I climbed up off the mat, and quietly as I could, I put more coals into the brazier. My brothers and my nephews didn't stir. James was off with his wife tonight in the room they shared. Little Judas and Little Joseph, fathers both, slept here tonight away from little ones huddled around their wives. And there lay the sons of James—Menachim, Isaac, and Shabi, tumbled together like puppies.
I stepped over one after another and took a clean robe from the chest, the wool smelling of the sunshine in which it had been dried. Everything in that chest was clean. I took the robe and went out of the house. Blast of cold air in the empty courtyard. Crunch of broken leaves.
And for a moment in the hard pebbly street I stopped and looked up at the great sweep of glittering stars beyond the huddled rooftops.
Cloudless, this cold sky, and so filled with these infinitesimal lights, it seemed for a moment beautiful. My heart hurt. It seemed to be looking at me, enfolding me—a thing of kindness and witness—an immense web flung out by a single hand—rather than the vast inevitable hollow of the night above the tiny slumbering town that spilled like a hundred others down a slope between distant caves of bones and thirsting fields, and groves of olive trees.
I was alone.
Somewhere far down the hill, near the sometime marketplace, a man sang in a low drunken voice and a spark of light shone there, in the doorway of the sometime tavern. Echo of laughter.
But all the rest was quiet, without a torch to light the way.
The house of Avigail across from ours was shut up like any other. Inside, Avigail, my young kinswoman, slept with Silent Hannah, her sweet companion, and the two old women who served her and the bitter man, Shemayah, who was her father.
Nazareth did not always have a beauty. I'd seen generations of young maidens grow up, each fresh and lovely to behold as any flower in the wild. Fathers did not want their daughters to be beauties. But Nazareth had a beauty now, and it was Avigail. She'd refused two suitors of late, or so her father had done on her behalf, and there was a real question in the minds of the women of our house as to whether Avigail herself even knew the suitors had come calling.
It fell hard on me suddenly that I would sometime very soon be standing among the torchbearers at her wedding. Avigail was fifteen. She might have been married a year ago, but Shemayah kept her close. Shemayah was a rich man who had but one thing and one thing alone that made him happy, and that was his daughter, Avigail.
I walked up the hill and over the top. I knew every family behind every door. I knew the few strangers who came and went, one huddled in a courtyard outside the Rabbi's house, and the other on the roof above where so many slept, even in winter. It was a town of day-to-day quiet, and seemingly not a single secret.
I walked down the other side of the slope until I came to the spring, the dust rising with every step I took, until I was coughing from it.
Dust and dust and dust.
Thank You, Father of the Universe, that this night is not so cold, no, not as cold as it might be, and send us the rain in Your own good time because You know that we need it.
Passing the synagogue, I could hear the spring before I saw it.