Zim rubbed his hands together. “Do we have to wait until the last bite to say the blessing? I want to say it right now, okay Mr. Nathan? And I’m naming my donkey ‘Shamgar.’ What you gonna call yours?”
Zarephath, Sidon, 869 BCi
1 King 17:16-17
The next morning, Nathan sat up and slipped a sandal over his foot.
“Gonna try it again?” Elijah swung around on his rump and faced him.
Nathan winked. “It’s all in the wrist.” He wrapped one lace over the other into a loose knot on the arch of his foot. Then came the second knot, the bunny ears, and the final tug. “Nothing to it, little brother. Let’s go wash up.”
At the well, Elijah hauled the rope up hand over hand and eyed the strange knots on Nathan’s sandals. Where was his happiness about Nathan’s independence? He poured water over Nathan. What was this chasm that separated them? Nothing had changed. Everything had changed. Neetz had made Nathan into a self-sufficient stranger.
After Nathan poured water over Elijah’s head, he kept the bucket. “I’ll water the donkeys while you build a fire.”
The widow knelt by the kneading skin with her hands in dough. “Three flatbreads apiece for breakfast, right?”
Elijah’s eyebrows knit together.
“As I thought.” She poked her hand into the flour and sprinkled five more handfuls on the dough.
Nathan stepped onto the veranda. “The donkeys still have hay from last night.”ii
Zim bounced up the stairs. [with packages in his hands?]
“What do you bring, Zim?” [Why’s he say this?] Elijah slid aside to give him room.
Zim dropped two bundles on the dining skin. “Roasted mutton from your favorite shop, Mommy. And apples from that stand by the goldsmith. And look what else I found.” With a flourish, he brought a small wineskin from his pack and laid it beside the apples.
[How does widow react?]
The widow reached around Elijah and set a stack of thick, chewy-looking flatbreads in the center of the skin. “These are hot, and we each have six more to eat in the vineyard today.” The aroma of the fresh bread mingled with the scent of the sweet honeysuckle crawling on the back fence.
Elijah’s stomach emitted a soft rumble. He chuckled and pressed his hand against his belly.
Nathan elbowed him. “Hungry?”
[Have Elijah respond either verbally or nonverbally to Nathan’s question. ]
While Elijah cut the mutton into four pieces, Nathan sliced the apples.
Zim sat. [did the others sit yet?]
And the widow joined them. “Thank you for the wine, Zimrida.”
“You’re welcome, Mommy. The apple seller said his family likes this wine.”
[POV?] The little family ate and drank. Before they rose, Nathan recited, “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe Who brings forth bread from the earth. Amen.” The four traipsed down the stairs to the stables.
With Zim watching, Elijah patted his donkey, laid a pair of woven reed panniers across its back, and fastened the straps.
Zim hoisted his pair of panniers and flung one over Shamgar while he held the other, so they fell into place on either side.
“Good toss, Zim.” Nathan stooped and pushed the pannier straps to him under the donkey’s belly.
Zim fastened the straps, filled his panniers with empty skins, and hugged Shamgar’s neck. “You’re gonna love hauling water with us today.” Shamgar bobbed his head and blew a soft blast from his nostrils.
With the panniers loaded, Elijah tucked the pack of flatbreads and the halfskin of wine among his empty water skins. “Bread for us and hay for Shamgar.”
He pulled a sheet of woven reeds, long as he was tall, from a stack by the hay rack, and laid it in the aisle.
With a pitchfork, Nathan stacked hay on the sheet.
Elijah rolled the sheet up around the hay and lifted the bundle onto the widow’s donkey.
She threaded ropes under the panniers and tied the load of hay in place.
When each donkey had its panniers, waterskins, and hay secured, Elijah led them into the courtyard.
A cloudless azure sky greeted them. [ Any outside noises? Or did one of the donkeys bray? ]
Zim pointed to Nathan’s sandals. “I like the bunny ears, Mr. Nathan.”
Nathan nodded. “They work well.”
“You think Neetz is already in the vineyard, Mr. Nathan?”
Elijah led his donkey across the courtyard, along the street, and out the city gate. No black tunics. “Thank you, Lord.” He stepped aside, swept his arm toward the vineyard, and smirked. “You first, ‘Mr. Nathan, sir.’”
Nathan turned his face as he passed but too late to hide a grin. He led the way toward the vineyard.
Zim pulled Shamgar past Elijah and tugged on Nathan’s sleeve. “Can you see Neetz yet, Mr. Nathan?”
“She’ll be there, Zim.”
“But can you see her?”
Nathan maintained full-length strides.
Zim skipped and hopped at his side, holding tight to Shamgar’s lead. “She should be coming out.” He bounced three times on tiptoe while he gawked across the network of garden walls.
Nathan turned his head. “The north gate too far, Zim. Besides, she’s probably waiting for us up ahead in the vineyard.” [Maybe I missed something here, but I don’t understand why Zim is so anxious to see Neetz. Patti]
As they neared the vineyard, Zim slapped his donkey’s lead onto Nathan’s arm. “Take Shamgar.” He dashed ahead to the vineyard and gazed left, up the path between the gardens and the vines. “She’s here.” Zim disappeared around the corner.
Nathan blushed, stopped, and stared at the ground. “Please.” He motioned Elijah and the widow past.
As Elijah stopped at the corner, Zim appeared, holding Neetz by the hand. “Where’s Mr. Nathan?” He pushed past Elijah and around the corner with Neetz. [Show us Neetz’s facial expression here. Does she blush or have a sheepish smile? You do a good job of showing Nathan’s embarrassment. I think Neetz would feel a little uncomfortable with all of the attention, as well.]
Neetz freed her hand from Zim and watched him sail around the widow and zoom up to Nathan. “I found her. I found Neetz.”
Nathan gazed at Neetz. “Um, yes. Neetz.” He shook his head then pressed his palms against his cheeks. “Good morning, um, Neetzevet.”
Elijah’s throat thickened. That’s it. Nathan’s gone. I’m alone.
Neetz glanced at Nathan, stroked her neck, and smiled at the widow. “Good morning. Everyone. Beautiful day.” [embarrassed or shy or uncertain BEAT under all of this attention.]
This was happening too fast. Elijah squared his shoulders. “Good morning, Neetz. Glad you could make it. Okay, everybody. Neetz is here. Zim, lead us to the spring, and let’s see how much water we can haul.”
Zim yanked Nathan’s arm. “Come on, Mr. Nathan. I’ll take Shamgar. Stick with me and Neetz, okay?” He led his donkey past the widow, took Neetz by the arm, and marched between the rows toward Mt. Hermon. [So Zim yanked on Nathan’s arm, but then Zim leads the donkey with one hand, and with the other, he takes a hold of Neetz’s arm. Correct?]
The widow stepped aside to let Nathan follow with his donkey. She moved up beside Elijah and rested her hand on his arm. [Show widow’s facial expression.]
He gazed down into her eyes. [Isn’t Elijah still fairly young? Has he grown taller than the widow? Sorry if you mentioned this previously and I didn’t notice. Patti]
“Your brother’s going to be all right.” She held him in her [ flashlight?] beam. “It’s true, son. Nathan will be just fine, and so will you.”
Elijah pressed his lips into a grim line/slash. The widow meant well, but she had only known them a few days. She could not understand Nathan’s fragile nature.
He flashed a lips-only smile. “So, how about that Shamgar, eh? Zim knows how to pick a good name. What are you going to call your donkey, ma’am?”
She took several strides beside him, holding her hand on his arm, her eyes focused on their path between the brown rows of grapevines. “You will learn that even those we love are beyond our control.”
Elijah jerked his head toward the widow. Control? How could she think such a thing? He loved Nathan, and Nathan needed protecting.
“Boaz.” The widow smiled up at Elijah. “I’m going to call my donkey Boaz.”
He let a slow smile spread across his eyes and lips. “Boaz. I know that story.iii Yes. You picked a good name.”
A northern raven patrolled the Zarephath skyline. Tiny clouds rose from the sea and floated over the city and its garden plots, but their breeze stayed aloof from the grapevines. As the clouds rose over the rumpled purple foothills, they dissolved into the morning sky. The merciless sun broke free from Mt. Hermon and found Elijah. [maybe using part of this in the next chapter]
“It’s going to be a hot one, ma’am.” He inhaled the dry odor rising from the leaves then followed Zim out of the vines and into the hills. Stonechats flitted among the branches near the path, twittering and clicking like pebbles knocking together.
Zim parked Shamgar at the edge of the spring and pointed to his right. “Here we are, Mr. Nathan. I saved a spot for you next to me.” He beckoned Neetz to his left. “Don’t you worry, Neetz. There’s room for you too.”
“Would you like to work here?” Elijah pointed to the spot next to Neetz. “And I’ll take the end.”
Elijah tied the lead to a bush next to the bank and stroked the donkey’s neck. “No offense, fellow, but there will only be one Balak.” He lifted two skins from a pannier. “Patience. We’ll find you a name.” He knelt at the water’s edge and submerged a skin.
“Mommy, how do you do this?” Zim shook a flat waterskin. “Mine doesn’t want water.”
“Like this, my son.” She blew into her skin and expanded it, held her thumb over the opening, and forced the bottom of the skin deep under the water. When she submerged the mouth pointing upstream, water fell in and filled the skin. She popped the plug into the opening and set the full skin into the pannier.
“And that, Zimrida, is how it’s done.” Nathan swept his arm ahead and made a full bow toward the widow.
She laughed. “My beautiful boy only knows the modern convenience of a well with a rope and bucket. But, Zim is a quick learner.”
When the panniers on all five donkeys were jammed with full waterskins, Elijah announced, “The water makes a heavy load. We need to go slowly and avoid rocks or stumps that might trip our donkeys. All right, Zim. Lead us to the vines.”
“Ready, Shamgar?” Zim picked up his donkey’s lead and plopped Neetz’s hand on his arm. “Follow me, Mr. Nathan. You and Mother bring up the rear, Mr. Lijah.” He led the little group out of the plane trees.
As they threaded through the folds in the hills, Elijah turned to the widow. “We all love Zim.”
“My Zimrida’s a good boy. He gets his curiosity from me and his brains from his father.”
“And his hair?”
“Eyes, too. My mother-in-law used to talk about her great-grandfather who was kidnapped by pirates in a harbor where ice from the sky covered the rigging and broke the yard arm.”
As Elijah followed Zim’s little troop out of the hills and into the brown vineyard, the hot, dry air dragged at his nostrils and the song of the _Something Bird______ faded behind him. “Look, ma’am. The sun’s still this side of the city. You think we have enough daylight to haul one more load?”
i If Elijah never tells the widow of his words to Ahab, she’ll not ask him to bring rain.
ii Farmers had hay stored for several years. The drought was only six months along. Later in the drought, Zarephathians imported hay from the north where rain still fell.
iii Ruth Chapter Two