Martha’s work

Clearing up after a meal like that – well it is not the work of moments. We are all in a strange mood, too, which seemed to slow everything down. The Rabbi and the New Israel had gone out suddenly, unexpectedly. A group of the others had gone too. Young Mark was one of them. Not grown up enough to be a man, too adult to be a child.

I was organising the clearing, the scrubbing. Pots, dishes, the big wine mixer. An undercurrent of apprehension, of worry, ran like dregs of the cups, put to drain. A sluggish ooze.

Like I say, it was a lot of work and we wanted everything perfectly clean. Then Mark ran in, mother naked except for a scrap of cloth clutched over his privates. He was wide-eyed, terrified, horribly clear and coherent. And we all gathered round to listen.

You know what we heard. The aching sorrow of it. The pitiful betrayal. Judas. I had served that meal. Put the pot of bitter herb before Judas.

Mary went into a corner and rolled herself up into a ball and rocked, dry eyed. I cannot remember now what Joanne did. Somebody went to tell the Rabbi’s mother. Perhaps it was her.  I finished the dishes. Then I took lye and I went into the upper room and I scrubbed and scrubbed the dining bench where Judas had sat until my hands started to bleed at the knuckles and I knew I had to stop.

So I started to clean the whole house. It had just been cleaned for Passover but that did not stop me. I scrubbed the floors. I washed the tables. I was just wiping out the corners with a damp cloth, hoping to catch some new speck of dust, when Peter burst in. He was red eyed, incoherent, but we made out that they were torturing and mocking the Rabbi and some kind of trial had been put on.

It was full day when John came back. I was rubbing over the ceilings with a cloth wrapped round a broom although I had done that an hour earlier. He said: ‘He has been condemned. We cannot let him die all alone. I will fetch the other women. Come, we will go and stand and watch.’ He looked no more than a child to me, a solemn, wise child, full of the childish certainty about what was right.

I touched Mary’s shoulder, daring for the first time to break into her grief, and she touched my bleeding hands, daring for the first time to break into mine. Then we went side by side to do the hardest thing we had ever done.

 

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One response to “Martha’s work

  1. How lovely to read another of your re-tellings, Rosemary. Very powerful.

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