Elijah dreamed his donkey danced around, not allowing him to cinch up the packsaddle. “Why you so nervous, Balak, old buddy?” He draped his arm over Balak’s neck, held his nose next to the fence, and snugged the lead strap tight.1
But the guest room door creaked, and Balak faded into daylight. The Tishbe crested lark that warbled its familiar whee-whee-wheeoo2 disappeared with him, replaced by the beat of rings, chains, and hooks on dozens of waving masts.3
“Time to get up, Mr. Nathan. You too, Mr. Lijah. Mother asks if you would build her a fire, please.”
At breakfast, Elijah and Nathan, the widow and Zim ate large pitas.4
Zim tugged Nathan’s sleeve. “You never know5 when you’ll see a hummingbird, Mr. Nathan. Up in the tree house. The most beautiful hummingbird you ever saw in your whole life. My dad said you should always be ready.”
He pulled Nathan into the backyard, and Elijah followed as far as the doorway. “Over here Mr. Nathan.” Zim’s eyes grew wide as he laid both hands on the trunk of a huge tree.
Nathan slid his hands over the bark. “An Absalom oak.”
“That’s what we call them in Tishbe.”
“Like the Absalom who tried to kill his father, King David?”
“The one. You heard about him, Zim?”
“Professor Hashabiah6 says Absalom hung there for the longest time. But I never knew my tree was the one that grabbed him.”
With a sober face, Elijah leaned back against the doorjamb.7
Nathan cocked his head back. The floor of the tree house stood more than twice as high as Nathan. “Sure is high.”
“The highest tree house in the world, Mr. Nathan. And the most beautiful. It’s the best. Anywhere. My dad helped me build it. And up there we’re gonna see a hummingbird.” Zim undid a knot, and a rope ladder swung out from the trunk. “It’s wobbly, but it held my dad.”
Elijah chuckled from the doorway.8
When Zim stepped onto the bottom rung, the rope ladder swung wide and carried Zim with it. “Waaah.”
Nathan grabbed the rope and steadied it.
“Thanks!” Zim caught his breath and scrambled up. He stuck his head over the low windowsill. “Your turn.”
Nathan ran his eyes the length of the ladder and put his foot into the bottom step. He got his feet into the next step and grinned at Elijah. His climb took three times as long as Zim’s, but he made it to the top. “Yes sir. Most beautiful tree house in the world. Maybe even better than the one my brother and I built.”
Zim shook the tree house with his jumps and looked down. “Come on up, Mr. Lijah.”
Nathan stuck his head out beside Zim.
Elijah9 let the sides of his mouth turn up, but he gave Zim a serious look. “Thanks, Zim. Maybe I can help from down here today.”
The widow came out into the backyard holding the flour barrel. She smiled up at Zim and Nathan but turned to Elijah with solemn look. “I want to know something, young man. Why aren’t you boys home with your mother and father?”
Elijah glanced up at Nathan. “It’s a long story, ma’am.”
“And another thing.” She folded her hands across her chest. “Why me? Now understand, every time I scoop flour out of that barrel I am so thankful!” She looked at up Zim. “I sold everything. Our chairs and beds and tables. Even the cast iron vases in the entry. As tall as you boys, they were. They bulged out at the bottom and slimmed in toward the top like giant onion bulbs. My husband would show people those vases and the hinges on our doors, and they would order special things for their own homes.”10
“I sold it all, even the tools from his forge.” She pointed to a low stone wall and a pile of ashes beyond the well. “But everybody was selling everything, and getting nothing for it. Finally it was all gone and the little money it sold for was gone with it. And you… but how did you find us?”
“Well, ma’am. First we hid in a ravine, but when the brook dried up, the Lord said go to a widow in Zarephath.”
The widow stepped back and frowned. “You hid? Who are you hiding from, son?”
“The king, ma’am. I told the king, ‘Neither dew nor rain until I say so.’”
“What? You’re only a boy.”
“That’s what my mother says.” His head went down.
“What does your father say about this?”
“My father said listen to the Lord and do the right thing.”
Her cheek twitched into a tiny smile. “But why no more rain? What’s the Lord got against you people?”11
“It’s the Asherah temples, ma’am.”
Her smile disappeared, and Elijah flinched. Her face flattened like the face of a baby goat on butchering day. Bright eyed, nibbling every blade of grass, nuzzling the folds in his sleeve. But when he slit its jugular, the eyes dimmed, the lips stilled.12
She looked up at the tree house and lowered her voice. “What do you know about Asherah temples, son?”
Elijah followed her gaze.13 “Nathan and I… we’ve seen their slave girls on the trail, ma’am.” He took a breath but looked at the ground. “And… and my father told me what the priest makes those little girls do.”
“I see.” The widow edged closer to the door.
Nathan stuck his head over the side of the tree house. “If you talked Milkah into living in a tree instead of that house on the ridge, you wouldn’t have to chip blocks at the quarry.”
“Right, Nate. She’d go for that. Especially if it had a hummingbird.”
“You gotta keep on the lookout for that hummingbird, Mr. Nathan. It’ll show up when you least expect it. But I bet if you say the blessing for our tree house like you did for our bread there’d be lots of hummingbirds, huh. Wouldn’t there. Lots and lots of ’em.”
Nathan pulled his head back in. “Blessing for a tree house?”
“Hey, Nate.” Elijah raised his voice. “Tell him about our mezuzah.”
“What’s a menuzah?”
“Meh-zu-zah.” Nathan corrected. “It’s a scripture scroll. You tuck it inside a tiny box and tack it up on the doorpost. Your professor must have one on his door.”
“That little box he touches?”
“That’s it. When we built our tree house, we put one in the doorway. Elijah carved it in Absalom oak, and our sister wrote it out on the scroll. I held the ladder while they tacked it up.”
“Okay, Mr. Nathan.” A slap of hand on wood echoed down to the two listeners. “We’ll put it right here.”
“You better ask your mother. She might not want one.”
“Don’t know why not.” Zim slithered down the ladder. “It’s a mezunah, Mommy. A box with writing.”
Elijah stood behind Zim and addressed the widow. “Most of us put them inside our doorways, ma’am, but we’re Hebrew.”14
“Please, Mommy. It’s a real good thing, and Daddy would love it.”
She pulled him to her. “Zim loves his tree house, don’t you, dear.” Her eyes watered. She tilted her head up and pasted on a smile. “The highest in the world. And always with a hummingbird about to visit.”
Zim twisted and grinned up at her. “The nuzah’s like the blessing for bread, Mommy. Brings lots of hummingbirds.”
“Now slow down, my little man. I want Elijah to tell me about this—this box. What’s it for?”
Nathan hit the ground and slid to a stop between Zim and the widow. He bent with his nose a few inches from her face. “Yes, ma’am. A mezuzah box is about as long as Zim’s hand and as wide as his two fingers.”
People in tiny Tishbe chuckled at Nathan’s lack of social graces, but as he beamed his full smile down into the widow, her head and shoulders tipped back. Her eyes opened wide, and her eyebrows pulled together.
Elijah15 touched Nathan’s arm. “Eyes. Distance.” Nathan frowned.
A moment later, the widow’s face relaxed, and she put a calming hand on Nathan’s arm. “Never mind, Elijah. I understand your brother better than you might think. Go ahead, Nathan. Say what you were going to say.”
Nathan’s face cleared. He shot quick glances at his hands and at Elijah but produced a steady smile for the widow. “They make mezuzah boxes of olive wood, ma’am. Stone, glass, copper—even silver or gold. In Tishbe, we carve them out of oak. The same oak that grows here.”
Zim hung on Nathan’s arm. “And the blessing for a tree house goes inside, right, Mr. Nathan?” The little guy was the closest thing to a friend for Elijah’s brother since Omar.
Nathan leaned over to Zim. “Oh, way better. The parchment reads, ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. And you shall love…’”
The widow’s firm act of kindness to his big brother brought tears to Elijah’s eyes, but he let the tears slide down his throat as he reached out to rescue Nathan again. “It gets long, ma’am. It tells us to put the Lord’s commands on our heart, teach them, talk about them, put them on our hands, between our eyes, and on our doorposts.”16
Nathan continued to smile, the widow nodded once to Elijah, and Zim jumped up and down. “So can we have one, Mommy? Can we make one? Please?”
Elijah cleared his throat. “Ma’am. Nathan doesn’t do too well with a pen, and my writing is so bad that Nathan is the only one who can read it.”
Her silence lasted only a moment. “Professor Hashabiah. Zim’s lesson is tomorrow morning. You boys go with him, and if the professor will write it, you boys can carve it.”
“Where is the professor’s house?”
Elijah frowned and rubbed his forehead. “That will be a problem, ma’am. My brother and I have to keep out of sight.”17
Nathan shifted his feet. He hung his head and then looked up at Elijah.
Elijah met his gaze. “What?”
Zim stared at Nathan. “What’s wrong, Mr. Nathan?”
Nathan’s mouth twitched. He dropped his eyes and tucked his arms in close to his sides.
“Zim, you see, Nathan doesn’t… I mean, my brother isn’t…”
How to describe Nathan shrinking from the gaze of people in Jabesh, surrounding himself with donkeys, and bending to adjust a cinch strap when a stranger approached?18
Zim put both hands on Nathan’s forearms and pulled. He bored his eyes up into Nathan’s. “You gotta go with me, Mr. Nathan. So you can meet the professor. You just gotta.”
1Grab Pat Wagner’s CRIT for places to add POV thoughts.
2 mention the lark at the beginning
3This might be a good place to add Elijah’s deep POV thoughts.
4Or… Do you think you could refer to it as “bread” as pita bread is the only bread that seems to appear in the story? (Mike)
5 knew/know – Remove about 3 occurrences from 7 – know (6) – knew (1)
6 Is it odd that his professor is a practicing Hebrew in this city? Have Elijah note this? Ask about it?
7This might be a good place to add Elijah’s deep POV thoughts.
8This might be a good place to add Elijah’s deep POV thoughts.
9This might be a good place to expand on Elijah’s deep POV thoughts.
10Mike – Well they had just enough flour and oil until yesterday when it was going to run out. They have large vessels, iron fittings, and a nice house. Should they have more of a hovel and emphasis the poorness of their things?
11Insert Elijah’s thought “the Lord?” What does she know about “the Lord”?
12Now this was unpleasant. Maybe too much for this scene Dave lol Because this implies a dead goat. A dead goat would be much more grotesque than that. Open mouth, eyes rolled, flaccid and cold. She is still and flat, not dead and grotesque
13This might be a good place to add Elijah’s deep POV thoughts.
14This might be a good place to add Elijah’s deep POV thoughts.
15elijah’s POV thought?
16This might be a good place to add Elijah’s deep POV thoughts.
17This might be a good place to add Elijah’s deep POV thoughts.
18Change to statement?