1Zim bounced into the house. “Look here.” He laid two pieces of wood in Elijah’s hands. “The professor says he’s still looking for the proper parchment, but he found this kiln-dried oak. You know what kiln-dried means, Mr. Lijah? Where’s Mr. Nathan?”
Zim strode over to the guest room door. “Come see what Professor Hashabiah found for our treehouse, Mr. Nathan.”
cured oak wood for your mezuzah, Zim.
This thick one is the back, and the thin one is the lid.”
[Have the prof also loan Zim a proper set of mezuzah carving tools.2
Zim looked at his mother. “You know what I want to carve on the lid, don’t you?”
She smiled. “Yes, dear. And I agree.”
[Put Elijah into these scenes.] Nathan and Zim spent the next several evenings with their heads together.3 They laid4 three small knives on the goatskin between them. Each knife poked or pried, gouged or carved in a special way. [Better to specify the chisels by size and shape.] When they finally straightened up and handed the pieces to the widow, she nodded and showed them to Elijah.
[Better to show these as steps in the process.] The base held a simple oblong hole about two fingers deep and two fingers wide which extended almost the entire length of the base. Tiny holes at each end would receive nails to attach to the doorjamb. A recess allowed the lid to slide into grooves on each side. And the lid itself held a carving of a vase that bulged out at the bottom and narrowed toward the top like an onion bulb.
Zim wiggled in his seat and displayed a huge grin. “See, Mr. Lijah? My dad’s vase.”
[Better to have the prof send the parchment home with Zim. He tries to read it and gets stuck. Nathan gives clues to help him read it all. Then he tries to roll it up. Fails. Elijah offers to help. Nathan says to let him try again… That night Elijah tells Nathan, you know that raft of kids Milkah and I are going to have? You suppose she’d let me give our first child a Sidonian name?] That week, Zim took the mezuzah box to his lesson, and the professor read to him from the tiny parchment on which he had inscribed Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21. The professor rolled up the parchment and poked it into the base. Zim slid the lid into its slots and brought the assembly home.5
Nathan beamed at Zim. “Now you get to learn the blessing for a mezuzah. Start with the hardest word, so the others will feel easy. Me-Zu-Zah.”
“Mezuzah.” Zim bounced up and down like the excitement in his voice. “I’ve been practicing with the professor, see. Mezuzah. Mezuzah. Mezuzah.”
Nathan drilled and drilled Zim in the words of the blessing. And when they both were happy with every syllable, Zim zoomed up his rope ladder clutching two tiny nails in his teeth, and Nathan clambered up after him with a small hammer in his hand.
Zim recited. “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to affix a mezuzah.”
Zim nailed the mezuzah to the doorpost, and Elijah craned his neck to look up. “So, Nate, where’s Milkah’s hummingbird?”
Zim stuck his head over the window sill. “It’s like my dad said, Mr. Lijah. You never know when one will show up. And now that we have our mezuzah in place, we all better keep a watch out for a hummingbird.”6
Elijah should then climb up and enjoy the treehouse with them. Maybe here is a time to look at the night sky and remark that the stars are the same here as they are in Tishbe. And is this how they look where Mother and Sheerah and Milkah are hiding in Ramoth? I remember Mother standing by the well one night. “The sun goes down, and the sky is ours.”
the glory of the Lord’s star show in full display. Showing off Orion’s Belt, the Big Dipper, and the Milky Way like they were cut in crystal.
Zim asks why don’t you go back to her, and Elijah explains that he tried that but maybe Nathan’s idea of just doing what the Lord says is better.
[Put Elijah into these scenes.]Five weeks later, as Neetz watered a vine, she pointed.7 “Leaves.” The excitement in her voice grew as she pointed to another branch. “Tiny but green. New leaves.”
Elijah10 gulped and stared at the path ahead of him. “My brother likes people, Neetz. But in Tishbe we’re not used to strangers. We’re out of the way, back in the hills, off the main roads east and west. Nobody ever comes to Tishbe, and our father’s vines are a good hike outside of that tiny place.”
The widow11 put her arm through Nathan’s arm. “Nathan likes people, dear. It’s just that some people don’t understand him.”
Neetz stopped and folded her arms. “So?”
The widow snugged Nathan’s arm up close. “So, when they go their own way, nobody has to stop them.”12
Nathan rested his hand on the widow’s hand. “Thank you, ma’am. Neetz means no harm. Do I sense a lesson in lacing sandals, Neetz?”
[Put Elijah into these scenes.]Neetz took the widow’s free arm and looked across at Nathan. “What you sense is me watching you look down when anybody comes in view. Even though you taught your little brother everything he knows, you tuck your head inside your shell like Nathan the Tortoise and let Elijah do the talking.”13
Nathan patted the widow’s hand. “Don’t let Neetz’s straight talk bother you, ma’am.”14 He squared his shoulders toward Neetz. “I scare people, Neetz. Lijah’s got easy, friendly ways, and strangers latch onto him. You haven’t seen it happen, but they back off from me. Friends and family stay put, but strangers get all bug-eyed and look around for a place to hide.”
Zim hung on Nathan’s free arm. “I bet Neetz has a lesson about not scaring people, Mr. Nathan.15 And this one’s more fun than tying laces, see. Dontcha, Neetz, huh? Way better. Way.”
As Nathan and Neetz stared at Zim, he reached out and pulled Elijah into the line. “Eyes and distance, right, Mr. Lijah?”
As they passed the community gardens the next morning, Zim jumped in front of Nathan and turned to face him. “You can practice eyes and distance on me, Mr. Nathan. Just pretend I’m a stranger.” Zim walked backwards and put on a deep baritone. “‘Hello there, young man. Looks like you’re new in town.’ Now all you gotta do is not stare, see, and not stand too close.”
[Put Elijah into these scenes.]Nathan stopped in the center of the still-dark path. “Ha! You’re a strange one, all right, Zim.”16
A few minutes later, they all stood together in the vines, and Zim recruited Neetz. “Just pretend you’re a stranger, see. So Mr. Nathan can practice his eyes and distance.”
Neetz’s eyes twinkled. “Did Zim tempt the tortoise from his shell to learn social graces?”
17After two years18 of lugging water from the spring to the vines, Elijah led three donkeys from the spring, out through the folds of the hill, and over to the twelfth row of vines. He swung a water skin down from the pannier and filled the hole at the base of the first vine. “We’re doing well. Neetz keeps spotting new leaves on vines we thought might die. When can we start transplanting baby vines, Nathan?”
“Just tell it to rain.”
The widow leaned against her donkey’s pannier. “That’s not how it works, my little man.”
“Tell us, Lijah.” Neetz shielded her eyes with her hand and grinned at the empty blue sky over the Mediterranean. “Do you just speak, and clouds come together? Or is it a magic chant?”
Elijah replaced the empty skin in the pannier. He put his hands on his hips and turned toward his brother. “Nathan?”20
“Don’t look at me.” Nathan shook his head. “What are you talking about, Zim?”
Zim looked up at Elijah. “You told the king, ‘Neither dew nor rain until I say, so.’” He yanked a dead leaf from a vine. “When you gonna say, ‘so’?”
Elijah’s eyes opened wide. “Zim, do you really think—”
“You said, ‘flour,’ and we have flour. ‘Oil,’ and we have oil. If you said, ‘rain,’ we—.” Zim sank down under the vine. “I’m tired, Mr. Nathan.”
“Those words, Zim…” Elijah locked eyes with his brother. “Nathan?”
Nathan bent over Zim. “The words about the rain and the flour, Zim. The Lord sent those words.” He looked in Zim’s face. “When the Lord’s ready for rain, he’ll send new words. But my brother can’t just—Zim?” He knelt and put his hand on Zim’s forehead. “Ma’am, I think Zim’s not feeling well.”21
The widow knelt and held Zim’s face in her hands. “My baby needs a little rest.” She turned a thin smile toward Elijah.
Elijah, Nathan, and Neetz continued lugging water while the widow sat with Zim in the shade of the vines. She tipped a water skin into his mouth and put a wet cloth on his forehead.
Elijah picked up the six extra donkey leads. “We’ll load your donkeys at the spring, ma’am.”
When Elijah and Nathan and Neetz returned with all the donkeys loaded with spring water, they unloaded the water skins and the panniers and the pack saddle from a donkey. Then Nathan picked Zim up and set him on the saddle. “There you go, ma’am. Hold Zim on this donkey’s back, and the donkey will take you both home. Take care of our Zim and let us carry the water.”
But Elijah shook his head. “They need you, Nate. Neetz and I can carry the water.”
[Show Neetz agitated:
drops a water skin
jams/crams skins back into pannier
rubs the back of her neck
As Nathan took Zim and the widow home, Elijah turned to Neetz. “You know I have no power over clouds, right?”
“I know, and Zim knows. The little guy’s not well, that’s all. So he says what he feels.” She lifted a skin from a pannier. “Lijah, how many donkeys does your father use to carry wine to the King’s Highway?”
Elijah collected the lead lines of the fifteen donkeys. “Ten. And I can handle five more. Go, Neetz. They need you. The donkeys and I will be fine.”22
After Elijah emptied all the water skins onto vines, he led the donkeys back through the hills to the spring and knelt to dip a skin in the powerful flow.23
1 Pull up Caroline’s critique.
2 Three chisels and three knives and a mallet. http://www.chippingaway.com/cat/hand-woodcarving-tools-accessories/
What’s at stake for Elijah in the whole Mezuzah scene? What does he learn? How does he change? Also, how do they refer to this experience in later chapters? Then how do the steps mean something in the eyes of Elijah? Use inner dialogue to create tension about “How did Zim become so adept at carving?” “Bob is wide open, why doesn’t Gary see him?”
“Holy cow, I can’t believe he made that shot!”
“John looks like he’s about to pass out, I wonder how long he can last.”
“Why are they switching Joe out now? There’s still 2 minutes on the clock.”
“They need to put Bill back in or they’ll never catch up.”
“That’s not going to go in. Oh my gosh, it did!” https://writing.stackexchange.com/questions/44376/which-techniques-maintain-reader-interest-when-the-pov-is-a-spectator-sports-s ]
3 thinking? planning? strategizing?
4 several nights with their heads together….when they finally straightened…this is awkward… how could the two of them lay the three knives on the table? and you said each knife carved a “special way”. What way? did one gouge, strip, punch? i don’t have the vocabulary to talk about these knives. What do they look like? How can Nathan and Zim each work with their heads together? How did Zim become so adept at carving?
5 Transition——Where did he find Nathan? what room? what was he doing? It doesn’t seem believable that Zim wouldn’t know how to say Mezuzah before now.
6 Nate? hummingbird? is Milkah the gal who lives close to Elijah and Nathan’s house? And here is Elijah popping in again. What has he been doing?
7 to whom is she talking?
8 Who are the people who are trudging out of the vineyard?
9 Remind me who Neetz is? what does she look like?
10 Why switch the focus to Elijah when the question was directed to Nathan?
11 Why does the widow answer for Nathan?
12 So some people don’t understand Nathan. and so when they (who?) go their own way, nobody (who?) has to stop them (who?) this answer is confusing for me.
13 I haven’t seen Nathan do this? I wonder why it matters to her? He seems to be on good terms with the widow.
14 why does he think the widow is bothered by Neetz’s comments? she hasn’t done anything or said anything to indicate that?
15 From “Nate” to Mr.Nathan? Originally, I thought that the hummingbird comment was from Zim. I had to go back and re-read.
16 Elijah spread his hands. “Listen, Nate. You’ll do fine. Just remember to stay back an arm’s length and don’t stare.” He looked up at the bluff. “This is a good place to practice. I’ll be the stranger, Okay?” He put on a fake smile. “Hi. My name’s Zimrida.”
Nathan reached out his hand. “Hello, Zim.”
“Okay. Now the arm test. Can you swing your arm up and touch me?”
Elijah looked down at their feet. “So you got inside Zim’s space, see? It makes him nervous. Is this guy trying to push him around? Kiss him? Take his money? Just back off half a step.”
Nathan moved back. “Like this?”
“Right. Now how are you for distance? Can you stand straight and touch me?”
Nathan swung his arm up. “Nope.” He beamed a proud smile at Elijah.
Elijah looked up. “Okay, are you funnin’ me? Or are you really gonna stare at Zim like that?”
Nathan shifted his smile to the space over Elijah’s shoulder beside his left ear.
“No, no. Zim can’t tell if you’re staring at him or pretending not to stare or what. So he’s getting really, really nervous. What you wanta do is, right after you shake hands and glance at him, focus on some part of the landscape. Maybe even comment on it.”
Nathan looked out at the small boats. “Are the fish biting today, Zim?”
“Good. See? You’ll do fine. Just keep checking eyes and distance. Say it. Eyes and distance.”
Nathan rolled his eyes. “Eyes and distance. Eyes and distance.”
17 Is this two years later?
18 Ann Westerman would start a new chapter here.
19 I don’t picture Elijah staring stupidly at this statement.
20 why does he rely on Nathan to say the words?
21 he felt his forehead. “He’s hot.”
22 These guys communicate, but I sure had no idea that her question was indirectly asking if he could let her go home!
23 Give us the sense of time passing here.
24 Too quick a jump. When I read that Neetz dashed I thought you had suddenly jumped scenes to her running home, but she’s come back.
25 Pull up Caroline’s critique.Knowing the story sets this hook well. You can get more suspense out of it if you work with the way you have Neetz come running back to Elijah.
26 Dear Dave,
You cover a lot of time in this chapter. Much happens. One of the problems I had was keeping the people straight and knowing where they were in the scene. What does Neetz look like? or Nathan? or Elijah? or Zim? What does the vineyard look like? What is the soil like? what do the individual plants look like? how does it smell? is it hot there? If there is a long drought, how is there still water in the river?
If you take the time to go back and put sensory details into your scenes, I would suggest, perhaps, starting a new chapter at the two year mark with an introduction of what has happened in the interim. I felt like the first chapter had finished at that point.
I liked the section on the mazuzah, would be interested in more details about the carving, and would like more of an explanation of “eyes and distance”.
Please use what works. Disregard what doesn’t fit your vision for your story, and don’t hesitate to ask me any questions about my comments.