The Gift (Day Fourteen)

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.

Who, Alana wonders, are her enemies? She can often see them clearly in her mind’s eye: those whose faces and voices she recirculates in her head, mouths sneering, hearts laughing, words condemning who she is and what she has achieved.

The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.

She looks, almost instinctively, down at her hands, at the chewed ends of her nails, then looks back up at the girl who stands at the front, reading the Bible to the congregation. The girl’s enunciation is perfect, her voice strong and growing stronger. Alana wonders if she too could speak strongly like that.

The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.

A festival, she thinks, a real festival – when people rejoice instead of arguing. When they rejoice together. What, she wonders, would it look like for God to rejoice over her with gladness? She cannot quite picture it, but the thought of it makes her warm for a moment.

There are other thoughts, too, playing in her mind: the vague sense of hope that has started to build up in her this week; the feeling that perhaps her prayers are being answered; the faint indicators in her body that make her hope more; the fear that it may not be true; the fear that she should not, cannot, tell Peter, at least not now…

The warmth of the moment before has turned faintly, imperceptibly, to a kind of clamminess. She sits and does her best to listen, not think.

I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.

Briefly, Alana’s mind flits to an image of her sister and her mother. She pushes it out the instant she recognises it, but there it was, quick but undeniable. She glances down again at her hands.

And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.

Once, at Christmas, she was playing with her niece. They were playing Connect Four and Annabelle, as always, was winning the game in the most complex of ways, bamboozling Alana with rules that she was quite confident never existed. When, finally, Alana managed to win a game, Annabelle had started to display one of her more impressive sulking fits, so Alana started tickling her to distract her from the sulk. And at first it had worked; Annabelle, despite calling out for her to stop, laughed gleefully and writhed around on the ground beside the coffee table until, with one particularly swift jerk of her head, her forehead collided with the table leg and, within moments, her laughter had been replaced by tears and the slow seeping of blood down her brow. As Sarah had wiped her daughter’s face and held an icepack to her forehead, she had looked at Alana and said, “Honestly, Lani, I thought I could leave her with you for at least a few minutes.” And then she had looked back at Annabelle and said, “Does it still hurt, darling?” And Alana had left the room and sat alone until Peter had found her and tried his best to say that Sarah had not meant it the way it had sounded. When Alana had finally found the courage to go back, her mother had found her and said, “Sarah’s really upset, Lani. You need to talk to her.” And somehow it had all just kept spiralling and spiralling, seemingly beyond all remedy. She can scarcely remember now how it had ever been resolved, and feels sick now at the thought of it. She tries not to think about it, turning her eyes again to the Bible reading girl.

At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the LORD.

As the reading finishes, Alana notices that the warmth and the clamminess have both dissipated, but somehow the words cling to, a little awkwardly but inescapably. The Bible reader takes her seat; Alana’s eyes remain locked in middle distance, focused seemingly on something that she cannot see.

Go to Day Fifteen

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