Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Step(s) (11/29/12)
TITLE: BACK TEN
By Jack Taylor
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It’s the eyes that give them away. Turning when you seek to probe for answers. Examining the delicacy of the weave in the curtain, fixated on the leftover deposit of soil on the floor, captured by the sight of a darting swallow just outside the window. No matter how well I know them they cannot hold my gaze.
The shoulders are drooped slightly more. The tone of voice edged with respect and hesitation a little too much. Creeping in, creeping out. Reading each other’s eyes without saying a word. “Will he live – will he die?”
Thirty-seven years is not enough. That’s all I can say. This pain and discomfort. This humiliation of being helpless and now almost hopeless. This constant examination and probing. Not even being able to drag myself up those ten steps to relieve myself in some sense of dignity and privacy.
Hour after hour I watch the shadow trace the journey of the sun down those steps. One step – one hour. Day after day.
Surely there are better words to hear than ‘put your house in order, you are going to die.’
I am cocooned in a death wrap as if already preparing to become a mummy. And the march of that shadow is unstoppable.
'Don’t I get a second opinion?’
Only one set of eyes refuses to look away. And those eyes I would rather avoid. “It’s God’s design! You won’t recover.”
Turning my back on the pronouncer was all I could do. “It’s God’s design. Why? What have I done? Doesn’t the good book have something better to assuage my fevered brow? Isn’t there any word from the Almighty that might renew my hope?”
No response. A quick glance shows the room is clear and the agony finally escapes my soul in a prayer to the God hiding firmly on the other side of the plaster sitting inches from my nose. “Don’t you remember, God? Don’t you remember how I walked before you so faithfully? Don’t you remember how I served you with my whole heart? Don’t you remember how devoted I’ve been and how many good things I’ve done for you? Was it all a waste?”
Shoshana drapes a blanket over me, easing the harsher nips of the icy tentacles squeezing my breath away. She wipes my brow with a cool cloth. My ribs are burning from the pain of the heaving caused by the violent weeping that captures my soul and escapes my lungs.
Few dare to comfort the doomed. It is too awkward. There are no words to say.
I’m sure my cries are heard throughout the whole place. “Where is the God who heals? Where is the God of mercy? Where is the God of hope? Where is the God of justice? Is this the way your servants are to remember you when they give their lives to you?”
The footsteps down the stairway are clear. I know them. The pronouncer of my doom. No doubt returning to silence me.
“Three days,” he rumbles.
“Three days for what?”
The old prophet transfers a handful of amber pulp to one of the attendants waiting for me to die. “Plaster this poultice of figs on that boil. Three days. He’ll be fine.”
“What do you mean I’ll be fine? You just told me that I had to put my house in order. That I was going to die. That I wouldn’t recover.”
The prophet’s shadow falls on the wall. “God heard your prayer. He saw your tears. The God of your father will deliver you and this city for his own sake. You’ll get to live an extra fifteen years.”
“What sign do you have for me? How can I be sure the priests will give me a positive health report?”
“Hezekiah, pick a sign – something great. How about getting the sun’s shadow on these stairs to go forward or backward ten hours?”
“It would be too easy to make the shadow go forward. Move it back up the stairs. Turn back time. Take me back before I heard this bad news.”
I watched Isaiah prostrate himself on the mosaic tile and cry to the heavens even bolder than I. I kept my eye on the stairs and sure enough. The darkened bottom step glowed in brightness. Then the ninth began to swallow the shadow. Then the eighth. The seventh. The sixth. The fifth. The fourth. The third. The second. The top.
Every step is life. Hallelujah. God hears our prayers.
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