The widow faced Nathan in the middle of the path. “So, what will you do?”
Zarephath, Sidon, 869 BC
1 King 18:1
Elijah jumped forward.
But the widow raised her hand. “This is Nathan’s decision.”
“Yes, it is, ma’am.” Nathan seized Elijah by the elbow. “And I need to talk with my brother.” He forced him up the path, leaving Zim and the widow behind. “Do I sigh and gawk and mew like Zim says?”
Elijah put his head down and walked along in silence. A faithful brother would have had this conversation with Nathan two years ago, but sighing, gawking, and mewing were not part of Elijah’s plan, so he had ignored them. He and Nathan had always talked straight with each other, but they had never discussed going googly eyes in love.
Half the girls in Jabesh were sweet on Nathan, but he ignored them, so they were no danger. Yet if Nathan really sighed and mewed like Zim said—No. The idea meant losing his brother, and nothing mattered as much as the touch of Nathan’s elbow.
“You’re being nice, Nate. Neetz teaches you how to tie laces, and one kind deed deserves another. She’s courteous to you, you’re understanding of her, and we all get along.” As he lied to his brother, something sour stuck in his throat.
Nathan tightened his grip on Elijah’s elbow. “Listen, Lijah, you and I don’t talk much about girls, but… Maybe with Neetz I’m a little more than nice.” He took several silent strides. “You never say much about Milkah or how she makes you feel, but…but you’ve heard Neetz laugh.” He poked his chin out. “Like a clear, high bell.” Nathan’s eyes grew bright. “And the way the morning sun makes her hair glisten. I want to pick her up and hold her close and whirl her around.”
Elijah hunched and crossed his arms over his chest.
“Don’t close up on me, Lijah. You know how girls in Jabesh seem pretty when they get all cleaned up? But Neetz is beautiful even when she’s been lugging water and digging holes.”
A great pain hit Elijah in the chest. His lips trembled, and he pressed his fist against his mouth.
Nathan turned toward the fold in the hills where they had drawn so many skins of water from the surging spring. He took several lengthy breaths then let his shoulders slump. “But I can’t see how the widow thinks Neetz—”
Elijah gulped at air in shallow, rapid breaths. He dragged his fingers down his cheeks. He grasped his brother by the shoulder and spun him around. He shook him. “Then you haven’t got a working brain in your head. Neetz is crazy about you.”
What have I said?
What happened to Nathan and Elijah, Elijah and Nathan forever? The truth was escaping. Elijah sobbed out words. “I bet she writes poems about you. Goes to sleep with your name on her lips and dreams about your nine children and how she helps you teach them to transplant baby vines.”
He held his brother’s face and sobbed. “Nathan, you need to go talk with Neetz’s father.”
As Nathan’s fingers slid from Elijah’s shoulders to his wrists, a smile spread across his face, and his eyes grew big like goose eggs. “Thank you, little brother.” He planted a kiss in Elijah’s scraggly beard.
Nathan slapped his donkey lead into Elijah’s hand and rushed past Zim and the widow. “Hashabiah.”
Zim shaded his eyes with his hand and watched Nathan’s progress toward the city gate. “His smile ‘bout knocked me over.”
Elijah froze with his knuckles between his teeth.
What about Bernice?
He lurched past Zim and the widow and dropped the two donkey leads at their feet. “The butcher’s daughter.”
He dashed after Nathan. Would Hashabiah say back off? His daughter’s not available?
Elijah jogged through the vines.
Nathan disappeared between the huge pillars of the north gate.
Elijah’s feet pounded along the path. What if Hashabiah accepted Nathan? They must tell him about Bernice. Would Hashabiah dismiss their father’s promise?
When Elijah hustled through the north gate, the stone pavers of Hashabiah’s street lay empty of traffic. He loped down the street and pushed through Hashabiah’s iron gate into the courtyard. The front door fell open to his touch, and he took the stairs three at a time.
On the roof, the office door stood ajar.
Hashabiah stepped out and beckoned Elijah to enter. “Come in, young man. It seems your brother wants to marry my daughter.”
“Yes, sir. He does.” Elijah gasped for air. He stepped inside and bent with hands on knees.
The calico cat on the corner of the desk stared round-eyed at Elijah.
“But he wants first to go see his mother.” Hashabiah shut the door and stood in the center of the room with his feet spread wide. [his face say?]
“I imagine he does, sir.” Elijah pursed his lips and wiped sweat from his brow.
“After which, he would return, marry my daughter, and help in my vineyard.”
Elijah squinted. Good grief. How did Nathan spit out all this information while Elijah was climbing the stairs?
Hashabiah leveled his gaze at Elijah and narrowed his eyes. “And your father has promised Nathan to the butcher’s daughter in Ramoth.” [iSo Nathan told him this in the last few minutes? It almost seems like a little too much for reserved Nathan to get out in a couple minutes. You could consider having Elijah burst in just as Nathan is explaining the Bernice part. That way we could see how nervous Nathan was? (I’m a little surprised that Nathan finally acknowledges the betrothal to Bernice, but I’m guessing that he felt honor-bound to do so.)]
“That’s true, sir.” Elijah leaned in. What would his father’s promise mean to Hashabiah?
Hashabiah raised an eyebrow. “Has the butcher’s daughter said, ‘I will go’?”
“Pardon me, sir?” Elijah rubbed his eyebrow.
Nathan took a step toward Elijah. “Like when Rebekah’s family asked her if she would go with Abraham’s servant to marry Isaac.”ii
Elijah took in a quick breath. So, if Bernice had never said, “I will go,” did that mean Nathan was free to marry Neetz?
Nathan turned to Hashabiah. “Pardon me, sir. Our father last visited his friend the butcher eleven years ago. Elijah and I have never met the butcher or his daughter.”
Hashabiah’s smile grew. “Well, you’ve met me, and you’ve met my daughter. The first day she brought you men to meet me, I saw her affection for Nathan, and that evening my wife asked about the change in her. Although Neetz had never been in the vines, she has now worked by your side for three years. Her mother and I would be thrilled to promote this marriage.
BEAT of disappointment “But your father promised the butcher.” Hashabiah bowed his head and took slow steps to the window beyond the calico cat. He raised his head and came back to the center of the room. “I have no right to ignore your father’s promise. No matter how long ago or far away, a friend is a friend, and a promise is a promise.” He bunched up his lips, let out a sharp breath, and stared first at Nathan, then Elijah.
Elijah stood silent and numb.
Nathan flipped [iiiverb?] around to the window but turned and faced Hashabiah again. He nodded.
“I suggest you tell your father how it stands between you and my daughter, then leave the matter in his hands.”
Hashabiah extended his hand, and Nathan grasped his hand. “Thank you, sir. I intend to follow your advice.” [ivshow Maybe he’d also be a little anxious about the uncertainty. Maybe his father will still insist that he marry the butcher’s daughter.]
“Thank you, sir.” Elijah led the way downstairs, across the courtyard, and into the street.
The next morning at the widow’s front door, Elijah’s smile failed. “Ma’am, I, um…” Tears welled up.
Nathan pushed him aside, enveloped the widow in a quick hug, then backed off.
“Oh, Nathan!” She laughed and pulled him back. She wrapped her arms around him and Elijah. “Goodbye, my boys.” Her voice shook. “The Lord be with you.”v
Neetz and her father entered the courtyard. [viNeetz brings new turbans like her father’s for E&N ]
Zim joined the hug. “Come on in, Neetz. It’s okay with us watching.”
Neetz squeezed in between Nathan and Zim. Tears dripped from her chin.vii [ exactly where her arm is on Nathan and where his arm is on her.]
Soon everyone in the courtyard was crying.
Hashabiah cleared his throat. “Let’s not weep too much. You men will have a wonderful time with your family.”
Elijah ruffled Zim’s hair. “I’ll take care of Mr. Nathan.”
Neetz’s hand drifted toward Nathan’s but paused. [She didn’t get to hold his hand? I wish she would. ] She licked her lips and turned bright glossy eyes up to him.
Nathan’s face shone with a radiant glow as if lit by a single, beautiful?/aromatic? candle.
Elijah led the group along the tree-lined street and out the city gate. The odors of rotting sea weed and fish guts hit his nostrils full strength.
The widow shielded her eyes from the sun over Mt. Hermon and ran a hand over the gate pillar. “Remember, Elijah?” She turned to Hashabiah. “Here’s where this boy told me to bake up a storm.”
Hashabiah tilted his head and squinted. “A storm?”
Zim bounced on his toes. “I’ll show you the flour, Uncle Hashabiah.” He bounced again. “And the oil.”
Nathan and Neetz stood still and faced each other with shoulders back, chins high. [viiislow the pace and focus in a little more. For example, what does either do with their hands? Is her hair loose, or does she have a head covering? Etc.]
“Goodbye, Neetzevet.” His voice cracked.
“Goodbye, Nathaniel.” Her words came as breathy whispers, and tears flooded her cheeks.
The widow raised her sleeve and wiped at Neetz’s tears.
Elijah waved goodbye and led Nathan onto the coast road.
Several common swifts screamed overhead and thrust with deep, quick wing beats as they gobbled flying bugs and drifting spiders. A chunky family of greater sand plovers hurried along the water line, halted next to Elijah, and probed the damp sand for insects.
i[So Nathan told him this in the last few minutes? It almost seems like a little too much for reserved Nathan to get out in a couple minutes. You could consider having Elijah burst in just as Nathan is explaining the Bernice part. That way we could see how nervous Nathan was? (I’m a little surprised that Nathan finally acknowledges the betrothal to Bernice, but I’m guessing that he felt honor-bound to do so.)]
ivshow Maybe he’d also be a little anxious about the uncertainty. Maybe his father will still insist that he marry the butcher’s daughter.
v any previous mention that they would leave?
vi[Neetz brings new solid gray turbans like her father’s for E&N ]
vii[ exactly where her arm is on Nathan and where his arm is on her.]
viii slow the pace and focus in a little more. For example, what does of them do with their hands? Is her hair loose, or does she have a head covering? Etc.