Abra Was There
He slept peacefully. As she looked down at him, Judith could still feel where his hands had touched her, could still feel the places where he entered her body with his, could still feel his slaps, could still feel his kisses, could still feel the cold anger that had coiled around her heart.
"Judith, hold still," said Abra as she pulled a brush through the younger woman's thick red hair. Judith laughed, "My hair is fine." She took the shawl Abra held out and threw it around her shoulders. "Let's go," Judith said to her maid as she slipped through the tent opening.
They walked through the small settlement. "Good Shabbos," they heard from people preparing food over the communal fire lit the day before. Judith and Abra returned the greetings but never stopped as they walked onto a rutted dirt road.
Walking up the slight incline, Abra fell behind. She felt the unyielding surface of the road in the ache beginning in her knee that would eventually reach her hip. Approaching the Assyrian camp, the road turned to mud from the hooves of animals that had churned it up with their urine and excrement.
Two guards, smirking, stepped up to them. "We have no more need of Jewish whores." The two men laughed.
Judith smiled, "I have information for General Holofernes." The guard who had remained silent whispered something into the other man's ear.
Sticking two fingers in his mouth and blowing a harsh whistle, a boy of indeterminate age came running, stopping and lowering his head.
"Take our guests to the General's tent." The boy glanced back at Judith and Abra and stepped into rows of tents with fires at set intervals on each side of the path to larger tents. The boy pointed to one.
Judith opened the flap, forcing a smile on her face. Abra stood behind her, and the two women stepped in. The brightly lit tent contained several dozen people. A cluster of them sat on cushions around a low table piled high with food, servants of both sexes standing ready. Off into the corner, several men were murmuring. One settled his eyes on Judith immediately.
Still watching her, he got up and approached her. "You are?" he asked.
Judith smiled. "I am Judith; I have information."
"I am Holofernes; I would hear what you say." He touched her arm and led her back to the corner of the tent.
"Please sit," he said as he directed her to a low stool and took the one across from her. Abra remained standing at Judith's side. He held his cup out, and a servant came to fill it. "What information?"
Judith leaned forward. "They have strayed. I want their loss to your army to make them pay for their disbelief."
Holofernes finished his drink and held out his cup. As a servant was refilling it, he looked at Abra. She looked down at the rich carpet under her feet. Her knee hurt and she could feel the sharp pain in her hip.
Drinking deeply, he looked over at Judith. "You are a woman of faith. Faith should come before all else. But surely your god could kill them if they defied or displeased him."
Judith stood up. "Well then, it would seem you are not interested in what I could tell you."
Holofernes stood up as well. "How many men are trained to use a short blade?" he said to her retreating figure.
"All have the training, but there are only twenty of those weapons." Judith kept walking out of the tent, with Abra close behind.
Two days later, the boy who had shown them Holofernes' tent found Abra as she was collecting firewood. Abra tried to talk to him, but either he did not understand her or was mute. The two of them brought the firewood over to the communal fires, and he followed Abra back to Judith's tent. Wordlessly, the two women followed the boy up the hill. He left them at the tent, and Judith and Abra stepped inside.
Holofernes was alone with one servant. He got up from the floor cushion when he saw them, staggering somewhat. He approached, looking only at Judith. Holofernes came forward and touched her arm. He reeked of wine and something sour. "I have been told by Nebuchadnezzar that you will be of value; the information was unknown to his spies. But you and I also have other business."
Judith and Abra exchanged glances. "Of course. May I have some wine?" Holofernes motioned with his hand, and the slave came forward with a cup for Judith. He drained it in one gulp and held out his cup for more. Before it could be refilled again, he grabbed Judith by the arm and threw her onto his bed.
The cold anger in her heart drew her to the cold steel of the short blade Abra had concealed in her skirts. Judith took it and sliced Holofernes' head from his body. His eyes opened in alarm, but no sound came from his mouth. Placing the head in a small sack that Abra had concealed as well, the two women walked out of the tent.
A young girl walks to the well on a sunny day gifted with capricious breezes. The bucket swings as she skips to a song only she can hear. He jumps up from behind low shrubs and grabs her, one rough and heavy hand over her mouth and the other pulling her slim body towards his. His breath reeks of wine and something sour as he laughs and throws her unto the earth, smashing and twisting her knee and bruising her hip. He kept his hand over her mouth as he used her roughly, over and over, until he fell asleep. With no more tears and unable to find words, the girl pushed him off. She stumbled and landed close to his rough campsite. Next to some cooking implements, she saw a knife gleaming in the sun. She touched it, wondering if the blade was sharp enough.
Rina Palumbo (she/her) came to writing after a career in college teaching and has published work in Survivor Lit, Beach Reads, and local magazines and journals. She is currently working on a novel and has two other long-form works in progress while continuing to write short-form fiction, creative non-fiction, and prose poetry.
The Ekphrastic Review
Join us on Facebook: