Sarah made the walk from the house to the meeting hall alone. Only when she approached the great door did she meet up with Lara, her friend.
“Hello, Sarah,” Lara said solicitously. “Alone tonight?”
“Yes, Lara,” Sarah replied, tight-lipped. “The children are asleep already.”
“Still no Levy?”
They moved through the thin crowd slowly. The town meeting had been called because of some portent from the outer world that only vaguely seemed important to Sarah. Nonetheless, she was there, along with most of the rest of the villagers.
“The nights have been cold, haven’t they?” asked Lara as they walked, referring to more than the weather.
“No, I’ve not slept with him for about a week,” Sarah replied, cutting to the point. “He’s sleeping down in the old house with the oldest.” The admission left her feeling naked, exposed, partly because of her anger, partly because of her loss.
“Well, if he has anything to say to you, tonight’s a good opportunity,” remarked Lara dryly. “There he is.” She nodded toward the back of the hall, where Levy was loitering by a stack of old looms and frames that made up the couple’s habitual seating in town meetings such as this one. Sarah straightened her back and walked firmly toward him, moving through the mostly-seated villagers.
“Hold him to it, Sarah,” called Lara to her parting back.
“Can we talk?” Levy asked, hand outstretched, as she approached. One glance at his face showed her that he was wanting to make up. She wondered if she were. She took his hand and allowed him to lead her into the jumble of old furniture, to where a few hay bales formed impromptu couches. They sat down, only their faces showing to the group gathered to hear the elder. Sarah faced the village leader’s chair, not looking at her husband.
As Eli called for attention, Levy leaned close to her, speaking softly so no one else could hear.
“You’re right, I should sell the horse,” he said, squeezing her hand. She continued to look forward, answering in the same soft tone.
“And the forge?”
“I really can’t move it,” he replied.
Sarah felt her ears start to burn. “Why, that’s no compromise,” she thought angrily to herself. “That’s just him tossing me a bone so he can get what he wants!”
“If that’s what you think’s best, do what you must,” she remarked aloud, pulling her hand out of his. She didn’t feel like arguing just now. She folded her hands atop the old clothes-chest they were both seated behind, and rested her chin on them.
“… make travel in the area more dangerous in the immediate future … ” Elder Eli was saying, to a slightly bored audience. Levy settled down on the hay beside her, out of sight of the crowd.
“I want to include what you think in my decision,” Levy countered, not looking at her. She considered his words, but her heart was still burning. The argument had building over months. Levy had his horse, and his forge, and he was either making something or peddling it round about the countryside, going and coming as he pleased, while she was home with the children and the chores. The money he brought in was entirely of no consequence — didn’t they both already have more than enough money for the entire family? What was there to spend it on, anyway? Who had anything they wanted to sell, what with the war and all? She wanted her husband at home, where she needed him.
As her silence grew, Levy continued. “I really can’t put the forge in town,” he continued. “The other villagers would complain about the smoke and noise, and would make me move it back again anyway. Besides, we’re out in the field every day anyway — why not just leave it there?”
Now he’s trying to convince me, she thought, like he always does. A small part of her felt a bit guilty, almost as if his argument was convincing, but the argument really had nothing to do with it. Levy was just away too much. He needed to be home, with her. He didn’t need so much freedom. Did she wander from town to town? Did she disappear for hours and days at a time?
“Just do what you need to, Levy,” she replied. Elder Eli was speaking about some minor lord, somewhere nearby, and who was to replace him when he died.
“If I put it in town I’ll never get any work done. It’ll be people in and out all day, bothering me with questions and gawking. ” This was the real reason, she knew. He selfishly wanted to be alone, to hide from the world, and from her, even. “Besides, it’s not like you don’t use the forge, too,” he countered.
“What, once a month?” she snapped at him, spinning to face him. “All the way out there?”
“If I tear it down we’ll lose the money I make off it. You do still want that fabric from Dargon, don’t you?”
She almost sneered at him. “I could have bought that fabric four months ago, if there were any to be had! The money was never the problem!”
“But then you couldn’t have bought that targum seed,” he chided softly. She felt her impatience growing. They were starting to argue about money, when that was not the real issue. Why did that always happen? Why did he always turn the conversation away? She knew in her heart that she did the same thing, but she did it for a different reason, to show him the completeness of the problem. He was just arguing.
“Just do what you need to.” She again turned away, her eyes watering involuntarily.
“What I need is to make you happy,” Levy replied. “That you have right,” she almost said. Instead she turned to face him.
“Do you really want to please me?” she asked him, giving him no where to turn.
“Not all the time, I suppose,” he replied.
Now that’s a new angle, she thought, her attention caught. She was listening again.
“I should,” he continued, “but I know I don’t, not always. I suppose now is one of those times. I want to keep my forge where it is.”
“Well,” she said, slipping down off her seat to recline beside him, “you have a decision to make, then. I want a husband who is home more than he is away. That would make me happy.”
“I want a wife that’s happy. Therefore, the question is, which do I want more? A forge out alone, where I can work uninterrupted, or a wife who is pleased with me?”
“That’s the question, Levy Barel.” In spite of her anger, Sarah was with her husband. Few men in the village would have had the wisdom and courage to admit what he did. But if he could admit it, why did he still cling to such a stupid claim? How simple it would be for him to just give in. It wasn’t like she was forbidding him to have a forge. Couldn’t he see that she wanted this? That she needed this? That she needed him? The forge she could live with, no matter where it was, but how could she live with a man who held back on her, who held out on her? Hadn’t she given him everything she had? Hadn’t she given him her very self? She could tell by the look in his eyes that he was weighing both sides of the issue. She wanted to slap him, and was about to push away from him and get up when the look in his eyes changed.
Sarah held her breath. The cold, calculating expression faded from his face, draining away, and was replaced by a yearning, a look of abject poverty of soul. She hadn’t expected this. It didn’t happen very often, and it was almost frightening, because she knew that he was dropping the walls around his heart. She had seen the look before, and it always amazed her. This was not something she was able to do — this complete exposure of the self to the will of another. But Levy could. It faded after a moment, but not completely. It remained a faint glimmer in the back of his eye.
“I suppose I could get Mattan to help me move the shed, if I asked him nicely,” Levy finally admitted.
Sarah almost laughed through her tears. It was like watching a dam burst, and a mere, small stream come out. Yet that was all it would take. She knew that once Levy made the first step, he would complete the journey. The argument was over, but the piled up emotions remained, a logjam that threatened to disrupt the flow of their new-found peace.
“You remind me again of why I love you,” she said matter-of-factly. She leaned forward, still hurting, but wanting now to touch him. He leaned forward to kiss her, but she drew away, not ready for intimacy. She still smarted from his obstinacy, but he had finally given her what she needed, so she could again give him what he wanted, once the pain subsided.
“And as for my being away from home so long …”
Sarah held her breath. “Now what?” she wondered.
“… Now that the children are older, perhaps we could all make some of the trips now. I know it’s a chore, but I know that you have been wanting to get out, and you could be with me, wherever I am.”
Sarah’s jaw dropped in shock. “Is he crazy?” she wondered silently. “What sort of idea is that?” But then her dismay was replaced by intrigue, as images of her own childhood home came to mind. When was the last time she had visited her father’s grave? When was the last time she’d seen the deep green trees of her youthful home? A warm joy diffused into her mind at the idea of returning to hills where she was born. And then, the terror of the idea returned. Take the children? The baby? But this time her joy held her terror back.
“We’ll see,” was all she said.
The sounds of the crowd rose, indicating the end of the meeting. Levy withdrew his hands as they both arose. She smiled warmly for him, holding his hand firmly, sniffing back her tears. Her head was content: things were again right, even if her heart was still unsettled. They could get back to the business of life, with each other to lean on. That was all that mattered. Her emotions would catch up in time, and could be concealed until then.
“Well, father will want to talk to me,” he muttered, smiling shyly. “I won’t be long.”
“Don’t be,” she admonished, not really feeling it. She let her touch linger as they pulled away. As he walked away she settled back onto the hay bale, sorting out her thoughts. When he returned to her bed tonight he would expect and deserve a warm reception, and if she could, she would provide one. She had no qualms about acting out an affection tonight that she wouldn’t feel until tomorrow. Not all of one’s actions had to be spontaneous. It occurred to Sarah that her body might be unreceptive as well. No matter. Levy would work at that, and possibly even achieve it. Besides, the joy of making up was sometimes worth the pain of the fight. Suddenly her emotions came flooding out her eyes, and she wept for a moment. Then she got up, straightened her skirt, and headed for the house.
She encountered Lara at the door again. Lara had a curious look on her face.
“Well? What were you at, back there?” She waited, expectantly.
Sarah thought a moment. “We were making love,” she replied, then left the wordless Lara behind. She walked out into the chill, star-lit night. Looking up at the stars she considered. Had she lied just then? No, not really. Love had to be made, just like anything else in life. You just used different tools. She continued on alone, to await her lover.