By Raymond Dokupil
An elderly man is sitting in a recliner on a porch, writing a book. A young girl approaches the steps with a backpack slung over one shoulder. The elderly man looks up from his book and his face lights up.
Man: Hi there princess.
Girl: [cheerfully] Hi dad.
Man: What sort of tacky clothes are those? You weren’t wearing it this morning.
Girl: What’s wrong with it?
Man: It looks like you found it off the street.
Girl: It’s in.
Man: I don’t get you. Who buys a pair of jeans with pre-made holes? You sure you don’t want a pair of real pants?
Girl: Says Mr. I-Only-Wear-Khaki.
Man: [smiling lovingly] I missed you today.
The father embraces his daughter. He doesn’t notice that she is wincing in pain from the embrace, but she does not say anything. She returns the embrace.
Girl: I missed you too, dad.
Father lets go and notices her knee.
Man: [shocked] are you bleeding?
Girl: [slipping trouser leg over her knee] it’s nothing. I just tripped and scraped it on the way home.
Man: Your eyes are red too.
Girl: It’s the spring air. You know I’m allergic to pollen.
She lets her backpack slip onto the bench as she continues into the house. She begins rummaging through the house as the old man returns to his book and continues conversation to the sound of her voice.
Man: So how was school?
Girl: Oh. It was good.
Man: I hope you’ve been…learning…
Girl: Yeah, it was good. Did you finish all the leftovers?
Man: There should be something you can re-heat.
Girl: I found that. It’s gross.
Man: Then you’ll have to wait. Why are you even hungry? I packed you an extra big lunch today.
Girl re-emerges with an apple
Girl: I dunno. I’m just hungry. That’s all.
Man: Make any new friends?
Girl: Uh, yeah, yeah.
Man: Well, what are they like?
Girl: Whaddya mean?
Man: Are they nice?
Girl: Friendly I guess.
Man: What are their names?
Girl: I think you’ve met them before.
Man: I might have. What are their names?
Girl: [hesitates] I’m so tired. This apple is sour. [Tosses away] How’s the book?
Man: It’s almost finished.
Girl: Are you ever going to let me read it?
Man: When it’s finished. But the last chapter is worrying me. I’m not sure how it’ll turn out.
Girl: [laughs] why should that worry you?
Man: Because it might not turn out alright.
Girl: [still jestingly] don’t kid yourself, dad. You should be able to decide that.
Man: [Closes book] we’ll see. But who are your friends?
Girl: [angrily] why are you so interested in my friends all the sudden?
Man: I’m only asking. You look distressed about something.
Girl: I’m not distressed.
Gets up to grab her backpack and head inside. The zipper is open, however, and as she picks it up, the contents spill out. She hastily stoops to pick them up, but the old man picks up one of the books. The girl snatches it away.
Girl: That’s recreational reading.
The man is silent.
Girl: One of my friends gave it to me. I haven’t really looked at it yet. I don’t think it’ll be that good though, anyway.
The man says nothing. The girl continues to defend herself.
Girl: I don’t even know what it’s still doing there. I meant to finish it last week. I mean, start it. But I was gonna return it. My friend though, she’s—my friends are crazy about it. It’s weird. I think they’re pretty weird. I mean, I like them, but I don’t get it. They make me. It’s all for fun, but sometimes I don’t want to. But they push me and annoy me about it, so I try it, and it’s actually not that bad, really. But why do you care? Why do you care about my friends? Why do you ask so many questions?
The man stands up and rests his hands on her shoulders.
Man: I’m not asking. Tell me who your friends are.
After a pause, the girl finally drops her eyes and speaks almost inaudibly.
Girl: Samaria and Sodom.
Man: Jerusalem, where have you been?
Jerusalem becomes defensive again and shakes herself from his grasp.
Jerusalem: You don’t care.
God: I do.
Jerusalem: You don’t! You hardly ever speak to me! You’re always busy writing your precious book, and you only give attention to me to punish me!
Jerusalem: Don’t deny it, Father. You didn’t have to strike me down just because I touched the Ark.
God: Well next time you should read the instructions.
Jerusalem: [not listening] you nearly let me starve in the wilderness too. Don’t forget that.
God: I saved you from Egypt.
Jerusalem: My life wouldn’t need saving if you hadn’t showed up to save it! You let me wander into trouble just to get me out of it. Because you’re vain. Because you want me to admire you. And I did. But then you left me. You started doing things behind my back. You were gone up on Sinai for months. You didn’t look like you were coming back. I got frightened. What else could I have done?
God: Well what did you do?
Jerusalem falls silent.
Jerusalem: I told you, I was frightened.
God: What did you do, Jerusalem?
Jerusalem: I made a golden calf. But I wanted—I wanted something to believe in.
God: Jerusalem. I trusted you.
Jerusalem: I trusted you! But you never came! You forgot me!
God: Forgot? There’s a whole lot more you’ve forgotten, daughter of Canaan.
Jerusalem: Really? Then refresh my memory.
God: I will. Your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. On the day you were born no one thought to cut your naval cord or wash you with water. You weren’t rubbed with salt or even wrapped in clothes. No eye looked with pity on you. No one had compassion on you. You were abhorred on the day you were born. They threw you out into the field. And that’s where I found you. I passed by you and saw you squirming in your blood, and I said to you, “Live!” Yes, I said to you while you were in your blood, “Live!” I bathed you with water, washed off your blood and anointed you with oil. I clothed you with embroidered cloth and put sandals on your feet, and I wrapped you with fine linen and covered you with silk. Do you remember that?
It is now Jerusalem’s turn to be silent.
God: Then you grew up, became tall and reached the age for fine ornaments, your breasts were formed and your hair had grown. I adorned you with gold and silver, and you were beautiful and advanced to royalty. Do you remember that?
God: Then your fame went forth among the nations on account of your beauty, because it was perfect. But it was only perfect because of My splendor which I bestowed on you. But you have trusted in your beauty instead. You have played the harlot against me.
Jerusalem: [terrified] how did you know?
God: I can tell when you’ve not been in school. No teacher would assign this [holding up one of her books] or this, or this, and what have you done with your jewelry? You used to wear it everywhere. But then you made for yourself male images that you might play the harlot with them. Then you took your embroidered cloth and covered them, and offered my oil and incense before them.
Jerusalem: You gave them to me. Why does it matter?
God: Were your harlotries so small a matter? You slaughtered my children and offered them up to idols by causing them to pass through the fire. You built yourself a high place at the top of every street and made your beauty abominable, and you spread your legs to every passerby to multiply your harlotry. You played the harlot with the Egyptians, your lustful neighbors, just to make Me angry.
God: You adulteress wife, who takes strangers instead of her husband! How languishing is your heart while you do all these things, the actions of a bold-faced harlot! Have you forgotten when you were naked and bare and squirming in your blood?
Jerusalem: It’s hard to remember when you never talk about it.
God: I have never ceased to remind you since the day you were born.
Jerusalem: Oh God. You know what you’re doing every time I come home? You’re sitting here on this porch, writing that stupid book. And you never let me read it. What’s in that book, dad? Tell me that.
God doesn’t answer.
Jerusalem: So don’t accuse me for keeping dark secrets.
God: You are telling me, Jerusalem. I’m only writing it down.
Jerusalem: You mean…the book…is about me?
God: And this is the last chapter.
Jerusalem: Then…you knew this would happen.
God: Let what happen?
Jerusalem hesitates and then breaks down in tears.
Jerusalem: I got—I got so hungry. I tried the Assyrian men. For all it was worth, I tried them. But it was never good enough. I would leave them in the morning and never see them again. I tried the land of merchants, Chaldea, yet even then I was not satisfied. But they found me out today. Samaria and Sodom met me on the road this morning. The daughters of the Philistines and of Edom were with them. They pointed at me and said “Look, its Jerusalem the prostitute! Where have you been, princess? You’re lovers are looking for you. They’re all clamoring at the door of your shrine, yelling ‘Come out here harlot! Come out and face us!’” I ran back to my shrine. The sisters followed and mocked me the whole way. When I arrived at the shrine they were all gathered at the entrance, all the ghosts and faces of my past, brandishing knives and swords. They saw me. One of them pointed and said “there she is!” I tried to run, but they formed a circle around me. They stripped my dress off and slashed my body with their swords. Some of them had stones. “We know who you are, we know you are!” they kept on saying.
As Jerusalem is speaking she is rolling of the legs of her jeans and revealing her bare arms, which are covered with wounds and clotted blood.
Jerusalem: Then they turned around and shoved me up in front of the all Philistine sisters, who jeered and spat at me. I think I must have been knocked out. When I woke up they were gone, and my house was burning to the ground. I ran and hid in the reeds for hours. I didn’t know what to do. I—I found these clothes there. They must have belonged to a tramp. I tried to cover it up the best I could, so you wouldn’t know.
God: I knew. I put the clothes there.
Jerusalem: Then you did know all along, did you? You could have said so earlier!
God: I didn’t have to. You told me yourself.
Jerusalem: So you allowed that? You just allowed it?
Jerusalem: Why didn’t you stop me!? You can’t possibly love me if you let me do whatever I like!
God: O Jerusalem, my daughter. I didn’t allow it. I ensured it.
God: Because you have not remembered the days of your youth but have enraged Me by all these things, behold, I in turn will bring your conduct down on your own head, so that you will not commit this lewdness on top of all your other abominations.
Jerusalem: What sort of father are you—you would risk your daughter’s life for— a lesson! To teach me a lesson!
God: Not just to teach you. You are the lesson. This book, Jerusalem. Would you like to know how it ends?
Jerusalem realizes her fate is sealed, and she falls to her knees, awaiting her judgment and doom.
Jerusalem: Yes, Father.
God: It is a book that the proverbs will quote for generations to come. The story of the girl who forgot the days of her youth, her lied and betrayed her father, and paid the penalty. It is the book that mothers will read to their children at and say “Now, children, don’t be like Jerusalem.” It is the book that wicked men will read and be consoled that they are not half as wicked as she was. But that’s not now it ends. It is the story of how she came home. Her father was sitting on the porch and writing a book. She told him everything that day. And that tired, wandering child fell to her knees. And you know what she said?
God: I don’t know. What did she say?
A new hope dawns on Jerusalem, and she lifts her eyes.
Jerusalem: She said, “Dad, I’m so hungry.”
Jerusalem: And what did her father say?
God: He said, “Come on inside Princess. I made a feast just for you.”