He had never been sick a day in his life. Even as a baby he was strong,
stronger than other children. A lovely, sturdy little boy, with arms
and legs like columns and eyes as blue as the sky in winter. My only
child but so fine other women might envy me this one lamb. He was
clever, too, and hard-working, dutiful as well as handsome. All the
young women wanted him for a husband. 'You must choose for me, Mother,'
he'd say, coming in from the fields, laughing so his pretty teeth
flashed in his brown face. His father's eyes, so bright. I'd always
have a basin of cool water ready for him to wash, which he did careless
as a colt, splashing himself here there and everywhere, rubbing the
good linen towel over those rough curls of his. I'd always have the
evening meal ready, and we'd eat it together peacefully in the quiet
house. We ate it together that night while outside the sun went down
pink and soft into the new-turned field. Then he stood up and stretched
himself and said, 'My head hurts, Mother.' He lay down and in the
morning he could not get up. I saw the Angel of Death standing at the
head of the bed, he of the shameless countenance—he rattled his
twelve wings and they were full of pitiless eyes, he held his drawn
sword over my son and at its tip was a drop of gall. The Angel of Death
stood there only waiting for the moment to thrust that sword into my
boy's mouth, to force down his throat the poison that would kill him. 'No!'
I screamed, and threw myself upon that evil Angel, thinking to wrest
him away from that place behind my boy's head. But the Angel only
laughed at me, and thrust me to the ground with a single blow of his
hand. 'Take me!' I begged, grovelling at the Angel's feet. 'Take me
instead!' At that moment my son opened his eyes and caught sight of
that fierce and bitter Angel standing over him, his mouth dropped open
in horror, and the Angel dropped in the single drop of gall. My boy was
Now I alone must bury him who was to bury me. I must close those bright
eyes with my own fingers. Oh my child, my child!
Would that I had died instead of you!
But he could not hear me any more. These hands that had washed him when
he was a tiny baby washed him once more. These hands. My tears ran down
like rain and mingled with the spices and the unguents—you
are wrapped for burial in your mother's tears, my son. I sat in the
dark and prayed over my dead son and the Lord did not hear me. The Lord
has filled me with bitterness and wormwood, he has shut out the sound
of my voice, he has broken my teeth in my mouth and covered me with
be the name of the Lord. Now
came the mourners and lifted my poor boy onto the bier and carried him
out of the house. No!
I cried—Take me! Take me instead!
But it was too late. The whole of the town was here at my door. Is the Lord utterly
without mercy? We carried him
through the streets in a cloud of dust and lamentation.
As we were passing through the outer gate we met a small band of
travellers about to enter the city. The chief among them began to
question me in such a gentle tone, I was inclined to answer him. For he
spoke not as a stranger, but with words full of compassion, as if he
knew the bitterness of my sorrow. I told him it was my only son who was
dead. 'Don't weep,
Mother,' he said. It was spoken gently and yet it was a command, for he
spoke as one accustomed to be obeyed. This man must be some great
Rabbi, I thought. I felt the tears stand still in my burning eyes. He
touched the bier and now everyone stood as if frozen in place, watching
him. He looked for a while at my poor son as he lay all so still in the
pitiless grip of death. Then the Rabbi spoke to him, quite softly, as
if to a living person. 'Young man, I say - get up now,' he said. And my
son sat up, just like that. 'Where am I?' he said. 'Mother…
Mother, where are they taking me?' A few of the women screamed, then
there was silence. They were all too frightened to speak. Then the
Rabbi lifted him from the bier and gave him into my arms and I held my
living boy warm and soft against my heart again. My son, my son!
Given to me, born to me again, snatched from the arms of death. And now
they were all talking at once, demanding the name of that man, calling
him a Prophet and Elijah, saying that God himself had come to visit us.
I only wanted to keep hold of my son, to touch his face, to run my
fingers through his thick curls, all the time bathing him in my tears,
but this time they were tears of joy. He has turned for me my
mourning into dancing, blessed be the name of the Lord forever.
Sometimes I steal into my son's room at night just to listen to his
quiet breath in the dark. He lies there flushed with life, dreaming the
sweet dreams of youth. I have never again seen the Angel of Death at
his bedside. We don't often speak of what happened. Once he asked me,
'Mother, why did God give me back my life again?' But how am I to know
the ways of the Lord? I know that he put the stars in their places, and
divided the waters, and made every thing that creeps on the face of the
earth. And he who is mighty did not disdain my tears, but stooping down
from heaven had mercy on me and delivered me from all my sorrow, and
gave me back my shining son. May he burn like a candle to the Lord all
the days of his life.
Grace Andreacchi is an American-born novelist, poet and playwright.
Works include the novels Scarabocchio and Music for Glass Orchestra.
She lives in London.
To link to this story directly: http://wigleaf.com/201009deliverance.htm
Detail of oil painting on main page: "Hope in the Prison of Despair" (1887), by Evelyn De Morgan.
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