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Blood of the Lamb

A couple days ago, I got a PM from someone who informed me that she had just spent the last TWO HOURS reading my blog! Did that make me feel good? Why yes, yes it did! She wanted to know if I would put my blog posts into book format some day. Hadn’t really thought about that, but I am now! :-) And she also wanted to know if the short story that had been nominated for the Pushcart Prize was anywhere on the net so she could read it. Alas no. “Blood of the Lamb” was published by a print journal that has since folded up shop. But because she asked so nicely, I’ve decided to reprint the story below.

WARNING! The story is dark. Very dark. To those of you familiar with my work this comes as no surprise. But you first-timers should beware – my writing is not for everyone. Those of you of faith may be especially offended by the story’s premise and conclusion. And remember, you can’t unring the bell. You’ve been warned. For the rest of you, here it is –

Blood of the Lamb

Em is knitting again. Every spare minute. Needles clicking in a white-hot fury. It’s been only a few months, but already she’s done so much, made so many impossibly small garments, the size to break your heart imagining the tiny feet, the bitty arms that will fill them. She hides her work if she hears Ab padding around. So far, this has been our little secret, hers and mine, but today might be the telling day, who can say?

She smiles when she sees me. Her fingers never stop moving.

“Look!” I say turning profile and pulling tight my robe from the back. “I’ve swallowed the moon!” Proudly I massage the delicate rise in my middle.

Em laughs and shakes her head.

“Plenty of time yet,” she tells me.

Click, click, clickity-click.

She knits so quickly blue sparks fly off the ends of her needles.

“What is it this time?” I ask, fingering the knobbly fabric unfurling between her palms like a sacred scroll.

“A blanket for the little one.”

Click, click, clickity-click.

“But red?” I say with a pretend frown. “Aren’t you afraid you’ll give her nightmares?”

She flashes me a withering look and continues her work. It’s a familiar game between us, a sisterly tease, womanly mischief.

I ease myself down at her feet, rest my head against her knee and watch my mother create comfort and warmth, stitch by stitch, row upon row. At the same time I think I can hear the baby being knit together inside my womb, bone to bone, joint to joint, click, click, clickity-click.

Em smiles as I watch her work.

“When are you going to learn to use the needles?” she asks.

I laugh and shake my head.

“Plenty of time yet,” I tell her.

Just then, I feel a quickening beneath my heart like the fluttering pulse-beat in a lover’s throat – my child, dwelling between the now and the not yet, making her presence known.

I kneel up and clasp my hands over Em’s knees as I did when I was little and she would hear my prayers. The blanket grows down over my hands, my arms.

“I have a confession,” I whisper.

Her head tilts towards me, dark eyes dancing.

“At night,” I say, “when the simoom sweeps across the sill all warm-blooded and womanly, and silence stops up my ears to all but the sound of my own heart, I roll to my back, dip my fingers in lamp oil and anoint this little newcomer bobbing so contentedly between my hips.”

“Hm,” she murmurs. “I wondered why all my oil was disappearing.”

Click, click, clickity-click.

“I slide my fingers over brown, round flesh until I feel her little head and two tiny hands, sharp as stars, pressing against my skin, so eager for the chrism! Then I listen while she sings her psalms and chants her canticles, trilling away in the tongues of angels and men. And do you know, she sways as she prays, back and forth, back and forth, just as the rabbis do!”

“Devout little Jewess, isn’t she?” Em pauses a moment to count stitches. “Thought of any names yet?”

I nod.

“Tikkun Olam.”

Em’s fingers hesitate.

“‘The Mending of the World?’” she asks.

I nod again.

Her eyes look past me towards some future time. Then,

“She’ll get ‘Tik,’ you know.”

I shrug.

Silently she repeats the name to herself, gentling her lips to taste it. At last she smiles and sets her needles jabbing at each other again.

“It was the same when I carried you,” she tells me. “I thought I was going to be the mother of the universe, the mother of all blessing!”

We both laugh. Then she leans forward and touches my cheek with the backs of her fingers.

“And see here,” she murmurs softly, “I was! I was!”

And I love her so much, this woman, this other daughter, this mother of all blessing! I love her and I love her and I love her!

“Tell me a story,” she says suddenly, forgetting who is the mother and who the daughter.

“What story do you want to hear?” I ask, pretending to pick lint off the little blanket.

“There is only one story,” she says.

“Oh that one!” I roll my eyes. “You’ve heard that one a thousand times! Surely you don’t want to hear it again!”

She pulls her lips tight and lifts an eyebrow.

“Indulge me,” she says. “It’s a good story. Good stories bear repeating.”

“Oh alright!” I say with magnificent condescension, and settle myself once more at her feet.

“This is the story of how Lord God Elohim got himself a child by a woman of flesh.”

“That’s the story!” Em says, nodding with satisfaction.

And the little one within me begins to dance. She loves to hear the story as much as her savta.

“Well then,” I begin, “one day, not so very long ago, a woman, we’ll call her Ahabah…”

“Ahabah,” echoes Em, “the Beloved.”

“Yes, the Beloved. Well, one day, Ahabah received a visitor from the celestial courts, an emissary from Lord Elohim.

‘Shalom Ahabah!’ he greeted her. “Thou art highly favoured! The Lord is with thee! Blessed art thou among women!’

Ahabah was perplexed and a bit unsettled…”

“As who wouldn’t be to find their kitchen infested with angels?” puts in Em.

“Even so. But the angel told her not to fear, that she had been chosen to bear the Messiah!”

“Oh yes, nothing frightening about that!”

“Em, please! When Ahabah heard the angel’s words, she asked quickly,

‘Is it to be a boy or a girl?’

‘A boy, naturally,’ the emissary sniffed. ‘This child is destined to be King of all, Lord of heaven and earth! Of what possible good would a girl-child be?’”

I choke on my anger and turn my head away. Em gently takes my chin in her hand and looks in my eyes.

“A girl-child can be very good,” she whispers, “very, very good!”

She nods emphatically and returns to her knitting. I follow her example, and pick up the threads of my story.

“Well, Ahabah curled her lip at the angel, but behind her hand, for her mother raised her to be always polite!”

Em chuckles softly.

“Ahabah said to the angel, ‘I assume Elohim plans to consecrate one of my sons sometime after I’m married?’

‘No indeed!’ The angel looked surprised. ‘Lord Elohim wishes to put you with child within the hour!’

‘What?’ Ahabah gasped. ‘You mean I would become pregnant now, today? And just how would I explain such a pregnancy, I, the unmarried daughter of a priest?’

The angel shrugged, unconcerned.

‘You will have done nothing wrong,’ he said. ‘Why not just tell the truth?’

‘And who would believe…?’ Ahabah started. Then, ‘Can’t you convince God to wait until I’m married, so I might protect myself, my family, and my child from scandal of this…blessed event?’

The angel shook his head.

‘However,’ he said, ‘you can take comfort knowing the token of your virginity will remain intact before, during, and after the birth of God’s son. You shall be,’ the angel coughed delicately into his hand, ‘a virgin mother.’

‘A virgin mother,’ repeated Ahabah with contempt. “I’ll be sure to explain that to the crowd as they’re stoning me to death!’

The angel appeared unmoved.

‘Only an unmarried woman will suit. Elohim desires his…mistress…to be a dove undefiled, a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed, a…’

‘A virgin,’ Ahabah finished flatly.

‘Even so.’”

I look up at Em.

“I don’t understand why Ahabah had to be a virgin,” I say.

She stops knitting for a moment and looks up to the rafters.

“Hymens,” she says at last, “are very important to men! They say that if a woman’s hymen is intact, then she is pure – as if a woman’s purity could be tied to a little tag of flesh! I think they insist on a hymen in their brides because then there’s no pressure on them to be decent lovers! ‘What does it matter how poorly I treat her?’ they tell themselves. ‘She won’t know any better!’ Em shakes her head. “No doubt it was the same with Elohim. This was his first time too you know, and if he had tried to approach an experienced woman, the inevitable comparisons would likely have made him too nervous to…well…” She gestures with a decidedly limp hand and snickers before returning to her knitting.

“Em!” I say, pretending to be shocked.

She shrugs, smiles, and continues knitting.

“At any rate,” I go on, “the angel tried to convince Ahabah how privileged she should feel.

‘From the creation of the first life-giver, Eve, Elohim has wished to mate with your kind. Through the ages, he’s watched you, spying from the bushes while you bathe, peeking under the covers while you sleep. He was the invisible voyeur at every marriage bed, the envious spectator peeping down from the shadowy corners of every brothel. Now he desires a woman of his own, someone on whom he can inscribe his very image in the form of his only begotten son. But not just any woman will do! Elohim has set his heart on you Ahabah, and comes to you humbly, asking that you accept his proposal.’

Ahabah paced the kitchen and thought,

‘Elohim wishes to satisfy his almighty lust on me and breed me. And as a reward, he will leave me, what? – a daughter to comfort me? No! But a son to raise alone, in poverty and shame, a son who will someday leave me to be about his father’s business.’

The angel followed her with his eyes.

‘You understand what’s being offered here?’ he asked.

‘I believe I do,’ Ahabah replied. ‘The only question seems to be, do I wish to be God’s whore and his breeding cow?’

The emissary considered this for a moment.

‘Well, do you?’ he asked.

“And what did Ahabah say to that?” Em asks, as if she doesn’t already know.

“Ahabah, the Beloved, said nothing, but seized her mother’s broom, and swept that angel-pimp right out the door!”

Em cackles delightedly.

“Swept him out the door! Ha! Took her em’s broom and gave him the brush-off! Made a clean sweep! Oh, such a daughter! Such a woman!”

She takes a moment to control herself, then asks, “But wasn’t Ahabah afraid Elohim would select a more…compliant candidate?”

I smile.

“That’s exactly what Ahabah was hoping! Then there would be no problem, and she could live her life in peace!”

I sigh.

“But such was not to be. For Elohim, our Lord God Elohim, the Great Smiter, was himself smitten. Ahabah heard him sniffing around the back door and whimpering under her windowsill at night like a puppy left out in the rain.

‘Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled!’

On and on, all night, every night.

‘Oh, shut up and go away!’ Ahabah would shout from her bed.”

Em lifts an amused eyebrow.

“You know,” she says, trying to be serious, “Moses took off his sandals when he heard the voice of God.”

“As did Ahabah!” I assure her. “Took off her sandals and flung them right out the window at God’s head! At last he got the message and left, but she could still hear him night after night, howling his frustration at the desert moon.”

“Poor Elohim!” Em giggles. “Poor King of the Universe!”

She waits for me to continue, and when I don’t, she urges impatiently, “Well? What finally happened between Ahabah and Elohim?”

“Ah well, when Ahabah realized that Elohim’s panting lust for her was making him stupid, a superbly wicked idea occurred to her! So one night, like Ruth, she bathed and anointed herself…”

“With lamp oil?”

“Hush Em! She put on her best clothes and set about finding a thrashing place.”

“You mean threshing place, don’t you?” Em interrupts. “Like in Ruth’s story? Threshing place?”

I look at her steadily.

“Ruth threshed. Ahabah was looking to thrash.”

“Oh!” she says as understanding dawns. “Oh-ho!

Click, click, clickity-click!

“Ahabah scented God’s passion in the wilderness, followed him through the badlands, overtook him in the desert and seduced him in the sand!

‘I have come to give you my love,’ she told him, dropping her robe. Elohim gasped as he gazed on her loveliness, and flowers burst into bloom, water began flowing uphill, and a single, perfect snowflake fluttered to the sand!

Mighty Elohim fell to his knees, and yipped like a wounded jackal! He wept so many tears, all the desert wadis overflowed their banks!

Then he kissed her, kissed her with the kisses of his mouth, drinking deeply the milk and honey beneath her tongue, the spiced wine from the chalice of her navel. Scrambling up the stately palm tree of her body, he laid hold the glorious clusters of her breasts. His left hand was under her head, and his right hand, his fine right hand, his excellent right hand, his remarkably nimble right hand ca-ressed her!”

“Ah!” breathes Em, eyes closed, knitting momentarily suspended. “How knowledgeable he was for his first time! Ahabah was blessed to have so skilful a lover!”

“Well, he was God after all!” I remind her. “And then, at precisely the moment he was about to part her jewel-like thighs, Ahabah stopped him.

‘Just one more thing,’ she said.

Elohim gnashed his teeth.

‘What?!’

‘We will love until I’m pregnant,’ she insisted.

‘Yes, yes, of course!’

‘With a girl-child!’”

“And what did Elohim say to that?” Em asks, as she always does at this point in the story.

“He said, ‘Anything! Anything!’” and I flap my hands frantically back and forth, mimicking his infinite agitation.

Em bends double with laughter.

“‘Anything! Anything!’” she hoots, repeating both word and gesture. “Jezebel! Delilah!” She wipes her eyes on her sleeve. “Elohim would have promised her half of heaven to get between her legs!”

We laugh together.

“Then Ahabah warned him, ‘Remember,’ she said, ‘you have given your word! A god who breaks their word ceases to be god!’”

“What did he say then?” Em asks.

“He said, ‘Chanan.’ Just that, and so quietly, at first Ahabah wasn’t sure he’d spoken at all.”

A pitying look softens Em’s dark eyes.

“‘Chanan,’” she whispers. “‘Mercy.’ He begged for mercy. Poor thing! Poor little god! I hope she didn’t keep him waiting long after that!”

“Ah no,” I say dreamily, picturing the scene. “There was no waiting after that! From a long way off you could see the mighty cloud of dust rising above the place where they wrestled in the sand. All night they twined, twisted, wriggled and slithered together, a couple of frenzied serpents loosed from Eden, each tempting the other to fall and rise again. Lips and fingers sticky with the juice of forbidden fruit, they were naked and unashamed. He was to her a pillar of fire. And she was to him a crown of thorns wound tight about his heart. The virgin woman, the virgin god. Fire and ice, thunder and silence, wanting, having, and letting go. And now…”

“And now, a child!” Em reaches over and gleefully pats my belly. “Our Messiah-baby, my granddaughter, Tikkun Olam! Oh, the stories I’ll tell her! The songs I’ll sing to her!” She touches my face again and says, “All generations will call you blessed!”

And we lose ourselves in this moment of grace, until a small noise from the doorway wrenches it away.

Ab is standing there, head bowed, one hand on the door jamb, the other over his face. He is weeping.

“Abba!” I cry, rushing to him. He lets me guide him to a chair, then buries his face in his hands and moans as if in pain. And out of the corner of my eye I see Tik’s little red blanket trembling on Em’s needles.

“Ab,” I say, trying to soothe, “Ab, I am growing a wonder inside my body! God and I, we…”

“I was standing in the doorway a long time,” he mutters between his fingers. “I heard the story!”

“Then why do you weep?” I take his tortured face between my hands trying to see myself in his eyes. “This is God’s child,” I tell him, “his daughter! Who knows what she’ll do? Feed the multitude, heal the sick, maybe even raise the dead!”

“And who would notice?!” Ab shouts, roughly brushing away my hands from his face. “Who would even notice? Tell me that!”

I glance at Em in confusion. But her eyes are lowered, her fingers still.

“Abba, I don’t underst…”

“So a woman comes into the world and feeds the multitude. What’s so unusual about that? Women turn stones into bread every day! Women already heal the sick, and they do better than raise the dead – they bring forth new life! Women? They save the world every day! If the Messiah comes as a woman…” he shakes his head, “…what ridiculous redundancy!”

Em gently pulls on the loose end of the blanket with just enough firmness to begin unravelling it.

“Abba,” I say, “please! There’s so much God’s daughter could teach us!”

“And who will listen to her? Other women? Don’t you understand? Women don’t need the Messiah! Men do! If the Messiah comes as a woman, do you think anything she says will ever be heard, much less written down? No, I tell you! She will be laughed to scorn! She will be silenced, shunned, ignored, forgotten! ‘Another upstart woman who should have been beaten more often to teach her respect!’”

Em continues unravelling Tik’s little red blanket. Her face is stone.

“But Ab,” I say, my voice strangling in my throat, “she will…love us…”

He sits down beside me now and takes my hand. His voice is calmer, sadder.

“Of course she will love,” he says. “She’s a woman, isn’t she? She will love as all women do, until her heart breaks, until the last drop of blood is poured out. She will give and forgive and sacrifice herself on Love’s own altar. And men will think ‘Just another victim to add to the pile,’ if they think anything at all”

He brings my hand to my belly and says mournfully, “A miracle, no doubt, but a misbegotten one.”

Then he raises his eyes and prays, “Lord Elohim, we are your servants, and will do what must be done. But next time, we humbly beseech you, clean up your own bloody experiment!”

The last wisp of wool uncurls from Em’s needles and slips soundlessly to the floor. Abba pats my hand and heaves himself to his feet. He is muttering something under his breath, and just before he steps out into the bright sunlight, I catch the words of the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead.

Em’s naked needles are quiet now, the wool heaped in a red mess at her feet. She too quits her chair and slowly comes towards me, sorrow brimming in her eyes. The little body within mine starts to writhe and struggle and a tiny voice is shrieking, “My God, my God, why?”

“Ab doesn’t believe me,” I say, wrapping my arms around my body.

“Trouble is, he does.”

She moves closer.

“Maybe it won’t be a girl after all!” I say. “Maybe it’s a boy, a son, yes-yes, the son of God!”

“It’s a girl,” Em says softly and gently pulls my arm away from my belly. One by one she coaxes open my fingers, then presses her knitting needles against my exposed palm and grimly closes my hand around them.

The baby stops moving.

“But this is God’s child!” I tell her, my palm sweating blood.

She sighs.

“Just like God to send us a saviour who can’t be saved. He’ll try again with another woman, a weaker one, not like you, one who won’t stand up to him, one who’ll give him what he wanted from the start – a son.”

She puts her hand on my shoulder and stares out the door after her husband.

I look down at the spikes in my hand.

“He begged for mercy,” I whisper. “On his knees before me, he begged my mercy!”

My mother’s hand grows warm on my shoulder but her voice is far away.

“Yes,” she says, “I’m sure he did.

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2 Comments

  1. Karen Rockwell
    Posted August 22, 2015 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    A devastating truth, written with such sharp skill and beauty! Thanks Penny-Anne! Yes! Bind your blog posts!! Love & Admiration, Karen

    • Penny-Anne
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for reading, Karen. Your kind words are always appreciated.

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