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Meribah 

fiction by Chris Benjamin

click to enlarge GEORDAN MOORE
  • Geordan Moore

And it came to pass that there was a pig. It was an animal that was unclean, and which belonged to a Roman soldier. It was his wicked servant. In its pained mind it sought me, a woman---with talents I did not yet know of.

It found me on the street as I walked home from the market, where I had helped my mother sell bread. I would go home and feed my elder brothers and younger sisters and my cousin, Jesus. Now the pig touched me with its snout and cried out in its pain. I reached down and cupped its chin, looked at its eyes. I saw it was with child.

"Who touches me?" I said.

The pig squealed and rolled onto its side.

I laid my hands on its belly as the multitudes gathered and watched. I felt 13 tiny heads---at least one too many. "Come out," I commanded. "Be of no more pain to your mother."

In the street, the sow bore 13 piglets without pain or cries. They were all whole. And the multitudes were astounded.

"It's a miracle!" a man cried.

"Stone her!" cried another.

I fled and they gave chase, leaving the Roman's pig to feed its brood. I was fast and knew the alleys well.

At home, I found Jesus hungry and suffering. "Wouldst thou send thy younger cousin away fasting?" he said.

I wept to him and confessed what had happened with the sow. "What is its meaning?"

"It is a woman's thing," he said.

"The pig was meant to die."

"It is no disease to be with child," Jesus said.

"The piglets were large, and many."

"Did the angel of the Lord appear unto your father and say, 'That which is conceived in your mother is of the Holy Ghost?'" Jesus asked me. "No," I said.

And as it came to pass, I did not know my father. He was one who paid for my mother's company for a very short time. She had been hungry and begging. He left her and forever after she was known as a whore.

"And what miracles might God expect from the daughter of a whore?" Jesus said.

I said nothing. For that was the word by which my mother was known.

Her sister, Jesus' mother Mary, had come and given her gold so she could buy a stove and sell her breads. In exchange my mother gave shelter to Mary, her husband Joseph, and Jesus. It had come to pass that they fled the Land of Israel from a wrathful king. The king had slain all the boys that were in Bethlehem and all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under.

"As I have said, judge not lest ye be judged," Jesus said. "But remember also: all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth."

I worshipped him then, my doubt destroyed. Yet I could not forget the pig. Nor could I ignore its change at my touch. Its anguish had disappeared instantly at my hand that it knew to seek.

And on the same night, as I lay on our mat with my mother, who was called Abigail, I whispered to her. "How can we be certain that the angel of the Lord came to Joseph if it happened only in a dream?"

"Hush, child," she said.

"Perhaps the angel was confused about which womb. How can an angel, who is like a man, know about a womb?"

I felt my mother's muscles grow tense beside me.

"Did you ever ponder that perhaps Mary lied about being a virgin?" I asked. "Perhaps she feared offending her husband?"

My mother turned and slapped my face and stared into my eyes. "What have you heard?" she said.

"Nothing." I ran my palm on my cheek. The pain instantly left me. "Let me hold your hands," I said.

My mother continued staring. She put her hands in mine and I squeezed them. I kneaded the sliver of muscle over the knuckles that worked dough before the cock crowed every morning. She breathed in sharply, closed her eyes and let her head roll back.

"Meribah," she said in a slight whisper. "What is this magic?"

I let go of her hands and saw they were young again, like my own. They were no longer crippled by their labours. I confessed to her about the pig, and Jesus' teachings.

She inhaled with eyes closed and I thought she was asleep. Then she spoke. "I am a virgin too," she said. "The man I said was your father was sated with wine and unable to do more than touch me with his hands. When you were born, three white-bearded men came from the east bearing gifts. They looked between your legs, called me a whore and returned to the Land of Israel."

And it came to pass that I wore gloves for many days. I was sore afraid of what my hands might do.

And then Joseph woke one afternoon and said, "Behold! An angel of the Lord hath appeared in my dream."

The angel had said, "Arise, and take Jesus and his mother, and go back into the Land of Israel. For they are dead which sought the young child's life."

Jesus was stoic but ready to fulfill the prophesies, to save and be persecuted and die and rise and save again.

"What is our role here in Egypt?" I asked. "Teach," he said. "Baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." "Is it not taught to also baptize in the name of the Daughter?" I asked.

"Repent!" he said. "It is written 'Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve. Whosoever shall humble himself as a little child is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven."

I put out my arms for him. But, having finished his sayings, he had departed.

"The last shall be the first," I said.

Soon kings, emperors and governors had heard of Jesus' fame.

In Egypt, owners of beasts had heard of mine. They had come with coins that I may drive out unclean spirits. I refused the coins and told them about the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. They were astounded at his message, though they were also doubtful.

"It is as said by the prophet Elias," I said unto them. "But the Son of God, the cousin of a whore's daughter?" they said as I cured their animals.

They could not believe the word of a whore's daughter about her cousin and half-brother Jesus, who was born of a virgin the wife of Joseph.

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