[The time disconnect in this story may prove upsetting to some. The content similarly is, possibly, problematic. The question of whether a “light” treatment of this imagined subject is possible is a judgment left to the reader. You can worry about what you write, but you cannot apologize for it.]
“So tell me, tell me. We haven’t talked in like three days. What IS going on?” Sarah leaned over the table, her face almost touching mine she was so excited. She could tell something was up.
“I don’t know where to start almost. It’s so, really really intense, ya know?” I slipped one foot out of my sandal and rubbed the top of my other, the sand was sticking again and making me itch.
“Livie, you go out on a date, a real date just the two of you, which is out there anyway, no one else there? And then we don’t talk for days and days? What happened?” A pause, a dropped voice. “You like okay and everything? Ohmag-d, did he DO anything?”
“It’s fine, Sarah, fine but … really can’t talk here, ya know. My parentals are around….”
“Livie, your father’s been in the field since the sun came up, your mother’s going to be in the Square for hours. Just TELL me, will ya? C’mon!”
Sarah is my best best friend, has been for a long time, months maybe years. Maybe since the last time the Legion came through and we hid in the haystack all night. I am going to tell her, and I shouldn’t make her drag it out of me I guess. She’s right, no parents are here, and the brothers are going to be helping my dad, it’s June, the spring grain is about ready.
“All right, so I’ll tell you already. But you gotta not tell anyone. Cause this is like weird sorta.” Her brow knit. Real fast I’m like, “No, not weird, just like not – it’s just different is all.”
It is hot again, it is almost always hot. The walls of the house are thick and a new coating of mud outside, on the South wall, helps a little but there is no breeze, we are both building sheens of sweat all over, under our dresses and on our faces, under our hair, everywhere. It is the warm season, it will be warm or hot, day and night, for months and months, until Adar at least. What can you do, you just live with it, ignore it.
“So we go down to the Square, ya know, just talking. He is a good talker, I’ll tell ya. Not the usual stuff; some of it is sorta strange, I wasn’t into some of the things but he just kept talking in that real cool voice. You could just close your eyes and float like on the river.”
His face then filled my mind, my voice trailing off. It was so peaceful that I just sat there and I guess I mustabin smiling ‘cause Sarah starts to laugh, snapping her fingers and all. “Liv? Livia? Oh Livia girl, you are drifting away, Livie.”
“Yeah well, that’s the thing, it’s all so soft and dreamy and just so nice and relaxed and, like, real ya know what I mean?”
“No, I don’t so tell me. You guys hold hands that first day?”
“No, though I wudda if he had asked. But he didn’t. No, not that look, I don’t think he’s that way at all, I just think he was relaxed and himself and so was I and it just went the way it went. We walked and talked and then he walked me home and just gave my hand a squeeze and he was gone.”
“So then what?”
“He came by the hut next morning. My mom was still there, they talked. I wasn’t even worried what they said, I just did the chores like usual. And ya know, my mom she pulls me aside and says, maybe you shouldn’t walk to the village with him, he’s got a lot of people upset.”
“Well duh, whattaya think? Darned right upset.” Sarah leaned way over and half-whispered, “Did ya mom say anything about, ya know?”
“What, the Jewish thing? No she just said that people were watching him, I maybe should just stay out by the river if I wanted to talk to him. I think she really liked him, ya know.”
“Did he see the gods in the house altar?”
“Ya, I s’pose, it isn’t like they are hidden or anything. But he doesn’t seem, you know, serious about the religion thing. Said the Legion just didn’t understand where he was coming from. Didn’t seem afraid or anything, just like it was a thing that was his thing.”
“So what did you do, go to the village?”
“Yeah, we walked to the gate and then we just sorta turned and walked past the entry way and around by the old Greek theater and out by the death fire grounds and then we just sorta walked and walked and talked.”
“ What did you talk about so long. He’s sort of old for you, isn’t he? What did you think to talk about if you weren’t, you know….”
“That’s the odd thing. He was talking about the children, and about his father but I don’t think his father lives around here. He came a few months ago and didn’t have parents with him, didn’t have any family, just living down by the river with the other Jews. He said his father sent him here and I asked him why and he just smiled and then he took my hand.”
“Shit, Liv, so you spent the whole day talking and walking and holding hands? Really? Did anyone see you? Balthazar, did he see you, or that worm of a brother or….”
“I don’t know, Sarah, don’t get so worked up. He just walked me home and squeezed my hand and went back down the road. So the next day, he had told me he was having a meeting in the village, near the river and then up the big hill, and if I wanted to I could come. And I did and got there early so maybe we could talk, and there were a lot of people.” I looked down, flicked a fly off the top of my arm, sipped my cup or water; it was warm and tasted like salt.
“Well, he never came. We all waited a while and then the sun got high and we all went away. That’s all. I haven’t seen him since.” A drop of sweat dripped off my nose and into my cup. “I do wish he would come by. Do you think I should go looking for him, asking? I think it is too forward for a young girl, maybe….”
“So for three days you don’t talk to your best friend, you don’t come to the well or past my house, and you spend it walking around talking to or waiting for some Hebrew? That’s sicko, Liv, ya know that? We don’t even know where he came from or what he does or where he sleeps….”
Sarah stood up and leaned against the jamb, looking out into the yard; two goats chewed little sprouts of green that they had somehow missed before. The water trough was empty, my job that I still needed to do and now the sun was very high and I would have to carry the water from the well or maybe, if I did not want to talk to anyone, from the river even though it is a few zillion cubits further past the olive grove.
“He’s building the barn for the Consul down in the hollow by the agora. He says he likes to build things, it is peaceful. His hands are soft but he says he builds lots of things, it’s his job.”
“Well, Liv, you certainly know how to have no fun at all for three days and still manage to drop out of sight. That is about the most boring gabfest I have ever had with woman or beast.” Sarah kissed me a whisp of a kiss on the top of my head, I think just trying to avoid the perspiration everywhere else.
“I gotta get firewood and help my sister. I’ll see you tomorrow. Stay out of trouble, y’hear?” A smile and she was gone. I grabbed a bucket, ran my middle finger across our family protecting idol in the niche by the doorway, and swung myself out into the noonday heat heading for the river.
I did not hear from him or see him for days. I began to think he had left town, or had tired of me, found me too young, found me too dull, found me unable to discuss things he wanted to discuss, and it was true, he said things that I could not really understand, they were soothing and I loved hearing him talk but afterwards I just did not remember what he said, or what I said, or what I should do, or remember. I began to feel hurt, although he had given me no sign of anything beyond simple friendship. But he was of the age and I was of the age and it was bold to walk together and we had done so, and such things usually had a meaning, if only because others thought so.
Then early one morning, we had just arisen, father and the boys had yet to go down the valley to the grain, it was almost time to harvest and they were nervous and spent time with the field even though there was not yet anything to do. That morning two men of the Legion had come to the house and we were all nervous immediately. The Legion was always polite and respectful until, for reasons one could almost never figure out, they would take your goats or beat you or even burn your house or take someone away and then maybe they would not come back, or they would come back with bruises and would not tell you what happened.
Father went outside to speak with them, at some distance from the door, and when I tried to pretend to have chores there my mother pulled me into the house by my hair and hissed for me to be not look at anything. The men of the Legion then went and stood by the road and father came into the house and told mother and the boys and Ruth to leave us alone, my father and I, and they of course did so and looked back towards our house as they walked into the garden and squatted on the ground together.
“You have been seen with a young man?” It was an answer disguised as a question.
“Oh? Perhaps.” I looked up and father was waiting, angry. I had no wish to play a game with him. “For two days I took a walk with a boy who was talking to my friends at the well in the village. That is all I can think of, father.”
“Do you know who he is?”
“A boy not from here; he came a while ago. He has no family; maybe a father somewhere. He is a carpenter.” I paused, then added, “he is very nice and we just spoke together.” I knew my father trusted me, as most fathers trusted most daughters, as the gods allowed the fathers of sinning girls to do the most terrible things, in fact the gods demanded it.
Father put hands on both my shoulders. “Do you know where he is?”
“No. No, of course not. I do not even know where he lives.” I paused and weighed the next words, then said “He likely lives down by the river in the village. With the – rest of the Jews.”
“These men are looking for him.” I started to speak, was interrupted. “Never mind anything except tell me if you have any idea where he might be found.”
“No, father.” I wanted to ask more but did not.
“I am going to speak to the men of the Legion. You stay here in the house. Do not come out. Do not look out the window or through the door. Find something to do at the hearth. If the men of the Legion wish to talk to you, I will bring you out to them and you will tell them the truth of things. Do you hear?”