Read an Excerpt
The sand is hot. It sears the bottoms of her feet, raising welts wherever it touches, but she feels nothing.
She never does.
The scorching wind makes her eyes water. It whips and tears at her faded house dress, but it carries no heat.
It never does.
Grains of sand bite into her face, chapping her cheeks. Talcum-fine grit works its way deep into her nappy hair, into the creases of her mottled black skin, beneath the elastic band of her dress. But it doesn't matter. None of it matters.
Gerty has stood in this desert, at this riverbank, a hundred times. A hundred times she has waited, and a hundred times she has been disappointed.
Once again she hears faint gurgling. She looks at the river--at a small patch of water. It is starting to boil. It always begins this way. Slowly. First one bubble. Then another. Then another and another and another, and faster and faster the bubbles rise until the small area in the river churns furiously.
Gerty struggles to hold back her excitement. She has come this far many times before.
She steps into the river. There is no sensation of warmth, or cold, or wet. Just the knowledge that once again she is in the river.
She sloshes toward the bubbles. Her dress wraps around her legs, binding her movement. She thinks of hiking it above her waist. But there is always the chance that this will be the time, and she would not dare stand half naked. Not on holy ground.
She arrives at the patch of boiling water. Steam rolls up and blows into her face. She blinks, squinting through it.
And then it happens ...
A small dark form appears under the water. For a moment it looks like a fish, but as it surfaces it is obvious that this is no fish. It is a piece of metal. Iron. An ax head.
Maybe this will be the time.
The boiling comes to a stop. Now there is absolute silence as the last wisps of steam disappear. The ax head continues floating on the water as effortlessly as a newly fallen leaf.
This is the crucial part. She hopes, she prays that it will not disappear as it has so many times in the past. She takes a breath to steady herself, and finally she reaches for it. The tips of her fingers touch the cool surface.
Yes, cool. It is a sensation. A feeling. For the first time the ax head has substance. She can actually feel it!
Carefully she scoops it from the water, fearing that any minute it will dissolve and slip through her trembling fingers.
But it doesn't.
Tightness grows in her throat. Her eyes burn with tears of gratitude, but she blinks them back as she turns the ax head over and over in her hands.
This is the time.
Then she sees it. Senses it, really. The light. It hovers over the bank of the river. Brighter than the sun, so brilliant that it is difficult for her to distinguish any shape or detail, though for the briefest moment, she catches a glimpse of what could be wheels ... and eyes. The rest is light. Everywhere light. And sound, like a roaring waterfall. But there is no waterfall in this river. The sound comes from the light.
Fear and awe grip Gerty; tears spill onto her cheeks. She hears the voice. It has been there all along--in the roar. It is the roar. It thunders all around her, yet resonates gently through her body. It is all-powerful and infinitely tender:
"HIS TIME HAS COME."
Gerty nods, the tears now flowing freely. Through her blurry vision she sees movement in front of her. A young man with long, dark hair is kneeling in the water. He wears a coarse, burlap robe. He is kneeling exactly where the water had been boiling. He looks up to her with gray, penetrating eyes. They are filled with fear and confusion. But, even more alarming, they are filled with a lack of hope. Gerty's heart swells with compassion. She has known of him since he was a child, has prayed and interceded for him these many years. She wants to comfort him, to encourage him, but he bows his head before she has a chance to speak.
She looks back up into the light, puzzled. But the light gives no answer. There is only the tender, thundering, consuming roar.
She feels the ax head move in her hands. She watches in alarm as it grows soft, starting to melt.
No. Please, dear God!
Has she come this far only to fail again?
And still it melts, becoming nothing but a puddle in her hands.
But only for a moment.
Immediately it reshapes itself. She watches in amazement as it grows, as its texture shifts from cool metal to rough, porous clay. Seconds later she is holding a squatty cylinder--a flask. The ax head has become an ancient clay flask.
Joy floods through her. It radiates into her arms, her hands, even her fingertips. This is what she has been waiting for. This is what she has been hoping and praying for.
Instinctively, she removes the flask's stopper. Her hands tremble in excitement. Without a word, she tilts the flask and a thick, clear oil spills over its lip, falling in uneven spurts onto the boy's head.
Her tears turn to quiet sobs. "Thank you ... Thank you, thank you ..."
As the last of the oil drains, the light before her begins to dim. The roar also fades. The boy, the river, everything around her wavers like a mirage until, in a matter of moments, they have all disappeared.
Gerty Morrison opened her eyes. She was back home, still kneeling before her bed. She kept her head bowed, resting it on the thin, worn mattress that had become soaked with her tears as she continued to pray, "Thank you, dear Lord. Thank you, thank you ..."