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Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Cave's Mouth

This short story by E. Eastman is published here for the first time with kind permission of the author.

David's temper drove him outside. They were sleeping in another cave and he half ran down from the mouth into the scrubby grassland and let a pounding walk take him in a wide circuit around the perimeter they had established. In front of his men he should be flawless, and this irritability was almost womanish. That was his fear, that they would see the effect Jonathan had on him and think that he was a woman.

In his mind he could see the moment when all of their victories and battles and travels together would become meaningless because of this one weakness that he couldn't suppress, when his men would chose a new leader or go back to Saul and expose him, or leave him bound in one of these caves for the scavengers to pick over with the rest of the refuse. His mind could supply dozens of scenarios and did, the biting details were a jumble of images that flooded his mind's eye.

He stopped on a rise out of the line of sight of the sentries and drew deep breaths of the cold night air. He wanted his harp tonight but he was as ashamed to face his God as his men so perhaps the harp wouldn't sooth him either. With a wry quirk of his lips he remembered some of the words and melodies that had poured out of him so easily in those old days 'I lift my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord.'

Ah innocence! It had been so easy then to lift his soul in praise with nothing in his mind or experience to taint the joy of thinking about the oath keeper, nation maker God. The God who would strengthen the arm and sharpen the aim of a shepherd boy so that a righteous man's flock would increase instead of being lost to beasts. Innocence had brought its reward hadn't it, when that pure trust and guileless faith had led him to victory over the giant Goliath in the face of an army's disbelief.

'My help comes from the Lord' he whispered. It was true, he knew, it was true in every fibre of his body. But where was the help that he needed now? The same body that knew the favour of God was as certain as the dawn was alive with a desire that burnt in his stomach like the hot white heart of a fire.

'David?' Samuel, one of the oldest men in his band of outcasts, had followed him here. David opened his mouth to order the man back to the cave, angry that the peace he had almost captured was being snatched away. Their eyes met and the order died before he spoke it. Samuel squatted next to him, tracing patterns in the dirt with a stick. 'Is it Jonathan?' David sighed and squatted down too, wishing the ground wasn't too cold to sit on.


'Why are you running away from him?'

He saw vivid mental images of bright brown eyes and had a fresh sense of the physical vitality that so defined Jonathan. Thank the merciful God for dusk, it hid his blushes.

'It's not – seemly. What I feel for him isn't seemly.'

'No?' Samuel's face was averted.

'No! You – we travel and fight together all of us. I lead you and if I went to him here what would that make me? How could you follow someone who is weak enough to be moved by every urge that he feels in that way?' Samuel laughed.

'David a blind man could tell that this isn't 'every urge', the two of you are more than brothers.'

David snorted, thinking of his brothers, seven men who he could not have less in common with.

'You are joined together more than any two men I have ever seen. When you are together each of you knows where the other is all of the time. You speak to each other without words. There's no shame in going to him and none of us would think less of you for it.' David could feel tears prickle his eyes and nose. He gritted his teeth against them.

'But -' Samuel wasn't finished.

'Young men sometimes love each other David. We all know it. In youth and in friendship we go to each other. As an important man you'll have wives and children one day, that is what we do as we age, but they will be an addition to what you and Jonathan share, they will never replace him. Take this chance if it is what you want.'

They waited in companionable silence until night fell and walked back to the cave together. When the firelight became visible David couldn't contain his joy any more, laughing as he sped up the last bit of hill towards Jonathan's silhouette in the cave mouth.

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