Below is an excerpt from a fictional narrative I am cobbling together in which various New Testament characters reflect upon the death of their beloved friend and teacher, Jesus the Nazarene. It is told from the perspective of the mother of the Sons of Thunder, James and John. Her name is Rose:
He called them the Sons of Thunder and, for once, somebody understood. Zebedee already thought I was mad. I did not tell him I followed the Teacher too. I have grown old on fish stories. I grind his wheat and stir his pottage, salt the fish and scrub the stench from his tunic. He and the sons call me the fish woman. It’s a joke.
The Sons of Thunder break my oil lamps, spill the wine and topple fig baskets. They trample the goat cheese and trip on barley barrels. They jump off the roof. They wrestle. They wrestled the Teacher. They said he wasn’t bad. They summon the wisdom of Solomon to their cause: “‘Blows and wounds cleanse the soul,” James would say. They are my death, those boys. They are my life.
* * *
I wept when my boys followed him, but not for the reasons their father wept. I wept because they were my life and now my death, and no one else in heaven or under the earth saw my gift and covered it with his words except my John. Zebedee dismissed me with a wave of his hand. “She is not a goat,” John said to him. James too makes me weep. His smile fills a room. I’ll never perceive the mind of the Holy One who fashions from my innermost someone as happy as he. James brought me to the teacher the first time. He saw me approach and ran the way he always did, lifting my feet from the path. “Mami, ” he said, and presented me. The Teacher held my hand and the earth felt like fire beneath me and everything inside me rose up and out of me. He spoke of the wind, how it sometimes carries us to the storm, and sometimes to shalom, and how when you think it is a storm, the wind settles and there is shalom.
“Tell me your visions of visiting angels,” the Teacher said to me. John said in my ear, “He is not afraid of the gifts of women.”
A mother is obliged to make arrangements for her sons. We traveled a dusty road that day. His throat was parched. I brought him water. Then I made the request — a bold request, but why not ask? The Teacher told me that what I asked was not his to give. I wanted to say, If not yours, then whose? Many is the time I’ve wished to swallow my tongue, and many others have wished it too.
James said it was Judas who led the ones who took him last night. He said, “Judas brought them to our place of rest.”
I remembered the night the Teacher came — he liked my barley cakes and dried fish– and I served them all. I made cucumbers and leeks and spread herbs on his mat. Judas was there, reclining with the others. John was recounting how the Teacher had spoken with a whore that day. Judas said, Are we not all whores? My John said, Speak for yourself.
I said, “What is a whore, Judas?” He smiled and lifted a chin to face my sons.
“Your mother is bold.” (Tell me), James laughed.
“A whore has a price,” Judas said to me.
“What is your price?” I said.
“What is yours? The heads of your sons?”
I did not answer. My sons dipped the crust of their bread. The Teacher arrived later that night. Judas went to him first, even before the Thunders. Judas pressed his hand on the neck of the Teacher and their foreheads almost touched. The Teacher inclined with a listening ear and whatever Judas whispered made him laugh aloud. Bushy-haired Judas, with eyes that could light a stormy sea.
* * *
I remember the smell of lentils and wine that darkened day. It brought Judas to mind, how he caused the teacher to laugh on shabot when they reclined at my table. Judas turned a head and inclined toward the Teacher, who lowered his head with an ear to hear. Judas whispered. The Teacher laughed. The creases in the corners of their eyes grew wet. I remember the smell of cinnamon and fire and sweat and dirty feet.
That is the way I remember his dying too. I heard voices, the clatter of stones. “Ha!” I heard weeping and spitting and rattling sounds. The beating of a stick. A hiccup. A whisper.
I remembered a picture of many years past now, seeing my mother depart with my father and brother in the bow of his boat. The seas were strong and the winds in a fury. She feared for my young brother when a wave broke and hurtled to clutch him. Her movement tipped the boat and she fell into the wet. Her cloak bore her down. My father could not save her. They returned and I looked at the boat where I last saw my mother. At home I saw strings of herbs she hung and felt the oven go cold. I did not know where she had gone. My mother did not return to me.
This dark day, this day of death, I felt covered in blue, the same blue I saw the day Zeb lost his finger to the blade. The lost finger on the ground, the stump at the knuckle blue as the waters before the red came. That is the strangeness I felt that blue day, like my joints moved backward, like I walked on broken legs. Like the mother I never knew had left me again. I remembered longing for death when my own boy James fell into the sea. My little holy one, at four years old, who used to raise his palms in prayers for me and kiss my turned-down lips. He fell into the sea and I jumped in after him, remembering my mother, and saying to myself, Let me die this day so he can be saved. I grabbed my drowning son. He did not die. Zeb lifted him to the boat and carried him back to shore. I sat in the bow of the boat trembling, the way I tremble still.
There was a hill, round and tawny. There was a sign, white on black. There was a hyssop branch and a purple robe and a sponge and a spear. The hillside smelled of burning fat. There were bodily movements, shuffling feet. A small fire. “Ha!” A groan.
I saw my sons. A mother knows the eyes of her sons. Then there was silence. Seeing wasn’t the point. We all of us died that day.
(Copyright©2013 Wendy Murray. All rights reserved.)
(Image Copyright©2013, Bruce Herman. Used with permission. Visit Bruce Herman here.)