TITLE: The Substitute
By Theresa Kissinger
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She held her newborn in her arms and for the first time in nine months she experienced a glimmer of hope. Hope that this son would not die before his time. Hope that he would not be handicapped. As suddenly as she had the thought all the old foreboding washed over her and swallowed up that little spark of hope, she felt like she was drowning.
The memories flooded back, the same sweet smell, the same soft olive skin, the thatch of black hair, the straight little nose. Perfectly full lips, pursed while the little chin moved up and down as though he were sucking on something, but he was sound asleep. He was perfect; but so were the two boys lost to her now.
She laid him back into his tiny bed, her musings disturbed him and she needed him to sleep. The truth was she tried to keep herself as detached from him as possible; she just couldn’t take the chance that she would lose another child, another son. In fact they hadn’t named him; he was twenty four hours old and didn’t have a name.
Her husband hadn’t chosen a name either; life had gone out of him since the loss of his sons. He seemed bowed over more than he ever had since they’d come here, he looked old. It never occurred to her that he would age. Leaving his home country and his father’s house had done something to him, but the birth of his first son had begun to heal him. The second boy came just ten months later and she remembered the laughter that had come back into their lives.
Work was hard in this country, they both labored before the sun was up until it set, but the antics of these two rambunctious, often competitive boys became their parents’ oasis in a dry unforgiving land. Both of the boys worked hard alongside their father in the fields and pastures he’d settled since he came to this country.
Shaking off the memories she began to prepare the mid day meal, memories were of no use to her now because the life went out of her after that day. Surprised she found herself smiling as she recalled how she responded to his touch and his need after months of grief. If that wasn’t enough of a surprise, to find her body could so betray her and make way for a new life.
Feeling tired she sat down on the animal robes in the corner near the baby. It was a day for memories; she didn’t usually open the door to these musings. Today the images of the past came flooding back; walks they took together in the gardens and orchards back home, helping him with his work.
Those were good days, made bitter sweet because she knew they could never get them back. She had known her husband all of her life and never expected anything to separate them or change the way she felt about him.
All of a sudden she sat up, had she changed how she felt about him? Did she blame him somehow? Now she was irritated, she didn’t want to think about any of it, if only it hadn’t all changed. Her head ached; she went out to the well for water the sun beat down on her, her eyes stung from the glare. She filled the jar half full; she just couldn’t carry anymore as she hurried back into the cool darkness of the home.
She went back to kneading dough, he’d be in from the fields soon and the meal wouldn’t be ready. Her knees buckled and a scream welled up in her, she tried to push it back down. She was an expert at subduing that scream. Since the day they were forced from the father’s house and escorted from the properties that scream had been building on the inside of her. After all that had happened since then, she was sure that if it got out now she might never stop screaming.
Life in this country had taught her not too expect much. The wealth and protection of the old country were gone and now we just do the same thing day after day. “That’s what held them together”, she mused “the need of survival”. Not sure anymore if God would protect them. She pummeled the dough again; tears flowed down her cheeks unchecked, as she rolled them into the meal. She placed the loaf into the fire and cleaned up the mess.
Her banging had stirred the child and now he was rooting, a few more seconds and he would be crying. She scooped him up and pulled back the fold of her robe, he found his way to her breast and latched on, and she braced herself against the spasm of pain that shot through her. If only she didn’t have to feed him, knowing from experience that this intimacy would bond her to him, another opportunity to have her heart broken.
Remembering the stone wall she had helped her husband build when they moved here, she wondered how she could build a structure that protected her heart. This new land was so full of rocks that they both struggled to roll them into a fence to move them from the ground they wanted to plow. Tears came again, not from the baby now but thinking about those rocks, she could almost imagine those rocks in her heart….how could she clear her field?
Just then she heard the water pot outside the doorway and knew her husband was washing before entering the room. She tried to disengage her child, but he began to fuss and she left him to greedily nurse. Just then, light streamed into the darkness and he stepped into the doorway, bending slightly so he wouldn’t hit his head on the eave.
She tried to pull the apron over her, suddenly embarrassed by his gaze. She always felt that he could read her mind, in the last few years that had begun to bother her. She didn’t even know what she felt and she didn’t want him to act like he did. Sighing at her own impatience, she pointed to the fire. “He’s always hungry, just like”…, her voice trailed off as she realized she made reference to the other two.
Now silence stood between them, her face reddened and she lowered her eyes to the babe, he was asleep but she didn’t want to move him now she didn’t want to face her husband and she was sure he didn’t want to face her. The chasm was so great between them. She could hear him moving about and knew he had removed the loaf from the coals, she should finish the meal but she didn’t move.
“Do you want me to lay the boy in his bed”? She was startled to hear his voice, they so seldom spoke that she had almost forgotten how rich and comforting it was. She shook her head and stood to replace the little warm bundle in the bed his brothers had once slept in. “Someday we’ll have to call him something”, she thought to herself.
“Eve”, she couldn’t remember the last time he’d called her by her name. She looked at him timidly, “I made a sacrifice to the Lord this morning”; he could see her stiffen. He hadn’t made sacrifice since that day, it had all been over the sacrifice. Two sons, both of them with a sacrifice; but only one sacrifice was accepted. Both of her boys raised together how could they be so different, how could one be so crippled by jealousy?
She turned away from her husband just then, she realized she needed to let go of the guilt she felt. Guilt she had because she had put them in this barren land, guilt she carried because of the separation between God and Adam.
He stepped up behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders, and she leaned against him. He smelled of sheep, dirt and sweat, and today added the mixture of the wood smoke from the sacrifice fire. He smelled good to her, this husband that God had given her to.
“Seth!” Eve said matter-of-factly.
“Hmm,” Adam was afraid to say anything, trying to hold on to this moment as long as possible.
“God has substituted what I have lost….let’s call him Seth”. ‘The flame of hope that had begun this morning was reignited. Tiny and fragile but maybe it would be enough to build a fire’, thought Eve.
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