George A. Blair
Copyright © 2008
George A. Blair
4049 Victory Parkway
Cincinnati Ohio 45229
Some might wonder about Thomas's distilling wine by putting it in a sheep's bladder and heating it. The marvel of the Internet revealed to me that if wine is put in an animal bladder and heated, the heating leaches out the water, leaving a distilled liquid (brandy in this case). I simply decided to have Thomas discover this accidentally by putting his bladder of wine next to a fire.
Of course, there is absolutely no historical evidence for this, nor is there any evidence that Thomas was an alcoholic, still less that he accidentally killed his twin. A novelist has to have something that creates complications, and a historical novelist keeps himself "true to the facts" by inventing things that may in all probability not have happened, but could have happened. (I will separate out fact from fiction in some detail in the epilogue.)
If this repels you when it is applied to Apostles, then I recommend that you not read this book--or any of the others in this series, for that matter. The truth of this book is the truth of fiction: truth about human nature that one gleans from living another life vicariously. And the truth here is the truth of, as Jesus said at the Last Supper, "you will have agony in the world, but do not be afraid; I have won the battle with the world." Each of us, I believe, who wishes to follow Jesus closely, has to struggle to cope with Jesus and what he claimed (and proved himself) to be.
If you have problems of faith, take some comfort in the fact that the Apostles--who clearly made it to the Promised Land--probably, and in some cases certainly, had equal or worse struggles, as well as the occasional failure along the way. For that matter, even Jesus himself could not carry his own cross all the way to Golgotha, and even with Simon carrying it behind him, he fell, according to tradition, three times, and according to a forensic examination of the Shroud of Turin, many times more often than that..
It tasted sharp, almost stung, but sweet at the same time. And then when he swallowed it, it felt warm at the back of his tongue, and then he could feel the warmth go slowly down his throat all the way to his stomach. It tingled. And then, as he continued to drink, his whole body began to grow warm, and the world seemed to glow. He moved his warm hands, put them in front of him. They looked the same, but they were new. He was new. There was a quiet flame inside him.
He laughed, but silently, because he knew that he was doing something he should not, and he did not wish anyone to discover him, least of all Samuel.
He turned around, and the whole room seemed to spin in the other direction. He laughed again, louder this time, but now he did not care, because everything felt so glorious. No wonder his father enjoyed this! He sat down on the dirt of the floor, and it rose up to meet him, and he dropped the wineskin. It did not matter, though wine was spilling out onto the floor.
He wanted more. He picked up the skin and tried to wrap his lips once more over the small opening, but he could not find it with his mouth at first, and wine spilled all over his face. He laughed again at the sticky sweet liquid that covered him outside and inside now, feeding the flame within him.
"Eema! Eema! Thomas is into Abba's wine! Eema!" his twin Samuel shouted from an enormous distance behind him. He heard him running for their mother. He stood and tried to follow to come to his own defense, but found he could not control his legs very well; but it did not matter. He staggered after Samuel.
--And his mother, stricken with horror, saw him totter into the room with a drunken grin on his face, take one look at her, burst into laughter, and collapse on the floor, unconscious.
It was shortly after noon when this happened. Nothing his mother or father could do could wake him up; but he was still breathing, thank the Master. His father picked up the eight-year-old body, totally limp and relaxed, and laid him on his bed, where his mother undressed him and watched anxiously the rest of that day and the whole of the night.
"Is he ill?" Samuel asked, terrified at what he had seen.
"Not really ill," his father said gently, and Samuel, who was looking at Thomas, did not see him mouth "we hope" under his breath. He knew that the wineskin was half empty, but he could not tell how much Thomas had drunk, and how much he had spilled; there was wine all over the floor and over his face and his clothes. "He drank pure wine."
"But I drink wine when we eat."
"The wine you and Thomas drink, Samuel, is mostly water. No one, not even grownups, drinks wine without mixing it with some water. Only drunks drink pure wine."
"Then is Thomas a drunk?"
"No, child, no. He did not know what he was doing. But you can see that it is bad for a person to drink too much wine, especially if he is a little boy. One cannot think, one cannot move properly--you saw him trying to walk--one cannot talk, and then one goes to sleep."
"Is that all?" Samuel said, thinking of how Thomas had laughed with that silly grin on his face, and almost envying him.
"By no means!" answered his father. "When he wakes, he will have a headache like none you can imagine, and he will be sick to his stomach, and all sorts of terrible things."
Samuel was frightened again. "But will he get better? Will he be able to play with me?"
"Probably not for a day or perhaps even two, but he will get better," said his father with his large hand on Samuel's small shoulder. "But let this be a lesson to you. My wineskins are not toys for little boys to play with."
"Will you be angry with him and punish him?" asked Samuel.
"I will speak to him, but I suspect the wine will have given him quite enough punishment. You will see. He will not be apt to try that again. No go out and play, and do not be worrying."
Samuel left, relieved and secretly glad that his twin was going to be punished for his sin, but quickly found a companion and forgot all about him until he came in again and saw the empty place on the dining-couch beside the table, as he lay down and ate with only his father, and afterwards tiptoed into the bedroom and crawled into his bed, looking over at Thomas, still sleeping with his mother beside him.
It did require two days, days that Thomas did not remember, very well, as he did not remember the day of the drinking after the first few moments when the warmth ran down into his stomach.
When he woke and came back to life on the third day, his father took him aside. He was terrified that he would receive some harsh punishment, but instead his father spoke in a solemn, and only fairly stern, voice. "I see you have finally come to yourself, Thomas," he said. Thomas nodded.
"When we tell you not to do things, it is not because we do not love you, but because we do love you, and we know that certain things can hurt you very much. You suffered greatly yesterday and the day before, did you not?"
Thomas nodded again, sheepishly. Truth to say, he had only an abstract notion that the past two days were beyond misery, but he could not for the life of him recreate them in his mind.
"Wine does that to people, even to grownups, if it is not mixed with water. Your drink at meals has very little wine in it, because little boys' bodies can only tolerate a very little wine; it is poison for them. And you were poisoned. We were afraid that you might die."
Thomas's eyes widened. Had he really come close to killing himself? His father let the thought sink in for a few moments.
"But it only made you very sick for a couple of days. You were lucky. But you might not be so lucky another time. Tell me that you will not let this happen to you again."
"I will not, Abba," said Thomas, and as he said it, the memory of the wine warming his throat and stomach and spreading to his body came back to him, and he thought, "I will take more care when--if--I do it again."
"Then I think you have been punished enough. Go out now. Samuel is waiting for you."
Samuel, of course, twitted him about how stupid he had looked and how miserable he had been, and wanted him to come out immediately and play at Maccabees and Romans (with him the Roman), while he was still unsure of where the ground was under his feet.
This was the point, he realized later, at which his annoyance with this other version of himself began. Samuel was too close, and thought too much like Thomas, and it occurred to Thomas for the first time that he was himself, not half of a pair. He had experienced something for the first time on his own, and possessed sensations and memories that Samuel had no part of: sensations and memories that were his and that defined him as someone distinct in this world.
He had never even considered this before, not surprisingly. Ever since he had been conscious, it had been himself and Samuel, with his parents sometimes and others most times unable to tell which one was which. Even he--even he--had more or less melted into that duality of which he was an exemplar and in another sense merely a part. He had been both of them, somehow (when his brother was not there), and only half of of them (when he was). It wasn't that he deferred to Samuel or that Samuel deferred to him; they didn't have to; each knew what was going on in the other's head, and they adapted to it, as one's breathing and heartbeat adapted to the fact that one had been running.
But on that day, it annoyed him that Samuel did not even bother to ask him if he wanted to play Maccabees and Romans, or whether he wanted to be a Roman. He said nothing and went along with Samuel, as he always did (and to be fair, as Samuel always did when something occurred to Thomas), and as he played, his body gradually transformed itself from the jelly it had become to the Thomas it had been three days before.
But not his mind. Not his self. His self lay inside his head like a chick that had just cracked its shell and crawled out, lying wet and exhausted beside it, waiting for the sun to dry it off. Half of him was playing with Samuel, and the other half was in the process of being born, looking around at this new world, wondering what it was really like. The new half saw the old half, which was half of the Thomas-Samuel pair, and realized that the new half was the real whole; the two of them, somehow, were less than Thomas himself as an individual in his own right.
Samuel was just a copy of himself, that was all--and not even a perfect copy any longer, since Thomas now knew things that Samuel had not found out, and, given his remarks about Thomas's late condition, was unlikely ever to find out. Samuel, at least, had learned the lesson from Thomas's folly.
But had Thomas? He had learned a lesson, and it seemed a great one. But what lesson?
For the sensation was there, pleading to be repeated, and experienced once again. True, what his father said came back to him also, how the experience led to sickness and misery. And there was misery, he vaguely recalled, but he could not remember it exactly, he could not experience it in the way he relived the warmth spreading through is body and the euphoria where everything provoked laughter, and the more he thought about that sensation, the more vivid it became, and the more it overbalanced the increasingly vague idea of the of the misery it caused. One could be careful. His father was careful, and nothing happened to him, and so was his mother. And if a little boy was very careful, he could probably have the feeling come back without the misery. But how could one know? Only by trying, of course.
But by trying carefully. Clearly, not making a spectacle of oneself, and not getting so drunk that one could not see clearly or talk or walk.
--And then there was the problem of finding the wine, with no one discovering what one was doing. And that created another resentment against Samuel; they were "not only" and "but also"; you never found one without the other. He would have to find some way to be "only."
It came to him soon, as it happened. During the days he had been incapacitated, Samuel had found a new friend, who left him a present that he was unaware of for a few days. But then he began to run a high fever and cough. His mother, who was waiting for the first sign, since she had heard from her neighbor that their son had also had a fever and cough and now had spots appearing all over his face, immediately whisked Samuel away and put him to bed, keeping everyone out of his room.
"Samuel is ill; very ill," she said to a worried Thomas, "though we hope he will recover. But it will take time. You must not go near him, because the disease may spread. I cannot get it, for I had it when I was a few years older than you. You can see that one does recover, but he will suffer for some time."
Thomas could hear the worry in her voice, however, and was not fooled. Diseases that caused fever were often fatal. He quietly left the house and played by himself that day, solemnly worrying, but saying nothing of his fears. His fear was the greater, because he had had thoughts about wanting to be rid of Samuel, and he wondered whether his desire had brought about what he thought he had wished. He told the Master (about whom he had only the most tenuous of ideas) that he did not really mean it, and begged for Samuel to be returned safe.
Of course, that immediately awakened the problem that Samuel's constant presence raised for his own self-gratification; but as soon as this entered his head, he shoved it aside and pleaded more fervently for Samuel, in terror that his surreptitious desire could cause his death. Young children, who have recently learned about causality, are very prone to believe that merely thinking can bring about results, since this is how they make their bodies move. It takes a good while to learn that with respect to things outside themselves, it is external causes that have effects, not intentions of the will, still less half-conscious desires.
That night, feeling very strange and lonely, he went to bed in the storage room, where his mother had placed his bed because there was no room anywhere else. He wondered as he lay down to sleep whether Samuel had also felt so isolated and desolate during the time he had been drunk.
By the second day, however, it began to occur to him that his golden opportunity had arrived. No one was paying attention to him; his father, as usual, was gone all day, fishing, and his mother was busy with Samuel, and also was afraid to go near either him or his father (who had not had the disease previously), lest somehow she carry the infection with her. She told him to keep himself outside, and even was not present during their meals, leaving the food on the table for them and only entering to clear up after they had left.
At any rate, Thomas had plenty of time to think, and soon realized that it was anything but prudent to try to take some of his father's wine. He noticed that his father now kept it well out of his reach for one thing, and Thomas was astute enough to be aware that he would keep track of what he had, lest Thomas help himself to some of it.
But he had, for practical purposes, free run of the neighbors' houses, and it was easy enough, he found, when the women happened to be at the well for the day's water, to slip inside an empty dwelling (they were all unlocked--why would anyone lock them?) and go into the cool cave or room at the back where they kept the wineskins.
After a couple of experiments with this, taking nothing, concocting some such excuse as "I merely wanted to see what was here, whether it was like ours" in case he was caught, he entered one house, his heart beating as if it would burst, and lifted a small skin from the pile at the back, and dashed out like a madman, clutching his plunder.
He was sure someone had seen him, but no one pursued.
How to hide it? Where? Why had he not thought of this before he took it? He ran into the woods behind his house, out of sight of anyone, and looked around until he found a tree with a hollow, rotten trunk. He dropped the wineskin into the hole, and covered it up with leaves, and then walked away, looking around like the thief he was, certain that everyone who came near would see it, and would know who had hidden it, and would come and thrash him. He did not dare to sample the wine; he was too afraid of the enormity of his crime, and too convinced that he would be found out.
That afternoon lasted years. Thomas tried playing by himself, as he had done for two days, but he could do little more than draw meaningless figures and lines in the dirt with a stick.
His mother emerged, and at once his face flamed. She took one look at him and laid her hand on his forehead. "Your face is red," she said, "but it does not seem as if you have a fever, at least as yet. Have you a cough?"
"No, Eema," he answered. "I do not feel ill."
"Still, your face is red."
"Perhaps I--perhaps I have been in the sun too long."
"I suppose that could be it. I hope it is. Your brother is over the worst, and I would hate to see you come down with it now. Stay in the shade."
"Oh, I hope I do not, Eema."
"Well, we will have to wait and pray. Samuel still has some days to go before he recovers; his face is now covered with red spots."
"Spots? Will they go away?"
"Oh, yes. Once they appear, it means that the gravest danger has passed. But they are very itchy, and he wishes to scratch them, and I have had to tie his hands, because the spots may become infected if one scratches them--and that could be serious."
"Is that why he was crying just now?"
"Yes. You see why I do not want you near him. It looks as if you may escape, if you keep away from him. And from me. I had best leave you now. Remember, stay out of the sun." And she went back inside, Thomas staring after her with fear and longing.
And then relief. She had not suspected anything except that he might be coming down with the disease himself, when the only symptoms he had were those of overwhelming guilt. But his success gave him a certain confidence during the evening meal, when he had to face his father, who also noticed how red his face was, and who in his turn felt his forehead. He gave the same excuse that he had been overlong in the sun, and that seemed to satisfy him.
They ate, for the most part, in silence, as they had grown accustomed to doing these last few days. His father was a man of few words at the best of times, generally only responding to promptings from his mother about how the day went as she recounted the events in the house and the neighborhood, and he found that he had very little but meaningless phrases of comfort to offer Thomas at the moment.
But this was fine with Thomas, since it relieved him of the danger of tripping himself up with his tongue, something he was too apt to do.Next