A Stone’s Throw – first draft

“How long have you been engaged?”

“One year this June. We’re still scraping together some money for the
wedding.”

“Tell me, Jo – have you ever…”

“Why?”

“I’m your older brother. Tell me the truth.”

“No.” I sighed.

“Then it’s true? That strumpet! Engaged to you, and already her belly
swells with another man’s child! I can’t let you wed her. Our parents
would turn over in their graves.”

“Shh! The neighbors might hear. Look, I love her. Please, you have to
help me find a rabbi who’ll marry us quietly…”

“Are you blind, man? Everyone sees the life growing within her. You’re
too simple and honest to have bedded her. Ergo, someone else must have
done the deed. The Law demands…”

“I _know_ what the Law demands, but please! I love her! I don’t care if
she made a mistake before. I can’t live without her. Please…”

“You were always a fool, Jo. I can’t let you do this. Don’t worry.
Things will work out. I’ll help you. Now just _stay_ _here_.”

“You’ll help? Oh, thank you! We’ll name our first child after you, and
our first grandchild, and our first great-grand-child…”

“Thank me afterwards. Remember, I do this out of love for you.”
Yanking his hand out of mine, he threw back the door-curtain and
hurried off in the afternoon sun.

I waited. My brother was wise and learned. He would know what to do. I
knew he would make things work out. In the meantime, I had a gift to
make.

I pulled the soft cloth off the half-finished cradle and breathed in
as the scent of olives filled the room. Taking the finest pieces of
wood, I started shaping rockers that looked like our hands. My rough,
blocky hands were easy to carve, but her delicate fingers were hard to
do. I was chalking over my third draft when a dust-covered boy rushed
in, nearly tripping over my stool. He pulled me by the hand. “Hurry!”
He gasped, out of breath. “They’ve dragged my sister to the wall!”

I ran faster than I had ever run in my life. With all my strength I
shoved and pushed my way through the crowd, but it was ten men deep
and thicker as I got closer. I jumped up and down, trying to see her.
Her robe was torn, her hair loose and wild. Her lips moved in silent
prayer.

I heard my brother’s voice boom above the crowd. “Remember the rules
set forth by our fathers’ fathers? What punishment is ordained for
adultery and fornication?”

“Stoning!” The crowd shouted as one.

“We are the people of the Book. The Law must be observed. What should
we do?”

“Stone her!”

“We must fight to protect our way of life! Jerusalem cannot bear this
shame! What should we do?”

“Stone her!” People shifted from foot to foot impatiently.

“Stop! Please!” Fear gripped me. “Stop! I beg you!” My voice was lost
in the crowd. “Stop!” I sobbed. “Stop…”

My brother looked at the crowd. He saw me and mouthed, “This is
because I love you.” He smiled and then threw a rock at my beloved.
Hard. A trickle of blood ran down her cheek. Then it rained gray and
black. She did not scream, did not cry – she just kept praying.

I shut my eyes and staggered away, retching in the grass.

I must have fainted. The next thing I remembered was my brother
hauling me to my feet. “Be a man. You’ll forget about her in a few
months.”

I stared at him, throat raw from sobbing and screaming and vomiting.
Without her, without her child, my world was empty – without light,
without hope. I stumbled towards her… her corpse. My brother blocked
my way.

“The Law forbids us to touch…”

“I’ve had enough of that damned Law!”

“Grief has made you speak hastily. I’ll overlook that for now. Let’s
go home.”

“Leave me alone!” I pushed past him and lurched to her side.

My brother shrugged. “It will all work out, I tell you. Anyway, if I
don’t see you, I can’t give evidence against you.” He deliberately
turned his face from me and walked back to town. The darkness
swallowed him and left me all alone under the cold unfeeling stars.

“I love you,” I told her as I cradled her broken body in my arms. “I
love you,” I repeated, washing her blood with my tears. “I love you,”
I said as I took one last look at her, pressing her fingers to my
heart. Then it was time.

I knew where I had to go – the grove where we first met, a short walk
from town. I was dizzy. Each step was impossibly light. It felt like I
was going home.

A stone’s throw away from Jerusalem, as I was walking in the
moonlight, I saw a tree whose empty branches promised me reunion.
I climbed, untied my belt, and then -