“Are you still holding to your God?” she blurted.
The question, so venomously delivered, floored him both in its substance and tenor.
A pause. A pestering fly buzzed and lit, and with a grotesquely misshapen hand, like the rest of him, he swatted at it and instantly recoiled as the motion shot pain traveling down the bone of his boil-covered forearm.
His wife’s dark-chocolate eyes were a mix of pity, disgust and desperation and they held onto his own in unapologetic defiance.
Then, over lips cracked and oozing from painful blisters, were dislodged a brief salvo of words, measured but molten nonetheless, meant not to injure but correct.
A wracking cough.
“Wife!” he chuffed, liquid pooling in his eyes, “even in the whirlwind He is still God!”
She opened her mouth as though to protest but no words could be conjured. Instead, she balled her fists until they were whitened from blood-loss, the skin over the knuckles stretched as tautly as they dare, and she swung them downward in a violent arc as she collapsed on folded legs. She landed with such force her knees were bloodied by bits of rock and force and, simultaneously, a cloud of dust went up as the sides of her fists pummeled that sad patch of earth again and again.
Her husband reached for her imploringly, but every movement spilled fire throughout his ravaged body. As he stooped lower to the ground more pustules opened along his spine causing milky fluid to spurt and run then coagulate with other rivulets of ooze. No position was comfortable, no shift in posture without serious repercussions. Some boils had burst and the viscous discharge began to dry-cake over large sections of his body, yet still he struggled to kneel beside the love of his heart. By then her face held a layer of chalky dust, through which the streaks of tears etched pitiful lines across and around her sallow cheeks.
Down there, in the ash, beside his wife, the broken man cried silently. Aside from the Great Cosmic Truth, he had no answers for their recent downturn of events and his pulverized soul was dying by degrees.
A horrifically Perfect Storm had converged on husband and wife in a single day and changed them forever. No inner resource imaginable could be summoned to counteract the briny poison they tasted as they helped each other up from wobbly knees. In a still-recent scene, both pairs of red-rimmed eyes willed the freshly dug graves to suddenly, somehow tremble and their ten resurrected children break through the tender, packed soil.
And not just their offspring but most of their household as well, silenced by marauding terrorists, their souls cut off with unspoken words henceforth trapped in their throats. In the melee of catastrophe, all was lost: household, livestock, wealth – their very subsistence! – ripped from their clutches! All that remained were fields of blood, the flotsam of tragedy, plumes of hellish smoke, ashes of heartache. The aftermath. And all this in a single day.
That was yesterday.
In the early morning of a sleepless night, a veil of unnatural blackness passed over the piteous man’s body and his skin prickled as fear squeezed his spirit.
What’s this — ?
The chill quickly gave way to a blazing fever that produced head-splitting pyrotechnics of fire and lightning. Instantly, his hands went to his head and the stultifying discovery of even more rising boils, these more monstrous than what earlier plagued him. In the light of a revived oil lamp he was literally watching as blister after blister began bubbling all up and down his arms. He clawed at his nightshirt as the pus-filled eruptions spread across his torso and brought multiplied agonies.
Oh, my God in heaven — !
By the first rays of dawn, there was not a single inch of his body that was not ravaged by festering boils. From crown to sole, he was tormented. Terrors invaded his mind and he knew only death could bring relief but death was obstinately elusive. Tortured to the point of wracking sobs of which he had no control, he sought comfort from the only human touch available, but she was closed in by her own grief.
Incredulous that her husband would persist in persistent worship of the One she held responsible, ire burned deep within, tempered only by despair and guilt. At one point, holding rags of gelatinous blood from her helpmate’s sores, she shut down completely and removed herself from the stink of the room and sloughed heavy-heeled out into the stale, rancid air, each step taking her lower to the ground until her body fell in a heap twenty paces from the front fold of their tent. She lay there, in the dirt, motionless.
The candle of her once-bright spirit had flickered out; all life, save the doleful beating of her heart, had begun its slow, mournful descent into hades.
A single slit of light from the tent-fold shone like a thin, glowing sword on the floor as the broken man gathered himself for the silent pilgrimage where his unsightliness and suffering would be shielded from view and his groanings well out of ear-shot. Yard by agonizing mile he shuffled and struggled, distancing himself from his wife who lay face-down, crumpled in suspended shock, arms stretched and hands clawing at the ash.
At the outer edge of all that was once familiar and pastoral, on the outskirts of the main settlement, were the dumping grounds, where a pit of fire burned refuse day and night.
Here, he could wail.
Here, he could formulate his arguments.
Here, he could make his final altar to his God, whom he clung to for dear life and, if necessary, to its bitterest end.
As the sun baptized itself beneath the craggy horizon, a pitiful silhouetted figure of a patriarch, a dark smudge against the monochromed dusk, bowed atop a heap of ash and worshipped Elohim with the music of broken shards of discarded refuse scraping against his diseased flesh, taking great care not to curse deity with his blistered lips.
And thus it is that this greatly suffering servant of Elohim soon discovers his great value to the Almighty and wealth that has little to do with ledgers and portfolios.
Longer? (Who knows?)
Months? Probably not months. The Trial of Yob was underway and his Character Witness had not shown up to take the stand on the defendant’s behalf. There was, however, a team of deftly-trained prosecutors who postured themselves on the opposite side, tilting the courtroom floor on the wizened merits of their own arguments. Back and forth it went, each round-robin of questioning getting more and more aggressive and viciously personal, but the lone man Yob maddeningly (for them) deflected each diatribe and proudly held his ash-laden ground.
How obscene that a man of such inarguable distinction should suffer such relentless and ignominious persecution and proverbial salt-rubbing! How unkind their condescensions! Was there no end to their delusions that they would be hand-picked by the Almighty to protect the honor of His Name?
While these self-promoting sages wrestled their opponent with predictable wisdom and quasi-rational rhetoric, the beaten-down man sought audience with Higher Counsel and Transcendent Revelation, so, at times, the gallery (you and I) catch him in a different dimension almost, the dronings of The Three becoming a collective mist dissipating against the rising warmth of Yob’s impassioned appeals to a Majestic-Though-Silent Cosmic Court.
“I cannot see You!” he barks to the heavens, “but I know You can see me!”
A couple of flies strafed the pitiful patriarch, who had barely enough strength to swat them away anymore, by which they lit again and again, having no decency to stay away from the victimized man. Yob’s red-rimmed eyes lowered in resignation. He sighed.
Then, marvelously and mysteriously, his slumping head raised again as he sucked in a half-lungful of steamy air. Summoning strength he did not have and, with lowered voice, formed his next words with great care.
“And I know this…”
A series of choking coughs.
Another brittle, cracked cough.
“…He knows I will come through this…”
A corresponding, but very weak wave of a ruined arm.
A spasm of pain, drawing a deeply pained expression.