Winter passed, and when spring dashed through with a stingy amount of rain, I noted it only because we ran out of chamomile later because of it and Selah threw a fit over the state of the garden, although she wasn’t interested in doing anything about it except shake her head and complain. Summer arrived soon after. With the shearing behind us and the grape harvest just begun, it was a less than curious thing that I was tired. But I had the kitchen all to myself this morning, a luxury hard won after insisting that Selah and the servants go to the Bethphage market for figs. And chamomile.
I sank onto the hearth and inhaled the yeasty scent of baking bread. It was my favorite corner, a place worn smooth by the bottoms of many weary women, and the warm brick against my back reminded me of every morning I ever spent with Mama, kneading the bread before sunrise and sitting with a cup of mint tea at dawn, watching the rolls of dough rise with the sun. The few silent minutes were broken only by the last calls of an owl, or distant yap of a wild dog. The air hung delicately across the courtyard, laced with the dying embers of the night fire, and eventually a pale, early-morning sun slanted through the garden doorway and touched just the tips of my toes where they peeked from my sandals.
This golden moment was also something I had had to fight for. Over the last months, there had been several strenuous conversations between myself and Selah over the domestic territory. Now that I was constantly in her business, her insolence grew worse. Selah had very definite ideas, and when most of our help disappeared with Talmai, her sudden rise in rank swept my ambiguous position to the sidelines. Making the morning bread was a task that I had demanded. Selah was annoyed. Just because Mama had always done it, did not mean that making twenty loaves of bread a day was something a proper lady of a large estate should do. Neither were the rest of the tasks I had to do now, I reminded her.
When I sent her with the girls to the market this morning, she went with a long-suffering face that didn’t fool me for a minute. What was I supposed to do? It was my kitchen.
Somewhere in the distance, Miri called my name and I let out a deep sigh. One hand tightened around my cup and with the other I rubbed at the knot that had formed behind my neck over the last two hours.
Miri was bringing in her crisis of the moment. Now what? Was it a scorpion in her room? Was the pile of laundry I had tasked her with too heavy to lift? I raised my eyes heavenward and took another drink.
“Martha! Where are you?” called the voice, accompanied by fast falling footsteps.
I didn’t move. Judging by the tone of Miri’s voice, it was likely something to do with the intricacies of sandal straps and it was going to take a few more breaths and a few more sips before I could speak calmly about the subject.
Miri came into the kitchen holding a large bundle of soft fibers. I recognized it immediately as the lambs wool I had put aside, specifically to be spun and woven into a tunic for Lazarus.
Miri stood barefoot on the cool kitchen floor and her thin arms wrapped around the bundle, cushioning the fluff against her flat chest. Was she aware that her self-consciousness was obvious? She had grown taller in the last two years, but not sideways. I shifted on my bottom a little, just to reassure myself of my own wider hips. Her hair was long, black and waving down her back, one side caught up in the comb Papa had given her.
It was a bit ridiculous. My straight brown hair was tied up in proper braids and out of my way every morning. Miri would have braided hers up too, if she were bending over every other minute working as she ought.
“What are you doing?” I asked, “Put it back into the basket, you’ll muck it up.”
“Martha, we should dye it first. The fibers will pick up a gorgeous shade of yellow if we use the powder Yousef brought last year from trading.” She buried her face into the luxuriously soft bundle.
Our argument, on cue, fell into a firmly established pattern. “No,” I said, “the soft sandy color is perfect.”
“But Papa would’ve worn it.”
“No, his coat is a humble color, too.”
“Well Mama would’ve said yes!”
“No, she never put on city airs.”
“Havah will love it, I know she would help,” in a tone ringing with truth and justice.
“Aunt Havah. Of course she would, she indulges you all the time. No.”
“Why can’t I sit with Lazarus today, then? He likes me better than Havah!”
“I’m putting the figs up today, Miri, just get to the linen washing please.”
“But he does!”
“Miri, there’s so much work to do. Put the bundle away and find the washing I set aside for you.”
With a mutter, a toss of her chin, and a spin on her heel, Miri stomped away.
This is how success felt. Getting what I wanted felt like those minutes in the kitchen, with the scent and the sun to myself, while I sat in the kitchen and waited for the sky to fall.