slouching towards bethlehem


He knows he ought to feel pity for her, she is so clearly exhausted, her face pinched, white, her head droops towards the donkeys’ neck and each time it falls, she starts and with that terrible inner determination, pulls herself upwards, sits up straight and stares at the hot sandy landscape.
Yes, he ought to feel pity for her, but anytime he comes close, she does that thing again. That smile, that hand on her swollen belly, that radiating joy that shuts him out and the anger rises in him, bitter bile in his mouth and he can hardly bear to look at her, just stomps ahead, dragging the donkey towards Bethlehem.

He was pleased when his parents chose her, shy, quiet, a bit religious, but that’s a good thing in a woman and besides, he blamed her mother for that, knew that once her got her away, filled her full of his babies, she would make a good wife, dutiful, obedient, bowing to his will.

And he would make a good husband, a good provider, who’s ever heard of a carpenter going hungry?
He’s well respected, a craftsman, skilled, hard-working, a solid, steady man, goes to the temple, pays his tithes, doesn’t get involved with all this talk of the Messiah, of revolution, of up-risings.

Then she drops the bombshell, an angel, a bloody angel and her mother, her sisters, they’re not beating her, locking her away, no, there’s hugs and prayers [ there’s always bloody prayers in that family] and celebration and he’s just standing there on the side-lines, mouth open, wondering what in gods’ name he’s got himself involved in and of course it gets round and its the talk of the tavern. He endures the slaps on the back, the drinks offered, tries to smile,his face a grimace of anger and confusion and he wants to shout out
“I never bloody touched her, she says it’s a angel”
While the anger grows inside him and all the time she sits, the stupid smile on her face, surrounded by the simpering women.

And the Romans decide they need to count everyone, he doesn’t know why and it’s not enough to be counted, you have to be counted in the town where you were born which is why he’s travelling towards Bethlehem, with this woman, his wife,a woman he has never touched, never seen naked, had no pleasure from . The woman who’s saving her self for the angels.

He spits his disgust into the sand, wonders if they’ll make Bethlehem by nightfall, wonders what the local wine is like, wonders if the baby will come out here, in the middle of bloody no-where, wonders if the angels will come and give a hand.

The town is rammed, no room for them, no room for an ordinary working man, tired, poor, travel stained and all the time, she’s got that look on her face, the one when she looks like she’s listening to voices a long way away. It doesn’t help.

Finally, thank God, an inn keeper says they can sleep in the barn, like it’s a favor, he still charges enough for it. The pity in his eyes cause the anger to rise again, but she is nodding, smiling and Joseph knows they can go no further.

The barn is warm, the animals quietly chewing, stars shining in the black sky, he can hear singing coming from the tavern and realizes that there is no-where he would rather be, among the conversation of men. A world he understands. He calls out to a child to bring wine, lots of wine. This is not a night for sobriety.

She manages it, the thing of women on her own, silently, never cries out and then afterwards, the baby at her breast, her face bent towards it, she never even notices he is is not there.

Joseph stands outside the stable, the wine is bitter, thin but he drinks it and waits for the night, this night to be over.

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About cathi rae

50ish teacher & aspiring writer and parent of a stroppy teenager and carer for a confused bedlington terrier and a small selection of horses who fail to shar emy dressage ambitions. Interested in contemporary fiction but find myself returning to PG Wodehouse when the chips are down View all posts by cathi rae

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