SPEAKER FOR THE GOD: PROLOGUE

 

There were whisperings behind the door.

 

I heard them. I stood at the door, knowing they did not want me to hear. But I did hear.

 

My name is Baruch, "Blessed." I rarely felt blessed. Only when I was in his mother's lap—and I was getting too big for that now. Big enough to glean grain from the corners of the fields, left for the poor in obedience to the Teaching. Big enough to know that we were poor, despite my mother's Speaking for the goddess, despite my mother's healings—

 

The other woman had come late that night, after the stars hung clear and stark against the black of the sky-vault, and my mother had sent me to sleep in the courtyard rather than in the bed by her side. That was all right. I was a big boy now, and it was qayits, the season of heat that turned everything brown and sere, and the night was warm. The goat, the only beast we owned, would keep me company.

 

But I could not sleep. I heard the whisperings.

 

I had gone up to the door to listen. I knew that was wrong. But I could not help myself. This was my mother, and the strange woman, the woman who was young yet no longer young, with a swelling belly. My mother often helped women with swelling bellies, like this one. And yet this one was different. I did not know how. I only knew I could not sleep while she was there. I had to listen.

The whisperings stopped. Time to go to sleep, I told myself. That is what mama wants. Not standing at the door, listening.

I did not move. The wind rattled the door. There should be no wind, not now, not in a summer night. Was it  a Lilit, a night-demon, stirring the air?

 

And then it was still again. I listened to the silence. It seemed to say more than the whisperings, which I had never been able to shape into words.

 

Then there came sound from behind the door again, but it was not whispering. It was gentle as a breath, but then grew harder, then faded again to a breath and less than a breath, so that I thought that perhaps I only imagined hearing it. Or that I was dreaming, that I had lain down as my mother told me to, and there was no door, no wind, no stars, only the black of the night sky-vault and my dreams.

I heard the sounds again. They were no longer light as breath, and this was not a dream. I strained to make out words, as I had before, and then gave up, letting myself ride on the waves of sound. They were like a wind, bellowing and falling, and then like a moan, like the loneliness of stars singing in the long, black silence that enveloped them. And then that silence itself became a voice, quivering with excitement—

I felt the wind again, felt it more than heard it, and there was a rattle from the door, and it swung open, just a crack, but by the starlight and the merest sliver of the moon pouring its silver-milk light I could see the shadow forms of two women on my mother's bed. But which was which? I made out the gently swelling belly of the woman who had come that night—so slight the swelling I wondered that I had noticed it, or had the goddess already made it smaller? The goddess could do that. Yes, sometimes women came to my mother for that.

The moaning became a panting, and I watched. I no longer thought about the wrongness of it. Baruch. Blessed. For the first time in many moons I knew my name was true. I was blessed. Waves of joy flooded from my mother, invisible as wind but stronger, oh, how much stronger—

The two women were intertwined, and I noticed, but without shame now, that both were naked. My mother had put her lips to the woman's crotch, to that mountain of black hair that I had seen only once or twice on my mother, but that now seemed to bristle silver in the moonlight. They were both lying on the straw mattress, side by side, but with feet at opposite ends, and the other woman now brought her face down onto my mother's crotch, and they both moved, they both writhed, but not in pain, in a joy I had never known, never seen before, and it washed over me, I felt a tingling in my own groin and wondered at it—the goddess, this must be the goddess, coming over me too, and I saw her form, from the figurines my mother had scattered all about the house, with their great breasts and the mouths puckered in what I now knew to be delight—

 

And I knew I must hide. I knew I must feel shame. The same shame I had felt when my mother had come upon me once fingering my member, wondering at the stabs of feeling that shot from it, at its sudden hardness in my hand—

 

I felt no shame. This was all natural, this was all the goddess. Did not my mother Speak for her? And this, surely, was part of her Speaking—

"Baruch!" I heard the word as if it came from the stars above rather than from my mother's mouth. It was not a rebuke; it was an invitation.

 

"Come here," she said. "You can be witness. This is the work of the goddess. But you must speak of it to no one."

 

I nodded; I had no breath to speak.

 

Why did my mother's face seem brighter here in the darkness of the room than out in the courtyard, beneath the moon?

 

Yes, this was the goddess. Here., I shivered, despite the warm night and the close air.

 

The other woman was looking at me, up and down, a faint smile playing across her face, her mouth slightly ajar, her teeth showing silver-white. She was not ashamed.

 

"We bless each other this way," said my mother. "We bless each other, we women, in the name of the goddess. In the name of Asherah."

 

A terrible thought struck me. I knew why I shivered. "Mama," I said, and then stopped; I could barely get the words out. Only the sight of my mother's eyes, and the other woman, now showing him a full smile, gave me breath to go on. "Mama, is this what they called abomination? The thing they would not talk of to me? Is this why papa cast you out?"

 

"Yes," said my mother, "but they know nothing. Nothing. Nothing of the goddess. Without Asherah there would be no world. There would not even be any god. Any Yahweh."

 

None of them said anything more. I stood, and waited, and watched, as they twined themselves about each other once again, and laid their lips to the other's crotch, and their bodies undulated like waves on the sea, until a gasp of joy, no, more than joy, a cry of the goddess herself, broke from them—and a moment later, I found myself lying on my bed beneath the stars and the slivered, silver moon, not knowing if I was awake or asleep, not knowing if all I had seen was dream or waking, knowing only that it was all goddess.

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