Last year, I undertook a project to write one story each week for a year. I was able to pull off about 30 stories before I stopped, and this is one of my favorites. It corresponds with the Gospel reading in the lectionary for today (Luke 24:35-48).
Week 9: The Magician
Abra was a reluctant follower.
She carried too much pain to make traveling through life easy. Her daughter Abigail--her only child--had died only a few years before, and Abra’s heart was heavy with longing. She longed for peace and safety. She longed for sleep without dreams.
Abigail’s husband, Simon, was a good man, even if he was hot-headed. He was a fisherman by trade, and he worked to financially maintain their seaside home as a refuge for Abra. There she could sleep and rise, cook and eat, wash and sleep. The first few months after Abigail’s death were survived merely by repetition for both of them: up before dawn, doing the chores, smelling the scent of the sea air. Cooking, because others depended on it. Fishing, because others depended on it. Day after day after day.
They got along well, Simon and Abra. They wept together often at the beginning. But as time went by, the rhythm of their life together pulled them out of grief and into a place of mere remembering. Not just remembering in their minds, though--the true kind of remembering. How you can almost feel the touch of your beloved’s hand on your shoulder. How you can almost still see her eyes light up when you walk into the room. How you can smell her scent in the wildflowers by the beach. True remembering is sensational--in all the senses.
Yes, Simon and Abra got along well. There were no children to attend to, so Abra looked after Simon’s friends, all young men with no one to cook them food like she could. Yes, their mothers could cook, but not like Abra. Her table was always full.
Simon was the youngest to get married. None of the others had found the right girl yet. He had fallen hard for Abigail. It was all or nothing with him. He had fallen for the way she smiled up into the sun, for the way she spoke kindly to the children who begged, for the way she looked at him and told him with a laugh in her voice that he smelled like fish and to get away from her.
Abigail. Her father passed away when she was young, but she was his delight, his only child. Her brothers and sisters never saw the light of day, lost before their faces graced the world. One night, when Abra was carrying Abigail within her, she dreamed vividly. She saw a large rock. The waves beat against it at night, and the calm waters lapped its edges by day. Abra did not dream often, but this dream was clear: her child would be a rock for their little family. They had known so much loss, but Abigail would prove to be the healing that they needed.
Her husband Judah was a fisherman, like his father before him. Abigail was only eleven years old, but she joked and carried herself like a much older child. She had hugged him goodnight when he tucked her in, and she said something that made him laugh. There was a big storm early the next morning, after he had already gone on the water. He had two coins in his pocket that day, with plans to buy his beloved wife and daughter something special after the big catch.
But the storm tossed the boat hard, and when Judah hit his head against the mast and lost consciousness forever, the coins rolled out of the folds of his clothes and into the depths of the sea below. When his friends brought his lifeless body, with its bloody head, to Abra, of course she wept bitterly. But she couldn’t help but see all his beautiful imperfections--the scar underneath his left ear, the mole on the tip of his nose, the finger that was missing its tip from a fight with a rather nasty fish. She looked at them and remembered her husband, grieving deeply and loving him still.
Abigail had been her rock. What can an eleven-year-old girl say to her mother when both of their hearts are broken? Somehow she knew, though, and she poured out the oil of gladness on both of them when Abra didn’t know if she could go on.
When Simon came into the picture only three years later, they had healed much. Abra was glad that he kept coming around, eating her food and falling in love with her daughter. He was a few years older than Abigail, at the brink of manhood. Yes, he was poor. Yes, he was uneducated. But they all were, so it didn’t matter to Abra.
Sometimes he was hotheaded, like the day he asked Abra for Abigail’s hand. It was no surprise to her that he loved Abigail, but he was so young! He had no money, no home to bring her into. It was a crazy request to make, but Abra admired his spirit. He reminded her of her Judah. Raising her eyebrows in simultaneous concern and delight, she told him that she’d have to think about it. Under normal circumstances, it would be ridiculous for a widow to give her daughter to this boy-almost-a-man. But their situation was different. She and Abigail had a small home--Simon and Abigail could live there with her, and she would give them everything she had. The day that Simon and Abigail stood under the wedding tent, Abra’s neighbors said she was foolish, but she didn’t care. They lived together--husband and wife and mother-in-law--for two beautiful years, and they were well-fed and happy.
At the end of their second year, Abigail’s belly was swollen with hope. The baby inside would bring all things to right. They planned to name him Judah if he were a boy, and Abra just knew it was a boy.
When Simon grabbed her wrist in the middle of the night, Abra awoke with a start.
“She’s bleeding,” he said. “I don’t know what to do. Something’s wrong.”
Abra sent him for the midwife, but by the time they returned, all was lost. Abigail and little baby Judah rested with the angels that night.
Simon and Abra wept together in the beginning. The weeping felt like it would never end. But after two years, the gripping pain had abated. The dull ache of loss colored all their interactions, but they could smile again. Abigail would have wanted them to smile, especially at the sun.
Simon had many friends, fishermen who rose early and worked hard like he did. They ate many meals that Abra cooked and they were always delighted. One friend--Abra didn’t think he was a fisherman--was especially kind. She watched him play with the children in front of the house next door. He pulled a coin out of one of their ears and gave it to the child. He listened to their secrets with excited and understanding eyes. If their mama was tending to the baby and they scraped their knee, they ran to him for comfort.
She called him the Magician. She had learned his given name when they first met, but it was in that encounter that he earned the nickname. She was making fish--what else did she ever make?--and on the fish she sprinkled her special blend of spices (the best she could afford, which wasn’t saying much). He stood next to her in the outdoor kitchen, inclined his head toward the grilling fire, and inhaled deeply. Then he proceeded to name each spice that he smelled--perfectly.
Abra knew that it took real skill for someone to do that, especially a poor man with no wife. But she just raised her eyebrows at him and said, “Here you go, Magician. Now make it disappear.” The look on his face as he tasted the fish was one of the most satisfying things she ever accomplished.
She was a reluctant follower, a slow pilgrim. But his magic tricks kept drawing her in. A look of kindness to a beggar. More coins pulled from children’s listening ears. Making the grumpiest of her neighbors roll on the floor with laughter. This is what magic was meant for.
One night, Abra awoke in a pool of sweat. She called out to Simon, who rushed to her side. When he saw her there in such distress, he rushed to his brother’s house to get the Magician, but he wasn’t there. Simon returned with his brother and they tried to comfort her as much as they could, with cold compresses on her brow and speaking tenderly to her. And most of all, praying. The next day she was still very sick. The fever made her hallucinate and she talked to Simon as if he were Judah. Simon finally got word to his friends and they found the Magician and asked him to come straight away.
The Magician approached her gently and took her hand. She still writhed, but less so. Then he said her name. She grew instantly still. Sweat dripped down her face. Then he spoke to the fever and told it to leave, in a voice that was firm and full of authority.
Abra opened her eyes and saw him at the edge of her bed. “Thank you, Magician,” she said with a weak smile. And then she fell asleep, holding his hand. He stayed with her until she woke again, and then she said, “You must be hungry. I will make you some fish.” And everyone ate until they had their fill.
Abra saw him work his magic time and time again, and reluctantly, she followed him. When Simon and his brother Andrew left their nets, she went with them, to cook for them. “You need to eat!” she said over and over again.
The magic of the ten lepers healed.
The magic of slipping right through a crowd that wanted him dead.
The magic of spitting in the dirt and rubbing it in the blind man’s eyes.
The magic of tears when his best friends lost their brother.
The magic of calling the brother to live again.
And, all the while, she worked her magic with the fish.
Now she stood in a locked room, tears pooling in her eyes as she unwrapped the fish she had cooked for his friends. Why did he lay down his magic so early? He would have pulled coins from all their ears and made them laugh with childish delight, but they killed him instead. Wasn’t there some trick he could have done to escape, to stay with them?
Simon had locked the door firmly behind her when she brought in the food. They were hunted, under suspicion of having stolen the Magician’s body. The room was quiet with hushed tones and soft crying. Abra unwrapped the fish and she cried. She heard someone walk up behind her, so she turned to give her friends the comfort she had herself received after Abigail’s death.
But this one behind her wasn’t just one of the grievers. It was the Magician.
"Peace be with you," he said as he took both her hands in his and kissed them.
She couldn’t believe it. She grabbed his hands, she felt the scars and saw his feet, she shouted out loud, she looked at the door still locked--what kind of magic was this?--and she touched the beard on his face. They all laughed and cried and shouted some more, touching and holding and beside themselves with joy.
The Magician looked at Abra, kneeling and gathering up the broken pieces of broiled fish that had fallen to the floor in her shock. He held out his hand to help her up, and he smiled. “Anything to eat around here? I haven’t eaten in days!”