|Jul/Aug 2010 Fiction|
I'd been following him for days, always at the back of the crowd. I was there when he laid hands on the widow's son and the boy sat up and began to speak.
Who is he, that he should have the power of life and death? When he went with his followers into Simon's house, I stood outside in the dust of the street, my heart pounding. Simon knows me, he might give me away. Even in this plain robe, he's sure to recognize me.
Under the robe I held the box close against my chest; in it the ointment, a creamy golden treasure the color and thickness of honey. The centurion brought it last spring, a gift when the child was born. I had not used it since the day I anointed his little, lifeless body. The odor now reminded me of that day, and the pain of remembrance was somehow sweet, sweet as the odor itself, but sickly. A sickness unto death.
After the centurion it was Thaddeus, who owned a tavern and gave me all the wine I could drink. I'd lie in bed all day drinking wine and sleeping, remembering or forgetting, who can say? First remembering and then, for a little while, forgetting.
I would sleep all afternoon, dreams coming to me of my little son. Nathaniel I called him, which means God has given. God has given me, a sinful woman, this little son like a golden bird with his bright eyes, soft mouth, his laughter every morning. God has taken away.
When the boy died, the centurion turned me out into the street. I went to the tavern, and one thing led to another. I lived there for a while. Sometimes men came into the room where I slept and got into the bed with me. I didn't care. As long as I could have the wine.
Simon came more often than the others, so he's sure to recognize me. I've never been inside his house. It's a fine house, on a fine street.
After my boy died, I was unable to weep. Something in my throat closed up, as if a fishbone were stuck there. The tears would not come. I poured dust on my head till I choked upon it, but still no tears. Then I began to drink wine. Wine is better than tears, I thought.
When I had drunk a great deal of wine, I'd forget that Nathaniel was dead and go looking for him in all the corners of the room. Sometimes even out into the street, where the men would follow me, shouting terrible words at my head that struck me like errant stones, knocking me down. Sometimes the men would drag me to a place and force my legs open. I did not like it much, but they only laughed. Sometimes they gave me money afterwards. Still I did not weep.
I waited till the servant had turned his back and was deep in conversation with the stable boy. I slipped into the house like a shadow. No one saw me. I followed the sound of voices to the great room where they all sat at table. The Master was in the place of honor, at Simon's right hand.
Without looking at any of them, I went and knelt before him and took out the box. Such a pretty box! It holds light like the face of the moon and is covered all over with tiny, blush-colored veins. It might almost be the skin of a living thing.
My hands were shaking, so I could barely manage to break open the seal. I poured the sweet-smelling ointment all over his feet, and at the same time I felt something break open inside me. Was it in my throat somewhere? Something burst, and all the tears I had not cried came gushing forth. Like two fountains, my eyes dropped down tears, and these tears mingled with the sweet ointment as I washed and washed his feet, washing away all the dust of the road, all the filth of the world, all its endless sorrow.
I held his feet in my hands, and he allowed me to do this. He did not draw his feet away but sat perfectly still, giving his feet into my hands as if I were his own mother.
As I bent over his feet, the long coils of my hair came undone, and I took hold of that hair and began to wipe away the now dusty ointment with it. Tears mingled with dust, mingled with that sweet perfume.
I kissed those feet again and again, and he did not forbid me. It was as if I were kissing the feet of my little son, only now he had not died but was grown to manhood.
One of the servants approached and pulled at my arm, but I just kept on weeping and kissing those feet and rubbing them all over with the beautiful ointment. "Leave her alone," the Master said. The servant let go of my arm. Then he said something to Simon as well. I did not catch all of it for I was weeping so hard, but it was something about a debt.
Through my tears I saw him lean towards me, and suddenly he was raising me from the ground, his arm around my waist as I swayed in an agony of tears.
"Do you see this woman?" he said. He was looking directly at Simon. "You invited me to your house, but you gave me no water to wash myself, and the whole time this woman has been washing my feet with her tears and drying them with the hairs of her head. You gave me no kiss, but the whole time this woman has not stopped kissing my feet. You gave me no oil for my head, but this woman has poured sweet ointment over my feet."
Simon frowned and looked at the ground. I knew what he was thinking about me. But the Master ignored him and was looking at me now. "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, because she has loved much," he said. "He who is forgiven but little, he also loves but little." I was still weeping, but there was in these tears a sweet release, like the rain after a long drought.
He looked at me and said, "Your sins are forgiven." At that several of the men cried out, but he seemed not to hear them. He touched my cheek, drying my tears with a gentle hand. "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace," he said. But I did not want to go. I wanted to remain at his feet forever, weeping those sweet tears.
So now I follow him, wherever he goes. We go to all the cities and villages round about, and he tells people of the kingdom of God and how to find it. There are still those who call me a sinful woman, but no one dares lay a hand on me, for they know that I am his. At night among the women, I often weep those sweet tears. They fall silently, like gentle rain into my heart.