by Amber Burke
The mother-of-the-bride had it up to here. “Everyone thinks I’m holding out on them. The girls are always coming over, asking me for more of ‘that Jesus juice.’ Not that I blame them. I know it was good.” She sighed. “No wine has tasted right since. I’ve been shelling out for the expensive stuff, ch-ching, and it’s all been disappointing. As has my daughter’s marriage. Should have known. The groom taking credit for saving the good stuff for last. As if he’d bought good stuff in the first place! Too cheap for a full bar, you know, just wine, and not enough of it. It was clear then he wasn’t going be a husband for the recordbooks. No job still. He’s a loafer: thinks opportunity is going to hit him upside the head.”
The formerly-blind man also had a gripe. He had been overjoyed when he wiped the mud from his eyes and the world was suddenly clear, maybe just a little muddy-looking, and amused by his own raccoon-like reflection in the mirror, but then everyone told him that he must have been making too much of things before. “They say I couldn’t have been that blind. Some of them even say my blindness was a metaphor, and sometimes I think it was,” said the man who was blind but now could see. It’s true his spirits had once been as poor as his vision, and that some compassion in him had been awakened since his miracle; he didn’t mind at all, for instance, when he was interrupted by the formerly-paralyzed man’s late arrival.
The formerly-paralyzed man did not look good. He walked into the church basement leaning on a crutch, his face bruised and stitched, and lowered himself with great difficulty into the waiting folding chair in the circle. Apparently, he’d been beaten the night before in an alley by some of the very men who had put coins in his begging bowl for years. “They thought I’d been faking the whole thing. I tried to explain, but they weren’t having any of it.” He grew quiet. “I started to wonder if I’d been fooling myself. Did I really try to put weight on my bad leg before?”
He was glad his two friends weren’t here to hear him doubt the thoroughness of his previous paralysis; they had gone to the great trouble of sawing a hole in a neighbor’s ceiling through which they’d lowered him in front of those who’d been waiting more patiently for their turns to be healed. What stuck in his memory—even more than his healing, which had been quick and felt like nothing—was the excitement of his teetering descent on the stretcher. He still felt deep appreciation for the effort of his loyal friends, but since then, one of them had been calling him almost every weekend to help him fix something at his house or carry something heavy, and the other always wanted him to come to the gym. He had not dared to broach to either of them the subject of the large bill he’d received for the damaged roof.
Lazarus had his own problems. When he first came back from the dead, he’d been greeted with shouts and embraces despite his bedraggled raiments. Acquaintances besieged him when he walked down the street, and he told his story again and again--nothing, nothing, darkness, then bam, he was back. After a day or two of this, his mother told him he stank of piss and the grave and really must wash. He did, and put on his best button-down, which still chafed his underarms and drooped at the elbows. He looked and felt just the same as he used to, and people treated him the same: before long his mother was telling him to pour his own coffee, and soon no one clapped him on the back when he walked down the street, and when he tried to announce his resurrection on the corners of busy intersections, no one stopped to listen; in general, no one gave him a second glance, except his girlfriend, whose look was wary. She recoiled from the touch of his reanimated hand, and, at dinner watched him disapprovingly. “You still talk with your mouth full of food,” she said, furrowing her brow. “And you still have that rotten tooth.”
There were sympathetic yawns; everyone had heard all this before.
“I do feel, Laz, that you started this support group just so you could go on and on,” said Mary, the mother of the miracle-worker.
“He was always like that,” muttered the other Mary, whom many habitually confused with the first.
The Mary who was mother of the miracle-worker was, of everyone, the most critical of the miracle business. Her litany of complaints, which she reissued, began with her miraculous pregnancy--she wasn’t sure why her womb had been needed at all when a miracle could presumably have put in her arms a fully-formed baby, or, better yet, a fully-grown man who was not always so exhausted from performing miracles to do even the simplest of chores around the house--and ended with the crucifixion darkness. Since when was her son in the business of doing miracles for the electric company? “But did anyone ask me what I thought? Of course not.” She shook her head and pursed her lips.
The other Mary chimed in with her two cents about the stone that had been pushed away from the tomb. “He can come back to life, but not go through a stone? Please.”
“We’re sure that was him, though?” asked the formerly blind man, who hadn’t gotten a good look.
“We saw him. And Tom stuck his hands in the wound in his side,” said the other Mary.
“But why did he still have the wound in his side?” asked Lazarus, hoping the answer could shed some light on his still-rotten tooth, which was bothering him.
“I suppose for Tom to stick his finger into,” the formerly paralyzed man joked with a weak laugh that hurt his broken rib.
“He’s not here this week? Tom?” asked the mother-of-the-bride. She thought Tom would have been a better match for her daughter than the one her daughter had made.
“Tom doesn’t come anymore,” said Lazarus, who was getting gray hairs from this group and beginning to understand where Tom was coming from. “He started to doubt this group was helpful.”
A leper, too, was missing. Many of his friends were lepers; he had spent time with them after his healing, and, to his enormous surprise, he had come down with leprosy again, and so abdicated from the support group out of concern for general safety, though he would have liked to have been there. He was disappointed and angry, feeling that his miracle had been mishandled, its details poorly explained. There were others whose attendance had dropped off because of reinfections, and several resurrections who had been on the more venerable side when revived and had died again.
Nonetheless, the support group remained popular; there were throngs outside, trying to get in. (Many of these had come because they had been excluded from miracles, so there was some irony in their exclusion from the support group.) Since the miracles they had not received, despite having queued up and waited long hours, sometimes overnight, jealousy and injustice had plagued them much as their deformities and diseases still did. Perhaps they were not sufficiently deserving, or their boils and bunions, baldness and demons, incontinence and rents insufficiently tragic, but they had friends who had done everything right and been mowed down walking in crosswalks, and these friends had not been resurrected, not even for a minute. Furthermore, they personally knew someone who always cheated at cards who had gotten his tennis elbow cured, and it didn’t seem right that the gout of a certain great-uncle had been obliterated when he could have made a big difference in his own situation by eating more sensibly. In short, they didn’t understand why the people chosen for miracles had been chosen; they didn’t detect a pattern that favored the neediest, the oldest, the youngest, or the most pious, though they did mark this bias: where was a woman whose monthly pains had eased? The mother who gave birth as easily as a tree dropped a ripe apple?
One enterprising girl, who did not like being seen as unfavored by the miraculous, did something about it. Driven to dishonesty by the miracles, she stood on a streetcorner—near the church where the support group met-- and proclaimed the miracle of the butter that had appeared in her fridge when she most needed it, the champagne that gave no one a headache, the beans that did not cause flatulence, the cat who had remained a kitten, the pear that had stayed in a state of perfect ripeness for more than a week, the sheep who had given birth to a sheepdog out of necessity, and the piano that dusted itself. Though these miracles were more miraculous than any of those more widely noted, or perhaps because of this, only the fools in town believed her.
Most people paid no attention to her or to any of it. They remembered being elevated by their experience of, or proximity to, the miracles, but they were no longer elevated. They remembered themselves crying but could not understand now why they had cried. It was as if they’d been wracked by a fever that had now passed. Some noticed their complacency and thought it spoke of some unalterable limitation in their souls, while others determined the problem to be in the potency of the miracles themselves, which had been insufficient to inspire continued reverence. Some contented themselves with the sureness that man was not made to stand in awe for more than a minute or two; someone frozen by wonder was in danger of being run over from sheer carelessness.
Good riddance, others thought. They’d been irritated by the inconsideration of the so-called miracles: the stilling of the storm, for instance: one woman had gone out of town without asking anyone to water her vegetable garden, since rain was in the forecast; she came back: miraculously, there hadn’t been a drop of rain for two weeks, and everything was dead, even the radishes. There were fishermen who had caught no fish on the day one net was shown favoritism and filled to excess. The commotion over this healing or that woke legions of napping babies and old men; the latter were glad the time of miracles had passed and that recollections of it were dimming.
Among the unimpressed was a girl who had been served a lunch of miraculously-multiplied loaves and fishes. The fish had been cold and bony, the bread plain and dry, but the meal had been filling enough, and it seemed to her that, after all the fuss, she should be satisfied for at least a month, or a week, or even a full day, but she was hungry again by dinner. She soon forgot about the miracle, which was a long time ago, and not very miraculous, as she saw it.
Many did not even know that any miracles had taken place at all; they had been too far from the action to know where the loaves and fishes came from, too drunk at the wedding to notice the good wine. But had they known, it wouldn’t have made a much of difference.
Amber Burke is a lapsed Catholic and Yale graduate. She attended the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars and now teaches writing at the University of New Mexico in Taos. Her creative work has been published in magazines and literary journals including The Sun, Michigan Quarterly Review, Raleigh Review, Superstition Review, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Quarterly West, and Flyway Journal, as well as humor sites like Belladonna Comedy and Points in Case. She’s also a regular contributor to Yoga International, which has published over 100 of her articles, and the ebook she co-authored, Yoga for Common Conditions. Once, she got a nice rejection from The New Yorker.