“That,” says Bathsheba, “was a private moment. It belongs to me, and to no one else.”
“And to me, too,” say I. “I mean, how could I possibly resist you?”
She mutters, once more,“Men!”
“Women,” say I. “Why don’t you understand your own power?”
“Power?” she repeats. “What power?”
“I mean, the way your beauty affects us. It’s too much, even for someone like me. So don’t blame me if I’m forced to take a peek.”
“Look all you want,” she says. “Just know this: there’s more to me than meets the eye.”
“I know it.”
“In the future,” she says, “a million eyes will continue to explore me, through the eyes of those artists. Not that I mind, really.”
“But I do!”
“Here is what irks me,” she says. “There’s more, much more to who I am than beauty alone.”
At this point I utter a sigh, and in spite of myself the sigh deepens, because all of a sudden, regret is catching up to me.
“I so wish,” say I, “that my scribe, Nathan, would leave both of us alone.”
“Why,” she hesitates to ask, “is there something you want to tell me?”
I shake my head. “No, no. Not really. And you?”
“No,” she says, lowering her eyes. “Nothing at all.”
I sit down beside her, and brush a strand of hair from her damp forehead. Only now—by her pale face and the dark circles under her eyes—do I realize how exhausted she must be.
“Perhaps,” I say, thinking aloud, “I should be going.”
Pointing at the crib by her side, “Help me now,” says Bathsheba. “Give me the child.”
And so, leaning over the crib, I take a look at him. His face is perfect, angelic. A single ray of sun cuts across his ashen cheek, leaving his eyes in the shadows. Along its diagonal way, it touches the tips of his delicate, nearly transparent fingers. I lift the baby into a kiss.
Then, very gently, I place him into her embrace. Standing back I watch the two of them, mother and child.
She bares her breast and brings him in, tilting herself into his little mouth, but the baby is too sleepy, it seems, to suck her milk.
I get up, and walk away to the sound of her voice singing a melodious lullaby, at the end of which it trails off, ever so tenderly, into sadness.