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She heard him speaking in the marketplace in Antioch, the man called Simon, who came to be called Peter. He was the same as usual. The fisherman from the shore of Lake Gennesaret had kept his lofty figure and rocklike features. And his gaze, childish and shallow.
She also recognized some of his words.
Like an echo."Love one another," said the man in the marketplace.
Jesus had said that. But only now had she realized that he had never understood how little love people have.
"Love one another." The large man repeated the words, giving them a ring of law.
Then she could see that his gaze was ingenuous.
A moment later, Simon spoke of the light that was not to be hidden, and she thought with surprise that Jesus had not known that people were condemned to the shadows.
His own light dazzled him, she thought.
Perhaps that was why he chose the darkest of all deaths.
Then finally the prayer she knew so well. "Our Father . . . " And the crowd dispersed. A mocking laugh or two could be heard, but they soon ceased. Simon Peter's words contained a luminosity, a reflection of what had once been said. But they had lost their mystery.Was it a long time ago? Was it still going on? On her way home, she thought about how she had hated the big-mouthed fisherman, and was ashamed. So she tried to pray: "Dear Lord, forgive me my wicked thoughts."
Then she thought she should never have gone to the meeting. She should have known better. She had needed a great many years to forget, and she now no longer remembered Jesus' face, nor his hands, nor even his eyes or the mouth forming those amazing words. She had even banished the sweetness of the night from her memory. The smile was the most difficult. That could afflict her at any time in her everyday life.
A neighboring wife had told her that a prophet from the new sect was to speak in the marketplace in the Jewish sector of the town.
"I'm curious, but daren't oppose my husband," she had said.
"I'm curious about the new zealots, too," Mary had replied, with a bitter smile as she remembered Simon Peter thrice denying the Lord.
As she was making breakfast, her curiosity overcame her and became compelling. I'll go. I'll put on my black mantle and a veil over my face. No one will recognize me.
It had gone well and no one had noticed her, a black crow among all the other black crows.
She could not sleep the night after the meeting, nor weep, although it was grief afflicting her, her heart, beating as if about to burst.
She got up and tried walking across the floor, but her legs would not carry her. For a while she tried blowing life into her old hatred of Simon and all those damned fishermen. And of Jesus himself, he who had preferred a cruel death to a life with her.
But her bitterness had gone.
Suddenly, with crystal clarity appeared the memory of her last meeting with the disciples in that dark hall in Jerusalem the man with the water jar had taken them to, the sun making its way through the high windows and weaving rays of glittering dust through the air. And the words, asking her, "Give us the words he spoke to you and which we do not know."
She could see now the men were weeping. How strange that she had forgotten their despair, she thought. Then she heard her own young voice.
"I saw the Lord in a vision and greeted him. He said: 'Blessed are those who are not afraid of the sight of me. Wherever is your spirit lies the treasure.'"
She was so eager, she failed to notice the faces of the men round the table clouding over, and untiringly she went on telling them what he had said.
"'Be of good cheer, the Son of Man is within you. Follow him, he who seeks him will find him. Write no laws of this that I have revealed to you. Write no laws as the scribes do.'"
She was still talking, of death, of everything man had to overcome while his soul was still in his body: anger, desire, and ignorance. She repeated a conversation between body and soul: The body says, 'I did not see you.' And the soul replies, 'I saw you. But you neither saw nor recognized me.' I asked him, 'What are the sins of the world?' And he answered me, 'There is no sin in the world. You create it yourselves when you falsify reality.'"
That was when Peter had cried out, "These are strange teachings." Then he turned to the others. "I don't believe our Lord spoke these words. Why should he speak privately with a woman and not openly with us?"
"Brother Peter. Do you think I would tell lies about the Lord?"
There, in bed in Antioch, she was at last able to weep. As the first dawn light was coloring the sky, she slept, an uneasy sleep disturbed by images from her wanderings round the blue lake, and it was long into the day when she woke and felt the weight of stones inside her.
But her heart was beating as it should and her head was quite clear.
That was when she knew she had to go the whole way back, break her way through overgrown paths, stung by nettles and slashed by the undergrowth.
She got up and as she washed, in her mind she could see his smile. He was encouraging her!
"But I'm only one human being," she said aloud.
Then she sat down to pray and sent her prayer straight to the Son of Man.
"I have at last understood that you loved me with the love that embraces all. What confused me was the constant talk by the disciples about whom you loved best.
"You loved and perhaps felt gratitude for teaching you bodily love, so increasing your knowledge of the condition of humankind. Your mother tried to talk to you about the inescapable cruelty of life, but you did not listen. You did listen to me. With your body.
"God in heaven, how lonely you were.
"Yet I contributed to making you into a human being. But then you did not learn of the world of shadows until you were at the cross.
"I remember you were often surprised. 'How can you see the splinter in your brother's eye and not see the beam in your own.'
"I could have told you how great the fear was. But I was only twenty. And a whore."
Mary had a great deal to do. Leonidas was to return home that day, thirsty, tired, and hungry. She put the great water pan to the fire and fetched water. As usual at the well, she glanced with gratitude up at the mountains in the south where Daphne's springs leapt out of the rocks and supplied the town with an abundance of clear fresh water.
They were expecting his sister in the afternoon. She was to bring the account book and the two of them were to sit at the big table to enter all the expenses and income from his journey.
"Please, God, that trade was good," said Mary, but her words were largely routine, an unnecessary invocation out into the air. She liked her sister-in-law, but feared those bold eyes that saw straight through you.
Mary Magdalene had much to hide.
She should have gone to the market the day before. Now she had to hurry down to the marketplace. She was in luck—a large piece of fresh lamb, some smoked fish, and a basket of vegetables and fruit. On her way home she passed the synagogue, and for a moment wished she could go in to Rabbi Amasya and tell him her story, but the thought was only random.
She remembered her neighbor had said that Simon Peter and his companions were staying with the rabbi. She pulled down her headcloth and hurried on.
She managed to clean the house and fill her jars with flowers from the garden, then finally combed her long hair and fastened it into a long plait round her head. A golden crown; she was proud of her hair. But she was troubled when she looked in the mirror and saw how wide-open her eyes were, dark shadows all around them.
When Leonidas arrived, the house smelled of spices, flowers, and roasting lamb. He sniffed at the aroma and laughed aloud with delight. As usual, he took her two hands in his.
"Every evening on my journey," he said, "I try to remember how beautiful you are. But I have a poor imagination and you always surpass my images."
"Silly. I'm beginning to grow old."
"You'll never grow old."
"The eyes of love," she said, smiling, but then he noticed the dark circles around her eyes.
"Mary, something's happened."
"This evening," she said. "We must have a long talk this evening. Now you must take a bath, then eat. Then Livia is coming."
When he emerged from the bath, she saw what she did not want to see, that he had aged, that his supple body was gradually slackening and his dark hair had gray streaks in it.
They ate. The meat was tender and the wine red and heavy.
"You've time for a sleep before your sister comes."
He nodded gratefully, disappeared into the bedroom and a moment later she heard him snoring.
When Livia arrived, Mary was washing the dishes.
"I can't think why you don't buy yourself a slave girl," her sister-in-law said as usual.
Mary had the words on the tip of her tongue but kept her mouth shut. Livia would not have understood "Serve one another."
"Some wine?" she said instead.
"Thank you, but I must keep my head clear. Give me some of that drink you brew from herbs instead."
They went and sat in the garden with a goblet each, and looked at each other. She doesn't age, thought Livia. She is as young as the day she came. Just as fair. Dark blue eyes, still so clear, reflecting the good sense that the gods had given her. But she seldom uses it, simply goes around enclosed in her own strength.
She is not really beautiful, her nose too long and her mouth too small for that narrow face. And it reveals every shift in her vulnerability, in strange contrast to that forceful and penetrating gaze.
A flock of white storks with black wings flew over the garden on their way to the cold waters of the Teutons far away in the north. Livia watched them, thinking how free they were.
Then she looked searchingly at Mary.
"You look tired."
"I slept badly last night."
"Were you lonely?"
"Yes," said Mary, relieved that she had not needed to lie.
She answers promptly to all questions, thought Livia and manages to hide everything behind her simple words. She does not lie. She is too intelligent for that.
And yet she has great secrets.
A group of flamingos flapped over the rooftops, coloring the sky pink. This time it was Mary watching them.
"They came down along the river," she said.
Livia was still thinking about her sister-in-law. Perhaps it is her secrets that give her strength; perhaps we would all have greater strength if we possessed a piece of inner land into which no one had access.
She sighed. She herself was like an open book.
She could see now that the darkness around Mary was denser than usual. Livia had long known her sister-in-law had bad memories. Leonidas had told her about her parents, the father crucified as a rebel and her mother and brothers hacked to death.