Alone The Woman at the Well
Marah’s life has been difficult. Her father died when she was three, and a succession of men began the parade through her life—men who disappointed and abused her. Her heart withers away. Her youth fades. She did what she had to do to survive. There is no joy or freshness in her life, until that day at the well of Sychar when a stranger from Galilee asks her for a drink of water. What she had thirsted for all of her life is showered upon her in that brief meeting.
This series about nameless women in Scripture has been in my heart for 30 years. I wrote the first book about the adulterous woman approximately that long ago. I was an amateur writer then and made many mistakes on the technical side of the craft, but the story was there. And I kept pitching the idea to publishers and editors, but at that time the popularity of biblical fiction was waning. Or more well-known authors had a series out there that was too similar. For whatever reason, publishers were not interested. But the series wouldn’t let me go. It seemed interesting to me that some of the major encounters Jesus had in his ministry were with women, and that those women were not even named in the accounts. However, they were important enough to be included in the canon.
In the meantime, I got a contract for another series, based on my family genealogy in 17th century France, the Darkness to Light series, and subsequently published a Civil War novel set in Texas, His Steadfast Love. One day via a writers email loop I learned that WhiteFire Publishing was interested in biblical fiction. My agent pitched it to them. They bought the series and they are now reality.
I hope you will find touchstones in these stories that will ring true to you as a woman. Jesus broke many cultural and social mores of the day to relate to women—women who felt trapped by laws and tradition; those who needed forgiveness; some who had been abused.
May the One who has our names engraved on the palm of His hand minister to you through these novellas.
Golden Keyes Parsons
I met a stranger today. He sat on the edge of Jacob’s well in the blistering heat and watched as I walked toward him. Undecided, I turned and looked back in the direction of the village. The man was a Jew. He wore the tallit of a Jewish rabbi. What was a Jewish rabbi doing in Samaria? A younger man stood by his side. Perhaps I should return later. I didn’t care to encounter the upturned noses and sneering lips.
Marah hesitated, the afternoon sun beating down upon her. They needed water, and Marah chose to come to this particular well at this particular time of day to avoid the gossipy women from Sychar, their frowns and whispers.She lowered the water pot to her hip and shielded her eyes from the the sun’s glare. He stared back at her. She expected him to rise and turn his back. However, the smallest hint of a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.
Dust swirled around her feet as she veered to the right to go around the strangers.
“Would you give me a drink?”
Startled, Marah nearly dropped her water pot. A Jewish man speaking to a Samaritan woman—and in public? She glanced about to see if anyone was watching. Beads of perspiration formed on her upper lip.
“You’re safe. No one else is around. My friends have gone into town to purchase food for us to eat. They left us here…” He motioned to the young man with him. “John and myself.” He stood. “You come to this well to avoid the accusations of the other women. It hurts you. I am sorry for that, Marah.”
Her breath caught in her throat. Her heart thudded. How did he know her name? She was certain she had never met this man. She knew the lecherous glances, scorn, and mocking eyes that passed judgment on her as she walked through the streets of the village. Those lying, hypocritical lips that would form words of vulgar propositions. Pious, pompous, prideful men. She hated them. But this man was not one of the men from the village. This man seemed different. How did he know she had been the object of scorn her whole life, as far back as she could remember?
Marah’s mother’s screams echoed in her head as her earliest memories. She was three years old. Her baby brother, Benjamin, stirred in his sleep, flailed his tiny fists in the air, and started to cry. At first she thought the cries were his, but then she realized the wails came from her mother across the room.
Marah covered her ears, but the shrieks wouldn’t stop. Her mother rushed out the front door into the night—still screaming. Marah rubbed her eyes and peered through the darkness. What looked like a bundle of clothing lay in the middle of her parents’ pallet. No, that wasn’t clothing. It was her papa. Why was he bunched up like that? She crawled over the hard dirt floor and shook his shoulder. “Papa? Papa, wake up.”
But Papa didn’t wake up. He didn’t move. He lay very, very still.
Beautiful, curly brown hair tousled over Phoebe’s head, and dark inquisitive eyes peered at Marah. Her mother had married a distant cousin with two younger boys and a baby girl less than a year old. Obed was a widower whose wife had died birthing Phoebe. What Marah remembered about him was that he yelled at her. He yelled at her brother. He yelled at her mother. He yelled at everybody. Nobody could ever please him. They were always in his way. Dinner was not hot enough or spicy enough. The baby kept him awake. The boys were too noisy. And he would bellow, sending the children scurrying for cover.
Then her mother had died in childbirth, along with the baby, and Obed expected Marah to take care of all the younger ones. She was only ten years old when he went to a neighboring village one day and left her in charge of the children. The baby was fretful, so she carried her around on her hip most of the afternoon.
Phoebe seemed to sense all was not well, and her protestations emerged in continual whimpers. Marah broke the hard crusts of bread that Obed had left and gave pieces to the children for the noon meal. She poured goat’s milk into a bowl to soften the bread, while passing Phoebe back and forth from one arm to another. Every time Marah put her down, she cried and held her arms up. “Ma-a, Ma-a.” She couldn’t say her name correctly, so it came out almost like “Ima.” Mother.
Marah looked down to check on the boys who were playing happily in the dirt beside the stable under the living quarters. The three boys looked like stair steps when they stood shoulder to shoulder—Benjamin, Noah, and Asher, her brother the oldest at seven, the other two five and three. They played together as typical boys did, rough and tumble, even the three-year-old, but at the moment they seemed fascinated by a hole they were digging in the dirt. Asher held a piece of a broken pottery bowl into which Benjamin and Noah spooned the dirt they collected. Then Asher would take it to the corner of the stable where he dumped it into a burgeoning mound. What fascinated them about transferring dirt from one place to another escaped her, but at least they were entertaining themselves.
Marah finally coaxed Phoebe to lie down for a nap by curling up beside her. The next thing she knew, Obed stood over her, blustering as he jerked her up by her arm. “You lazy, good-for-nothing urchin! Sleeping while you were supposed to be watching my children. Where are the boys? Where are they?”
His wine-infused breath assaulted her nostrils as he dragged her to the door. “Where are they?”
“I–I don’t know. They were playing there in the dirt just a moment ago.” Marah ran outside and pointed down to the hole beside the stable. The pile of dirt they were constructing at the corner had grown into a recognizable wall around miniature houses. In spite of the “Obed threat,” she paused to think, How creative. The empty bowl lay on its side, but no boys were in sight.
Obed pulled her back inside, shouting, spraying spittle over her face. “Just a moment ago? How long have you been asleep? You don’t really know, do you?” He raised his hand and brought it across Marah’s face. Pain exploded in her cheek, and her head flew to the side, wrenching her neck. The attack knocked her into the table and chairs behind her. A chair fell onto the pallet where Phoebe sat, rubbing her eyes as she began to fuss.
Obed pulled Marah up by the shoulder of her robe and slapped her again and again until everything turned fuzzy—and then black. When she roused from the beating, Phoebe was climbing over her, howling. Obed staggered outside and down the stairway, roaring for his sons.
She breathed a sigh of relief when she heard the sound of their feet hitting the dry, packed earth as they came running from behind the house. She picked Phoebe up, stepped out the door, and looked down. The boys came to a halt at the corner of the house, dust flying. They carried branches of a nearby palm tree in their arms. Their eyes widened as they stopped and stared at Obed. Asher dropped his little stack of palm fronds, and his chin started to quiver. He ducked behind Benjamin.
“Where were you? Where have you been?” Obed lurched down the steps waving his arms.
Benjamin stuck out his chest and stepped forward. “We–we, uh—we were building a fortress and needed some…”
Obed interrupted the boy with a slap to his shoulder that knocked him to the ground. He swung at Noah, but the agile child bobbed aside and avoided the blow, which threw Obed off-balance. The veins in the man’s neck bulged, and his face grew purple with rage.
Benjamin scrambled to his feet and stepped in between his stepfather and the two younger brothers. “Run! Run to Lois’s.”
Noah and Asher dropped their branches and ran out of harm’s way toward the neighbor’s house. Asher stopped and looked back as Obed began to beat Benjamin with one of the branches that had fallen to the ground. Marah ran into the house and huddled in the corner with Phoebe until Benjamin’s cries ceased. All was quiet except for the boy’s sniffling as he came inside. Marah reached out her arms, and he crumpled into them, all three of them trembling and sniveling.
“I’m sorry, Benjamin. This is my fault.” Marah wiped the dirt streaked with sweat from his face and his bloody nose with the corner of her robe. “I fell asleep with Phoebe. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s not your fault.” This brave seven-year-old, far more mature than his years, tried to comfort her. A seven-year-old and a ten-year old attempting to protect each other. It wasn’t right. Even in her childish reasoning, she knew it wasn’t right.