"Then you should not speak of it again. I know her husband, he is a righteous man:'
"Cursed with an insane girl for a wife:'
"Poor thing," my father said, tearing away a hunk of bread. His hands were as hard as horn, as square as hammers, and as gray as a leper's from the limestone he worked with. An embrace from him left scratches on my back that sometimes wept blood, yet my brothers and I fought to be the first in his arms when he returned from work each evening. The same injuries inflicted in anger would have sent us crying to our mother's skirts. I fell asleep each night feeling his hand on my back like a shield.
Do you want to mash some lizards?" I asked Joshua when I saw him again. He was drawing in the dirt with a stick, ignoring me. I put my foot on his drawing. "Did you know that your mother is mad?"
"My father does that to her," he said sadly, without looking up.
I sat down next to him. "Sometimes my mother makes yipping noises in the night like the wild dogs:'
"Is she mad?" Joshua asked.
"She seems fine in the morning. She sings while she makes breakfast:'
Joshua nodded, satisfied, I guess, that madness could pass. "We used to live in Egypt," he said.
"No, you didn't, that's too far. Farther than the temple, even:' The Temple in Jerusalem was the farthest place I had been as a child. Every spring my family took the five-day walk to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. It seemed to take forever.
"We lived here, then we lived in Egypt, now we live here again," Joshua said. "It was a long way."
"You lie, it takes forty years to get to Egypt:'
"Not anymore, it's closer now:'
"It says in the Torah. My abba read it to me. 'The Israelites traveled in the desert for forty years."
"The Israelites were lost."
"For forty years?" I laughed. "The Israelites must be stupid:'
"We are the Israelites:'
"I have to go find my mother," I said.
"When you come back, let's play Moses and Pharaoh."
The angel has confided in me that he is going to ask the Lord if he can become Spider-Man. He watches the television constantly, even when I sleep, and he has become obsessed with the story of the hero who fights demons from the rooftops. The angel says that evil looms larger now than it did in my time, and that calls for greater heroes. The children need heroes, he says. I think he just wants to swing from buildings in tight red jammies.
What hero could touch these children anyway, with their machines and medicine and distances made invisible? (Raziel: not here a week and he would trade the Sword of God to be a web slinger.) In my time, our heroes were few, but they were real-some of us could even trace our kinship to them. Joshua always played the heroes-David, Joshua, Moses-while I played the evil ones: Pharaoh, Ahab, and Nebuchadnezzar. If I had a shekel for every time I was slain as a Philistine, well, I'd not be riding a camel through the eye of a needle anytime soon, I'll tell you that. As I think back, I see that Joshua was practicing for what he would become.
"Let my people go," said Joshua, as Moses.
"You can't just say, 'Okay,'"
"No, the Lord has hardened your heart against my demands."
"Why'd he do that?"
"I don't know, he just did. Now, let my people go." "Nope." I crossed my arms and turned away like someone whose heart is hardened.
"Behold as I turn this stick into a snake. Now, let my people go!"
"You can't just say 'okay'!"
Copyright Christopher Moore 2002. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Harper Collins
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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