The Book of Voices

Biblical Microfictions by Joseph Zitt


(Context: 2 Chronicles 15:16)

And so my mother is gone. Still alive, still well, but gone from the palace, from her place of authority. She has slipped away under the silent gaze of the moon to a place where she will be hidden, safe from capture, safe from harm, safe from me.

She took few belongings, but left even fewer. I knew that she had been paring down what she owned, giving clothing to my sisters and donating trinkets to be displayed in the public palace galleries. Still, I was unprepared for how spare her quarters had become.

My knock on her cypress wood door sounded far more hollow than it had. When my mother opened the door and I stepped into her receiving room, I saw that the Medean tapestries that had lined the walls and the back of the door were down, rolled neatly and stacked near the fireplace on the south wall.

We stood for a while in silence. Finally, she raised a hand, its near-translucent skin making it seem smaller and more frail without its jewels, and gestured at the space behind me. “No guards?” she asked.

“For you or for me?”

“Either.” She smiled. “Both. So are you here to kill me or to arrest me?”

“Which would you prefer?”

She closed her eyes and looked up to the right, feigning deep thought. “I am old,” she said, “but not yet ready to be dead.”

“And it looks like you have been preparing to leave.”

She shrugged. “It is time for me to retire.”

“And you couldn’t have done so quietly?”

“What have you ever known me to do quietly?”

“That… thing you erected—”

“I think ‘erected’ is precisely the wrong word,” she said under her breath.

“That thing you… built,” I said. “Quite impressive in its own way. Disgusting, but impressive. To have put it up in a single night—I don’t know whether I should execute your architects or hire them.”

“If I believed that your court would ever actually hire a female architect,” she replied, “I would gladly recommend them to you and would stay around to see what you’d ask them to design. But it would probably be more towers for war and to worship that god of your fathers’.”

“As opposed to this structure for…”

“For the god of your mothers, of course. So did you get to see it in the daylight?”

“No, it is down already. My workmen are also efficient.”

“Well, Asherah has always been more partial to moonlight than to the sun. I didn’t expect it would last. But those who built it and saw it at night will remember it.” She laughed, then sang, “A time to build up, a time to break down, a time to kill, a time to heal…”

I smiled. “Did Solomon have a song for everything?”

“If not him, then his father. You should learn to sing sometimes, Asa. You might learn to relax.”

“I don’t get to relax,” I said. “I am the king.”

“Yes,” she replied. “So I’ve noticed.”

We stood again silently. I shifted my weight to the other foot and heard my sandal scuff against the floor, now wood where there had been carpet. The sound joined the hollow reverberation that had been our voices.

I looked down and up again. My mother was still looking directly at me.

“So when will I be arrested?”

“The order will go out tomorrow at dawn.”

“And if I’m not here to arrest?”

“Then we will announce that you have been banished.”

She nodded. “Thank you.”

“Do you have where to go?”

“I have friends. And over the years the architects have created a hidden place. I can live there comfortably. Perhaps I too will relax. Perhaps I will teach.”

“Mother, your teaching is the problem.”

“No.” She crossed her arms and glared. “It is only a problem because you have declared it to be a problem, you and that invisible, unnamed, arrogant god of your fathers’ and yours. Asherah is happy to share the world with other gods. Only your god insists on being the only god in the world.”

“It isn’t that he insists. It is simply the truth.”

“And it is the truth because the king says that it is?”

“The king says that it is the truth because it is.”

She smiled and shook her head. “Stubborn as always. Well, I guess you got that from me.”

“You taught me well.”

“At least the things that you chose to learn.”

There was silence again. This time, both of us stood still.

“Asa, may I ask you one favor?”

“As the king or as your son?”

“Both. Either. Whichever will be more effective. You have destroyed almost everything that my people have built for worship. The altars and the buildings are gone. But the high places that you have cleared, the places that are sacred to me and to my mothers, can you leave them clear? We will not build further structures on them ourselves. Can you do the same? There are too few places where one can go on a cloudless night and be alone with the moon.”

I frowned. “I can’t condone gatherings to worship other gods.”

“I’m not asking you to condone them. Just leave the spaces clear.”

“Yes, I can do that. But the trees that you had planted for worship—”

“You can leave them or cut them down if you wish. They are symbols, not Asherah herself. Every tree is Asherah, or can be, if people choose to see her within them. Will you cut down every tree in the world, tear up their roots, and dig up their seeds so that none can grow again? And if you do, what will keep the mountains from sliding down when your god has a tantrum and unleashes another of his storms?”

I stomped my foot. “My god does not have tantrums!”

“But the king still does.”

I glared at her. Then she grinned and laughed, the echoes of the laughter ringing both harsh and warm in the hollow room. And after a moment I found myself laughing too.

Then the laughter faded, and the silence returned, fuller this time, until no sound echoed but that of our breathing.

“Asa,” she said again.

“I guess this is the end,” I said. “You will be gone tonight?”

She nodded.

“The king will be relieved,” I said. “But your son will miss you.”

“I’m sure that if one of us ever really needs the other, word will get through, and something can be arranged. You will not know which people will know where I am, but word will get through.”

I nodded back. “And I am sure that every single time that I make a grammatical error in a speech, I will hear your corrections in my mind.”

We both smiled. Then she stepped forward, rose up on her toes, placed her hands on either side of my head, and kissed me on my cheek. I put my arms around her, and held her tightly to me, my chin resting beside the top of her head. I felt myself shaking slightly, and realized that she was shaking, too.

I stepped backward and took her hands in mine. I stood awkwardly, feeling as if I should be saying one more thing, but could not bring myself to remember what that one thing might be.

I let go of her hands and turned. Reaching down, I opened the door and stepped quickly through it, my left foot knocking askew one of the sandals that she had lined up along the wall inside.

I closed the door and stood outside, looking around, listening, smelling the scent of the burning wood as the remains of my mother’s structure smoldered on the banks of the Kidron.

I stepped away from the house, then, instinctively, turned back again. I opened the door a hand’s breath, reached in and down, and lined the sandals up properly. Then I stood, closed the door again, glanced one more time at the house, and walked away.

(Next: Benjamin)


January 5, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. Excellent!

    s/Medean/Median/, or do you mean “Medean” as in “like Medea”? I doubt Asa would be up on his Greek mythology.

    Also s/grinned and laughed/grinned and then laughed/, to prevent the incongruity of grinning (which stretches the lips) and laughing (which relaxes them) at the same time.

    Comment by John Cowan | January 5, 2008 | Reply

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