...And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort
them concerning their brother. (John 11:19)
She slumps on her low stool in the garden, drops her chapped hands in her lap, and stares at the stone rolled from the cave mouth, stares at the shrouded corpse waddling into the light. She sits alone, unremarked by the distracted crowd. Exhausted, she mutters under her thin breath, oh, now why did he have to go and do that? Each night, while her sister slept, she sat by his pallet in the stingy light of sputtering oil, swabbing his fevered forehead with cool water, salving his sores with ointment she mixed herself, propping up his lolling head in her hand and dribbling a bit of broth through his cracked lips, struggling to remain awake, vigilant, under the weight of her own leaden fatigue. Now, the house has been cleaned, the walls scrubbed, the floor swept, the windows thrown open to the welcome air, the sick-room odor dissipating at last. The gathered crowd beneath the one olive tree, by the well in the garden, they came for her, a small conclave of neighbors, bringing bread or dates, a smoked fish, a little wine, come to join her and her dreamy-eyed sister, to absorb the weight of private loss into the communal vault, to silently permit her relief, the unvoiced portion of grief, her due after duty faithfully performed. But the crowd of neighbors is lost to her now. Dazzled by the display, teased by the miraculous, some shudder with gap-jawed astonishment, some drop to their knees, lift their hands aloft, some run from the terror of the breached sepulcher as the corpse stumbles closer and closer. No one notices her. She had warned him. It was obvious, she thought, despite her sister’s giddy delight, that four days in its cave, behind its stone, would leave no more than a putrid carcass to stagger forth. Her brother would stink and stink he does. The rank wind carries the scent of rot up the hillside to her stool in the garden. Oh, let him be, she had pleaded, let him lie, as intended. She rubs her raw hands on her thighs, moans, and turns her gaze from the quivering crowd to her clean, open house, denied the solace of living memory, forced to linger with the animated dead.