Thursday, April 1, 2010

Friday Fiction for April 2, 2010

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Karlene over on Homespun Expressions. It’s Karlene’s birthday as well as Good Friday, so be sure to visit her blog and share your birthday greetings before perusing MckLinky for some great fiction.

This week’s story is a complete rewrite of a story that I wrote some eleven years ago, and lost the file for. It was the original story for what would become a series of stories for me, and as such holds a special place in my heart. I wanted to rewrite it for this week. Whatever holidays you keep, may you observe them in peace and joy.

The Prophet’s Cup

By Rick Higginson

He poured the wine, hearing the echoes of voices from his past. I don’t know what you expected, Rube. Why should we believe you this time, when we’ve heard all your assurances before? His brother, the corporate executive, was never one to mince words.

He lifted the cup and sang. “Baruch atah Adonai, Elohenu melech ha-olam, borey p’ri ha’gafen.” Blessed are you, oh Lord our God, king of the universe, creator of the fruit of the vine. He drank the first cup, and set it back on the table before the next memory came.

I’m sorry, Ruben. I wish you well, and I’d love to see you, but after the last time, I just can’t risk it. You knew you weren’t supposed to have that stuff in my house, and I just thank God when the kids found your stash, they didn’t eat any of it. It had been all his sister could do to keep her husband from calling the police right then and there and having him arrested. For a supposedly mild-mannered journalist, the man had not shown any hesitation to busting Ruben’s nose while ejecting him from the home.

His father’s words hurt the most. After all you’ve already put her through, you want to do this to your mother? Better that she think you’re still rotting in prison, than this latest news you have. Don’t you dare call back to tell her this, you hear me?

I’m still keeping the Pesach, Papa, but now it means something to me. He picked up a piece of parsley, and held it at eye level while he canted the blessing. “Baruch atah Adonai, Elohenu melech ha’olam, borey p’ri ha’adama.” Blessed are you, oh Lord our God, king of the universe, creator of the fruit of the earth. He dipped the parsley in a paper cup of salt water, and ate it.

From a stack of folded paper towels, he removed a piece of matzah and broke it, placing one part back in the stack. Not much of a matzah tosh, but on my budget, it will have to do. The nicest thing I have is the cup for Elijah, and even that’s a cheap wine glass from a thrift store. He wrapped the other piece in a white napkin, and set it off to the side. With a sad smile, he lifted the plastic plate from the center of the table, and recited from memory. “This is the bread of affliction which our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come in and eat; let all who are in need join this Passover feast.”

He replaced the plate on the table, thinking of the beautiful Seder plate that would be in the center of his parents’ table that night, and of the time long before when he’d been the youngest child. Back then, it had fallen to him to recite the Four Questions, and while it seemed rather silly in a room by himself, he started to sing them again. “Ma nishtanah halailah hazeh mikol haleyot!” How different is this night from all other nights!

A quiet knock on the door interrupted the recitation, and he stopped and listened, not sure if he’d really heard it. When it repeated, he went to the door and opened it.

An old man in dirty clothes, with greasy hair and beard, stood outside his apartment. “I’m sorry to bother ya,” the man said. “I ain’t had but to eat today, and I was wonderin’ if you might spare a little food?”

That could have been me in a few years, if God hadn’t saved me. He opened the door wider. “I haven’t got much, friend, but you’re welcome to share what I have.”

“Much obliged,” the man said, stepping in. He slipped his grungy coat from his shoulders, and draped it across the back of the couch. With a shuffling walk, he went to the chair on the far side of the table and sat down.

Ruben closed the door and started for the small kitchen in the apartment. “Let me get you a cup for the wine,” he said.

“S’okay,” the man said, reaching for the empty goblet on the table. “This one’ll be fine.”

“That’s the Prophet’s cup,” Ruben said. “It’s for Elijah.”

“Well, is this ‘Lijah feller here?”

“No, but-”

“C’mon and sit down. I ain’t no cause for puttin’ yourself out. I’m grateful to share the meal, and I don’t want’cha fussin’ over me ‘till your food gets cold.”

Ruben sat back down. “I was having-”

“Ain’t’cha gonna offer me some wine?” The man reached the goblet towards him.

He felt a little flustered. A Seder is supposed to follow a certain order. He started to say his thoughts aloud, but stopped. He is a guest. It would be rude to expect him to just sit and wait. “Of course,” he said, reaching for the bottle. “It’s not very good wine, though, but it was what I could afford.”

“It’s better’n what I was lookin’ forward to this evening,” the man said, smiling in approval at the measure of red liquid in the goblet. “Ya got a blessing to sing, don’t’cha, before I drink?”

“What?” he asked, surprised.

The old man’s voice went soft, and he smiled encouragingly. “This is a Passover Seder, right? That means ya got a blessing to sing before we drink.” He pointed with his free hand. “Don’t forget to pour yourself a cup, too.”

He added a small amount of wine to his cup, and raised it. “Baruch atah Adonai, Elohenu melech ha-olam, borey p’ri ha’gafen.”

“Amen,” sang the old man. He brought the goblet close to his lips and added, “L’chayim.” To life.

“L’chayim,” Ruben agreed.

The old man drained the goblet, and nodded approval. “The Second Cup, the Cup of Instruction,” he said. “Always a good one.”

“You’re Jewish?” Ruben asked. “You’ve been to a Seder before?”

“I’ve been to lots of Seders before,” the man said. “Thank you for inviting me to yours, Ruben.”

“I invited you, and you know my name? Have we met before?”

“Nope.”

“When did I invite you, then?”

“Just a few moments ago, when you raised your plate and gave the open invitation. Your invitation was heard, and I came in response.”

“But, I said it so softly, how could anyone have heard it through the walls?”

“God heard your prayers through prison walls, Ruben. Is it really so difficult for Him to let me hear through apartment walls, when need be?”

“Who are you?”

He lifted the goblet towards him. “Refill my cup, Ruben.”

Ruben reached for the wine bottle, and then stopped. “Your cup? Your cup?” He looked at the man’s face. The eyes were ancient and full of wisdom, and his expression one of compassion. “Elijah?” he asked.

“Are you going to fill my cup, Ruben?”

Without taking his eyes away from the man’s face, he tipped the bottle over the goblet and poured a good measure of wine.

The man lifted both his glass and his eyes, and canted a series of blessings in Hebrew, not all of which Ruben understood or remembered. When he finished, he waited, and after a moment, raised his eyebrows at Ruben.

“Amen,” Ruben sang, feeling a bit foolish for having neglected to do so without prompting.

“Don’t forget your cup.”

He started to tip the bottle over his cup, and then stopped on seeing a full measure of wine already in it. “When did I refill this?”

“God has filled your cup, Ruben, and bids you to partake of His joy. This third cup is the Cup of Redemption, and while you have tasted of it before, tonight you shall drink of its fullness.”

He put the cup to his lips, and took a small mouthful at first. The flavor was sweet and warm, and when he swallowed, it lacked the bitterness that remained after the cheap wine he’d sampled earlier. He took another swallow, and another, until he’d drained the cup. The warmth filled his stomach, and he could feel it already spreading throughout his body. He set the cup back on the table and looked deep into the man’s eyes. “Why did you come here tonight, Elijah?”

“Because you invited me, Ruben.”

“But, surely there were much better Passover Seders tonight you could have attended. You are invited to every one of them.”

“There is a cup for Elijah on many tables tonight, and the invitation will be recited at almost every Seder, but yours, Ruben, was sincere. You didn’t just say the words, you opened your table to the hungry and the needy without reservation. More importantly, you were not afraid to see me.”

He shook his head. “Who would be afraid to see you? Haven’t we waited for you for generations? You were to come and tell us that Moshiach was coming.”

“Many people are afraid to see me, because a prophet must speak the words that God gives him. Most people don’t really want to hear what God might say to them, and most don’t want their business-as-usual world upset by the coming of Moshiach. Oh, they say they want what Moshiach will do for them, but they don’t want what Moshiach will require of them, and as such, they don’t want to see me at their table.”

“So, it’s time?”

“I do not know the time, Ruben, but it’s close enough now that I’ve been sent to begin my work. Before I again stand and challenge the people to choose who they will serve, I have other work to do in preparation for His coming. What did the prophet tell you about that?”

“That you would come and turn the hearts of the children to the fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children, lest God strike the world with a curse.” He sighed. “Would that you could turn my father’s heart back to me. When he’d learned I became a Christian in prison, he cut me completely out of his life.”

Elijah stood, and pulled a cell phone from one pocket. “Call your parents tonight, Ruben.”

“What do I say to them?”

“Just say, ‘l’shanah ha ba’ah b’Yerushalyim.’ They do not believe they will ever make it to Jerusalem for Passover, but when you meet them and the rest of your family there for Passover next year, they will understand, and they will receive you back.”

“But, I can barely make ends meet as it is. How am I going to get to Jerusalem?”

“It isn’t what you can do, Ruben. It’s about what God can do. Next year, you will be in Jerusalem. For now, though, I must go.”

“We haven’t eaten yet; must you go so soon?”

“There are other Seders I must visit tonight, and other messages I must deliver.” He lifted his coat from the back of the couch, and reached for the door. “Call them, Ruben. Say what I told you to say, and when you see them in Jerusalem next year, remember to tell them my message.”

“I will, Eliyahu.”

“And Ruben?”

“Yes?”

“I will not drink from a finer cup tonight.”

3 comments:

Hoomi said...

Quick addendum: "L'shanah ha ba'ah b'Yerushalayim" is the traditional closing line in the modern Passover Seder. It means, "Next year in Jerusalem!" and expresses the heart that the Passover was commanded to be kept in the place where the Tabernacle/Temple was located.

Catrina Bradley... said...

What a great story! So inspiring.

Carole L Robishaw said...

I totally enjoyed your story. You do such a great job of helping us understand the importance of the Jewish perspective.