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A Short Story
“Sarah, look at this.” Linda slowed her vehicle to a crawl and nodded toward a massive house with several neat rows of miniature roses. The woman kneeling in the garden was so absorbed with pulling weeds that she neither raised her head in acknowledgment of Linda and Sarah nor gave much thought to the wispy winds promising to dislodge her hat. Sections of her wooden fence leaned outward. Grass had grown ankle deep. Pristine acreage owned by neighbors flanking both sides of her property made the woman’s land appear run-down. Linda imagined the roses were all that remained of the woman’s former life, one once filled with love and happiness, joy and contentment, all ruined by betrayal.
Sarah stopped rummaging through her purse and stared at the figure. “How does she do it?”
“That’s what I want to know. If my husband had left me for another woman, especially if she were my best friend, I’d spit fire.”
Sarah unscrewed a pill bottle and popped a capsule in her mouth. She closed her eyes, exhaled, then sat back. “Let’s go. It’s not fair to sit here and pick her life apart.”
“What you taking?”
“Tylenol PM. I have a terrible headache.”
Linda blew at her straggly bangs as she picked up speed and drove away. “I’m thankful I’ve never been through anything like that.”
“We’ve all gone through something, to one degree or another.” Sarah snapped her purse shut and struggled to see through a blob of moisture, overcome by the direction her life had taken. A tear escaped anyway.
“What have you been through? You have a fine home, a hunk of a husband, and three of the most beautiful children I’ve ever laid eyes on. You’ve got everything.” Linda eased on her brakes as she approached a stop sign then flipped her left turn signal. “You even have a driver.” Linda bobbed her head, wiggled her shoulders, and sung, “I’m driving Miss Daisy, ya’ll. I’m driving Miss Daisy.”
“Oh, shut up.”
“You know it’s true. You do have everything.”
“Not everything,” Sarah mumbled.
“I never hear you complain. Why would anyone who lives in a six bedroom house that’s perched on forty acres complain anyhow?”
“I have trials. Who doesn’t?”
“Oh, c’mon. How would you like to sit in my seat? I haven’t had much time to myself for a while. Jake is always out of town, leaving me to care for Charly all by myself. Sometimes her seizures last off and on for hours. By the end of the day, I’m worn out.” Linda stretched her eyes. “You want to switch places?”
“Humph. I don’t think you’d like to be in my seat, dear friend.”
“Please don’t go all whiny on me. It doesn’t become you. Besides, there’s no one in this entire town who has it as well as you do. By the way, where do you want to have lunch? I thought we might stop and eat a hamburger at Freddie’s Hamburger Joint before we go to your shop.”
“A hamburger sounds great.”
During the five mile stretch to Freddie’s, Sarah propped her elbow on the car’s window ledge and gnawed on a fingernail. She reflected on her disastrous week while Linda hummed one spiritual tune after another to escape to her own corner of the world.
Sarah rubbed the bump in the bend of her arm, angry it had taken phlebotomists more than twice to tap into a vein. All the advice offered to alleviate the painful sticks never worked. Someone once told her to drink plenty of water the day before giving blood. Sarah rolled her eyes as she recalled the episode. It took almost two hours to retrieve blood because of her many trips to the bathroom. After an acquaintance urged her to exercise and use a warm compress, she gave up because it sounded outright ridiculous.
“Have you lost your ability to hear?”
Sarah winced in pain. “Why are you so violent? That hurts.” Sarah massaged her arm. Linda had one powerful backhand.
“I’ve been talking to you for the last five minutes.”
“Guess my mind was somewhere else.”
“I was asking if you want a root beer float with your burger. And I was hope-hope-hoping you’d have enough pity on me to invite Charly and I to dinner tonight. It would be payback for driving all the way out here to pick you up. Hint. Hint. Anyway, Jake is out of town and I’m trying to avoid the kitchen. Charly won’t care what we eat. And she’d love to see the kids. I can bring the drinks if that’ll help.”
“I’ll be tuckered out by the time we get the shop cleaned up and the yarn priced and put away. I’m expecting a large shipment and I don’t think I’ll have any energy once we’re done. Next week I have two satellite meetings scheduled—one at eight in the morning; another at two o’clock.” Sarah pushed against the headrest. “If I don’t get the new girl trained on the register, I’ll be right back where I started . . . my store in a mess and my shipping and billing backed up.”
“This is really sad. We both live smack dab in the heart of Jacksonville but seems we’re passing each other in the night.”
“Next time we’ll do something fun, okay?” To appease her friend, Sarah added, “You’ve always wanted to go to the Tea Room in Orlando. Let’s plan to go in early spring. Or we can take a family vacation to Miami Beach this summer like we did three years ago.”
“I’d settle for a simple cup of coffee and good conversation, Sarah. Is it really that hard? Does everything need to be so detailed and well-planned out? Coffee and conversation—how hard can it be?”
Linda pulled into the parking lot of Freddie’s Hamburger Joint and parked, but kept the engine running. “We used to sit and have coffee for an hour every day once we got the kids off to school. Now I’m lucky to see you once a month. What’s going on? And please don’t blame it on the store. It’s a cover and I know it.”
Geez! Sarah squeezed the door handle and started to exit the car, hoping for a quick escape, but Linda grabbed her arm.
“Oh, no. I need you to talk to me.” Linda folded her arms across her chest. “I know I talk too much, but I see what’s going on here. You’re not yourself. You seem—what’s the word?—evasive.” Linda gently squeezed Sarah’s forearm. “Have I done something to offend you? Have I put my foot in my mouth and you’re afraid to tell me?”
“I’m just tired. Maybe I’m too preoccupied with the store, the kids, Michael, and the upkeep of the house.”
Sarah turned away. “I guess I am.”
“Why do I get the feeling there’s more to this?”
“Why would I lie?”
“Remember what happened two years ago?”
“And you said you’d forgiven me for that. Are you gonna beat me up all over again?”
“Look, smarty pants, I wouldn’t dare bring it up if I thought you were being straight with me.”
“Oh, c’mon, Linda.”
“You’ve been acting strange and you know it. You’re not leveling with me and—”
“I’m not keeping anything from you. Why would I?”
“You had no reason to keep secrets from me the last time. Why you couldn’t tell me your mother was dying is beyond me. I’ll never understand it. And if you’ll recall, Sarah, you never offered an explanation. I’m supposed to be your best friend, remember?”
“Didn’t I apologize?”
“You did, but only after I confronted you about it when a pharmaceutical tech mentioned your mother’s death to Jake. Jacksonville isn’t a big city. People talk. You have any idea how it felt to find out about your mother from someone else?”
“You’ve made it very clear to me.”
“It’s a sore spot with me and you know it. I’ve got this nagging feeling you’re doing it again.”
“Linda, can we drop this?”
“So, are you keeping something from me? Why do you always seem distracted? It’s like you’re in another world.” Linda dramatically waved her hands in the air to demonstrate her disgust.
“It’s nothing I can’t handle. Life will return to normal soon.”
“Let me help. I think I’m a good listener. If I’m not, teach me. I’m willing to change.” Linda stared at the roof of her car and made a face. “It’ll be hard, but I can change. And I’m not too proud to help clean your house, if that’s what you need me to do. I can even be your cashier. Whatever you need, I’m here for you.”
“What in the world would I do without you?” Sarah patted Linda’s knee. “You’ve got your hands full. You’re doing enough with Charly. Matter of fact, being here with me today is exactly what I need. Now let’s eat. I’m starved.”
Linda shut off the engine, slid out of her SUV then waited for it to shimmy, pop, and sizzle before she slammed the door and mumbled, “I really need a new car.” She proceeded to follow Sarah inside the restaurant, but stopped and tilted her head. “Are you losing weight?”
Sarah faced Linda before pulling at her sweat pants. “Why do you ask?”
“You’re not as full in the hips as you used to be.” Linda winked. “I bet Michael is loving this.”
Sarah rushed toward Linda and looped their arms together. “What goes on in my bedroom stays in my bedroom. Now, let’s eat so we can get to the shop and unload the yarn.”
“If you say so, skinny woman.”
* * * * *
For four hours, the women barely spoke, each working on opposite ends of the boutique, putting away yarn and accessories in Sarah’s knitting store. In the bottom half of those four hours, Sarah escaped to the bathroom where she turned on her noisy vent and ran water to drown out the retching created each time nausea threatened to overtake her.
Between rubbing watery eyes and blowing her nose from the effects of the dye, Linda was too preoccupied with new skeins of yarn and knitting patterns to notice Sarah’s pale skin or droopy eyes . . .
Until she dropped her home.
* * * * *
“Let me help you take those things inside,” Linda said as she exited the car. “You look like you’re about to collapse.”
“No, I can manage.”
Before Sarah protested a second time, Linda slid two boxes off the back seat, stumbled on a broken piece of concrete, and spilled the contents of one box on the ground. Tiny balls of scrap yarn rolled along the grass. Knitting needles clanged and flipped in the air before spiraling out of sight. Markers, wig heads, and several old scarves Sarah knitted last year lay strewn on the walkway.
But only one thing grabbed Linda’s attention.
In slow motion, Linda sat the second box on the concrete and in a zombie-like stare removed a blood-soaked towel off the ground. Tears welled in her eyes. When she met Sarah’s frightful gaze, pain and hurt, anger and sorrow swelled inside her. After closing in on her friend of sixteen years, she moved even closer, nose-to-nose, and held the towel inches from Sarah’s face. Her nostrils flared. Hot rapid breathing seemed to jeopardize every strand of hair on Sarah’s body.
“You’re sick, aren’t you?” Linda asked. “And this is how I find out?”
“Linda, let me explain. I’ve been meaning to tell you, but I just didn’t know how to—”
“You meant to tell me? You meant to tell me! It’s a little too late, don’t you think? How ’bout this. How ’bout I leave you to deal with this all by your lying self? How ’bout that? Huh? Hello world! Let me introduce you to Mrs. Sarah Bannister, superwoman of the year. The town’s hero with the powers to handle any and everything all by her lonesome.” Linda smirked. “Hope Hollywood is paying you well for this gig.” Linda shoved the bloody towel in Sarah’s hand and left in a huff.
“Linda, stop it.”
In a quick about-face, Linda said, “No, you stop it. Best of luck BEST friend. Give me a call before you take your last breath, why don’t you!”
“Linda, wait! Please. Linda, don’t do this. I didn’t mean anything by it. I didn’t think you could handle it. I couldn’t handle it!”
Linda left Sarah standing in the driveway breathing in fumes of burnt rubber as she violently backed out and went home.
For nearly two weeks, Sarah phoned Linda three times a day, but never received a response. She saw her friend once in the grocery store and tried to talk to her, but Linda responded only by saying, “You’re done? Good, cause I’ve got better things to do.”
In the course of three weeks, Sarah’s health worsened. Though the cancer was curable, it baffled doctors why Sarah wasn’t responding to treatment. When one of the nurses suggested Sarah might be depressed, the doctor spoke privately with Michael and together they concocted a plan.
* * * * *
“I know you don’t want to sit outside, honey,” Michael said to Sarah, “but you won’t be out here long. After I spray the kitchen for ants, it’ll only take an hour for the air to clear. I’ll bring you iced tea before I get started.”
“Only an hour?” Sarah asked.
“That’s it. Now, relax. Soon the kids will be home from soccer practice, so enjoy the peace while you can.”
“Hi, Mrs. Bannister.”
Startled by the interruption, Sarah looked past Michael and saw a young girl drop her scooter to the ground as she tried to balance a large bouquet in her hand. “Good morning, Helen. Who are those pretty roses for?”
“They’re for you.” Helen mounted the steps and placed the roses on a table next to Sarah.
“For me? Why would you buy me roses? They look expensive.”
“I didn’t buy them,” Helen said.
“Then where did you get them? Did your mother buy them?”
“Nope. Momma didn’t buy them either. A little birdie told me to deliver them.” Helen snickered. It wasn’t often a ten-year-old was privy to a grownup’s secret.
Sarah looked over her shoulder at her husband. “A little birdie, huh?”
Michael hunched his shoulders and raised his hands. “Not me. I had nothing to do with it. You might take a look at the card.”
“See you, Mrs. Bannister.”
“Bye, Helen.” Sarah removed the card and flipped it over several times. It was slightly larger than most and there was writing on every inch of it, in a handwriting Sarah didn’t recognize. There was no logo; no address or phone number.
Jesus’ greatest gift to us was the forgiveness of sin. For no man has ever gone a day in his life without sinning against God and mankind. Isn’t it nice to know he’s forgiven you?
On the opposite side, someone had scribbled:
“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
Sarah looked behind her and discovered Michael had gone inside the house. If he hadn’t sent the flowers, then who had been so bold, so thoughtful?
Once every two weeks thereafter, Michael found an excuse to have Sarah sit on the porch, even on misty days. And each time he did so, little Helen brought a fresh bouquet of roses, reaffirming in her sweet innocent voice that she had no idea who was sending her this gift. She did tell Sarah the florist, with her mother’s permission, paid her ten dollars to deliver them. No doubt whoever was behind this kind gesture wanted to remain anonymous.
The flowers lifted her spirits and gave her something to look forward to. Over time Sarah’s health improved and she was finally able to drive again. She attended school activities for her children, cooked, cleaned, and caught up on her reading. Though she still had difficulty keeping her hands steady enough to begin a new knitting project, she reviewed store orders and paid the bills. When her days became unbearably lonely, playing the piano brought a small measure of comfort. And whenever she thought of Linda, she’d grow anxious for the arrival of a new bouquet of roses.
She’d placed the fresh flowers on a table in the hallway, neatly arranging the Bible verses next to them. God’s word had a way of softening her heart and unveiling her wrong without leaving her with feelings of worthlessness. Sarah didn’t fully understand how God did this, but she welcomed his intervention. With each passing day, an increased craving for that kind of love grew inside her.
Then something peculiar happened.
Though she was strong enough to go camping with her family on Labor Day, Michael insisted she stay and enjoy the solitude. A bit miffed by his over protection, she convinced herself perhaps her family just didn’t want her spoiling their weekend. Maybe they thought a trek along the beach would tire her. What they clearly didn’t understand was she hated to be alone. She enjoyed the noise they made throughout the house—the sibling rivalries, witch hunts for things right under their noses. All of it invigorated her.
Disappointed, she moped all day Friday—ignored the flowers; took no comfort in the Bible verses; wanted no part of the piano.
But early Saturday morning, the doorbell rang. The grandfather clock chimed seven times, leaving her to wonder who in their right mind would be out and about at this hour.
In her bathrobe and slippers, Sarah begrudgingly tromped to the door. She moved the curtains half an inch and discovered an unfamiliar gray SUV parked in the driveway. It was difficult to see through the peep hole. Whoever was on the other side had covered it with their finger.
“Who is it?” Sarah pressed her ear to the door and waited.
No one answered.
She tightened her robe, glancing at the top of the china cabinet where Michael kept the shotgun. Then she squared her shoulders, put on a brave face, and opened the door.
Stunned, Sarah gasped. “Linda?”
Linda had two cups from Starbucks in her hands.
“I brought coffee.”
Unable to move, too afraid to say a single word, Sarah was motionless in the doorway.
“Well, aren’t you going to invite me in?” Linda asked.
“W-Why of course.”
On Linda’s way to the kitchen, she stopped and gazed at the flowers on the baroque table in the hallway. Slightly bending at the waist, she read one of the cards.
If you want a friend, show yourself friendly. (Proverbs 18.24 – KJV)
Linda picked up another Bible verse.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
Linda handed Sarah one of the coffee cups before carrying the flowers to the kitchen.
“I received flowers just like these,” Linda said as she centered them on the table. “You sent them, didn’t you?”
“No,” Sarah said as she flopped in a chair, “I didn’t send them.”
Sarah shrugged her shoulders. “I have no idea.”
“Did Michael buy them?”
“He swears he didn’t.”
“They come every Thursday?” Linda asked as she arched one eyebrow in curiosity.
“Yes, they do.” Sarah squinted. “You don’t suppose Jake had anything to do with this?”
Linda nodded as a smile emerged. “If you ask me, I think both our husbands had a hand in this.”
“Why are you here, Linda? This can’t be about flowers. I thought you were still mad at me and never wanted to see me again.”
“I am and I didn’t.”
“Ooookay. That’s clear as a bell.”
“It’s those blasted Bible verses. It’s God’s fault. He really got to me.”
“I’ve tried to shake them, too, but I can’t. Sometimes . . . Sometimes the truth hurts.”
“I thought it was your clever way of saying you were sorry.”
“Afraid I’m not that creative.”
“This is really immature of me, I know, but I don’t want to forgive you. I want to stay mad at you.”
“I’ve not been a good friend to you. Linda, I’ve acted like an idiot,” Sarah admitted. “You didn’t deserve the mean-spirited way I treated you.”
“Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”
“If I had, I wouldn’t have done it. I don’t think I’ve ever put myself in your shoes. Never considered how you’d feel.”
“Well, the elephant in the room won’t go away until you put a pin in it. No matter where this leads, we’ve got to talk it out.”
Sarah bowed her head. “I can’t begin to tell you how ashamed I am.”
“Save it for later. Right now, I want to explain something to you. And you need to listen real good cause I’m only gonna say this once.”
Sarah nodded in humble obedience.
“It was a betrayal of trust . . . what you did. Here we are the best of friends, two people who have shared everything in the world together. We’ve been there for each other through thick and thin—at each other’s wedding; at the birth of our kids; consoling each other when our husbands often lost their minds. But when faced with the one thing that might take you from us, you up and decided to keep it hidden from me.”
“Hush! I’m not done yet. Other than God, I thought I knew more about you than anyone else in the world. So, I find all of this hard to believe. You stabbed me right here!” Linda pounded her chest with her fist. Her face turned beet red. Tears flowed effortlessly. “It didn’t cross your mind that I cared?”
“It was too hard.”
Linda held up her hand, motioning for Sarah to stop. “Don’t you dare lecture me about what’s hard. After all we’ve been through, did you truly expect me to walk away and pretend nothing was wrong? So, what was your game plan? Was I supposed to tell you to take a pill and see you in a year or two? Or maybe you thought so little of me and concluded I was too weak to handle your illness.
“You know, nothing you’ve done in the last few years has made any sense and it’s time you explain yourself,” Linda continued. “I’m sick and tired of filling in the blanks, making excuses for your behavior, exerting effort to stay positive about our relationship. So, here is your opportunity. Explain away.”
Linda waited. And waited.
Sarah’s face was as hard as stone, her eyes looking past Linda and deep into places far beyond the kitchen walls. Impatience got the best of Linda and before she knew it, she snatched up her purse and rushed to the front door, a steep waterfall drenching her face, her loss deeper than the breadth of an ocean.
With one hand on the doorknob, Linda glanced over her shoulder. “This is your last chance and I mean it.”
Sarah took Linda by the arm and led her back to the kitchen. While rubbing her hands together, Sarah paced the kitchen floor, later massaging her temples before taking a seat at the table. The coffee was cold. She took long sips of it anyway, circling her index finger along the rim of the cup, forming words without making a sound, doing everything possible to come face-to-face with her past.
“There are things about me that you don’t know. Deep things,” Sarah said while staring at the cup. “Please don’t expect me to share them all. Some things I’m entitled to keep to myself.”
Sarah rubbed her brow in a nervous gesture as she searched for the right words. “I ran away from home when I was thirteen and—”
“Noooo kidding. What happened?” Linda sat her purse on an empty chair, anchored her forearms on the table, and leaned forward.
“I went missing for two weeks. The men who forced me into their truck held me captive, promising me day after day to bring me home. Once the police found me and reunited me with my parents, everyone soon discovered I had trust issues. Therapists kept telling my parents to give it time.” Sarah shook her head then stared at the kitchen tile. “I didn’t get better,” she said, weeping and wiping snot with the back of her hand. “Over time I developed some pretty good coping skills and I usually do okay in non-life-threatening situations. But when the doctors told me my mother was dying, I shut down and went into survival mode. My struggle to get through my mother’s suffering ended up plunging me back in that shack with those men.”
“Is that why you shut me out?”
“I think so. But it’s not the only reason.” Sarah rolled the coffee cup in the palms of her hands as though the cold brew would soothe her, protect her in some way. “I’m afraid I’m just odd when it comes to this kind of pressure.”
Linda didn’t respond, but rather searched Sarah’s eyes with great intensity.
“Needless to say, when the doctors told me I had cancer, the news thrust me back into that shack. This time I couldn’t crawl out of that dingy place to save my life. No matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t making any progress. A part of me gave up and died. Everything ran together—days, nights, dreams, the stench of that shack haunted me.
“With so much time to think,” Sarah said as she proceeded, “I realized all my coping skills had dwindled down to nothing. I felt helpless; like a corpse waiting to breathe her last. There was no one to hold me up. I couldn’t stop falling.”
“Why didn’t you confide in me?” Linda reached for Sarah’s hand, but she pulled away, her eyes sad and filled with tears.
Sarah shook her head. “After the way I treated you, I didn’t deserve your help. Sometimes I feel as if the scars are so deep that I don’t have the energy it takes to explain any of this. Until today, I didn’t know how to explain it. I was scared. After putting on a front for the children, a positive attitude for Michael, I didn’t have anything left.” Sarah took in her surroundings—the immaculate light fixtures in the ceiling, the pristine marbled countertops, the expensive curtains. “Here I am in this big house with all my beautiful things, with four living and breathing family members and I’ve never felt so alone in my life.”
“Prayer didn’t comfort you?”
Sarah bowed. “I didn’t believe. Hope had become a distant memory for me. Odd, though. I didn’t feel like I was stuck on an island. It was much worse. I felt as if I was in the middle of traffic or on a bustling street corner with everyone bumping into me but no one taking the time to talk.” Sarah hunched her shoulders. “No one knew I existed. Or maybe they did and just didn’t care.”
“You have plenty of people who care.” Linda propped one hand under her chin. “Tell me, what brought you out of it?”
Sarah lifted a rose and twirled it. “These little gems. Not knowing where they came from stirred my curiosity and distracted me from self-pity. They gave me hope.” As she returned the rose to the vase, she admitted, “I pretended they were from you. Good thing, too, because if my health hadn’t improved, I think the doctors would have given up on me. I don’t think anyone expected me to pull through. Michael was beyond worried.” Sarah hitched her chin toward the flowers. “These beauties reminded me of God’s handiwork. The Bible verses revived my soul.”
“How is your health now?”
“I’m in remission.”
“Wish you’d allowed me to experience your pain. Seems like there’s a gigantic wall between us and I can’t move it out of the way. I’ve been feeling that way for a long time. It didn’t begin with your mother dying. It began days before we stopped having our morning coffee. I’ve spent many nights fretting over this, never fully understanding, but always dying to know what went wrong. Always, always blaming myself.”
Sarah kept both eyes fixed on her cup as an awkward silence settled in the room. Anxious, she rubbed her thighs, intimidated to ask the most obvious. A large lump formed in her throat, as though a million dust mites had clogged her windpipe. Her shoulders bobbed as she wept. “What about us? Will we never have family barbeques anymore? Will I need to pretend not to see you on the street? Have I totally ruined our friendship?”
“Yes, you have.” There was mockery in Linda’s voice, an unapologetic snide which released small snippets of pent-up anger.
With both hands, Sarah covered her face and cried uncontrollably before saying, “So, this is it? There’s no hope for us.”
“There’s hope. There’s plenty of hope.”
“Then tell me what to do. I’ll do anything.”
“Anything?” Linda asked in between her own tears.
“I think we should start over. Pretend we’ve just met. Plan our wedding. Predict how many children we’ll have. I’ll tell you all about me and you’ll tell me all about you; about life, death, prosperity, loneliness, old boyfriends, bullies, every single thing. But I want to end up marrying Michael.”
Both women laughed. They reached across the kitchen table, clasped hands and squeezed tight.
“Not possible. He’s already taken,” Sarah said with the confidence of a woman who had it all. She felt renewed, reenergized, as if someone had thrown her a lifeline.
“Well, I tried.” Linda dug in her purse and tossed Sarah a tissue then used another one to clean her own face. After blowing her nose, she filled the room with laughter. “Did I ever tell you ’bout the time I got caught kissing Stanley Peterson at lunch when I was in the sixth grade?”
“No, you didn’t. Did you get expelled?”
“No, but momma grounded me for two weeks. Now, tell me when the doctors first diagnosed you with cancer. And don’t leave anything out. Cause if you do—”
“I won’t. I can’t afford to lose my friend for a third time. You mean too much to me.”
“Alright, don’t go all mushy on me. Can you make a pot of coffee and cook some eggs? You owe me a meal. And start talking.”
10For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one
who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
Author’s Note: Loving your friends and neighbors, and your sisters and brothers in Christ is a risky business, but a risk we must take or we’ll find ourselves alone, with no one to lift us up.
by Donna Comeaux
for the Ruby for Women October and November Issues
September 22, 2017
Though the characters and events in this short story are fictional, they resemble my real life experience with a friend who was close to me. Linda’s feelings of betrayal are undeniably deep and painful. Although she didn’t completely let go of Sarah’s friendship, without a doubt she understood their relationship couldn’t move forward without putting a pin in the elephant in the room. Their differences needed a resolution. Love required they come to an understanding and reach a new level of respect for one another.
It is important to address issues which hinder your relationships. False pretenses are merely lies wedged between friends that end up rotting the marrow of your bones. If these lies go unattended, they will plunge you into a lifetime of misery and heartache and spoil your walk with Jesus Christ.
Free yourself by first preparing your heart to forgive. This comes through the reading of God’s word and your humble surrender to the Holy One. Once you surrender, it’s then and only then that you’ll be able to offer opportunities to those who have wronged you to repent. Either go to them, or clothe your heart and mind and countenance with godliness so they can approach you.
This is hard.
I’m still a work in progress.
He is Alive!
Mary wrapped barley bread, dried olives, dates, and figs in a cloth and placed them in her husband’s pouch. Cleopas extended his arms, allowing his wife to tighten his girdle with a clasp then tuck coins in one side of it and on the other side a small serving of figs and nuts. When Cleopas lowered his arms, Mary beckoned him to raise his left again so she could slip a water-filled goatskin up his arm and over his shoulder. Mary tugged at the sword fastened to his girdle. Satisfied that it was tightly in place, she took a step back and looked him over. Her sad penetrating eyes grew with concern.
“I wish you would stay with us,” Mary whispered. “There is danger.”
Cleopas kissed his wife on the forehead then held her tight. “I will return before nightfall tomorrow. Do not worry.”
Mary gazed over her shoulder at the disciples. “Everyone is so worried what the Romans will do next. I am afraid for you.”
“Meydad is with me and we will protect one another if anything goes wrong. There is no need for concern. If Ha’Adon is willing, I will return.”
“Be safe,” Mary said.
“Meydad, come. We must go.”
Cleopas took one last look at the disciples, each one standing or sitting in various areas of the room, their faces perplexed from the stories they had been told by the women, and Peter. Earlier this morning they discovered Yeshua’s tomb was empty. Peter fled the house with John (whom Yeshua loved), Cleopas and several other disciples at Peter’s heels, all rushing to the tomb. It was as the women had said. The tomb was empty. Yeshua was gone. Distraught and weakened by what he had seen, Cleopas returned to the house, wondering what all of this meant.
The disciple hugged his wife again then he and Meydad set out for Emmaus on foot. They took time to labor through memories of the last three days, how they had gone from joy to that of sadness. Cleopas couldn’t believe that one day he had witnessed Yeshua riding into the city on a donkey, everyone rejoicing and praising the Messiah. Then the next day, Yeshua was carrying his cross on that long walk to Golgotha.
Cleopas couldn’t reconcile the live Messiah with the dead Messiah who had succumbed to a torturous beating and crucifixion. To complicate matters, the women and Peter claimed to have seen him. Cleopas didn’t know what to make of this.
I am the resurrection and the life . . .
Those words burned in his soul even now, but he no more understood them today than he did yesterday.
“What are you thinking, Cleopas? You have not said a word since we left Jerusalem,” Meydad said.
“I am searching for understanding.”
“I am too. Do you still believe Yeshua was the Messiah?”
“I do, but there is so much that does not make sense to me.”
“Now that he is dead, the answers may have been buried with him,” Meydad said.
“I do not get it, Meydad. One day he is preaching ‘I am the way,’ and the next day he is gone. And we do not even have a body to prove he died. I know he died. I saw him. Bloody linen in the tomb attests to the fact that he was there.”
“You think the Romans took him?”
“Perhaps. No! I do not know. But if the women and Peter saw him, then where is he?” A long silence wedged between Cleopas and Meydad as the two men pondered the question. “You should have seen him in the temple, Meydad. There has never been anything like it. He sat among our people teaching with authority. He spoke of love and unity . . . of G-d the Father. He spoke of a new heaven . . . a new earth. His words brought peace and hope.”
“That may be, but we are still under Roman rule,” Meydad said, stating the obvious. “There is no new heaven or earth here. He failed to rescue us from the hands of these butchers. All he may have done was make things worse for us. Our people are nervous . . . scared. They have no idea what will happen next. It seems to me that we are far worse than we were at the beginning.”
“I do not believe it,” Cleopas said, trying his best to hold on to hope.
“You mean you will not believe it.”
“Here is what I know, Meydad. Yeshua was crucified for a debt he did not owe. He died in place of Barabbas. It is Barabbas who should have died on that cross. Not Yeshua.”
“Why do you think Yeshua let it happen?”
“Meydad, what makes you think he allowed it?”
“For one thing, he never defended himself. Is that not odd?”
“That is so troubling to me.”
“For another thing, the miracles he performed are widely known. Are you forgetting about Lazarus, how he raised him from the dead?”
“How could anyone forget Lazarus’s resurrection?”
“Then why Yeshua did not prevent his own death? Did he not have the power?”
“Of course he did. He fed five thousand people with three fish and two loaves of bread, Meydad! He made the blind see and he healed the sick. Of course he had power.” Cleopas stopped for a moment and dragged his hand on his face. “That is the very part of all this that I cannot comprehend. He did not need to suffer.” Cleopas walked ahead, his feet pounding the dusty road in anger. “There he was standing in the midst of all Roman and Jewish authority at a perfect time to destroy them and declare his kingdom. He had the power to end all Roman rule with a mere word from his mouth, but he did not do it. He never said a mumbling word. Why? Why?” Cleopas was clearly frustrated.
“Maybe it was just his time to go,” Meydad concluded.
“But there is so much more work to be done,” Cleopas said. He wasn’t quite sure who he was trying to convince, Meydad or himself.
“Do you believe the women? Do you believe Peter? You think he is alive?”
“If so, where is he?”
“What is it that you are discussing?” a traveler asked as he joined in their walk.
Cleopas and Meydad stood still and looked at the traveler with dismay. The traveler had sandals on his feet, a scarf loosely covering his head and draped around his neck. But he had no provisions—no food and no water.
“Are you the only one in all of Jerusalem who has not heard what has happened there?” Cleopas asked, his emotions on the brink of collapse.
“What things?” the traveler asked.
“The things about Yeshua of Nazareth, a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of G-d and all his people . . . how our chief priests and rulers ridiculed him, falsely accused him, then delivered him to Pilate to be crucified. We were hoping he was the one who would redeem Israel. But now he is dead. He has been gone away from us for three days. Our hearts ache for him.” Cleopas choked up, tears welled in his eyes.
“Then something strange happened this morning,” Cleopas continued. “Our women went to his tomb with spices to prepare for his burial, but they came back to the house claiming he is alive . . . that his tomb is empty . . . that they had seen him. I followed Peter to the tomb and we found it indeed empty. How can all this be? How is it that he is now alive? What does it mean? And where is he?”
“Oh, foolish men who are slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for Yeshua to suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moshe (מׄשֶׁה) and all the prophets, the traveler explained to them all things found in the scriptures.
By the time they reached Emmaus, it was nightfall and they pleaded with the traveler to stay with them.
Women and children helped prepare the evening meal, lit candles, and set wine on the table before their guests. There was something different in the air—an unusual warmth, a welcomed peace that neither Cleopas or Meydad understood. They enjoyed
the traveler and admired his knowledge of the scriptures. In fact, Cleopas hadn’t heard such teachings since . . .
Cleopas furrowed his brow as memories of the Messiah flowed through him like warm honey. “. . . have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” Cleopas also remembered, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.”
He almost fell to his knees when he recalled how Yeshua sat on the mountain, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth . . . .”
The disciple wiped away tears and forced himself to leave the memories behind him and join the others at the table. When everyone was poised and ready to eat, the traveler gave thanks and broke bread, passing a portion to each of them.
At once, fear and elation rushed through Cleopas, then Meydad, for they recognized the traveler as Yeshua!
“Yeshua . . . Ha’Adon!” Cleopas and Meydad shouted.
Then Yeshua disappeared.
Cleopas and Meydad stared at one another, in awe of what they had seen. Their hearts pumped with joy. They were so excited that they tried to talk at the same time, but it was Cleopas who was the most outspoken.
“Did our hearts not burn within us while he talked on the road and opened the scriptures to us?” Cleopas asked. “Hurry! Hurry!! We must go to Jerusalem and tell the others.”
When Cleopas and Meydad returned to Jerusalem, they pounded the locked doors of the house where the apostles were gathered. John (the one whom Yeshua loved) opened the door and Cleopas rushed pass him and declared, “It is true! The Lord has risen and he appeared to Simon just as he said. And now he has appeared to us!” Cleopas grabbed Nathaniel by the arms and shook him. “It is true, Nathaniel. Thomas, James, Philip, do you hear us. It is true! We have seen him! We have seen the Lord! We have seen Ha’Adon! He is alive. I tell you, he is alive!”
(a fictional short story based on Bible truths and ancient customs)
“Beulah, I do not understand why Avi does it—sit there day after day weaving away, hardly sleeping.”
“Shh, Ephah, she will hear you. Let her be. Whatever Avi is doing she has her mind fixed on it and there is nothing we can say to change her purpose. Now, come,” Beulah said as she tugged on Ephah’s arm.
Ephah pulled away and reached for the long cloth covering Avi’s open door. “I think we should go in and sit with her and find out what she is doing, Beulah.”
“No! Ephah, do not.”
“Are you not curious?”
“Yes, of course I am, but it is none of our business. We should go. We have work to do. The men will be home from the field soon and I must cook lentils and lamb stew for dinner, at the request of my husband.”
“Humph. Tomorrow then,” Ephah said, sorely disappointed that they did not have time to go inside and probe Avi about her sudden withdrawal from her people. “Tomorrow we will make her tell us.”
“No, Ephah. No. Tomorrow we must busy ourselves with preparations for the Pesach. We have one week left to get ready. Tomorrow, and all the days thereafter, we must leave Avi alone. We have too much to do. Come, go quickly. There is so little time.”
A slight breeze blew the thin covering nailed to Avi’s door and cooled the stillness in her one-room bavith. Plumes of dust entered the room as the two women outside scurried away. Avi stopped weaving and listened. “Adonai, thank you. It is peaceful again.”
Avi stood then stretched her back and wiggled her toes, shook the mat and repositioned the blanket that she had folded underneath it. The earthen floor of her bavith was smooth, hard packed; the walls made of clay. The bavith was old, built by her late husband and two sons—all dead now. Her roof, well-established, had a beam that ran from wall to wall and atop was a healthy crop of grass, barley, and the dying beginnings of a fig tree that wouldn’t survive the summer’s heat.
Simmering in a corner of the bavith was a pot of lentil soup. From the market, she had purchased a leg of lamb and placed half of it in the soup; the other half she shared with a neighbor. A small basket protected a portion of raw grain, enough to last three days. In a tiny bowl covered with a cloth were a handful of dates, olives, and a small serving of buttermilk cheese to nourish Avi if she needed to eat before dinner.
On the opposite side of the bavith where she was hard at work, was a bed mat rolled up neat, pressed against the wall. Next to the mat, all the clothes she owned lay wrapped and tied with a string.
For nearly a year, without fail, she rose early to fetch water from the well, filling two goatskins to capacity, doing so before the other women came to gather and participate in idle talk. Then she’d rush back to her bavith to cook today’s meal before returning to her sewing.
Avi shared Ephah’s need to understand, but even Avi didn’t know why weaving the garment until the wee hours of the morning had become an obsession. Sewing this garment, a man’s ef’-od, was a mystery to her, and she had no idea who would wear it. Without knowledge of his breadth, height, and age, everything about this undertaking seemed pointless. But the moment she made up her mind to stop fighting the message that kept running through her mind as she slept, her energy increased and she soon discovered that four hours of rest each night was sufficient.
With a week left before the Pesach, her people’s commemoration of G-d passing over them when he slew the first born of Egypt, Avi became more determined than ever to finish her work. Everyone in Jerusalem anticipated the holiday—buying and selling goods to ensure they had enough to host kinsmen and friends coming from afar.
Avi worked tirelessly and as she did so she pondered rumors of a man claiming to be the Messiah close to her heart. Ancient stories of the coming King had circulated throughout Israel long before her birth. As a child, she remembered the elders talking around campfires, saying, “He will rule the earth and bring us peace.” They celebrated this promise in full expectation—dancing to lively music, roasting the best lamb, feasting on honey, and drinking the finest wine. Recent rumors of this miracle worker who had come to save Avi’s people spread through Jerusalem like warm honey. She had yet to investigate these stories to determine if they were myths or truths. Perhaps he was another imposter who might leave her people downtrodden once again, casting doubts upon the ancient tales of the patriarchs.
She’d been too preoccupied with the task at hand to walk a mile or two or three to witness the teacher everyone raved about. The vast majority of her people reported he had healed the blind, made the lame walk, turned water into wine. The entire countryside went into an uproar when he supposedly raised Lazarus from the dead. The most absurd story of all, at least for Avi, was his ability to walk on water. Avi couldn’t put that story to rest. It agitated her, woke her in the middle of the night, caused her to call upon Adonai and cry herself to sleep.
Not long after the dreams ceased, for reasons she still couldn’t comprehend, Avi saved every denarius earned from repairing neighbors’ old garments to bought fine expensive yarn. Since Avi’s family died many years ago, it didn’t make sense to buy it. What would she do with this elaborate twisted fiber? Avi wondered if she had acted foolishly. So taunted with worry, she wrapped the yarn of fine linen inside her cloak then sat near a lamp and stared at it as if expecting it to move about her bavith and perhaps convey a message that she had somehow missed from the Holy One.
Then one day about ten months ago, she set her loom in the middle of her bavith. Upon a thin strip of leather, she placed seven needles. She commenced to inserting these sharp splinters of bone and bronze in and out of the yarn to begin the painstaking task of weaving a seamless garment from top to bottom.
Everyday since Avi sewed, stopping long enough to fetch water, cook, eat and drink, bathe and lie down. Her source of income came to a halt for she had given up mending her neighbors’ cloaks and scarves and belts, but was never in want.
Three days before Pesach, something strange occurred. She fastened the hem then clipped the thread and held the finished ef’-od up to examine it. “Perfect,” Avi said. Delight filled her eyes. She started to mount it to the wall to stretch and shape it in case the man who would wear it proved to be much larger, but an eruption outside interrupted her. Avi held the undergarment tight to her breast, refusing to allow it to touch the ground as she stepped outside.
Not far away, people shouted praises, fanning palm branches high and low. Something moved her forward, arms gently caressing the ef’-od in her hands, her feet unable to stop until . . .
Their eyes met.
No one ever described him, or told of the kindness in his eyes, the joy emitting from his face. If they had, their report was inaccurate. There was much more to him than the miracles they proclaimed. Avi searched for a word to describe him, but all her mind could come up with was love—something she felt the moment they locked eyes. The crowd all about him shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” As if someone had bellowed a thunderous command, the people stepped aside, making a clear path for Avi which led directly to him. Before she drew a breath to speak, he said, “Thank you.”
“My Lord, are you the one they speak of . . . Yeshua . . . the chosen one . . . the one who has come to save us?”
“I am he,” Yeshua said.
Avi loosened her grip on the garment, knowing without a doubt that the ef’-od belonged to him. After she gave him the robe, she fell to her knees and hid her face. In a low muffled voice she praised him. Overcome with unspeakable joy, Avi couldn’t articulate her thanksgiving above a whisper, but Yeshua heard every word. Yeshua touched her arm. Avi stood.
“Thank you, my Lord,” Avi said, “for I have received endless joy on this day and forever. All is now well with my soul.” Avi’s spirit confirmed what her heart had wrestled with for quite some time. As she had worked on the garment, a burning grew inside her, driving her, encouraging her, guiding her hands until she finished. Now, in this moment, gazing upon the Messiah, everything in her was complete and fully satisfied.
Point of Interest: Just as Ahijah tore his clothes into twelve pieces to represent the twelve tribes of Israel, depicting the division of the kingdom (I Kings 11:29-39); Christ’s seamless undergarment represents one robe in which we are all clothed and cannot be torn apart.
Definitions: ef’-od = Hebrew reference to an undergarment or tunic; bavith = a house, usually one room, can have an upper room/level; Yeshua = Hebrew name for the Messiah, Jesus Christ; Pesach = Passover.
Donna B. Comeaux has been writing for the Ruby for Women Magazine (http://rubyforwomen.com) since 2013. Donna has also written devotionals for Hopeful Living, a publication designed to encourage senior citizens, and for Believer Life. She also contributes to The Christian Post blog section at http://blogs.christianpost.com/search.html?term=comeaux. Not only will you find other inspirational stories on her website, you will also find tips for writers, devotionals, and a few of Donna’s political views as well.
Donna and her husband have two grown sons and eight grandchildren. They reside in Oklahoma.
This story is also in the March 2017 issue of the Ruby for Women Magazine. Click here to purchase a hardcopy: https://www.createspace.com/6972935.
This story can also be found on The Christian Post: http://blogs.christianpost.com/an-unlikely-choice/waiting-for-the-messiah-28715/