Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Fearful (08/23/07)
TITLE: If He Comes
By Sherry Wendling
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Perhaps this tourist spot, with its peaceful palms and flowering shrubs, banked along a gurgling stream—perhaps this place would be safe. The kind tour host of the third group had even contributed three shekalim to make up her entrance fee.
Safe…She clutched at her middle. In the beginning the fear had been nothing but small rats, clawing at her belly from time to time. But now…
Ari. Oh Ari… How quickly he’d grown, that kinky-headed baby brother with mischief in his eyes! Papa had spared nothing in celebrating his bar mitzvah, only two years before he...
Elisheva squeezed her eyes shut against the memory. It would forever be with her. The bustle of the souk inside Jaffa Gate…The fat grapefruit, held up for inspection…The sudden, thumping blast that rocked the earth from blocks away…Her panicked feet, carrying her screaming behind the sirens, frantic to locate her brother in the fleeing crowd…Smoke everywhere, the piteous wails of the wounded and shocked. Strong fingers had dug into her frozen shoulders, jerking her away from the horror in the gutter.
It was a left arm—no body attached. Dark, curling hairs sprouted just above the wrist. What had been an elbow was now a rag of raw flesh, ringed by the tattered, blood-soaked roll of a sleeve, a white sleeve. On the second finger, engraved with the letter chai, rested a handcrafted, gold ring. Ari’s bar mitzvah ring.
Intifada, holy war, shrieked Hamas, and the killings escalated. In the trembling months to follow, Papa slipped away to Abraham’s bosom, his heart shattered with grief. Old Devorah next door couldn’t even hang out Bibi’s tallit to dry without fear of attack. The small rats in Elisheva’s gut had multiplied into an army of ravenous rodents, their long tails snaking around her lungs, squeezing out the clear Jerusalem air that its citizens barely dared to breathe. She wondered how Miryam could remain so calm.
This morning, at last, she’d found out. “What??” she spat. “Congregation Melech Shalom!” Traitors! “Sister, what have you done?”
Miryam’s tender gaze made her squirm. “You know he is coming. At the right time, he will be here. And then, dear Elisheva…What if I am right?” One might almost think she, Elisheva, was the little sister.
“I am upsetting you,” the girl breathed. “I will leave. But ask yourself this: Isaiah fifty-three—why is it never read in the synagogue?” The door closed behind her with a soft scrape, leaving Elisheva alone with her nightmares. If he comes…
That was the mightiest dread of all.
The third tour group approached, and Elisheva rose from the stone bench to better observe her kind American. He led his flock toward a small, rectangular opening in the rocky hillside. All chatter hushed. One by one, they ducked into the old tomb, then out again. A few wiped away tears as they emerged. She frowned. Had Miryam been here, too?
Finally, the group moved on, settling in a grotto with flat-rock seats. Their song drifted toward her on the afternoon breeze. Then the leader’s voice: “As a sheep before its shearer is dumb, so opened he not his mouth…”
Isaiah fifty-three. Elisheva knew it better than her sister could have guessed. All right, then. I will see for myself.
The inside was bare. She crouched by the stone burial slab, her slender fingers exploring the headrest. Over the years, thousands of adoring hands had rubbed the stone smooth. Christian hands. A strange trembling gripped her knees, her shoulders, her jaw.
HaShem Adonai! What if…? She drew a sharp breath and made herself say it. Out loud. “What if he comes, and he is You?” She rose to her feet, hands clenched. “What if he—if You—turn out to be…” Her ears pounded.
Afternoon light shafted through the narrow entrance, drawing her face upward into the sun. Elisheva closed her eyes, wet trails tracing her cheeks. The next breath pulled itself from her deeps, stretching her ribcage until her small shoulders squared. The army of rats scattered to the four winds.
Miryam! She must find Miryam.
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