Pull up Caroline’s critique.
A week after they started rescuing vines, Elijah led Nathan into the professor’s study for their first progress report.
Back1 home, when Elijah helped his father sell wine to caravans on the King’s Highway, Nathan stood with the donkeys and avoided the eyes of the camel pullers who bought the wine. When they left the village of Tishbe to sell wine in Jabesh City, as soon as Elijah and Nathan set a wineskin on its rack in the pottery shop or the flour mill, Nathan retreated among the donkeys.
Here2, Nathan stood half a step behind Elijah, but the professor took two quick strides and grasped3 Nathan’s hand. “Good morning, Nathan.” He gripped Elijah’s hand but kept his focus on Nathan. “Neetz4 tells me you’ve watered sixteen rows.5 Does this mean you can save the vineyard?”
Elijah6 took half a step back and turned to Nathan. Back home in Tishbe, Nathan stood in Elijah’s shadow, but here the professor encouraged Nathan first to show his prowess as a scholar, and now to rescue his vineyard.7 In Professor Hashabiah’s world, Nathan took the lead. Elijah’s chest swelled with pride. If only Sheerah and their parents could see.
Nathan stood straight. “It means we’ve made a good start, Professor.8 Nothing more. You have 323 rows with about 600 vines in each row. At this rate, it will take us over 20 weeks to water each vine.9 I doubt that a vine can survive on only one good drink in 20 weeks. So, you might buy more donkeys or hire more workers or water fewer vines. If we watered every other vine—let one vine die, but give water to its neighbor—when the rains return, we could start babies from the living vines. Extend runners to replace dead neighbors.”
“So, transplanting now10 is…?” The professor shook his head.
“Right. Transplanting must wait until we have rescued the mature vines.”
“I understand. How does Zim perform as an irrigator?”
“Zim? Give that boy a donkey and he hauls as much water as I do.” Nathan gave a toothy grin at Elijah. “And he follows our instructions to the letter.”
“I thought as much, so I’m putting him on the payroll. If you each had three donkeys to carry water, how much would that speed up the watering?”
Nathan’s eyes widened. “Three times as many donkeys. It would not triple our speed, but it would more than double it. Each of us can fill water skins, load panniers and lead three donkeys without supervision.”
“All right, Nathan. I want you and Neetz to buy ten more donkeys and outfit them. Water only every second vine. When the Lord sends rain again, you can propagate to the empty spaces.”
“The professor’s plan11 sounds good.” Nathan nodded at Elijah.
[Have the prof also loan Zim a proper set of mezuzah carving tools. 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? Then use inner dialogue to create tension. “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 ] The professor continued. “Now about Zim’s mezuzah—I took the liberty of obtaining kiln-dried oak, and I put the word out among colleagues, so in a few weeks I expect to have the proper parchment.”
Elijah rolled his eyes12 at Nathan but kept his mouth shut. The professor’s thorough preparation and attention to detail on behalf of little Zim acted like a sweet reminder of their father.
Nathan nodded solemnly13. “So kind of you, Professor. We thank you.”
Now Nathan was the one in the room who acted like their father.14 Nathan as a leader. Nice, but it would take getting used to.
That evening, Elijah nudged his brother. “When are you going to show Zim?”
Nathan pulled the two pieces from his pocket. “Professor Hashabiah found cured oak15 wood for your mezuzah, Zim. This thick one is the back, and the thin one is the lid.”
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.”
16[Put Elijah into these scenes.] Nathan and Zim spent the next several evenings with their heads together.17 They laid18 three small knives on the goatskin between them. Each knife poked or pried, gouged or carved in a special way. When they finally straightened up and handed the pieces to the widow, she nodded and showed them to Elijah.
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.”
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.19
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.”20
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.21 “Leaves.” The excitement in her voice grew as she pointed to another branch. “Tiny but green. New leaves.”
Elijah24 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 widow25 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.”26
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.”27
Nathan patted the widow’s hand. “Don’t let Neetz’s straight talk bother you, ma’am.”28 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.29 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.”30
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. “Zim, did you tempt the tortoise from his shell to learn a few social graces?”
31After two years32 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?”34
“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.”35
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.”36
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.37
1 this backstory interrupts the movement … my suggestion would be to cut this paragraph …. cut “here in the professor’s study… because you mention that in the first sentence, and then all you would have to say is something like “Nathan stood a half step behind Elijah , as usual… and that would cover the fact that he is shy?
2 cut perhaps…
3 you use “gripped” a lot. this is confusing. He grasped Nathan’s hand. He gripped Elijah’s hand. There needs to be some kind of transition. This reader needs to see him move from one to the other. It seems awkward for him to be shaking one hand, but looking somewhere else. He could glance at, shake, then turn back… or not.
4 It might help if the professor addresses his comment to Nathan, as in “Nathan, Neetz …” or you could move the Elijah handshake to right after Nathan’s rather than splitting his comment,
5 40 vines per donkey x 5 donkeys = 200 vines per trip x 8 trips x 6 days = 9600 vines / 600 vines per row = 16 rows.
6 Since the comment is addressed to Nathan, does Elijah really have to turn to him?
7 This also is backstory that could be cut and woven in someplace else little bits at a time
8 Is there someone this paragraph could be handled as a give and take, question and answer between the professor and Nathan? It might serve to break up what is really a long speech for this shy man. If the professor nudges him through questions… it emphasizes not only Nathan’s knowledge but also personality.
9 323 rows / 16 rows per week = 20 weeks.
10 Nathan’s answer doesn’t seem to fit this question … something like “out of the question” or “not possible until the rain” or something like that that finishes the professor’s question.
11 Actually, other than providing the donkeys, this plan is the same one that Nathan just mentioned. Why doesn’t Nathan get the credit?
12 Comment on old version: Why does Elijah roll his eyes? why does he say the professor acted like their father? You lost me.
13 adverb — telling emotion, rather than showing
14 Now Nathan is acting like the father. Why is this important to the story? I don’t see how Nathan thanking the professor is being like the father.
15 When did the professor give him the dried oak? He said he had gotten it, but he didn’t give it to them.
16 Caroline – Okay, now I assume Elijah isn’t present so you’ve changed the POV character. Actually, this sounds omniscient.
17 thinking? planning? strategizing?
18 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?
19 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.
20 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?
21 to whom is she talking?
22 Who are the people who are trudging out of the vineyard?
23 Remind me who Neetz is? what does she look like?
24 Why switch the focus to Elijah when the question was directed to Nathan?
25 Why does the widow answer for Nathan?
26 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.
27 I haven’t seen Nathan do this? I wonder why it matters to her? He seems to be on good terms with the widow.
28 why does he think the widow is bothered by Neetz’s comments? she hasn’t done anything or said anything to indicate that?
29 From “Nate” to Mr.Nathan? Originally, I thought that the hummingbird comment was from Zim. I had to go back and re-read.
30 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.”
31 Is this two years later?
32 Ann Westerman would start a new chapter here.
33 I don’t picture Elijah staring stupidly at this statement.
34 why does he rely on Nathan to say the words?
35 he felt his forehead. “He’s hot.”
36 These guys communicate, but I sure had no idea that her question was indirectly asking if he could let her go home!
37 Give us the sense of time passing here.
38 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.
39 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.
40 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.