“The Queen knows me all too well,” I growl. “It’s her I need.”
He holds himself back from repeating, Bathsheba is asleep. And I go on to groan, “She knows she should be here.”
“In her place, here’s the girl. Your wife told me to bring her.”
“I’m too cold for that—”
“The girl knows it,” says he, “and she knows her duty. I made sure of it.”
“What’s her name?”
“Abishag. She’s sure to keep you warm.”
With that he sets the candle down on the bedside table, and gives me a sly look under those hairy eyebrows of his, which seem to have thickened even more with age. Then he leaves the chamber, not before breathing in my ear in his coarse, scratchy voice, “Listen, why are you being so difficult?”
“I went to plenty of trouble to find this one. Virgins aren’t easy to come by anymore.”
I am just about to say, They never were—but Joav has already disappeared. So there I am, left standing opposite the girl, and finding myself drawn towards her, perhaps because of the fresh fragrance of soil and fruit emanating from her skin. For the first time I take a close look at her.
This is awkward. I take a step towards her, and can almost guess her thoughts. These words may be on her mind, “Don’t stare at me because I am dark, because I am darkened by the sun… My mother’s sons were angry with me, and made me take care of the vineyards… My own vineyard I had to neglect.”
She turns her head, and her long, dark lashes flutter nervously over the cheekbone. By the flicker of the flame I can tell that they are unpainted, and so are her lips. She must have been brought directly here, to my chamber, with no proper preparations at the women’s quarters, let alone a dab of perfume.
Thank God for that! I hate proper preparations, and I cannot stand that nauseating mixture of fixatives and solvents they call perfume.
Her face and bare, slender shoulders have been bronzed by the sun. I notice that her feet are large, just like mine, and her toes are still soiled from the long journey, like some farm girls I used to know.
The girl is a long way from home. I know it, because so am I.