"Jesus, come in so you can hear me if I whisper in your ear."
My mother refused to leave. "Don't you tempt him," my mother said.
"And what do you mean by that?" Cleopas asked. "You think I've come to the Holy City of Jerusalem to tempt him?"
Then he clutched at my arm. His fingers were burning.
"I'm going to tell you something," he said to me. "You remember it. This goes in your heart with the Law, you hear me? When she told me the angel had come, I believed her. The angel had come to her! I believed."
The angel--the angel who'd come in Nazareth. He'd come to her. That was what he'd said on the boat, wasn't it? But what did this mean?
My mother stared at him. His face was wet and his eyes very big. I could feel the fever in him. I could see it.
He went on.
"I believed her," he said. "I am her brother, am I not? She was thirteen, betrothed to Joseph, and I tell you, she was never out of the sight of us outside of our house, never could there have been any chance of anyone being with her, you know what I'm saying to you, I mean a man. There was no chance, and I am her brother. Remember, I told you. I believed her." He lay back a little on the clothes bundled behind him. "A virgin child, a child in the service of the Temple of Jerusalem, to weave the great veil, with the other chosen ones, and then home under our eyes."
He shivered. He looked at her. His eyes stayed on her. She turned away, and then moved away. But not very far. She stayed there with her back to us, close to our cousin Elizabeth.
My cousin Elizabeth was watching Cleopas, and watching me. I didn't know whether she heard him or not.
I didn't move. I looked down at Cleopas. His chest rose and fell with each rattling breath and again he shivered.
My mind was working, collecting every bit of knowledge I had ever learned that could help me make sense of what he had said. It was the mind of a child who had grown up sleeping in a room with men and women in that same room and in other rooms open to it, and sleeping in the open courtyard with the men and women in the heat of summer, and living always close with them, and hearing and seeing many things, My mind was working and working. But I couldn't make sense of all he'd said.
"You remember, what I said to you, that I believed!" he said.
"But you're not really sure, are you?" I whispered.
His eyes opened wide and a new expression came over him, as if he was waking from his fever.
"And Joseph isn't either, is he?" I asked in the same whisper. "And that is why he never lies beside her."
He rose up on his elbow, and his face was close to mine.
"Turn it around," he said. He struggled for breath. "He never touches her because he does believe. Don't you see? How could he touch her after such a thing?" He smiled, and then he laughed in that low laugh of his, but no one else heard it. "And you?" he went on. "Must you grow up before you fulfill the prophesies? Yes, you must. And must you be a child first before you are a man? Yes. How else?" His eyes changed as if he stopped seeing things in front of him. Again he struggled for breath. "So it was with King David. Anointed, and then sent back to the flocks, a shepherd boy, wasn't it? Until such time as Saul sent for him. Until such time as the Lord God sent for him! Don't you see, that's what confounds them all! That you must grow up like any other child! And half the time they don't know what to do with you! And yes, I am sure! And have always been sure!"
He fell back again, tired, unable to go on, but his eyes never left me. He smiled and I heard his laughter.
"Why do you laugh?" I asked.
He shrugged. "I am still amused," he answered. "Yes, amused. Did I see an angel? No, I did not. Maybe if I had, I wouldn't laugh, but then maybe again I would laugh all the more. My laughter is the way I speak, don't you think? Remember that. Ah, listen to them down in the streets. Over there, over here. They want justice. Vengeance. Did you hear all that? Herod did this. Herod did that. They've stoned Archelaus's soldiers! What does it matter to me now? I would like to breathe without it hurting me for one quarter of an hour!"
His hand came up, groping for me. He touched the back of my head, and I bent down and kissed his wet cheek. Make this pain go away.
He drew in his breath, and then he appeared to drift and to sleep, and his chest began to rise and fall slowly and easily. I placed my hand on his chest and felt his heart. Strength for this little while. What harm is there in it?
When I moved away, I wanted to go to the edge of the roof. I wanted to cry. What had I done? Maybe nothing. But I didn't think it was nothing. And the things he'd said to me--what did they mean? How was I to understand these things?
I wanted the answers to questions, yes, but these words only made more questions, and my head hurt. I was afraid.
I sat down and leaned against the low wall. I could barely see over it now. With all the families huddled so near, and so many backs to me and so much chatter and soft singing to children, I thought I was hidden.
It was dark now and there was torchlight all over the city, and loud happy cries, and plenty of music. Cooking fires still, or maybe fires for warmth as it was a little colder. I was a little colder. I wanted to see what was going on below. Then I didn't. I didn't care.
An angel had come to my mother, an angel. I was not Joseph's son.