Short Fiction: The Family Business

    Zebedee sat down and rubbed his huge, calloused palms against his weary eyes. He leaned back and stared blankly at the old clay oil lamp on the table in front of him. Its tiny flame flicked and swayed, gallantly defending against the long evening shadows creeping through the windows. He stroked his chin where his thick beard was now more grey than black. His wrist ached. It always ached these days. His wife, Salome, poked her head in from the next room to tell him supper was almost ready. He smiled and told her he was the luckiest man on earth for having a wife like her, and then he slumped back into his thoughts. She was as happy as ever. She had barely flinched at the news. He thought she would have been devastated. I don’t understand her sometimes, he thought, amid the hundred concerns churning in his mind. What was it she kept repeating lately? “Take no thought for tomorrow…” Yes, that was it. It was one of the young teacher’s sayings. Take no thought… That was easier said than done.

    As Salome laid a plate of fish on the table, Zebedee looked at the empty places either side of him. He felt like he should be angry, but for some unfamiliar reason he was not.

    Footsteps crunched the dirt outside, and the voice of his youngest son, Lyle, called out, “Mum, Dad, I’m back. Traffic was crazy today.” Lyle took off his sandals, washed his feet, washed his hands, had a whispered conversation with his mother and then came to see Zebedee. He paused in the doorway, exhaled slowly, then came and sat down, setting a small bag at his feet. “Hi Dad,” he said.

 Zebedee blinked and looked up. “Oh, hey kiddo,” he said.

 Zebedee, his mind half elsewhere, looked at his son. Lyle smiled, then folded his hands and looked around the room. After an awkward minute, the two broke the silence, speaking at the same time. “Mum’s in a good mood,” said Lyle.

 “You were gone a long time,” said Zebedee.

 “Hmm? Oh, yeah,” said Lyle. “I stopped in Capernaum on the way home.”

 Zebedee nodded. Lyle was not sure if he was listening. A comforting aroma filled the room as Salome brought in a small basket of hot bread. She sat down opposite Zebedee. Lyle looked at her; she smiled at him then tilted her head toward Zebedee. Lyle nodded and took a deep breath. “Hey, listen Dad,” he said. “I uh, I was thinking…”

 Zebedee reached and broke off a piece of bread then looked at him.

 “You know how I’ve been having trouble keeping up on the boats?”

 “Ah, fishing isn’t easy,” said Zebedee. “You’ll get the hang of it.”

 “Dad, it’s been two years, and I’m no better at it than when I started. I don’t think I’m cut out for it.”

 “It takes a lifetime to be a good fisherman,” said Zebedee through a mouthful of bread. He waved his hand. “Just be patient.”

 Lyle looked at Salome. Salome winked and nodded. “Dad,” said Lyle, “I stopped in Capernaum today… because I took a job there.”

 Zebedee stopped chewing and stared at Lyle.

 “There’s a silversmith who’s going to take me on, teach me the business. He likes my work. It’s a good opportunity. Capernaum is where all the best silversmiths are.”

 Zebedee remained motionless. Salome pushed the plate toward him. “Have some fish, dear,” she said.

 Zebedee looked at the fish, then looked back at Lyle. “Silversmith?”

 “Yeah.” Lyle reached down and opened the bag at his feet. He took out a beautiful silver oil lamp, intricately fashioned, as bright and clear as the sunrise upon the Sea of Galilee on a still morning. He set the lamp on the table. “I thought it was about time you got rid of that old clay lamp.”

 Zebedee leaned forward and squinted at the silver lamp. “You made that?”

 Lyle nodded. “Give me a piece of silver and I can make anything, Dad.”

 Zebedee leaned back, staring at the lamp with a perplexed look. After a moment, he tossed the remainder of his bread on the table, stood up and left the room. Lyle took a deep breath and wiped a tear from his eye. Salome patted him on the knee.

    Two minutes later, Zebedee returned with a flask of oil and a wick. He filled the silver lamp and soon had it lit, then he sat and stared at it in wonder.

 “Dad?” said Lyle.

 Zebedee smiled. “That’s the finest lamp I’ve ever seen. It’s fit for the temple.”

 Lyle laughed. “Does that mean… you’re okay with me not working on the boats anymore?”

 Zebedee chuckled and leaned back. “Sure, why not? It seems no one wants fish anymore. At least you’ll be able to make a living,” he said, gesturing with pride to the silver lamp. “It’s more than I can say for your brothers.”

 Lyle sat up. “What do you mean? Aren’t James and John out on the boat tonight?”

 Zebedee rolled his eyes and sighed. “No. They quit. They’ve gone off to follow a teacher. Jonah’s boys quit and went after him too.”

 Lyle looked at Salome, then back at Zebedee. “Are you serious? The one out by the river?”

 “No, not him,” said Zebedee. “They’ve found someone greater, apparently. Your cousin from Nazareth.”

 Lyle’s eyes widened. He stared down at the table in thought. “People were talking about him in Capernaum today.”

“Oh yeah?” said Zebedee, taking a piece of fish. “Silversmith now, is he?”

 Lyle laughed. “No. I don’t think so.”


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