Thursday, 23 September 2021

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?”

Gadiel shook her head, her squinted eyes still transfixed out the window. “It’s her. She’s returned.”

“Who?” Renina said. She gathered the dice in her hands and shook them, hoping to goad Adiela into another game.


We all rushed to the window, gathering behind Gadiel to get a better look outside. Like a spirit returning from the dead, there she was, walking the rutted path to the community well, holding a large ceramic vessel against her hip, careful of her protruding stomach.

“She has no shame, does she?” Renina said, shaking her head.

“I can’t believe she came back,” Maginah said, slightly pushing Ada to the side to get a better look.

But she was back, and something about that thought made us uncomfortable. Since we had discovered the news of Maryam’s condition, it had weighed heavy on our minds, our curiosities always getting the better of us.

She was not a stranger to us; in fact, many of us had known her since she was a small child. Maryam was common, like the rest of us, just a common girl, unassuming in her appearance as much as in her manners. We couldn’t deny she was pretty, but no more than any other girl in the village. She was Ada’s age and had a lovely face that carried a maturity beyond her years. Her dark hair was neatly tied against her neck, a few locks hanging from underneath her hood. She stood straight, walking proud, her face and smile radiating joy and tranquility.

“How long has it been now?” Ashera whispered to her mother.

“At least six months in all, by my count. She left not four months ago to visit her cousin,” Renina answered when Adiela failed to respond. She turned from the window and went back to the table.

“It has to be true then,” Ada turned to her aunt, her eyes pleading for some sort of logic to it all.

“It’s nonsense,” Renina responded. “A woman who has never known a man cannot carry a child.”

“Then how did it happen?”

Renina shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. Her unnatural silence didn’t want to betray what the others had already been thinking.

“It must have been Yosef, then,” Channah said, turning to Ada. She took Ada by the arm and led her away from the window. “Apparently they were not true to their betrothal. Perhaps you understand why your mother won’t allow you in the same house as your Elijah until you are married. One scandal in Nazareth is one too many.”

Gadiel put her scrolls aside and turned around to the others. “Yosef is a good, young man,” she defended. “His family has had many meals with mine. I don’t believe he would break the betrothal in such a manner.”

Ashera left the window and returned to her corner. “I know I haven’t been married very long, but one thing I do know is that a woman is not blessed with a child without a husband.”

Those of us with many years of marriage behind us snickered. Adiela glared at us as she left the window. She rushed to Ashera’s side to help her take her place on the floor again and placed the sewing in Ashera’s lap. She broke a piece of bread from the loaf on the table and handed it to her daughter.

Maginah’s eyes circled the room, placed her hand against her lips and cleared her throat, getting our attention once again. “It was six months ago when the talk started?” She looked to Ada for the answer. Ada nodded and started stirring the stew again. “Wasn’t it about seven months ago when the Roman soldiers came into our village?”

“About,” Channah confirmed.

Maginah began to nod, her eyes appearing as if they were staring into the past as the memory returned to her. “Remember that night? They were after an escaped murderer from Judah. One of the soldiers attacked Talya’s daughter. What if one did the same to Maryam?”

Silence fell among us. Adiela gripped Ashera’s hand and bowed her head. We could tell that she was praying and thanking Him that none of her daughters were ever the victims of the Romans.

“If she was taken against her will, I doubt she would look so content.” Gadiel turned to the window again and leaned out to catch a glimpse of Maryam, who had nearly disappeared down the road. “She’s glowing, isn’t she?”

Renina slammed her dice on the table, claiming our attention. “It’s disgraceful. If this happened in the village where I was raised, it wouldn’t have lasted more than a month. A handful of heavy rocks and a prayer for her soul would be the only consideration we’d give her.”

“Calm down, Renina,” Maginah said. She took her place on her stool and adjusted her dress over her knees. “Not everyone is so eager to play judge as you are.”

“My only consolation is that my daughters are married,” Renina said. “Think for a moment if they looked at Maryam as influence? What if all of our daughters acted as disgraceful as she?”

“And to parade about, as if nothing is wrong,” Channah added. She took her seat next to Renina again and made herself comfortable. She removed the rose-colored hood from her head, gripped the corners in her hand and started wiping the sweat from her forehead and neck. “If I was Anne, I would have put her straight to heavy work until the problem purged itself from her.”

Channah began to laugh at her own wit until Maginah’s voice broke her temporary triumph. “There are other ways, you know.”

Maginah had our attention once again. She took a moment to collect her thoughts and leaned forward to keep herself from having to speak too loud.

“It’s called Sylphium,” she began. “It’s a root or a leaf. It is boiled like a broth and you drink it. Within days, your blood will flow again.”

A look of shock came over Gadiel. Horror burned in her eyes at the thought of such an atrocity. “How do you know this?”

“I overheard a man with the caravan from Rome speak of it. He was explaining it to one of those women who camp on the road to Samaria.”

“Surely that’s a sin,” Gadiel said, still horrified at the thought.

“Indeed,” Maginah answered with a nod. “But I am not a Roman, am I? If I were, I’m sure there are a dozen gods I could turn to that would forgive me of it.”

Maginah smiled at Gadiel. From her furrowed brow, Maginah could tell she couldn’t fathom such an atrocity. The rest of us laughed, uncomfortably, but laughed all the same. We hadn’t many occasions to laugh at the Romans; their customs, their leaders and their gods always added to our personal amusements.

“In the end, she will pay for her sin,” Channah stated firmly, pleased with her own righteousness. “Mark my words, He will find a way to punish her.”

We all nodded in silent agreement. There were few things in life that we knew, but we knew them well. We all knew the stories of the past, the ways He reminded us to be obedient children: the flood he sent, the sinful cities he burned into ruins. Yet, we also knew how it started. We had heard it before, one bad apple to spoil the bunch, how one sinner could turn into two, leading to four. Perhaps we wondered if this one sin could turn into more and lead to our small village’s undoing.

Maginah picked up a small bowl of herbs, pulled out a leaf, and crushed it in her hands. Ada watched intently, noting how well she ground up the leaves. Adiela sipped her milk, attempting to ignore Renina as she slid the dice toward her again and lightly kicked her under the table.

We seemed content in the silence surrounding us, content in our small world, still full of mysteries, but satisfied in knowing we didn’t have to spend much time worrying about the truths of them. All we needed to understand was that our husbands provided us shelter and food, our rabbis provided us guidance, and He would provide us answers when we sought them, if we were deemed worthy enough. And many times, we knew we were.

Half an hour passed before the dark, woven cloth of the doorway flapped back. The bright face of Hedya, Channah’s daughter, appeared – her eyes wide with excitement. She was a young girl, a year younger than Ada. Dust covered her gentle face and she was completely out of breath. We simply stared at her, curious over the strange excitement she carried in her eyes.

“Eema,” she called out as she rushed to her mother’s side. Channah stood up and approached her daughter.

“What’s the matter?”

Hedya took in a deep breath. “You’ll never believe who I saw at the well.”

She had our attention. She took another breath, playing with our anticipation. “Maryam. She has returned.”

“Yes, we know. We saw her earlier,” Renina said to her. She appeared to be the least impressed with the news.

Hedya’s eyes cut to her, although she tried to remain respectful. Among us all, Renina always treated Hedya like the silly child she was and never allowed her to forget it. However, she remained above it and gave Renina a pleasant smile. “Good day, Renina.”

Renina returned the smile, then looked at Adiela. “Salt or wool? Your choice.”

“Maryam spoke to me,” Hedya continued, turning back to her mother. “You’ll never guess what she said!”

“That she’ll leave again, for decency sake?” Maginah picked up the loaf of bread from the table and returned to the stew again.

“As a matter of fact, she will. She and Yosef are leaving for the census soon, but that’s not the news I want to share with you.”

“Then tell us,” Adiela said. She met Renina’s glare and began to reach for the dice.

Hedya rang her hands and took a moment to look at each of us, one by one. “I know whose child she carries.”

We were struck speechless. We had spent months thinking and contemplating the very idea, yet none of us ever thought we would actually know the answer.

“Who?” Gadiel asked.

Hedya looked like she wanted to burst with the news. She grabbed Channah’s arm and pulled her towards her. She cupped her hand around Channah’s ear and whispered the secret. She pulled away and smiled, awaiting the look of surprise from her mother that never came. Instead, Channah gasped, her eyes widened and her hand struck across Hedya’s face, a strike so forceful it threw her daughter to the ground.

“How dare you!” Channah yelled out. She raised her arm to strike again, but Gadiel was at her side before the punishment came down. Gadiel grabbed her arm and pulled her away toward the window.

“Insolent child, how dare you repeat such a lie!” she yelled at Hedya, whose eyes were already full of tears by the time Adiela and Ada reached her side to help her up.

“What did she say?” Renina asked.

Gadiel helped Channah to her stool and waved her hand over her face, allowing the cool air to calm her down.

“I won’t repeat it,” Channah announced. “I will not be struck down for her lie.”

Hedya wiped the tears away from her face and regained her composure. She had known her mother’s wrath before, but never this strong. “I was there. That’s what she told me.”

Maginah returned to the table and refilled Channah’s beaker with milk and handed it to her. She then pulled a cloth from her pocket and handed it to Hedya to clean her face. “What’s said is said. You might as well tell us all.”

Hedya closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “El Shaddai.” She opened her eyes to see our reactions. “Adonai.”

“See!” Channah yelled at her again. “See how my daughter now lies for that whore!”

The upset and commotion in the room struck us all silent again. Hedya was a good child and never known to lie before. However, she had a gullibility that we couldn’t deny either. This gullibility to believe Maryam’s words so eagerly was beyond our comprehension.

Maginah made her way to her stool again, and cleared her throat, taking us out of our temporary stupor. “This is a very serious charge she makes.”

“What would possess a girl to make such a claim?” Adiela spoke out. She looked down at Ashera and ran her hand across her forehead. “Something dreadful must have happened to Maryam, to make up such a story.”

“I don’t think she’s making it up,” Hedya defended. The tears in her eyes were soon replaced with a strange comfort. “You should have heard her when she told me. Her voice, as well as her eyes, told me it was true. She does not lie.”

“This is foolish.” Channah said as she pulled herself away from Gadiel. “I have raised a daughter who believes foolishness.”

Channah paced through the room attempting to settle her anger. Ashera returned to her sewing as Ada added more sticks to the fire beneath the stew. Renina stood up, went to the basin and retrieved another cloth, poured water on it and went to Hedya and placed it against her reddening cheek. It was only Maginah who further considered Maryam.

“There’s a prophesy, you know,” Maginah stated. Her arms were folded across her chest and she looked at the floor, deep in thought. “It has long been said that He would send us a child. A messiah. Isaiah foretold it.”

Maginah, not only being our matriarch, but was also our voice of reason. Yet, we never expected her reasoning to end with the long awaited prophesy. And so we were, once again, locked in thought, searching our own hearts as to if Maginah’s words made sense.

“And you think Maryam is the one?” Channah challenged. “Are you saying our daughters were not good enough?”

“It’s not a matter of who’s good enough, Channah,” Maginah said.

Renina took a drink of milk and stuffed a piece of bread in her mouth. “For years I’ve prayed that my daughter would carry a child, and He’s turned a deaf ear to our prayers. She only asks for her husband’s child, not His. This is an insult!”

“You pray too much,” Maginah said. She stood up again, wrapped the end of her tunic around her hand and reached for the pot of lamb stew. “Let’s eat this stew Ada has made for us. It will only be a matter of time before we know.”

“Eat?” Channah took a deep breath, yet her anger barely showed signs of subsiding. “That’s always your solution, isn’t it?’

Maginah smiled and filled the first bowl. “Perhaps I know when to recognize my blessings.”

We settled around the table in silence, afraid the slightest action could set off the next. Maginah poured out the stew in our bowls as Ada broke a fresh loaf of bread and passed it around. When Maginah settled in her chair, we took hands and thanked Him for our meal and the company of each other. As we took the first bites of Ada’s stew, Hedya straightened up, smiled and took a deep breath through her sniffles.

“You will see, Eema,” Hedya finally looked at her mother through her reddened eyes. “I do not lie. And I believe her. Just wait, you will see. All of you will see.”

And so we were left to wait, wait for what was still unclear. We waited alone, in a solitude of our own making, waiting for the news we desperately wanted to hear of Maryam’s child, waiting for the day we would set our very eyes on Yeshua, look into his young, comforting gaze and catch a glimpse of what He is, and perhaps understand why she was chosen. Renina waited for her daughter’s child, a child which never came. We waited, with tears and anger, desperate to understand, as Ashera held her son’s small, lifeless body in her arms after Herod’s Slaughter, cursing Him, asking Him why Yeshua was spared, why the new sons of our village were not given His grace, nor the warning that led Maryam, with her husband and child, to Egypt. Why were they allowed safety? We wondered and waited.

We waited for the days to see Yeshua, the man – to see our other children follow him; recognize in him what we were reluctant to accept. We waited and heard the stories of the blind who would see, the diseased who would heal, the hungry who would eat and the dead who would breathe anew.

We waited and watched as they called him King, searched within ourselves for the strength to call him Messiah. Some of us could not. We waited and watched the world around us change, to see men and women alike flock to him, to hear his voice, to hear his philosophies, leaving us to question our own humility, humanity, and worthiness.

We waited to see him betrayed, watched a beloved friend turn his back, and the new government feed him to the crowd, string him up, make an example of him and leave him to die as Maryam wept at his bloody feet. And we waited, listened in anticipation to the rumors in the days which followed. We doubted our hearts again. In the end, our bitterness was all that we had left to cling to.

We waited, we wondered, we regretted.

He could’ve been any of our sons, could’ve been the son of any of our daughters. Yet, Yeshua was sent through her, to live among us, to minister to us, to remind us the promises of his father, Adonai, El Shaddai, Elohim – whose name we lived in fear of uttering. He was sent to Maryam – a woman who never doubted, never feared, never knew how we cast our eyes upon her. What made her strength superior to our own? Why did such grace touch her and none of us? What had we done to be turned away?

About the Author

Wendy C. Williford is a native Texan who began writing stories as early as the 5th grade. By the time she was 17, she had written her first unpublished novel and a broad collection of poems. Since then, she has written dozens of short stories, poems, experimental stories for friends and family and a screenplay. She received a BA in History with a minor in Creative Writing from Stephen F. Austin State University in 2007. Currently, she is working on a novel set during the Scottish War for Independence.

She has works published in Ascent Aspirations (June 2013 issue), Children, Churches & Daddies Magazine(July/August 2013) and the Fall 2013 edition of Allegory Magazine. She also blogs about her experiences as a newly published writer at

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