The Book of Voices

Biblical Microfictions by Joseph Zitt

Jushab-Hesed

(Context: 1 Chronicles 3:20)

My father is big. His shoulders are strong. Sitting on them, I can see people everywhere, cheering, singing, crying, looking at us, and looking up into the sky. I can’t count how many people there are. I asked my father if he thought there were a hundred people here. He laughed. He said that there were hundreds of hundreds.

There was a big building here, back when my father’s father’s father lived here. He says that it was bigger than any building that I have ever seen. He says that we will be building a new one, even bigger, even better. He says that God will live there. But I know that God lives everywhere. Hi, God.

This place was a mess when we got here, full of trash and broken stones. Everybody got to help out with cleaning it up. People who could carry heavy things carried them. Other people carried smaller things. Some people made lists. I helped take little things from the people who made the lists. There were piles for everything. I put things in the right piles.

Some people took the big old stones and made a stone table in the middle here. Animals are lying on it. I saw people walking the animals up to the table, but then my father put me down to stand next to him for a while, and all I could see was other people’s legs. When he picked me up again, the animals were lying there, not moving. Some of the stone table that used to be grey is red now.

A lot of people are singing. Many of them are in a big circle around the stone table and the people working there. Other people are singing along, but they don’t sing as well. I don’t understand what they are singing. I think it has to do with what the people at the table are doing.

But now everyone is getting quiet. A very old woman is coming out of the crowd, walking to the stone table. She is carrying a small box. I think it is made of stone, but it is glowing. She is opening the lid. Fire shoots up from it. A beam of fire is rising from it into the sky. It looks like the stone pillars that were in front of the big buildings where my old home was, but it is made of fire, and it looks like it is going up forever.

I am leaning back, farther and farther, to try to see the top. I’m not afraid of falling. My father is holding my feet tight against his chest, and somebody else has pressed a big hand up against my back, holding me up. I lean forward to look at the table again, and the big hand lifts me back into place.

The old woman is gone. The box of fire is resting on the table. The big man nearest the table is looking up and saying something to the sky in his loud, deep voice. The pillar of fire is rising out of the box, with a brilliant circle of light at the bottom of it. It hovers as far above the table as my father is tall. The circle is spinning and getting wider, spreading out until it is bigger than the table. The circle is spinning, faster and faster, and coming down. It is covering the whole stone table and all the animals on it. There is a loud noise like the ocean, and a smell like cooking meat.

And now the circle is rising, getting smaller, riding up the pillar of fire into the sky. Then the pillar moves over and slowly comes down, back into the open box. It’s still burning there, as small as a candle but a hundred times as bright. People are singing again. The animals are gone.

I bend down and ask my father, “Where did the animals go?”

“They went to be with God,” he says.

“Like my grandfather?”

“No,” he says, then, “Well, yes. No. Well, it’s different for animals. But sort of the same. Yes, they are all with God.”

“I miss my grandfather,” I say.

He pats me on my leg. “Yes. I miss him, too.”

My grandfather walked with us most of the way here from Babylonia. It was a long walk. I don’t know how long it was, but it was the rainy season when we left and it was dry when we arrived. Most of us walked. There were some horses and other animals, but only the lookouts rode them. And there were some carts and carriages. The old and sick people and the littlest children rode in them. People brought things from their homes in them, too.

We walked almost every day, but some days we didn’t. My father told me that we were stopping every seventh day to rest on the sabbath.

My grandfather was very old and tired, even before we left. My father said that he should stay in Babylonia until we were ready here. He insisted on walking with us. But he got older and more tired everyday.

Then one day, we were walking in the hot sun, my grandfather and me, holding hands and walking slowly while my father looked at things up ahead. Suddenly, my grandfather made an odd noise, stumbled, and fell over. I fell with him, but I didn’t get hurt because I’m littler and didn’t have as far to fall.

Everyone around us stopped. My grandfather put his hand over his heart and made a face. It must have really hurt.

Some big men gently helped my grandfather over to the shade of a tree and lay him down. I stayed with him while they went to get my father. I lay down next to him, with my head on his chest.

He whispered my name. “Jushab-Hesed,” he said, “I have walked as far as I can. I can’t continue with you.”

“Where are you going to go?” I said.

“To be with God. I hope I am going to be with God. I was hoping to see Jerusalem while I lived. You will have to walk on, to see Jerusalem. Maybe somehow I will get to see it through your eyes.” He was quiet for a while. He just breathed, but his breathing got less even, like parchment shaken in the wind.

Then he spoke again. “Jushab-Hesed… your name… You know it means that you will return kindness. You have to grow up to be a good man. Be good, be kind to people, even if…” He stopped. Then his eyes opened wide and fluttered shut. I heard him say, as quietly as I’ve ever heard anyone say anything, “Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one Lord…” Then he let out a long breath and was quiet.

I lay there with him for a long time. My father came running over with my bigger brothers and sisters. My biggest sister, Shelomit, picked me up and carried me away.

I never saw my grandfather again. I guess he’s with God. And my father has always seemed a little sadder since then.

But I’m not sad now. I’m looking around, and everyone is singing and cheering. And I listen inside myself, and I think I can feel my grandfather looking out through my eyes. “See, Grandfather?” I say aloud. “We’re in Jerusalem! This is Jerusalem!”

I look down at my father’s face. He is a bit sad, but he is smiling, looking back up at me. “Yes,” he says. “We have made it. This is really Jerusalem.” He leans his head back, and his hair tickles my belly. Then he hugs my legs even tighter. We both look ahead of us, to the middle of the space, to the stone table and the box of fire. And I know that my grandfather is everywhere, that kindness is everywhere, that God is everywhere. Hi, God.

(Next: Belshazzar.)

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October 6, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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