I finally found some time to sit and finish Chapter 3. As always, this is a story in progress, so there will be most likely be typos, plot holes, etc. I’ll rewrite and edit it prior to publishing it in the future on Kindle.
If you’re looking for other fiction I’ve written you can find my first book, A Story to Tell, on Kindle; my second book, chapter by chapter, here, or at the link at the top of the page under A New Beginning, or my short story Quarantined. I’m also sharing The Farmer’s Daughter on Fridays.
“Eliana, you must understand. Your bleeding does not stop. You are tuma. Unclean. I can not continue our marriage covenant any longer. There isn’t even a possibility of continuing my family’s line with you in this condition and there is no possibility of us . . .”
Josiah turned to look at Eliana, pain in his eyes. He shook his head and turned from her.
“My heart is broken but this is the way it must be. Arrangements have already been made and the divorce will be finalized within a fortnight. I will give you your certificate of divorce then.”
Eliana fell on her knees to the dirt floor of the home she had shared with her husband for only three years before the bleeding started and wouldn’t stop. Eventually he had cast her out and she’d been living in a small home behind theirs because Jewish law called her unclean.
Her body shook with sobs that rose from deep within her as Josiah continued to stand with his back to her.
“Josiah!” she cried out between sobs. “Please. I love you. I am your wife. You can not abandon me at such a time. I am frightened and no doctor has helped me. I already live away from you, I can’t make you unclean. Please, wait . . . wait for me to be healed.”
A cold shiver rushed through her body. She had been shamed so much already, would she now be further shamed by being cast away by the man she had loved for so long? Panic seized her and without thinking she lunged forward, grasping Josiah’s hand, pressing it to her cheek.
“Do not shame me further, Josiah!”
Josiah ripped his hand from hers and staggered back as if struck by a blow.
“Eliana! No! You have made me unclean! I must go to the mikvah now to be cleansed! Stop this! You must accept our marriage is over. I will no longer continue to be bound in marriage to a woman I can’t even touch or . . . or make love to, have children with. A man can’t be expected to live such a lonely existence without his needs being met.”
He turned away from her, yanking the door to the home open. “I will provide you with a small sum of money to help you find food and shelter,” he said, his tone cold and detached. “You may stay in the house I have provided until you find a new home. Please be gone from this house when I return. Goodbye, Eliana. May Yahweh protect and bless you in your future.”
Eliana screamed at the closed door several moments, but soon collapsed in exhaustion. She had no strength to mourn. Blood had flowed from her for so long she wondered how she still breathed at all, let alone how she had managed to function to prepare her own food, clean her clothes and wash the clothes of the gentiles who knew nothing of her lengthy bleeding.
Josiah spoke of loneliness. He knew nothing of the isolation and loneliness she had faced for 5 years now. He knew nothing of the looks of disgust from those in her own community. He knew nothing of what she had suffered because he had turned from her when she needed him most.
Looking around the room, prostrate on the floor, she remembered the early days of marriage with Josiah. She remembered laughter, warm kisses, intimate moments within the bonds of marriage.
“We shall call him Tikvah. ‘Hope’,” Josiah had said, his hands on her protruding belly.
She laughed. “But we don’t even know if it will be a boy or a girl.”
“It will be a boy,” he said, laughing as he leaned close to kiss her. “A big, strong boy to help me in the fields.”
Eliana had laughed with him and now she wished she could remember how to laugh.
The day she held their son, Tikvah, lifeless in her arms, mere minutes after birth, she had forgotten how to laugh or even what laughter sounded like.
Josiah had become more distant, snared in his own grief, unable to soothe Elaina’s emotional pain. When the bleeding wouldn’t stop after birth, trickling each day, she became worried.
“It will stop,” her mother told her. “Do not worry, Eliana. This happened to my sister after she lost her baby, but the bleeding stopped.”
And eventually the bleeding slowed, her energy returned and Eliana was certain happiness would one day return to her, Josiah would hold her in his arms, and another baby would come.
The water of the mikvah was warm and inviting the day the bleeding stopped, and she prayed it would cleanse her from the tuma, make her clean again, help Josiah love her again. His mouth was warm on her own that night as he believed she had been cleansed but she no longer felt the passion she had before the loss. Something had withered inside her, faded away.
A week later she woke and felt warmth beneath her garments. Looking at her bed clothes she stared in disbelief at the growing red stain. The bleeding had returned.
“I love you, Eliana, but you must stay here. I can no longer have you in the home.”
Josiah tossed blankets at her feet, a small sack of coins, a few weeks later. The barren room around her reminded her of her barren womb and she wept when he had closed the door, leaving her alone in the darkened room. She stayed there, alone, only her sister visiting her with food and company a few times a week, watching Josiah live his life at the bottom of the hill, inviting friends to his home, working in the fields, and eventually speaking with Baruch, the butcher, who Eliana knew had three young, unmarried daughters at home.
“Elohim. Please. Please.”
She had paced the floor, tears in her eyes. She clutched at the top of her dress and sat, weak again.
“Don’t let Josiah marry again, leave me behind,” she had whispered to herself.
She could not even reach out to him, beg him to not choose another wife. Touching him would make him unclean like she was. She should have known then that this day would come, the day he would tell her she was no longer wanted, and he would no longer wait for her to be healed.
Eliana wished for death the night after Josiah told her he was marrying another to give him children.
“You can remain as my wife and return if the bleeding stops,” he had told her in a soft, hopeful voice.
But the bleeding had not stopped, and Eliana had watched as Abbigail’s belly had grown rounder and then later when she held a small newborn against her chest.
She now wished for death again, knowing Josiah didn’t want to wait to see if she would be healed. He had decided he truly no longer wanted her, no longer loved her.
She dragged her nails along her skin, wished for something hard and sharp to stab through her veins, let the blood run from every inch of her like it had been seeping from beneath her garments for so long. She imagined death enveloping her like a black sheet, pulling her down and down until she no longer had to think about the pain, the hurt, the rejection, the loss.
A voice hissed at her from the darkness, barely audible.
Her hair and clothes damp against her felt like chains as she thrashed under the blanket, trapped between sleep and wakefulness.
She was choking, fingers tight around her throat, squeezing.
“No one loves you. No one ever will.”
She reached out, tried to scream, but no sound came.
Shame whispered, breath hot against her face. “You are unclean. You will never be clean.”
Depression growled deep in her soul. “You’re worthless.”
Rejection taunted. “You’re nothing. Nothing but a burden to all you touch.”
Despair urged her to stop the voices, stop the hurt, stop the terror gnawing at her insides. “Just one cut and it will all be over.”
Eliana screamed out, trying to pull away from the claws pulling her down. “Adonai! Adonai! Help me!”
She gasped as she awoke, sun pouring in on her from the small window above her bed. She threw her blankets from her and stood quickly looking around the room frantically.
Had it all been a dream? Were the spirts still there?
“Eliana? Are you awake?”
Her sister’s voice startled her and she backed against the wall, sliding down it and pulling her knees to her chest.
When Ledah opened the door, Eliana’s face was pressed against her knees as she rocked slowly and sobbed.
“Oh, Eliana.” Ledah kneeled beside her, wrapping her arms tightly around her and pulling her close. “Eliana, I am so sorry for these many years of suffering you’ve faced. I will not leave you. I am here and I am not afraid to touch you. Do you understand?”
Eliana nodded but couldn’t speak, sobs choking her words, tears soaking her hair and dirt stained robe.
Oh Adonai, she prayed, clutching to her sister’s garment. Save me. Don’t let the Spirit of Death torment me any longer. Please, bring healing to me.
The sound of footsteps outside her window woke Josefa. She rubbed her eyes as she looked out the window, watching a crowd of people walking, laughing, talking past. Women and men were carrying children on their shoulders or leading them through the crowds. Older women were walking slowly with walking sticks. Men were speaking in hushed tones while other men spoke loudly, debating theological subjects.
“Where are those people going?” she asked her mother when she walked bleary eyed into the living area.
Her mother was busy kneading flour to bake bread.
“They say Yeshua is speaking on the hill today. They want to hear what he has to say.”
“Can I go, mama?”
“We have things to do here, Josefa. And you have not had your morning meal yet. You should eat.”
“I can take bread with me. I could go and tell you what he says.”
“Go alone? I don’t like the idea of that. . .”
Josefa glanced behind her, out the window and caught a glimpse of her mother’s friend Elizabeth among the crowd.
“Look, there is Elizabeth! I could walk with her.”
Sitting back on her feet, Myriam saw her daughter, saw the brightness in her eyes, the hope. She sighed. There were worse things than her daughter learning from the man who so many, including herself, were beginning to believe was truly the son of God.
“Hurry and catch up with her but don’t stay long. Come home for lunch and tell us what he says.”
She wrapped a cloth around a piece of bread she’d made fresh that morning. “Take this with you and eat.”
Josefa threw her arms around her mama’s middle quickly, snatching the bread and darting from the room.
“Thank you, mama!” she called over her shoulder.
Outside the sun was bright. Excited voices mingled with the sounds of the street – creaks and groans of a merchant’s cart, a woman calling for her child, a man calling out the price of the fish he was selling, laughter from a group of men gathered together outside the synagogue. Josefa pushed forward through the crowd toward Elizabeth, reading out and touching arm.
“Mama said I can come with you. Are we going to hear Yeshua?”
Elizabeth’s dark hair hung loose down her back, bouncing as she walked. Her smile was sweet and welcoming as she turned to look at Josesfa.
“Yes, Josefa. We are going to hear what the teacher has to say. Is it okay with your mother that you come with me?”
“Yes. She said I could come if I was with you.”
Elizabeth’s youngest daughter, Lydia, held tightly to her mother’s hand, her toddler cheeks flushed in the warm sun.
Josefa slid her hand into Elizabeth’s other hand.
Elizabeth squeezed her hand gently. “Tell me, Josefa. How do you feel since the teacher came to visit you?”
“Amazing, Elizabeth. The world has never been brighter, food never tasted so incredible. It’s as if life is new again.”
Elizabeth laughed. “Oh, Josefa, you always have sounded older than you are. Sometimes I think that you were born a little old woman.”
Josefa smiled, hoping that Elizabeth’s words were meant to be a compliment.
A man behind them walked faster so he was walking in step with them.
“Are you Jairus’ daughter?” he asked, breathless.
He didn’t wait for Josefa to answer.
“Yeshua brought you back to life, didn’t he? What was it like? What did he say? Who do you believe he is? Is he truly the son of God?”
Words rushed out of him quickly, too quick for Josefa to answer and even if she had been able to fit her response in between the questions, she didn’t know what to say.
The rabbi had told her parents to treasure the miracle as their own and not to share it with others.
Elizabeth pulled Josefa against her as they walked.
“She’s just a child,” she said to the man. “Don’t bother her with so many questions.”
The man fell silent, looked down at the ground as they walked.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
He looked up and they followed his gaze to the top of the hill where Yeshua stood with his disciples and other followers.
“What do you think?” Elizabeth asked the man as the crowd slowed their steps. “Who do you say he is?”
The man shook his head slowly, never taking is eyes off the teacher.
“I don’t know. Truly. I do not know.”
“Hear me, everyone, and understand.”
The voice of Yeshua drifted to Josefa and she strained to hear, walking beyond Elizabeth and the man, pushing through the crowd.
“There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him, but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”
Josefa sat among others near the front of the crowd, pondering Yeshua’ words as he spoke. So much of his words were a mystery to her but she silently prayed Jehovah would show her later what the words meant.
An hour passed before Yeshua’ raised his hand to those asking questions.
“There will be time for answers later. I must go and break bread with my disciples now.”
Josefa looked over her shoulder for Elizabeth but couldn’t see her. She knew she should turn around and find her so they could return home but instead she rushed to follow Yeshua and the men who followed him, careful to stay several steps behind.
They sat next to the water, under an olive tree as another man approached with baskets.
“I have found us food – bread and fish, some fruit. Let us eat.”
As the men began to eat Josefa crouched behind a mound of dirt several feet away, close enough to hear their words.
“Where shall we go next, Master?” a man asked Yeshua.
“Wherever people will listen to us,” Yeshua said, breaking a piece of bread off.
“Master, I have a question – about what you said earlier today,” a disciple sat close to Yeshua, knee propped up and an arm laying across his knee.
“Yes, Thomas . . . please ask.”
“When you were speaking about whatever enters a man will not defile him. Does this mean that there are no rules about what foods we should eat? Should we ignore the law Moses gave us?”
Yeshua took a drink of water from a cup one of the disciples offered him. He sighed and leaned toward the man he had called Thomas.
“Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from the outside cannot defile him because it does not enter his heart, but his stomach and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods. What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within out of the heart of men proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”
Josefa leaned back against the rock mulling the words over in her mind as the men ate and began to talk about their plans for the rest of the day, where they would rest that night and what cities they hoped to reach later in the week.
Hurried footsteps startled her. “Josefa!”
She looked up to see Elizabeth standing above her. “What are you doing? Your mother trusted me with you. Now come. It’s time to get home. Your mother will want you to help prepare for the afternoon meal.”
Josefa walked behind Elizabeth, the voice of Yeshua and his followers fading with each step. Her mind wandered to life before Yeshua had healed her as Lydia reached up and slipped her tiny had in hers.
Josefa thought about how every day had seemed routine, mundane, not full of life and hope before she’d been risen from the dead. She’d never thought about her future before then. She’d thought about chasing frogs with her friend Caleb and learning how to sow and make bread with her mother. She’d worried about who she might be betrothed to by her parents. But now she thought about so much more. She thought about how she could help others feel the way she felt; how she could show them how amazing life could really be and what a gift it was.
“Josefa, now that you are well life seems normal again,” her brother had told her one day after Yeshua had visited.
But Josefa didn’t want to go back to normal. She didn’t want to look back at the normal of her life before. She wanted to look forward to a new type of normal – a life full of opportunities to really live.