Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Cousin(s) (05/22/08)
TITLE: The Miraculous Bond
By Betsy Markman
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What have I done?</i>
Mary walked the dirt pathway purely by memory. She saw nothing in front of her, heard none of the light-hearted chatter of her friends. Her water pitcher rubbed against her shoulder, but she paid no more attention to it than to the dust in her sandals.
"What are you thinking about?"
Abigail's teasing tone pulled Mary from her thoughts, but she was spared the need to answer. Deborah was always happy to fill a moment's silence with her own ideas.
"I know what Mary's thinking about. She's engaged, after all."
Abigail shook her head. "He's too old. I hope my father betroths me to someone closer to my own age."
"Abigail, that's a terrible thing to say," Deborah chided.
Mary let them go on with their chatter. It seemed so trivial compared to the conversation she'd had a few hours ago.
<i>How could I have agreed with him?</i>
She thought endlessly of the visitor, the man who had turned her simple Galilean life upside down and shaken it like Mary would have shaken dirt from a clay pot. The memory made the hair stand up on her arms.
<i>How could I NOT have agreed with him?</i>
Her toe caught on a rock, and she stumbled.
"Careful!" Deborah teased. "All your thoughts of Joseph might make you fall on your face."
<i>Joseph!</i> Mary's mouth went dry. <i>Will he ever believe me? How could he? I'm not even sure I believe it myself!</i>
Abigail and Deborah giggled about something.
<i>They're my best friends, but...</i> Mary cast a discerning eye on the two prattlers. <i>They can't help me with this.</i>
They arrived at the well, and Mary hung back to let the other two fill their pitchers first.
<i>And what about the other thing that the visitor told me? A miracle for Zacharias and cousin Elizabeth? At their age? I bet they can't believe it!</i>
Someone else moved away from the well, so Mary joined her two friends in drawing up water.
<i>But of course they do believe it, because it is now the sixth month for her. It can't be denied.</i>
The side of the well pressed against her belly.
<i>Has the miracle already begun in me? How long before I won't be able to deny it?</i>
She hoisted the brimming pitcher onto her shoulder and turned to walk back toward home.
"Look at her," Abigail protested. "Here we stood, waiting for her to finish drawing, and the moment she's done she heads off without a word!"
"I'm sorry." Mary blushed. "I just have a lot to think about."
Deborah and Abigail seemed to catch Mary's mood for a moment, but they couldn't stay serious for long. Soon they'd lost themselves in minutiae, leaving Mary alone to wonder if Yahweh had already spoken His Son into her womb.
<i>Oh, Angel, why didn't you announce it to all of Israel? Then they would believe that this child is from God! But now everyone will think I'm a common harlot. Even Joseph. Even mother and father. Even Elizabeth and Zacharias...</i>
Mary stopped. <i>No...not Elizabeth and Zacharias! They have a miraculous conception, just like I do! They will believe me!</i>
The thought made Mary's lonely heart yearn within her. Her pace quickened, and before she knew it she was running as fast as she could with a heavy pot on her shoulder. Abigail and Deborah called after her, but she ignored them.
<i>Elizabeth will understand!</i>
She burst into her house, sloshing a little water onto the floor in her haste.
Mother looked up from her kneading and scowled. "Be careful with the water!"
"Yes, Mother. I'm sorry." Mary set the pitcher down gently.
<i>I can't bear to think how upset she'll be when she realizes that my monthly impurity has ceased, and my belly starts to grow...</i>
"Oh, Mother, please...may I ask a great favor?"
"What is it?" Mother wiped her brow with the back of her flour-covered hand before resuming her kneading.
Mary's heart quivered. "May I go to Judah?"
"What?" Mother straightened up and looked at Mary as if she'd spoken in a barbarian tongue. "Whatever for?"
Mary's insides tied themselves in a knot. She stood still for a moment, unable to find the breath to speak.
Mother just stared at her.
"Please, Mother..." Mary paused to gather her courage.
"I want to visit my cousin."
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