The Secret Magdalene
               

Selections from The Secret Magdalene





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Because it is my day of birth, Father allows me to dine this night at his table. How Roman of him! Even more exciting—how Greek!

Salome, who is also allowed, pretends she is not as excited as I am; does not think I notice the care she takes with her toilette or how cross she is with Tata and the other slaves who dress her hair. But I know my friend as I know myself. Is she not my father’s ward and the sister of my heart? Dressing with more heed than ever I have, scenting even my feet with sweet oil—to dine at table is such an honor and so rarely conferred—I tell her that even though she has grown breasts, she may not act weary, weary, weary, as older women of our station do.

In return, she yawns.

But here we are, and there is Father laughing at something a guest is saying.

Neither Salome nor I have ever seen this man before—all oil and ooze, he names himself Ananias, and oh how he stinks. An Egyptian Jew, he claims to come from Alexandria, and when I hear this, I become all ears. There is nowhere so wonderful as Alexandria, unless it is Ephesus. He informs us he trades in the gold of Nubia and Parthia, and the precious balsam of Jericho, but that he relies most on his sponges. People will always buy a sponge.

Nicodemus of Bethphage is also at table. Being almost Father’s equal in wealth, he is Father’s oldest friend as well as a fellow member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish governing body. Naomi, Father’s new wife, is allowed this night at table too, though this I would rather forget.

As the men speak, I watch Ananias peeking at Salome’s new breasts. Not that Father notices. Nor does Nicodemus. They are too caught up in food and wine and the talk of sponges and money. Salome even leans forward so that the merchant Ananias might fill his eyes with the shape of her "treasures." I am glad I have as yet no treasures. But if I did, I would not share them with such as Ananias. And if I did share them with such as Ananias, I would wait until they were bigger treasures. I tell Salome this in the secret code of eyes and mouths and hands we have used since I cannot remember when. She tells me he has brushed her bare skin twice now. I would laugh out loud if I could, but if I did, it would be a long time before we were allowed at table again. Besides, as ugly and as aged as he is, the merchant has been many places, done many things. He is an Alexandrian! There are so many ideas in Alexandria! Though I do love gods and though I love goddesses more, I love philosophy most. Tata says philosophy is religion without its clothes on.

I keep my nose covered with a scented cloth as I listen to the sponge merchant.

"I saw it with my own eyes," Ananias is saying in a voice a goat might use if a goat could speak. "I was right there at Temple, no more than ten cubits away when the priest was stabbed."

I sit very still. None here know that I too saw this killing. It is four days ago now, and still I see it. But I shall never tell of it, not even to Salome, for if any learn, Tata would face the lash for taking me to Temple to offer a dove to her forsaken Goddess Asherah, once wife of Yahweh.

"Whap! Whap! Whap! It was as quick as that. And there was the priest, dead as a dog in the street."

Nicodemus is silent, his mouth turned down in disgust. I can see him picturing Ben Azar as a dead dog in the street. "They are everywhere now, the Sicarii, these men with curved daggers."

"Everywhere?" asks Naomi through a mouthful of chewed cabbage. "Have the Romans crucified this one yet?"

"Crucified him, madam? They fail even to catch him."

Father's chest puffs with importance. "Oh, but they will. The Romans catch all assassins. Their crosses line the road to Joppa."

"Perhaps this one will too," says Ananias, "and perhaps not."


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