poor witness upon his skill.” He took her hands and squeezed them. “You will soon overcome your fears. Your joy will be as great, perhaps even greater than mine. Time will heal the strangeness. We will give it time.”
Abigayil heard her husband’s joy and looked down at her right foot. It hadn’t changed; it still hung at the bottom of her leg, distorted, purple, pointing sideways, useless, and ugly. What man would marry a cripple? Only another cripple. And hadn’t her father had chosen Mordecai for just that reason?
‘We have made a good life together, even without children,’ she thought. Until now.
Mordecai took the candle dish from the table. “Come. Tomorrow will look brighter.” He put his arm around his wife and helped her to their sleeping area.
* * *
The next morning Mordecai stood outside his door and breathed deeply of the darkness and the sweet morning air. He looked up at a sky still covered with stars. Toda mamash raba, thank you very much” he whispered. He pinched his right thigh. It hurt a little and he was happy.
Sandals slapped along the dirt road and a dark shape moved down the street toward him until it became Moshe, wrapped in a cloak. His smile flashed in the starlight.
“Shalom, Fisherman!” he whispered.
“Shalom, teacher.” Mordecai hugged his friend, then put his hands on his shoulders and peered down at him. “I was not aware that you were so short.”
“The best fishermen are short, my friend. Better for balance, better for keeping your head out of the rigging. Your great height will be a disadvantage” said Moshe. “But don’t worry, I will teach you how to swim.”
“Abigayil will be relieved” chuckled Mordecai.
They turned and walked arm-in-arm toward the lake, whispering and laughing softly. “Today my new life begins” said Mordecai.
* * *
Abigayil lay under the blanket and listened to the men laugh and heard their steps fade as they walked away. She wiped away the tears as she had done a thousand times during the night while she watched her husband sleep.
She spoke toward the ceiling. “My God, I have looked everywhere I know to look and all I feel is sadness, and fear. I want to feel joy but I cannot.
“Mostly, I am angry at the rabbi who turned my husband into someone I do not know.”
The tears began again and she lay her head against the pillow and waited for morning.