Bathsheba

When King David lay on his deathbed and she was there with the rest of them to nag him about the succession, he still remembered the first time he had ever seen her. The latest round of warfare with the Syrians had just ended, and his victory had left him feeling let down. He drank too much at lunch and went upstairs for a long nap afterward. It was almost twilight when he awoke. The palace was unusually quiet, and he felt unusually solemn and quiet inside his own skin. There were no servants around for some reason, nobody to remind him that he was anointed king, victorious general, all that. He bathed, made himself a drink, and with just a towel wrapped around his waist, walked out onto the terrace on the roof where he looked down over the parapet in a kind of trance.

If the whole Syrian army had been drawn up in battle dress, he would have simply noted their presence and passed on. There was a bay gelding tethered to a tree, sweeping the flies away with his tail. In the servants' court, a cistern had overflowed onto the cobbles leaving a puddle the shape of Asia. Beyond a wall, a naked girl stood in a shallow pool dipping water over her shoulders with a shell. In as detached a way as he saw the girl, he saw both that he had to have her at any cost and that the cost would be exorbitant. Her husband's murder, the death of their first childlike actors awaiting their cues, the fatal consequences lurked just out of sight in the wings.

A long time afterward, when the chill was in his bones and, rattling with beads, Bathsheba came to pester him about Solomon, he could hardly see her the way she looked there at his bedside, but saw her instead glimmering in the dusk like a peeled pear as he'd first gazed down at her from the roof with his glass in his hand all those years earlier. Raising it first to eye level, he had drained it off in a single swallow like a toast, but it was only on his deathbed that he caught a glimpse of why.

It wasn't just Bathsheba he'd been toasting or the prospect of their life together, but a much more distant prospect still. He had been drinking, he realized, to the child of their child of their child a thousand years thence, who he could only pray would find it in his heart to think kindly someday of the beautiful girl and the improvident king who had so recklessly and long ago been responsible for his birth in a stable and his death just outside the city walls.

2 Samuel 11-12

 

~originally published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words