Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.”

—Matthew 9:20–22


I wake to the end of the miracle. That’s the mischief of miracles—they don’t always last. Everything I thought I’d left behind has come back for me. But blessed am I among women. I’ll never stop saying that as long as I live. Even though some days are less blessed than others. Backwards blessed. What others might call cursed.

I dreamed of laughter like a thousand angels caught sharing a joke, but I woke to the old blood—coils of tissue slithering down my legs, soaking my robe, the sheet, the floor. I have only one child, though I’ve poured out enough blood for a hundred at least. My daughter is still dreaming happily, no idea of the execution scene I’ve created in our bed. Oh, to be a man with a man’s clean body, a man’s holy ejaculations. What would that be? To be free of the rhythms we can’t change but must surrender to?

I get to my feet, and the old ache is there, a heaviness dragging me down. I shuffle, stumble, can’t keep the blood from going everywhere. I’ll have to haul a cistern of water to clean the sheets—not that I’m complaining! I just feel ridiculous, a hot, familiar feeling, even though there’s only me and my daughter to see the mess. I’ve always been ridiculous. I’ve tried every which way to curb it, but like this blood, it can’t be curbed. I wear the wrong colors and my hair is wrong and I smile too big with my gums showing and my fleshy neck hangs too low and I’m happy when I shouldn’t be. When my husband married me, I was young and could be forgiven. Then I bore a daughter, which wasn’t ideal, but I promised to do better next time. Then I had a quick dozen miscarriages: weeks of hope and dreamy nausea followed by black blood and pain that made me grind my teeth to nubbins, to say nothing of the agony of apologizing yet again to my husband for all the trouble and the lack of a son. He wasn’t particularly clever or pious, but he was always good to me. I kept telling him to cast me off and find someone to give him a son and fulfill the commands of God’s Name, but he stayed. He liked to say he wore his eyesight out on my ugliness, and I couldn’t help but blush at that—that he would give up his eyesight to look at me.

The last miscarriage brought a never-ending flow, the final refusal of my womb to do what it was created to do. We saw healers and priests and shamans and old aunties. We spent my dowry and my husband’s savings, sold off livestock, discussed selling ourselves into slavery, and finally retreated to the comfort and anonymity of poverty. Then one day my husband died. He went clean and fast, smiling at my ugly face, content with his fate, leaving my daughter and me to live among the widows and the pious poor.

Why am I the most blessed of all women? Because it doesn’t matter how unclean I am, how ridiculous, or how much we shout at each other when she’s in a rage—my daughter loves me. My gorgeous, fatherless girl. Halfway to womanhood, and her smell is changing. She used to smell like milk and apples. Now she smells like a woman’s sweat. Like fragile virginity. She’s old enough to marry, but what’s the rush? I can keep her with me a while longer. No harm in pretending she’s still a baby. After all, she’s mine. If God’s Name loves us half as much as I love my daughter, I pity Him. What terror. What unbearable joy.

That was the only secret I kept from my husband—that I love my daughter more than I would have loved a dozen sons. More than I love God’s Name. A great sin. Enough to piss off any god. And God’s Name has quite a temper, even compared to the thundering deities of our occupiers. I paid for my joy in blood, until the laughing man from Nasrath healed me. Why didn’t he tell me the healing wouldn’t last?


Well, the morning is half gone, and the water jug is empty. I leave my daughter asleep, heart constricting at the thought of her sorrow when she finds out the blood is back. It was because of her that Yeshua healed me. Because of her, I had two clean years. How many women get that in a lifetime? Blessed, in every way blessed. I must not forget that.

I stop on the threshold for a breath of clean air. I see the Romans marching and the women huddled together at the well, drawing water slowly, taking their time. The air is heavy with gossip, and their eyes burn as they watch the soldiers pass. No harm in pretending to be clean for a minute or two. Just to get the news.

When Yeshua healed me, I came first to this well to tell these women. I had to tell someone to make it real. We women forge the stories of ourselves and our world here at the well. If men knew what we talk about together, they wouldn’t let us gather like this. They’d sequester us in our houses, cover our mouths, cut us off from each other. That was the worst of the bleeding years: not being unclean, nor untouched by my husband, nor denied entrance to the temple, nor unable to pray to God’s Name, but being separated from other women.

At the well I see Maryam the elder and Maryam the deaf and Rhoda and Yohanna and Shappira and others I’ve come to know in my two clean years. They look downcast. I ask, What’s happened?

The prophet’s dead, Rhoda says, tipping her jar onto her feet and rinsing them in anxious jerks.

Which prophet?

Yeshua from Nasrath. The one who healed you.

The blood surges. I squeeze my thighs together and silently beg for it not to give me away. He can’t be dead, I say, even as I think, Of course he’s dead. That’s why the blood is back. He died and took his miracles with him.

Oh, don’t you worry. He’s not really dead. Not permanently, anyway. Maryam the elder says this, her cracked voice like music. She’s our storyteller, her eyes full of conviction, the white hairs on her chin sticking straight out. Here’s what happened, she says. I have it on good authority from a friend of the cousin-in-law of Yeshua’s blessed mother herself.

We lean closer. I can smell garlic and oil and woodsmoke and the cheap perfume a vendor swears is nard but we all know is just vinegar crushed with jasmine petals. I keep my legs tight and cling to this circle of belonging.

What happened, Maryam the elder says, is the Romans arrested Yeshua outside the city in Gat Shemanim—

That’s under the high priest’s authority, Shappira says. He must’ve given them permission to arrest him there.

Maryam the elder shrugs, and the hairs on her chin tremble. Maybe so. They’re all the same government. What can you do? Thanks be to God’s Name for our dear ruling class, may they get exactly what they deserve up their ass in the hereafter.

We all spit over our shoulders.

So, Maryam the elder goes on, they arrest Yeshua and some of his followers and bundle them off to our dear high priest, Caiaphas, who decides it’s better for Yeshua to die than to cause problems with the Romans. The high priest is always sucking Roman cock—can’t help himself—so he turns Yeshua over to the governor, lots of bureaucracy, you know how these things go.

Come on, Maryam, Rhoda says.

Patience, patience, Maryam the elder laughs. Anyhow, Governor Pilate makes his usual theater and gets a crowd riled up: a little collective steam-letting, a little entertainment ahead of the holy day.

Shappira interrupts: And then they dragged Yeshua up to Golgotha and nailed him to a cross.

Yes, they nailed him up, Maryam the elder says, snatching the story back. And when the nails went in, everyone watching was amazed. His blood was like water. And he began to turn to light, and the ground around him opened up, and the earth and the sky began melting into each other like a river pouring into—

Come on, Shappira says. That’s absurd.

Don’t you remember, Maryam the elder whispers, how the sky went dark at the mark of three yesterday?

I feel gooseflesh on my arms. Did a shadow pass over the sun then? I can’t recall. I was inside, perhaps kneading dough, chopping parsley, bent over the fire with some weaving. What woman has time to watch the sky?

Anyhow, Maryam the elder says, there was Yeshua on the spike, and the sky and the earth were becoming one, and the soldiers were shitting themselves, and the women were wailing, and then she came.

She who?

Who came?

Maryam the elder looks heavenward. The woman, she says.

What woman?

Once upon a time—

Shappira groans. Not again with your once upon a time.

Hear me, Maryam the elder insists. Once upon a time there was a woman who could hear the voice of God’s Name. Clear as a lute. Clear as a drum. Night or day. Rain or shine. A wordless song moving between lament and ecstasy. A love song that would become a scream of grief one moment, a cry of wonder the next. A song wide enough for the mystery of what is. Like—

It was Maryam, I say, overwhelmed with memories. Maryam of Magdala.

Maryam the elder nods. Yes. She was standing before Yeshua as he suffered on the cross. And she lifted her hands, and God’s Name spoke through her. She said, Beloved, it is finished. And then she released him from the spike and took him in her arms and bathed his broken body with her tears. For miles around they heard her weeping. Maybe you heard it. I’m sure I did. The weeping was like music tearing the world apart, breaking every heart that could bear to hear it. Like grief always does if we let it.

Finally, Maryam the elder continues, the weeping got so loud, Yeshua opened his eyes and said, Why are you crying, Maryam? And she said, I’m crying because I told you not to die, and you went and did it anyway, damn you. And he burst out laughing. There he was, laughing in Maryam’s arms, and she was laughing, too. And the laughter was just like the weeping had been.

I didn’t hear any laughter, Shappira says.

I heard it, I say, tears on my face. I heard it. That glorious laughter. I heard it in a dream. But when I woke—I stop myself just in time. I don’t want to tell them about the end of the miracle.

I heard they put Yeshua in a tomb last night, Shappira says. What was left of him.

Yes, Yohanna agrees, I saw the myrrh-bearers gathering early this morning on their way to hold vigil. Laughter or no, he’s dead.

Maryam the elder nods. Yes, he’s dead at the moment. But tomorrow the tomb will be empty. Mark my words. She smiles mischievously, and for a moment she seems as young and free as my daughter. He couldn’t take his body on this journey, she says. But he’ll come back for it. Maryam of Magdala is at the tomb. She’ll call him back.

Shappira rolls her eyes. Dead is dead, she says. He wasn’t who we thought. Let’s get on with our lives.

Rhoda isn’t so sure: But what if he was the Messiah? If she calls him back, will he make war on the Romans?

You’re missing the point, Maryam the elder snorts. She who has ears, let her hear.

You met Yeshua, Rhoda says, turning to me. He healed you.

Yes, I say. I was healed because of him.

Tell us the story again, Yohanna says. Maybe that will help us understand. What happened the day he healed you?

What, indeed?

I tell them my story.


There’s a new prophet, my daughter announced that morning, more than two years ago. They say he makes miracles happen everywhere he goes. He can heal you.

We were washing clothes, a chore that has defined my life. I had bled for twelve years straight by then. My daughter had never spoken to me of healing before. She had always known me to be unclean and accepted it. My face turned red, and I asked if she was ashamed of me.

She looked at me sideways in annoyance. It’s not about being ashamed, Mama. It’s about healing you.

He can’t heal me, love.

How do you know?

I just know. This is the way things are.

Don’t you want to be healed?

As if it were so easy to change reality. How to tell my daughter of the great yearning to be part of the world again? Of the torment of isolation? Of the bargains I’d made with myself, deciding little by little to stop yearning, to require nothing, to take joy as it came and pretend everything else wasn’t real? How to explain the despair of seeing priests and healers, one after the other? The disappointment like vinegar to be swallowed, each time more bitter because of the hope that preceded it? No, no, it would be cruel to stain her bright world with my darkness. And what was my suffering, compared to that of others? Nothing. Blessed was I among women. I wrung the cloth out and went to hang it from the roof.

I thought my daughter would forget that foolishness, but she brought it up again and again. He healed a blind man, she said the next day. And the next, a leper. Then a cripple. Every day some new story she’d heard in the street. Or maybe she made them up, describing more and more gruesome illnesses, claiming the prophet had healed them all, as if it were a game. I watched anxiously as she wove this dream. She had grieved hard after her father’s death. How disillusioned would she be when I wasn’t healed? How could I bear her disappointment?

He’s outside the temple, she said the next day. Come on.

I took her hands and sat her down. Love, I’ve been to many healers. Dozens. Maybe a hundred. You were too young to remember.

Maybe they weren’t the right healers, she said.

I sighed. If you really want me to, I’ll go. But promise me one thing.

Anything, she said, brown eyes stern. She’s always had such dignity, my daughter.

Promise that if he can’t heal me, you won’t be sad.

Of course I’ll be sad, she said. We’ll both be sad.


But it’s fine if we’re sad. It won’t be forever.

I was silent. Twelve summers and wise as a sage, my daughter.

Promise me something, she said.

All right, anything, I said.

Promise if he can heal you, you’ll let him.

I followed my daughter into the street. For years I had walked this street only in the chill before dawn or late at night, when the crowds had gone home to their lamplit houses, each of them part of a great whole. Now I was in their midst. I hunched my ridiculous broad shoulders and tucked my chin and tried to become small so I wouldn’t touch anyone, wouldn’t infect them with my uncleanness. But my daughter walked with her head up, weaving and ducking, confident in her body, of her place in the world. How had she learned that?

We came to the courtyard outside the temple, where animals are bought and sold. My daughter rose up on her toes and scanned the crowd. I think he’s there, she said. We have to get through to reach him.

Heat flashed across my body. Next to us, two women were scowling and pointing. I saw a ribbon of blood trailing behind me in the dust. God’s Name. I had been so careful to swaddle myself with extra cloth. How had this trickle escaped? I crouched, wanting to be swallowed up by the earth.

What’s wrong, sister? A woman stood in front of us, smiling as if we had always known each other.

She’s ill, my daughter said. We need to get to the healer.

Yeshua, the woman called. She waved but couldn’t reach him through the crowd. Dozens of men were chattering, arguing, pulling at the robe of a man in the center, all of them moving toward the hall of hewn stones.

Wait, my daughter shouted, her little voice drowned out. Wait! She stamped her foot. No one cared. She ducked into their midst, fought her way between them until she had found the man and caught hold of his robe by the fringe. Wait, she said.

The crowd went quiet. My daughter had tamed them, clever girl. My heart pinched with wonder. She dragged the healer out of their midst.

You can’t leave yet, she said.

Yeshua laughed. Why not?

My mama is ill.

The others began murmuring, drawing back. None of them wanted to be made unclean. None of them wanted the hassle of the ritual bath, the isolation, the horror of a stranger’s sin.

You have to heal her, my daughter said.

Do I? Yeshua bent down so they were eye to eye.

Yes. That’s why we’re here.

Why don’t you heal her?

I can’t.

Have you tried?

My daughter considered him, then asked, Should I say a prayer?

If you want to.

But I don’t know how to pray, she said.

Maryam can teach you, Yeshua said.

Who is Maryam?

Maryam of Magdala.

Your disciple?

No, Yeshua said. He nodded to the men nearby. Those men are my disciples. They follow me. Maryam is my witness. And I am hers.

My daughter faced Maryam, and her posture changed. She had been commanding with Yeshua, but now she was shy, deferential. Quietly she said, Would you teach me to pray?

Maryam smiled. There are many ways to pray, she said. I can show you one. Come, stand with me.

I thought you had to kneel to pray, my daughter said.

When I pray, I stand straight and tall, with my chin up and my hands open.

My daughter stood straight and tall, chin up and hands open.

Good, Maryam said. Now close your eyes and breathe out until you feel a smile within. Until you find the place inside where all is well. Where every moment of your life, everything that has happened, everyone you meet winks at you with the kindness of God’s Name.

I closed my eyes, too. The world rushed around us: The anxious whine of priests in the temple. The lament of animals waiting for slaughter. The haggling of merchants. The trickle of sweat and blood down my legs. The yearning and the fear and the tangle of lonely years passing through my mind. And then, a minute or an hour later, as if it had been waiting for me: stillness. The noise receded. The thoughts fell away. I was aware only of my breath, this piece of me that traveled from my mouth and into the lungs of Yeshua and Maryam and my daughter. This thing we shared. Blood or no blood, I belonged to them. Almost—how can I explain?—as if we were the same person. A smile like sunlight spread through my heart, my liver, my spleen, and, yes, my womb.

Then, in the canyon of my body, the smile became a wind. Like God’s Name had put his mouth between my legs and breathed a gale into me. Like he’d slid his tongue inside and licked me clean. No more blood. No more wellspring of misery. Only open space, an empty tomb. A miracle.

I opened my eyes, trembling from head to toe. They were looking at me. They knew.

I asked Yeshua and Maryam, How did you heal me? How?

Your daughter healed you, Maryam said.

My daughter grinned. Did I? Her joy was so sweet and wild, pure enough to break your heart.

Yeshua said to her, You’re still a child, so you know, don’t you?

Yes, she said. I do.

I asked, What is it that she knows?

The world was back. There was a crowd around us, inching closer, drawn by Yeshua’s voice. When we’re children, he said, we know God’s Name. We make heaven for ourselves everywhere. And then the world starts telling us to doubt our knowing. To quiet those thousand stories and listen only to one story, which someone has decided is the right one. The journey back to God’s Name is a return to the things we knew a long time ago. We just need to allow ourselves to remember.

My daughter asked, What if I forget?

It doesn’t matter, Maryam said gently. The knowing will call you back. You don’t have to be afraid.

I’m not afraid, my daughter said.

Maryam said to me, And you? Are you afraid?

I was standing in my soiled robe, womb empty of blood, clean and giddy. No, I lied. Blessed am I among women. I’ll never stop saying that as long as I live.


I fall silent, the story done. I splash water on my face and hands, the memory of the stillness like an ache in my gut.

So, Rhoda asks, did Yeshua heal you, or did your daughter?

The other women are looking at me, foreheads wrinkled with worry and wondering.

You’re missing the point, Maryam the elder snorts. Did you hear the story or not? She who has ears, let her hear.

I recall the story I know so well as if hearing it for the first time. She who has ears, let her hear.

Soldiers, Shappira hisses.

We pull back from our circle and see a dozen of them nearing the well.

Back to your homes, one of the soldiers shouts in Aramaic. It is forbidden to gather in groups today. Stay inside.

We exchange a few looks. One by one, the women rise, lift their jars and amphorae, and disappear down the street, back to the loneliness and noise and need of their homes. Satisfied, the soldiers move on.

Maryam the elder is the last to leave. Her body doesn’t allow her to obey a Roman easily.

Sister, wait, I say. I have to tell you something.

She scratches the hairs on her chin. You’re bleeding again, she says.

How did you know?

I could smell it.

I wince.

Don’t worry, she says. I doubt the others noticed. I’ve just developed a keen sense of it over the years, with all the dying and birthing and slaughtering and fucking. You know how it goes.

What will I do? I’ll be an outcast again. And my daughter—

Don’t do anything.

What do you mean?

The miracle was making everyone believe you’re clean, she says. It’s no one’s business if the blood is back. Hide it and stay with us.

Lie, you mean.

She shrugs. I didn’t say lie. I said keep coming back. The prophet said you were clean. Your daughter treats you like you’re clean. Be clean.

But I’m—

Enough of your drama, she snaps. Don’t you think we’re all hiding some uncleanness, for all our pious talk? Don’t you think every single one of us women is unclean by the standards of men and their god? Doesn’t it make you angry that you spent twelve years isolated, ashamed, derided, because of something men neither experience nor understand? Because of their fear?

But it wasn’t men who made me unclean, I say. It was God’s Name.

Don’t be a fool, she says. You think God’s Name is capable of making anything that isn’t a part of Him? So He’s unclean, too. Good. Let’s all be unclean together.

But isn’t God’s Name in heaven above, watching, judging?

She touches my chest, eyes full of compassion. She who has ears, let her hear.

Then why do we obey? Why do we keep following the commandments and the priests? Why, in God’s Name—

Because when you say true things too loudly, you get axed. She laughs. Look what they did to Yeshua.

Oh. The air flees my lungs. I can see something, almost. It’s right there, just out of reach. Maryam the elder turns and hobbles up the street, but I can’t move. I clutch the stones of the well, time lapping back and forth, black blood seeping between my legs, music like a thousand angels laughing in my ears.