The Book of Voices

Biblical Microfictions by Joseph Zitt

Elisheva (Epilogue)

And now I am alone, alone except for my silent angel, who comes and goes in ways that I cannot understand. How long have I been alone? My sense of time has fractured, scrambled. I can no longer remember the sequence of events, other than by reconstructing patterns, believing that one thing must have caused another and therefore must have preceded it.

I come to consciousness here in this sealed cave each time (each day? I can no longer tell how much time a day contains, or whether day has turned to night outside). There is always air to breathe, water from the small stream that flows through my chamber, just enough of the simple mysterious food in this cabinet beneath my bed to keep me alive (by my sisters’ magic, perhaps, or perhaps the manna has returned), enough to let me continue here, silent as I always have been, alone with the visions in my mind, with the voices that I hear reflected off these smooth rock walls.

I remain here, remembering, dreaming, imagining. No longer upset that I cannot leave, I cherish the comfort, the safety of this prison, this womb. Each day, I stand and walk around this space. At times, I remember music and I dance, now that no one can see me, now that I can move, unembarrassed by my ungainliness. I even almost sing, but still find that I cannot bring myself to be heard, even by my own ears.

My voice still functions. I can hear it in my groans as I stand, as I move. (Have the groans become louder, more frequent over time? I can recall that there have been times when they have been softer, but, again, not the sequence of the times.) And though I still hear myself murmuring prayers as I awaken, as I fall asleep, before and after I eat, the prayers are so soft that they often fail to engage my voice at all, emerging as whispers.

It has been so long since I spoke with my own voice, so many years, longer than the lives of many that I have known. I was so young then, just barely no longer a girl. Now I am old, my hair white, my steps slowed, my body no longer informing me of the cycles of time.

After all these years, I find that I can feel the voices of my life returning. Perhaps this means that death is preparing to visit me, that soon I will forget to return from sleep, that after one dream ends the next will never come. I cannot say if I am prepared for this. Perhaps, when it comes, no one is prepared. Perhaps, when it comes, each of us finds that she is ready.

Or perhaps these memories return with the help of the angel, he who sits here silent, questioning, as his presence confronts and caresses my soul. I cannot know this. If I were to ask, he would not answer.

I cannot tell why this is so, why this is happening now. I can only feel my own memories returning to fill the places where the memories of others once had dwelled.

When my mind strays, I can find myself there, in the life of my memories, in those years long ago. It was a small life, in a small village, but it was all the life that I should have needed. I had family, parents, brothers, though their faces are now unclear, as if I no longer have memories of their faces but only memories of having had memories. I do recall my father’s scent as he held me, the striking red of my mother’s hair, contrasting with the distant green of the hills of Judea as my head rested on her shoulder. And there were sounds: dogs, water running in a stream, animals and blades in my father’s slaughterhouse, coarse laughter from where the men gathered, song and far more fluid laughter from where the women came together.

My mind falls back into my memories and I again am there, small, agile, innocent. The families make their crafts, tend their crops, their herds. The children huddle with the families or run freely in the town, comfortable, certain, as their parents are certain,that each person in the village will look out for each child as if it is her own.

And the soldiers… Yes, the soldiers, walking the village or standing guard, some with swords, some with horses, some speaking our language, some speaking the language of Rome or of whatever common homeland two or more of them might share. They are strong, strange, powerful and frightening. They are beautiful,

Where the soldiers live what was once a school. The teachers are gone. I don’t know where they have gone. I only know that the stories that the grown-ups tell of where the missing people have gone differ from person to person.

The soldiers who are not on patrol (there is always someone on patrol) remain at the house, sleeping, drinking, laughing, exercising. Out in the yard, behind the house, they remove their clothes, then stretch, run, stress their muscles against the walls and ground, lift heavy objects, and wrestle. The grown-ups try to keep us from seeing them there, but we still sneak off and try to watch from what we believe is a hidden place.

When I can listen past the terror, the guilt, their images still can make me smile. Most of the memories are vague, unfocused, but details stand out, sharp as the edges of the stones in this room:

A soldier’s hand presses against the wall near where I hide. I can see the veins standing out with the pressure of exercise, the dirt under the nails, the scar that leads along the back of his hand, interrupting the fine hair, from the joint of his thumb to past his wrist.

Two wrestle on flat ground: one is almost prone on his stomach, his upper arms bulging as he tries to keep from collapsing completely. The other lies across his back. His nearer arm tries to knock the lower soldier’s arms away from the ground so that he will fall. His other arm wraps around the side that is farther from me, emerging from underneath to grasp the nearer edge of the lower soldier’s flat belly. Its fingers almost align with the ridges of the other’s tensed muscles. Trails of sweat erase the dust of the ground from each soldier’s pale skin.

Another lies on his back on a stone bench, his legs toward me, lifting an iron bar with added weights high into the air. His feet are planted firmly on the ground to each side. The setting sun shines through the hollowed circle of the weight bar, his chest, and his arms, His muscled chest blocks his face from my view, though I can picture the grimace that the soldiers wear when they lift the weights. His sex nestles between his thighs, inert for the moment, different from the few that I have seen of the village men and boys. (At another time – after? before? — when I ask my mother why it is different, she tells me that it is because he is not one of us, that he is not holy. At the time, I don’t understand how holiness makes that different, or how that difference makes men holy.)

And I remember knowing that over time, the fear of the soldiers has been growing. Grown-ups, and sometimes whole families, disappear from the village, and I hear that soldiers have taken them. The grown-ups try to shelter me, to keep the fear from me, but I sense that all are afraid.

My brother frequently comes and goes from the village, silently, always moving by night. He brings word of events outside the village, word that I overhear, much as they try to hide them from me. He speaks in whispers, in mystery, speaks of greater fear outside the village, of destruction in the cities, in Jerusalem. But I am told never to repeat what he says, never to tell anyone that he is here, never to tell anyone where he is going. Sometimes he brings other men with him. Sometimes they are wounded. My mother cares for them in secret, touches their wounds with herbs and gives them teas and blessings to help them heal. We return them to strength. They give us strength. But we never speak of them outside the house, never let others know that they are here.

So I wander through the village, silent in both innocence and knowledge. Sometimes I speak to the people of the town. Sometimes I speak to the soldiers, shyly, cautiously. There is one in particular, one soldier to whom I speak, stranger, gentler, even more beautiful than the others. His skin is pale, lighter than my father’s, more golden than my mother’s. His hair is a different shade of gold, like the hay that we feed to our animals, finer along his arms and legs as they are left bare by his uniform.

When I see him in my memory (faded as it is, though sharp now with many images that I wish would have dimmed), the settings, the images rush together, forming a tapestry. I can only bring together, once again, memories of memories of his face.

He would always stand away from the direct sunlight, not concealed by shadows but protected by them. When I first summoned the courage to speak to him, I asked him if he feared the sun.

He laughed. “No,” he said, “but I respect its power. The sun shines with less power in the land where my ancestors were born, and my people have this unfortunate fair skin. If I stand in the sun for too long, I burn.”

“Do you burst into flames?” I asked.

“No,” he said, “but my skin feels as if it has. It turns bright red and becomes quite painful.”

“But I have heard that your people, the soldiers, do not feel pain.”

He laughed again, this time more ruefully. “No, we do feel pain, though we try not to let it rule over us. As with the sun, we approach it not with fear, but with respect.”

I sat for a while, there on the large stone at the entrance to the market, watching my soldier as he watched the people setting up their wares.

I was surprised when he spoke again. “May I tell you a story?” he asked. I nodded.

“Once, long ago, in that time from which only stories remain, my people had a beautiful princess. Her skin was so white that milk seemed dark when compared to it. Her hair was so fine, so bright, and so pale that it looked both like glass and like gold. Her eyes were the clear blue of a lake without waves, of a sky without clouds.

“But as beautiful as she was, the princess was also quite disagreeable and quite stubborn. Whenever anyone told her anything, she would behave as if the opposite were true – unless, of course, she realized that people were trying to fool her by lying to her with precise inversions of the truth.

“Ever since she had been old enough to understand words, she had been told that she could never stand out in the sunshine, that the sun would burn her. Her family, and the people in the castle who tended to her family, kept her indoors all day, and only let her walk outside after the sun had set.

“One night, however, the first night of autumn, the night before her twelfth birthday, she decided that she would no longer be kept out of the sun. She went to sleep early and awakened early, with the first glimmerings of false dawn.

“She put on her warmest coat and boots, and crept out of the back door of the castle. Moving like a silent cat in the darkness, she made her way to a hidden cove above the eastern shore.

“As the sun first peaked over the horizon, it saw her waiting there. ‘You must leave,’ the sun god called out to her. ‘You will burn when I rise.’

“‘I do not fear you,’ she replied.

“The sun tried to hold back. But even the power of the sun god could not stop the wheel of fate that forces the sun to rise.

“The sun god called upon the god of storms to cause shade to fall on the princess. The god of storms gathered what clouds he could to stand between the princess and the sun. But the power of the sun was too strong, and the clouds burned away.

“The sun god and the god of storms called upon the spirits of the northern wind. The spirits gathered and tried to blow the princess back into the shadows. But the princess held onto a great oak tree. The strength of her grip was as mighty as the strength of her will, and the wind could not blow her away.

“The sun god, the god of storms, and the spirits of the northern wind called upon the goddess of the moon for aid. She leaped across the sky, became full, and eclipsed the sun. But the world started to dissolve into chaos: the tides were confused, unplanned magic erupted in the light of the eclipse’s edge, and all the women in the world began to go mad. Soon the wheel of fate overcame even the goddess of the moon.

“‘Go home,’ they all cried. The sun god, the god of storms, the spirits of the northern wind, and the goddess of the moon all pleaded with the princess. ‘I do not fear you!’ she said.

“The god of storms, the spirits of the northern wind, and the goddess of the moon all returned, reluctantly, to their place in the heavens. The sun shone fully upon the princess. ‘You do not have to fear me,’ he said. ‘But you do have to respect me.’

“The sun god looked away as his rays struck the princess. First her hair, then her cloak, then her skin began to smolder, then burst into flame.

“The flames awakened the spirit of the oak tree. It reached down with its branches and enveloped the princess. It absorbed the flames and directed them into its own leaves, which dried and became the colors of fire.

“But the last of the flames reached deep into the soul of the princess, and, in an instant, turned her body to ash. The spirits of the eastern wind gently blew upon the ashes and scattered them along the shore. These became the seeds of the morning flowers, which open each day to greet the dawn, die in the afternoon, and are reborn again each morning.

“And ever since then, every year, at the beginning of autumn, the leaves of the oak tree turn the color of flame, mourning and celebrating the life of the stubborn little princess.”

My soldier smiled and looked down at me. “That is the story,” he said.

“It is beautiful,” I said, “but sad.”

“Such are the stories of my people. Beautiful, but sad. Can you tell me one of the stories of your people?”

I closed my eyes and thought for a while. “Once,” I said, “back before my grandmother’s grandmother’s grandmother was born, there were many more Jews in Judea. We were members of thirteen tribes, but all members of a single family, brought together by powerful kings.

“But the people of Judea did evil things, and we were banished from the land. All the people had to take a long journey to a place called Babylon. When they arrived in Babylon, however, they discovered that only a few tribes had gotten there. Ten tribes were missing.

“For years, nobody knew where the ten tribes were. But one day a wanderer came back with a story of where they had gone.

“Far to the east of Babylon, there is a river named Sambatyon. The ten tribes crossed the river, into a land that resembles the garden of Eden. Nobody goes hungry there, nobody cries, and when people die, they die gently, saying goodbye to their family and friends.

“No one can cross the river now. When all ten tribes had reached the magic land, an angel blessed the river. Six days of the week, the river churns with rocks. They spin and fly into the air, smashing together, killing anyone who tries to cross. On the Sabbath, the river turns to still fire, and anyone who tries to cross is burned alive.

“But someday, an anointed leader will guide the lost tribes back here, back home. Then we will all live here like they do there. There won’t be any more soldiers.” I looked up at him. “You would get to go home.”

“Yes,” he said. “I would like that. Though the weather is better here.”

“Except for the bright sun,” I said.

“Even with the bright sun.”

After that, we spoke frequently. He would stand there in the shade near the entrance to the market. I would sit on the rock. We would tell each other the stories of our peoples.

I can no longer remember how much time passed. Was it months? Years? I recall telling him stories in the heat of summer and during the winter rains. I feel like I knew him for what seemed, as compared to my then-short life, to have been a long time.

But then, one hot, awful evening, I heard the sound of soldiers, and of a person screaming. The sound grew closer, more fierce. A group of soldiers came over a nearby hill, dragging a screaming man, whipping him as they went.

Must I tell you this? Angel, must I remember? Is it for this that I get to speak with my own voice, only to remember, to repeat my pain? May I go back to the stories, return to speaking in the voices of the stories? Will this be the last story that I remember, that I tell before I die? Let me, please, tell you another story, any other story.

Of course, the angel is silent. All I hear in my mind is his insistence: Speak to me.

I am trying to remember the other stories, all the other stories of all the other voices, the other lives that have flowed through me. But they are gone. They have gone silent. The only voice that I hear within me is my own.

Angel, the men neared. The screaming man was covered in blood, staggering, trying to keep his feet from dragging against the rocks on the road. One was twisted unnaturally at the knee. The other had lost its sandal.

And then the man looked up, and I saw the face of my brother. “Ethan!” I called.

He turned his head toward me and screamed, “Elisheva!”

My soldier looked sharply toward me. “Do you know him?” he said.

“He is my brother!”

Suddenly, he clamped his left hand over my mouth so that I could say nothing more. With his strong right arm, he lifted me by the waist into the air.

“Be silent!” he whispered. “I will protect you.” He strode to the barracks, opened the door to a small room, stepped down and released me.

I tried to duck around him and go back outside. He took one step over and blocked the doorway. “You cannot go out,” he said. “Your life is in danger.”

“But my brother–”

“We can do nothing to save your brother. But you may be able to survive. Remain quiet. I will return.” He stepped out the door, began to slam it, then, stopping the motion, made it close quietly.

I sat silently, shaking, watching the shaft of sunlight that came into the room from the small window in the door, watching it creep through the room as the day wore on. Twice, from the village, from the direction of my home, I heard further screams, once a man and once a woman, each starting suddenly, then, just as suddenly, ending.

The room held little: the stool on which I sat; a wooden platform with a mat for sleeping; a small table, on it a few scrolls in a language that I could not recognize, a straight razor, a mirror, and some dolls that must have been idols of his gods. I held the dolls and talked to them. I tried not to think of my brother.

When the day ended, when the light of the sun through the window had been replaced by the light of the moon, my soldier returned. He looked in through the window first, signaling me to again be silent, then unlatched the door, stepped in and closed it.

“My brother,” I whispered, “is he–”

“No. Yes,” he said. “Your brother is gone. A brave man. But gone.”

“My family!” I said more loudly. “I must go to my family!”

“No,” he said. “You can never return to –”

I leaped up, ran around him, and tried to open the door. My soldier grabbed me, lifted me in the air, held me close to him so that I could not run, my feet far off the ground, my chest to his chest, my cheek to his rough cheek.

From that height, I could see out the window. I could feel myself understand what I was seeing piece by piece, like a steady stream of cold facts: I see bright light. I see fire. It is a house. A house is burning. That house is where my house should be. My house is on fire. My house is burning.

“My house!” I cried out. “My parents!”

“Be silent!” he said. “You cannot –”

And then comes memory without sound, without feeling, a moment without thought, a moment of simple motion. He turned – we turned – and I saw the table come within view, within reach. Without my telling it to do so, my left hand reached down, reached the razor that rested by the mirror, grasped the handle of the razor – Angel, can we stop this memory? I do not want to remember this, all this that I had forgotten so well –

I pounded on his shoulder with my right hand. He looked down, away from my left hand.

And in one swift motion, without fear, without thought, I brought the razor up and slashed his throat, smoothly, cleanly, as I had so often seen my father do to the animals that he slaughtered.

My soldier showed no expression, made no sound. He stood for an instant, wavering. Then he dropped me and, bending at the knees, fell forward, to the ground, landing on me, crushing me, the weight of his chest pressing down on me, the blood spurting and streaming from his throat onto my body, onto my face, into my eyes, blinding me, drowning me.

I pushed up, pushed against him, but did not have the strength to lift him. Then I reached over with my right hand and pushed against his shoulder. There was no motion for an instant. But then, gradually, he slid off of me, slowly, heavily, his body, my body, made slick by the blood, his head striking heavily against the ground, splashing more of the blood against me.

I rose. I must have run from him. The memory of sound returns, but I am missing moments, and the moments start to lose their order. I am pressing against the door. I am standing outside the room. I feel the heat coming from in front of me. I run toward the heat. I am shouting, screaming, crying without words. My feet slide against the ground, still slick with the blood in which they have stepped. I brush my hands against my eyes, trying to clear the blood from them, only adding the blood from my hands to the blood on my eyes. I continue to run. I stumble against roots and stones on the ground. I run closer, almost reaching the flames.

Then I am lifted into the air, held by someone, someone that I do not know, someone who whispers words in my ear that make me calm, that make me relax. I feel the terror leave. My arms wrap around the person’s shoulders, rest against the strength and unexpected softness of the person’s back. Do I feel dense clothing? Do I feel flowing hair? Do I feel wings?

And then I feel nothing.

Time must have passed, but how much time I cannot tell. But after that time, I do know that I am with friends. I am with teachers. I am safe. I am here where I will spend the rest of my life, here in this school beyond the caves, here where so many women (and some few men) have come since the times of the great judges. Here we study, we learn, we are healed and learn to heal. Those who are blessed with appropriate gifts become prophets. The rest of us become teachers, healers, singers of song. Some stay in the caves. Some go out into the world to try to bring healing to it.

We have a name, as a group, but we rarely use it. As I try to reach for the name, I find that it, too, now is missing. Some outside the school call us “The Women,” or sometimes “The Daughters of Jerusalem,” or “The Daughters of Jephthah.” We let them call us whatever they wish. We know when they call for us, whatever the name.

My memories of the years when I grew into a woman are sparse. Most days were like any other days, and the memory of their order remains unclear.

But I do know that I was silent. When I would open my mouth to speak, I could not form words. Words connected to memory, and memory connected to pain. When I reached for words, all that I could find were images and memories of fire and blood and pain. My voice would emerge in wordless cries, slashing through the silence like fire, like knives.

But then a day came – or perhaps a night, since deep in the school we cannot distinguish day from night – when we were sitting in a class. A teacher was reading from a book of the chronicles of creation. She told of the end of the garden of Eden, of the day that we were banished into this world of pain.

The book told the story of God and the story of Adam, the story of what God said to Adam, the story of how Adam had placed all the blame for the eating of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil on our mother Eve. The story spoke in the voice of God and spoke in the voice of Adam.

Then one of my classmates called out, “What of Eve? Why do we not hear stories of Eve? Where is her voice?”

I stood suddenly, threw my head back, looked upward, opened my mouth and let loose a wordless howl. Our teachers and attendants rushed toward me, certain that I would have one of my explosions, that I would scream and thrash until I could be calmed.

Then, just as suddenly, I looked forward, looked at my teacher, past my teacher. “Where has the beauty gone?” I called out. “Where is my garden? All I see around me are storms and dirt. Where rivers of life once were, I now see only death, death becoming torrents of mud. My world is turning to dust, to pouring rain, to shreds, to parodies of life. All I desire is my husband, and he has been stolen from me. All joy is stolen from my heart.” I looked upward again and howled.

My teacher rose and walked quietly toward me. “Elisheva?” she asked gently. “Can you hear me, Elisheva?”

“There is no Elisheva!” I cried out.

“Speak to me,” my teacher calmly said. “Who are you? Where are you now?”

“I am in a place that is no place,” I said. “I am – How can I say who I am? Who I am has been stolen. But my husband has given me a name. He says that my name is Eve.”

My teacher nodded, then gestured to the others. “All will be well,” she said. “Please sit. Sit and listen.”

She reached out to touch my shoulder. I pulled away from her touch. “Eve,” she said, “please speak to me. Where are you now?”

“I am standing on high ground. Around me, the red earth is seeping away in the pouring rain, turning to torrents, to torrents that carry life away, torrents that stream across the earth like rivers of blood.

“I am standing here, and my past is disappearing. The garden is retreating, and I can scarcely recall what green looked like. I cannot tell what came before and came after. In the garden all was one long day, a day of rest. Now time is moving. I cannot reach the garden. Between us stands an angel, an angel of fire, an angel with a flaming sword.

“I look around me. I see what is here now. I see what will be. I will have a life of pain. I will have children, and they will be born in pain, and they will bring me pain. They will take what new life I can bring to this world of death and throw it away. One will kill the other then disappear from my life. Then another will be born to bring more generations of pain.”

My teacher may have said something more to me, but I did not hear.

“Where is my husband?” I called. “Where is my friend? I desire my husband, though he betrayed me. I miss my friend the snake, whose life I destroyed, whom I betrayed. All this world is lost, all turned to death. I have brought death to the world, have brought evil. Though the snake has been cast to the ground, I am lower still. I am beneath the reach of goodness. I crawl beneath the worm.”

I looked down, placed my head in my hands and wept. I may have said more, or Eve may have said more through me. I cannot recall. After that moment of clarity, of transition, my sense of remembered time once again fails.

I know that many feared me, though that fear eventually turned to respect. I had no voice of my own, little sense of myself. But I would sit with the others and listen to the teaching of stories. Sometimes, without warning, I would erupt with unexpected voices, with the voices of people in the stories.

I could not recall whom I had been, what I had said. But others among us would remember the stories, would write them down. I would look at them, and know that the voices came from me, though they were never mine. Over time, enough time for me to grow from young to very old, they collected the stories, building a book of voices for those who might follow, for those who might want to read and to hear them anew.

All my sisters are gone now. Many died over the years, grown nearly as old as I am now. Our people have been banished from Judea to harsher lives, to lands with harsher names. Many of my sisters went with them, out into the wider world, to comfort and to heal, to advise and to teach.

No one will ever find our school again, not until such time as our world is healed, when the anointed leader will bring our people home, from this world of the mundane, from those blessed lands beyond Sambatyon, from beyond the walls of death and the veils of time. The mouth of the cave is sealed, our school invisible to the eyes of the world.

Now I alone remain, alone except for this angel, who sits here in infinite patience. Having listened to me speak with the voices of our history, of our stories, he has now drawn from me my own story, my own voice. I have no more words within me. I sense that it is time to go.

Lying here in silence, I feel my space disappearing from around me. The impenetrable walls that surround this room, the wondrous vaulted ceiling that had shown us not the sky but where everything is in the sky, all are turning to gauze, to mist. I cannot see beyond them. What they were and where they were is becoming steadily less clear. The floor, once carved with blessings and names of power, is shimmering, translucent. Lights and colors play beyond the nameable, the visible, as if this space is now detaching from the world.

I lie here on the soft stone table, waiting, alone but not alone. My angel rises from his seat, the feathers of his wings fluttering, whispering, in the wind, in the absence of wind. He leans over me, placing one hand on my forehead, one hand on my heart. I say to him the only words that remain: “Speak to me. Who are you? Where are you now?”

He looks into my eyes. His lips move, as if to form words, but then stop. He bends down, closer to me, touching his lips to mine in a kiss that seems to take an instant, to take an eternity.

I know who you are now, my angel, my Daniel, messenger of God, you who guide and protect us, you who move outside of time, saving us and blessing us. And I know who I am, who I have been, who I will be, in the past that lies before me, in the futures that I have endured.

In the moment that I know him, I know that he is gone. But we will meet again.

And I know, again, that I am not alone. To my left, I sense an animal’s scent, an animal’s heat. I turn my head and see a ram, beautiful, majestic, its perfect horns emerging from its mighty head. If played as trumpets, each would give a tone that would shake the foundations of the world.

The ram nuzzles its head against me then fixes me in its gentle gaze. Its eyes are infinitely deep, infinitely solemn, infinitely forgiving, the eyes of my mother, of my teacher, of my angel, of my soldier. I touch my left hand to the top of its head, and move it along the curve of its horns.

The horns have letters on them, words, raised in relief. It is the text of the final confession, the last words we say before death.

My hand moves along the horns, reading the words, speaking the words that my breath, my lips can no longer speak. My fingers whisper of acceptance, of confession, prayers for myself, for all those whom I have loved.

The moments of my current life pass before me one last time, not in a line, in any order of occurrence, but as clouds of connections, arranged, focused, on the instants that touched my heart, on the moments of change. My soul looks deep into the cloud, arrives at its center.

There I see my village, my soldier. I see myself allowing myself to be taken away, failing to die when my family died, surviving only because I had betrayed my family, my people, because I had seen an enemy as a friend. And on the other side of that moment, I see myself turning and betraying that friend, repaying his mercy by killing him, his blood staining my body, forever staining my soul.

I hover in that moment, that moment of definition, of betrayal, that moment that seemed to seal the meaning of who I was, who I was to be.

But then I hear a voice emerging, not heard with my ears but with my heart, the voice of eternity, the voice of the ram: “All these moments have passed before you. Yes, that moment was one of them. But no one moment defines a life. Your life, as with all the lives whose voices have spoken from you, feels as if it is focused on a single moment.

“But God weighs each whole life by the sum of all its actions. And in weighing this life, from the gentle joy that you brought to the world as a child, through that moment of pain and your labors of healing from that pain, into the light that you have brought to your sisters, to the world, by bringing voices to the people of your history, to the people of the stories, we must hope, must trust, must believe that you have increased the beauty in the world. Have faith that your life will be seen to have been good.”

The voice again grows silent. The words that my fingers read come to an end. I touch the head of the ram one more time, then bring my arm to rest by my side.

The ram backs away into the vagueness of the mist that is contracting around me. He backs out of sight, pauses, then charges forward, running towards me with the hoof beats of a thousand armies. He bows his head, coming closer. He smashes into the stone table on which I lie.

The table disappears, dissolves. And I am falling, deep into the mist, into the infinite softness, into visions beyond visions, sounds beyond sounds, the scents of a thousand sacrifices, the taste of the sweetest morsels ever blessed. My senses unite, explode. I feel nothing. I feel everything. I am falling. I am falling. I am falling.

Time is ending. Time is shattering. Time is beginning. I am surrounded by all that I loved, all that I lost. All are one, alone. The room, the world, fill with darkness, light. I fall back past angels, past angels’ bones, into deserts, into floods, into storms, into gentle rains, into stories, into gardens, into all people, all people becoming two people, becoming one person, becoming beasts, birds, fish, the creatures of the sea, the sea itself, the waters below the land, the waters above, the heavens, the lights of the heavens, the moon, the sun, the land, the grass, the fruit, the trees, life, breath, into the words themselves, the words of naming, the words of creation, morning, evening, night, day, darkness, light, let there be, let there be, let there be, let there be this angel, this angel who has always been there, this angel who has never been there, this face, this face, this face of the waters, this face of the deep, this face of God, this breath of God, this breath that had breathed me forth into life, that will breathe me back from life, that dissolves my soul, that shatters my soul, that breathes me into the unformed and void, where all of us, all of me, all of you are one and our name is one, into this nothing, this everything. to which we will return, from which we all will return, return, return, return, return.

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May 14, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

3 Comments »

  1. Superb!

    The only trouble I had was with the phrase “precise reversals of the truth”, which doesn’t fit a man telling a story to a young girl. “The exact opposite of the truth”, perhaps?

    Comment by John Cowan | May 15, 2009 | Reply

  2. Thanks!

    And that’s a good point. THe phrase didn’t quite feel right to me either. I’ll fix it in a rewrite.

    Comment by bookofvoices | May 15, 2009 | Reply

  3. […] finished writing the opening and closing segments of The Book of […]

    Pingback by The Path of the Bookseller : The Book of Voices: Completed | May 16, 2009 | Reply


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