Authors: Christopher Moore
Tags: #Fiction / General
Maggie punched me in the arm.
“Good to know,” Joseph said.
On the road to Nazareth, I got to walk with Maggie a few paces behind Joseph and his family. Maggie’s family was so distraught over what had happened to Jeremiah that they didn’t even notice she wasn’t with them.
“He’s much stronger than he was the last time,” Maggie said.
“Don’t worry, he’ll be a mess tomorrow:
‘Oh, what did I do wrong. Oh, my faith wasn’t strong enough. Oh, I am not worthy of my task.’
He’ll be impossible to be around for a week or so. We’ll be lucky if he stops praying long enough to eat.”
“You shouldn’t make fun of him. He’s trying very hard.”
“Easy for you to say, you won’t have to hang out with the village idiot until Josh gets over this.”
“But aren’t you touched by who he is? What he is?”
“What good would that do me? If I was basking in the light of his holiness all of the time, how would I take care of him? Who would do all of his lying and cheating for him? Even Josh can’t think about what he is all of the time, Maggie.”
“I think about him all of the time. I pray for him all of the time.”
“Really? Do you ever pray for me?”
“I mentioned you in my prayers, once.”
“You did? How?”
“I asked God to help you not to be such a doofus, so you could watch over Joshua.”
“You meant doofus in an attractive way, right?”
And the angel said, “What prophet has this written? For in this book is foretold all the events which shall come to pass in the next week in the land of
Days of Our Lives
All My Children.
And I said to the angel, “You fabulously feebleminded bundle of feathers, there’s no prophet involved. They know what is going to happen because they write it all down in advance for the actors to perform.”
“So it is written, so it shall be done,” said the angel.
I crossed the room and sat on the edge of the bed next to Raziel. His gaze never wavered from his
Soap Opera Digest.
I pushed the magazine down so the angel had to look me in the face.
“Raziel, do you remember the time before mankind, the time when there were only the heavenly host and the Lord?”
“Yes, those were the best of times. Except for the war, of course. But other than that, yes, wonderful times.”
“And you angels were as strong and beautiful as divine imagination, your voices sang praise for the Lord and his glory to the ends of the universe, and yet the Lord saw fit to create us, mankind, weak, twisted, and profane, right?”
“That’s when it all started to go downhill, if you ask me,” Raziel said.
“Well, do you know why the Lord decided to create us?”
“No. Ours is not to question the Will.”
“Because you are all dumbfucks, that’s why. You’re as mindless as the machinery of the stars. Angels are just pretty insects.
Days of Our Lives
is a show, Raziel, a play. It’s not real, get it?”
And he didn’t. I’ve learned that there’s a tradition in this time of telling funny stories about the stupidity of people with yellow hair. Guess where that started.
I think that we all expected everything to go back to normal after the killer was found, but it seemed that the Romans were much more concerned with the extermination of the Sicarii then they were with a single resurrection. To be fair, I have to say that resurrections weren’t that uncommon in those days. As I mentioned, we Jews were quick to get our dead into the ground, and with speed, there’s bound to be errors. Occasionally some poor soul would fall unconscious during a fever and wake to find himself being wrapped in linen and prepared for the grave. But funerals were a nice way to get the family together, and there was always a fine meal afterward, so no one really complained, except perhaps those people who didn’t wake before they were buried, and if they complained—well, I’m sure God heard them. (It paid to be a light sleeper, in my time.) So, impressed as they might have been with the walking dead, the next day the Romans began to round up suspected conspirators. The men in Maggie’s family were hauled off to Sepphoris at dawn.
No miracles would come to bring about the release of the prisoners, but neither were there any crucifixions announced in the days that followed. After two weeks had passed with no word of the fate or condition of the men, Maggie, her mother, her aunts, and her sisters went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and appealed to the Pharisees for help.
The next day, the Pharisees from Nazareth, Japhia, and Sepphoris appeared at the Roman garrison to appeal to Justus for the release of the prisoners. I don’t know what they said, or what sort of leverage they could possibly have used to move the Romans, but the following day, just after dawn, the men of Maggie’s family staggered back into our village, beaten, starving, and covered with filth, but very much alive.
There was no feast, no celebration for the return of the prisoners—we Jews walked softly for a few months to allow the Romans to settle down. Maggie seemed distant in the weeks that followed, and Josh and I never saw the smile that could make the breath catch in our throats. She seemed to be avoiding us, rushing out of the square whenever we saw her there, or on the Sabbath, staying so close to the women of her family that we couldn’t talk to her. Finally, after a month had passed, with absolutely no regard for custom or common courtesy, Joshua insisted that we skip work and dragged me by the sleeve to Maggie’s house. She was kneeling on the ground outside the door, grinding some barley with a millstone. We could see her mother moving around in the house and hear the sound of her father and older brother Simon (who was called Lazarus) working the forge next door. Maggie seemed to be lost in the rhythm of grinding the grain, so she didn’t see us approach. Joshua put his hand on her shoulder, and without looking up, she smiled.
“You are supposed to be building a house in Sepphoris,” she said.
“We thought it more important to visit a sick friend.”
“And who would that be?”
“Who do you think?”
“I’m not sick. In fact, I’ve been healed by the touch of the Messiah.”
“I think not,” said Joshua.
She finally looked up at him and her smile evaporated. “I can’t be friends with you two anymore,” she said. “Things have changed.”
“What, because your uncle was a Sicarii?” I said. “Don’t be silly.”
“No, because my mother made a bargain to get Iban to convince the other Pharisees to go to Sepphoris and plead for the men’s lives.”
“What kind of bargain?” Joshua asked.
“I am betrothed.” She looked at the millstone again and a tear dripped into the powdered grain.
We were both stunned. Josh took his hand from her shoulder and stepped back, then looked at me as if there was something I could do. I felt as if I would start crying at any second myself. I managed to choke out, “Who to?”
“To Jakan,” Maggie said with a sob.
“Iban’s son? The creep? The bully?”
Maggie nodded. Joshua covered his mouth and ran a few steps away,
then threw up. I was tempted to join him, but instead I crouched in front of Maggie.
“How long before you’re married?”
“I’m to be married a month after the Passover feast. Mother made him wait six months.”
“Six months! Six months! That’s forever, Maggie. Why, Jakan could be killed in a thousand heinous ways in six months, and that’s just the ones I can think of right now. Why, someone could turn him in to the Romans for being a rebel. I’m not saying who, but someone might. It could happen.”
“I’m sorry, Biff.”
“Don’t be sorry for me, why would you be sorry for me?”
“I know how you feel, so I’m sorry.”
I was thrown for a second. I glanced at Joshua to see if he could give me a clue, but he was still absorbed in splattering his breakfast in the dirt.
“But it’s Joshua who you love?” I finally said.
“Does that make you feel any better?”
“Then I’m sorry.” She made as if to reach out to touch my cheek, but her mother called her before she made contact.
“Right now, Mary, in this house!”
Maggie nodded toward the barfing Messiah. “Take care of him.”
“He’ll be fine.”
“And take care of yourself.”
“I’ll be fine too, Maggie. Don’t forget I have an emergency backup wife. Besides, it’s six months. A lot can happen in six months. It’s not like we won’t see you.” I was trying to sound more hopeful than I felt.
“Take Joshua home,” she said. Then she quickly kissed me on the cheek and ran into the house.
Joshua was completely against the idea of murdering Jakan, or even praying for harm to come to him. If anything, Joshua seemed more kindly disposed toward Jakan than he had been before, going as far as to seek him out and congratulate him on his betrothal to Maggie, an act that left me feeling angry and betrayed. I confronted Joshua in the olive grove, where he had gone to pray among the twisted tree trunks.
“You coward,” I said, “you could strike him down if you wanted to.”
“As could you,” he replied.
“Yeah, but you can call the wrath of God down upon him. I’d have to sneak up behind him and brain him with a rock. There’s a difference.”
“And you would have me kill Jakan for what, your bad luck?”
“Works for me.”
“Is it so hard for you to give up what you never had?”
“I had hope, Josh. You understand hope, don’t you?” Sometimes he could be mightily dense, or so I thought. I didn’t realize how much he was hurting inside, or how much he wanted to do something.
“I think I understand hope, I’m just not sure that I am allowed to have any.”
“Oh, don’t start with that ‘Everyone gets something but me’ speech. You’ve got plenty.”
Josh wheeled on me, his eyes like fire, “Like what? What do I have?”
“Uh…” I wanted to say something about a really sexy mother, but that didn’t seem like the sort of thing he wanted to hear. “Uh, you have God.”
“So do you. So does everyone.”
“Not the Romans.”
“There are Roman Jews.”
“Well, you’ve got, uh—that healing-raising-the-dead thing.”
“Oh yeah, and that’s working really well.”
“Well, you’re the Messiah, what’s that? That’s something. If you told people you were the Messiah they’d have to do what you say.”
“I can’t tell them.”
“I don’t know how to be the Messiah.”
“Well, at least do something about Maggie.”
“He can’t,” came a voice from behind a tree. A golden glow emanated from either side of the trunk.
“Who’s there?” Joshua called.
The angel Raziel stepped out from behind the tree.
“Angel of the Lord,” I said under my breath to Josh.
“I know,” he said, in a “you seen one, you seen ’em all” way.
“He can’t do anything,” the angel repeated.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because he may not know any woman.”
“I may not?” Joshua said, not sounding at all happy.
“He may not in that he
not, or that he
not?” I asked.
The angel scratched his golden head, “I didn’t think to ask.”
“It’s kind of important,” I said.
“Well, he can’t do anything about Mary Magdalene, I know that. They told me to come and tell him that. That and that it is time for him to go.”
“I didn’t think to ask.”
I suppose I should have been frightened, but I seemed to have passed right through frightened to exasperated. I stepped up to the angel and poked him in the chest. “Are you the same angel that came to us before, to announce the coming of the Savior?”
“It was the Lord’s will that I bring that joyful news.”
“I just wondered, in case all of you angels look alike or something. So, after you showed up ten years late, they sent you with another message?”
“I am here to tell the Savior that it is time for him to go.”
“But you don’t know where?”
“And this golden stuff around you, this light, what is this?”
“The glory of the Lord.”
“You’re sure it’s not stupidity leaking out of you?”
“Biff, be nice, he is the messenger of the Lord.”
“Well, hell, Josh, he’s no help at all. If we’re going to get angels from heaven they should at least know what they are doing. Blow down walls or something, destroy cities, oh, I don’t know—get the
“I’m sorry,” the angel said. “Would you like me to destroy a city?”
“Go find out where Josh is supposed to go. How ’bout that?”
“I can do that.”
“Then do that.”
“I’ll be right back.”
“Godspeed,” Joshua said.
In an instant the angel moved behind another tree trunk and the golden glow was gone from the olive grove with a warm breeze.
“You were sort of hard on him,” Joshua said.
“Josh, being nice isn’t always going to get the job done.”
“One can try.”
“Was Moses nice to Pharaoh?”
Before Joshua could answer me, the warm breeze blew into the olive grove again and the angel stepped out from behind a tree.
“To find your destiny,” he said.
“What?” I said.
“What?” Joshua said.
“You are supposed to go find your destiny.”
“That’s it?” Joshua said.
“What about the ‘knowing a woman’ thing?” I asked.
“I have to go now.”
“Grab him, Josh. You hold him and I’ll hit him.”
But the angel was gone with the breeze.
“My destiny?” Joshua looked at his open, empty palms.
“We should have pounded the answer out of him,” I said.
“I don’t think that would have worked.”
“Oh, back to the
strategy. Did Moses—”
“Moses should have said, ‘Let my people go,
“That would have made the difference?”
“It could have worked. You don’t know.”
“So what do you do about your destiny?”
“I’m going to ask the Holy of Holies when we go to the Temple for the Passover.”
And so it came to pass that in the spring all of the Jews from Galilee made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover feast, and Joshua began the search for his destiny. The road was lined with families making their way to the holy city. Camels, carts, and donkeys were loaded high with provisions for the trip, and all along the column of pilgrims you could hear the bleating of the lambs that would be sacrificed for the feast. The road was
dry that year, and a red-brown cloud of dust wound its way over the road as far as one could see in either direction.
Since we were each the eldest in our families, it fell on Joshua and me to keep track of all our younger brothers and sisters. It seemed that the easiest way to accomplish this was to tie them together, so we strung together, by height, my two brothers and Josh’s three brothers and two sisters. I tied the rope loosely around their necks so it would only choke them if they got out of line.
“I can untie this,” said James.
“Me too,” said my brother Shem.
“But you won’t. This is the part of the Passover where you reenact Moses leading you out of the Promised Land, you have to stay with the little ones.”
“You’re not Moses,” said Shem.
“No—no, I’m not Moses. Smart of you to notice.” I tied the end of the rope to a nearby wagon that was loaded high with jars of wine. “This wagon is Moses,” I said. “Follow it.”