Submitted by Anna on Fri, 03/29/2013 - 04:11

“He hasn’t woken. Please, Lord, he still hasn’t woken.”
Martha watched her sister lace long, taut fingers together and press them to her lips. To Martha, it seemed unreal. Between the two, her sister had always been serene. Now her throat constricted visibly as if she was choking. And Martha, the worrywart, laid her hand on her sister’s arm. Goosebumps covered her coffee-colored skin. “Have you called Joshua?”
{{“Have you called Joshua?” Martha called from the bathroom, wringing her black hair out in front of the mirror.
“Yep, just did! He said he’s on his way.”
Martha nearly dropped her towel. “I haven’t swept yet!”
“He’s a little early, but there’s no need to panic.”
Martha whipped a comb through her hair. “You obviously haven’t seen our dear little cousins eat animal crackers. Ben and Zeke left crumbs all over the living room.” She started down the staircase. “Oh, not good, not good…”
“Calm down, Martha. The teacher won’t care.”
Martha snorted.
“Really! He goes around barefoot half the time.”
But those were the days before she listened to Joshua; once Martha started worrying, nothing could stop her.}}

Once Martha started worrying, nothing could stop her. It finally hit her (the way the car had hit): the doctors could wipe the blood and stitch the cuts, but her brother was still dying. She paced around the hospital waiting room, holding her turquoise sweater closed at her chest. “He’ll live if Joshua comes.”
Her sister drummed her fingers on her cell phone. “If he left this morning, he could make the drive in a day.”
“Is he on his way? He knows?”
“He knows.” Her sister spoke half to herself. “He loves us. He’ll come.”
Martha held his words close to her chest, trying to remember why she shouldn’t fear. How many times had he said, “Don’t cry,” before taking someone’s hands in his? He always healed them. She remembered his voice, calm and smooth yet thick with emotion. “Don’t be afraid of what can kill your body. Look to your soul instead. You know, your Father orchestrates the beat and break of every bird wing? So don’t be afraid—
{{—you’re worth more than all the birds in the sky.”
Martha stopped in the doorway, balancing a plate of veggies and dip on one palm and squeezing a washcloth in the other. “I’m glad someone has the leisure to listen,” she said under her breath.
Between spraying and wiping counters and serving drinks, Martha had barely found time to greet her guest, much less benefit from him. And her sister? Relaxed on the end of the couch by Joshua’s feet. She easily met Joshua’s height standing, but she’d curled all of it into a pet-like ball.
Distracted by a growing mental to-do list, jealous of Joshua’s attention, and resentful, Martha threw the washcloth at her sister. She missed, but her sister jerked as the washcloth gave the floor a wet slap.
Martha blinked. “I—I didn’t mean that.”
Her sister looked hurt, but her voice was scarily level. “What did you mean?”
“I just—I—” Martha’s eyes lighted on Joshua. “Don’t you care that my sister left me to do all this work by myself? Tell her to help me.”
Joshua turned to her, and his eyes filled with understanding. Yes, he heard her whining and understood the depths of her childishness. He understood her shame. He knew that their brother might not come home in time to meet him, then stumble in at dawn as he had so many times in the past month. He knew she was even more afraid her brother would show up and breathe beery profanities in Joshua’s face.
“Martha,” he said, swinging his legs to the floor. He stood, took the tray from her, and set it aside. “Martha, you’re anxious and troubled about many things, but only one thing matters.” He had her shoulder in one big hand and motioned to the empty space on the couch. “Mary’s chosen what will never be taken away from her.”}}

God took their brother away from them. He died, that is. There were so many ways to say it, but only those two mattered to Martha.
“Where’s that faith healer now?” their granddad muttered.
Martha and Mary exchanged a wet-eyed look, the same distress running through their heads: if he had been here, if you had been here… why didn’t you come?
The morning started with drizzle instead of dawn. It got worse when Martha saw the text message. “Joshua is on his way. For the funeral.”
“If he’s just leaving now, he’ll be too late.”
“He took a plane.”
“Of course he did.” Mary rubbed her temples. “He’s too late anyway. He’d be too late if he came in five minutes or five years. If he didn’t care enough then, I don’t want to see him now.”
Martha asked, “Do you mean that?”
Mary raked her fingers through her hair and looked up at Martha. “I don’t know.”
“I do. I’ve got questions I need to ask.”
Martha didn’t mind leaving to pick him up at the airport. Despite each person who came to share the load, it didn’t get lighter. She hurried over the damp cobblestones outside the funeral home. She hurried across the asphalt parking lot to the terminal. She hurried away from the faint smell of fast food down the road that somehow lured gulls away from the sea.
The first thing she noticed about Joshua was that, instead of bothering to cut his hair, he’d tied it in a ponytail. His brown curls fell out left and right, as if he too had run all that way. He didn’t carry a suitcase, which made him look out of place and yet as if he owned it all.
Martha thought of her last peek at Mary, back at the wake—sitting in a brocaded chair, her hands limp in her lap, listless from waiting for a savior—and Martha said, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
The words with which she and her sister had thrummed for days merely hung in the air like an aborted sword thrust. They were not sharp enough for his keen, understanding eyes. She felt transported back to her living room, dying of thirst for his recognition and completely missing the place he was showering it.
“But even now…” She swallowed hard. Her own prayers never rose higher than the lump in her throat. Could he tip a drop of grace into her mouth? “…I know that whatever you ask from God, He’ll give you.”
Unexpectedly, Joshua said, “Your brother will rise again.”
Um. “I know he’ll rise again when all of us are resurrected on the Judgment Day…” She trailed off, increasingly confused as Joshua shook his head slightly.
“It’s me. I’m the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live even though he dies.” (Even though she dies. Martha hardly breathed.) “Do you believe me?”
“Every word.”
{{Every word the new teacher said threw off the old, sterile, incense-scented ones. “How can he associate with them?” they asked, pulling aside his more respectable companions. “That guy was a drunk. She’s a stripper. He stole from his parents, and does your teacher have any idea what he spent the money on?”
It was hard to miss the comments, even in whispers. Joshua didn’t seem to care much, but one day he simply turned on his heel and said, “People who think they’re healthy don’t go to a doctor. I came for those who are sick and know it. Come back when you’ve figured out what this verse means—‘I want mercy, not sacrifice.’”}}

“I want Mary.”
Martha called her sister. “We’re about to pull in.”
“We?” She knew, of course.
“Yes. Our teacher’s here. He… He’s asking for you.”
The phone call ended abruptly. As delicately as she could, Martha said, “She may not be completely receptive to talking to you?”
Joshua tipped his chin up. “Look.”
While they turned into the parking lot, the funeral home door swung open, and Mary strode out, scarf flying. She’d left her coat inside. She didn’t slow down toward the car, forcing Martha to brake sharply. Joshua opened the door almost before the wheels stopped.
Martha watched a few mourners trail out the door behind. Someone wheeled back around when he saw Joshua. As Martha got out, she could hear them: “It’s him.” “So he did come.” “I hope she slaps him good…” “Shh.” “But what is he doing here?”
Mary looked as if her knees were going to give out. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
{{“If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
The words with which she and her sister had thrummed for days merely hung in the air like an aborted sword thrust. They were not sharp enough for his keen, understanding eyes.}}

Joshua’s keen and yet soft eyes never left Mary’s face. “I will wipe every tear from your eyes. No more death or mourning or crying or pain. It’s going to pass away.”
Mary mouthed the word, But when?
“Not long now,” Joshua promised. His voice gave the tremble of storm-troubled water. “Where have you laid him?”
After a moment, Mary reached for his hand. She faltered and held onto his shoulder instead. “Come and see.”
Martha took his other arm. Together, the two sisters pulled him into the warm building and around the hallways. But when they heard the wailing, they started leaning into him for support, as if they were walking against strong wind. He ended up leading them into the room where a casket framed his friend’s face.
A tear rolled down Joshua’s cheek, the first time anyone had seen him cry. His grief was all the uglier for the struggling and gasping across his face.
“You did love him,” their granddad murmured.
You still do, don’t you? Martha wondered if Joshua was remembering that evening at her house, when her brother had walked in late to find them praying. The bags under his red-rimmed eyes had seemed to smooth away after an hour of listening in. Maybe Joshua remembered each of the emails Lazarus had sent, screaming out for lasting help.
She also wondered why God had allowed a drunk driver to hit him when he at last was sober, and why Joshua had allowed him to die, only to come back now and whisper prayers into his folded hands.
The answer will come.
Joshua looked skyward, and somehow, even under the roof, she was sure he saw straight into heaven. “Father, thank you for hearing me. I know that you always do, but I want the people around me to hear, too—and believe that you sent me.”
He took a deep breath and put his hand on the fold of the dead man’s suit. “Lazarus,” he cried, pushing his stopped heart, “wake up!”
Her brother's fingers lifted and gripped Joshua tight.
Martha’s heart slammed into her ribs. She heard people screaming (as if from very far away) and the dull thud of someone fainting. Mary had both her hands over her mouth. But Lazarus laughed and laughed until the corners of his eyes crinkled—those deep brown eyes she never thought she’d see again.
Joshua relaxed his shoulders and grinned. “Someone help him out?”
“You’re alive.” Mary rushed to Lazarus, wide eyes shining… while stuck-in-place Martha stuttered, “You—you literally raised him from the dead.”
Joshua nodded, still grinning.
“How are we going to explain this? What can we tell people?”
He took her face in his big, callused nut-brown hands and kissed her forehead. “Tell them about me and my Father. It’s time.”
That’s when Mary unstuck Martha by wrapping her arms around her waist and spinning her—once, twice around. “He’s alive!”
{{“He’s alive. Joshua is alive!”
Everything came back as one flash that burned away every doubt. It hadn’t been long since she’d served Joshua in her home and Mary had sat at his feet. Not long since her brother had come to life and come to life again. She had served Joshua once more, and Mary had washed the dust from his feet with their mother’s blue crystal bottle of French perfume. “It’s for my burial,” their Messiah had said, not long ago now.
The betrayal, the arrest, the execution. Only three days ago. It was the time of the resurrection and the life.
Martha laughed and laughed.}}

Author's age when written

For the record, I don’t think this story “needs” to be updated. My sole purpose in doing so was so that I would be more invested to write and could bring it home more. If you have any questions about the narrative choices I made, fire away. I just hope you liked it.


Hmm...I have such mixed and unorganized thoughts of this. It was strange to read Mary and Martha's story in the modern world, and though I wasn't sure if you have a right to change Jesus' name, it was probably the best way...the formatting made it confusing,...ahh, I don't know what to say.

It was the time of the resurrection and the life. - is that supposed to be in the present tense?

I liked the quality of "The betrayal, the arrest, the execution. Only three days ago." Three and three. I don't know if you did that on purpose. I also liked the circle you made. Once I finished the story, I had to read it again; and I understood more. Foreshadowing, perhaps?

I think that the joy of Lazarus coming alive wasn't displayed enough. It was too rushed, since the whole story builds up to the point.

"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson

I see what you mean - I knew the modern setting was going to be weird. I'm absolutely certain that society would be wildly different had Jesus not come until now. I just tried not to think about the implications too hard because it causes all sort of paradoxes that hurt my head. However, that IS actually Jesus' name. Jesus and Joshua are both translations of his Hebrew name, Yeshua. It sounds somewhat strange, since Joshua is such a common name now, but it's true.
I was hoping the formatting with the brackets would make it clear when flashbacks were starting, but I guess not. *shrug* I could maybe fix that, but I really like starting and ending those segments with similar lines to what immediately precedes and follows.
"It was the time of the resurrection and the life." No, that is past tense. While the time does continue (obviously), the entire story is told in the past tense.
I didn't plan the three and three, but I'm glad it was there. :) And I hope you read it again because you wanted to, not because it didn't make ANY sense.
I agree that Lazarus's resurrection is probably the weakest part of the story. I had saved it for last (because it was the most difficult to get my head into), and when I did write it... well, it was rather late at night. I wanted to put it up in time for Good Friday, so I thought, "Well, that'll be good enough." But I was hoping people like you would give me constructive crit so that I could edit it again if I wanted to. So thank you!

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief

I knew that the brackets were for flashbacks, but then sometimes sections weren't italicized or something that was in a flashback was repeated not in a flashback (towards the beginning) and then I got confused.

Joshua is - what?! .......................

Now that you mention it, I think this story would have been way better if you made society different. Because uniqueness is everything to a writer. I would be lazy too, though.

"It was the time of the resurrection and the life." - I still think it should be present. Like "It is going to be the time of the resurrection and the life." Because the way you wrote it was like you were writing everything before like that to say what the time was. As you can tell, I'm sort of confused.

But no matter what I said, I thought you did a good job weaving the flashbacks together for us and putting so much information into such a short story for me to feel like I knew already so much of the characters and storyline. Almost like flash fiction, but more complete.

Have a blessed Easter. :) -- Megan

"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson

If I formatted properly, the only bracketed section that isn't italicized is the last one - by which I meant to show that it happened at a different time than the rest of the story, but not in the past. The things I repeated were meant to be, like, echoes in Martha's head. "Yeshua (ישוע, with vowel pointing יֵשׁוּעַ - yēšūă‘ in Hebrew) was a common alternative form of the name יְהוֹשֻׁעַ ("Yehoshuah" - Joshua) in later books of the Hebrew Bible and among Jews of the Second Temple period. The name corresponds to the Greek spelling Iesous, from which comes the English spelling Jesus." If you don't trust wikipedia, it doesn't take long to do other searches. :)
I kind of feel like this story stands out anyway. Not that I think it's SUPERDUPERFANTASTIC or anything like that, but I don't know of something like it being written before (which is why I wanted to write it the way I did). Changing society was a BIT out of my scope for a short story, although if I were to write a novel retelling the Gospels that concept would undoubtedly be fascinating.
It would be present tense if Martha was actually thinking it instead of narrating it. Since the story is from her perspective, that can be a difficult line to draw. But when I have her literal thoughts, they're in italics. I could easily change it to be her actual, literal thought if that would be better, though.

Again, thanks. :) Those are very encouraging words. I hope you have a wonderful time of worship!

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief

Okay, that makes more sense, but perhaps you should tell next time what the formatting means, because I wouldn't have figured that out.

I believed you about the name! :)

And this story DOES stand out.

"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Literally got teary eyed when Lazarus was risen. Very well written... and different. Interesting. Really liked it (which is really odd for me!)

"Here's looking at you, Kid"
Write On!

It took me a while to get used to it being modern, but then I liked it.