Sunday, 27 November 2022

F Fic, Non-fic

The Grace of None, Save One

Article Index


By Wendy C. Williford

It could have happened to any of us, to any of our daughters. Yet she was chosen. And we were left to wonder what she did to receive such grace, such attention. Why were we the ones who were turned away?

It was our custom to gather at Maginah’s. We found it easier to pass the long hours of the day in each other’s company, to strengthen our bond while our husbands were busy with their labors, to chat amongst ourselves about the people and events of our small village and the news of those outside it. Maginah had the biggest dwelling among us, a house made of bricks dried in the sun, a craft her husband had learned from the Egyptian travelers years before. It naturally gave Maginah an elevated status above us, beyond the fact she doubled us in years. To have such a home made her our unspoken matriarch, a position we never questioned.

Renina and Adiela sat around the table with their game, each attempting to outwit the other with their guessing and logic, a pastime they enjoyed thoroughly. Adiela’s daughter, Ashera, sat on the floor beside her, sewing a linen tunic for her husband, occasionally adjusting her legs beneath her or rubbing her swollen belly. Adiela’s other daughter, Ada, sat at the hearth with her elbow on her knee, her hand holding up her chin, stirring the stew simmering in the pot. Since her betrothal, she took every opportunity afforded to learn the craft of cooking and felt Maginah was the greatest teacher among us. Channah, the wife of the butcher, sat at the table as well, watching with amusement as the small battle raged between Adiela and Renina. Gadiel, whose ability to read prayers made her the brightest amongst us, sat on a stool by the window, parchments spread before her, occasionally reminding us of our duty to be good wives.

Maginah made herself busy around the table, taking special attention as she filled our beakers with fresh goat’s milk. It was a luxury very few of us could afford and she knew that. She could have held it over our heads that she had plenty of milk to spare, but she was humble about it and offered it freely out of friendship.

Renina’s deep, brown eyes never glanced away as Maginah served the milk. She was transfixed on Adiela, slowly losing patience. Renina drummed her fingers upon the table, making the patter of Adiela’s foot against the floor faster, even adding to the small beads of sweat covering her brow. Adiela held both hands firmly on the table, one cupped over the other. She stared at her hands as if she had the power to see through her very skin and bones.

“What’s your wager, Adiela?” Renina said with a smirk. She thrilled in driving Adiela to the very edge. “You haven’t many seeds left. I doubt I could spice a decent goat flank with what you’ve brought to the table.”

Adiela glanced over to her waning pile of pepper seeds. It was all she had left until the traders came again next month. Yishai would be furious with her if he discovered she had lost the spices to her silly games. She was a good wife to him, yet she knew she was no match to his sister’s goading when it came to a good game. Adiela had few weaknesses, but her inability to say no to a good game was one of them. Renina knew that and used it as her daily amusement.

Renina cleared her throat, breaking Adiela’s concentration.

“I’ll wager what remains of my seeds,” Adiela said. Her leg shook faster. “And a bag of salt.”

Renina sat back and bit her lip, at last impressed with Adiela’s boldness. “How big of a bag?”

“It’s big enough,” Adiela said, standing firm.

“You really think you have four or less?”

Adiela nodded and took in a deep breath.

“Show them.”

Adiela removed her hands, revealing her dice. Renina leaned forward to count the three bone carved cubes, disbelieving the outcome and ignoring the smile that was spreading across Adiela’s lips. Her luck had finally come through: two ones and a single two.

“You must’ve cheated!” Renina huffed out. She was never one to take losing lightly.

“How could I? Your eyes were on me the entire time.”

“You have your ways, I know it.” Renina reached for the pepper seeds just as Adiela gave her a firm slap on the forehead. Renina stood up, grabbed Adiela’s arm and reared back her palm.

“Perhaps the two of you have finally learned the evils of your games.” It was Gadiel whose voice interrupted the fight. She was pretending to read her prayers as she tucked a strand of dark hair behind her small ear. Renina and Adiela glanced her way. “Just because you didn’t wager with money does not make it any less a sin.”

Renina let go of Adiela’s arm, took a deep breath and sat back down, regaining her composure.

“So much fuss over so few seeds,” Maginah said as she approached the table with a wicked smile across her bronzed, wrinkly face. She leaned down and scooped up a handful before Adiela could protest. “Remember, in the end, your hostess will take half.” Maginah reached out her hand to Ada, who jumped up from her seat and took the seeds from her. “Put them in the stew. When it comes to lamb, the spicier the better.”

Ada returned to the stew. She cracked the seeds open with her fingernails and dropped the seeds in and gave it a good stir. Maginah’s was one of the few dwellings with a hearth inside. Although it was summer, we found the heat inside tolerable. The sun-dried bricks kept us fairly cool, another Egyptian trick, and the tiny beads of sweat upon our brows was a small price to pay to be among friends with the smell of lamb stew surrounding us.

Adiela turned back to the table, crinkled her nose in frustration and stared at her seeds. She knew she didn’t have enough to last the rest of the month. She prayed that Maginah wouldn’t hold the same policy toward her salt.

“Another game?” Renina said, giving Adiela another provoking stare. “I’ve nearly a loom of Syrian cloth. It’s dyed blue. It might look lovely with your eyes.”

Maginah laughed at them then went back to the hearth. She bent down to a basket, set aside the cloth and pulled out a loaf of bread. She tore off a chunk then handed it to Ada, indicating she was given the special task of distributing it to the others. She sat down, picked up her beaker of milk, dipped her bread and began gnawing the corners. When she was halfway done with her small repast, she looked at Gadiel, who appeared awestruck as she stared out the window, her portion of bread held up to her mouth but not touching her lips.

“Gadiel,” she said, clearing her throat at the same time. “You don’t like my bread?”

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