He was soaked to the bone. The rain had been pelting him for the past twenty-four hours, as he’d pushed his way through the underbrush. He’d been following this runaway wife of his for three years now. Guarding. Hoping. Waiting.
She’d left in tears, accusing him of lording it over her, of expecting too much, of denying her space.
“Tyrant!” she’d shouted, slamming the door to punctuate her fury.
He’d followed her to the city, the desert and now this woodland. He’d kept himself out of sight, so he wouldn’t disturb her “space,” but he ached to hear her call his name. Until she did, he would only watch, stand guard. Season followed season and year followed year. He heard her call out many names, but none of them were his.
In the city, a man of charisma and charm had beguiled her. His twinkling eyes and engaging smile captivated her and she called his name. He pulled an assortment of dazzling jewelry, out of his pocket, among them a ring, heavily encrusted with rubies and diamonds. She gasped and clapped her hands. Then she looked down at the unadorned band on her ring finger–the one she’d always complained was too tight. It was clear the new one wouldn’t fit with the old.
Her husband winced, his body wilting against a wall, as she began to twist it, twist it. Quickly, he collected himself and took a tremendous breath. Straightening up, he pressed his fingers against his temples and willed his mind to connect with hers. “Remember me,” he thought, “Remember you have a husband.”
On cue, it seemed, she pressed her lips together, gave a determined tug and slipped the old ring off. She let it fall to the pavement as she slid the new one on. Turning her hand this way and that, she watched it sparkle in the sun. The old band rolled along the curb and dropped through the grating below. Her husband’s heart plunged with it.
She called this stranger’s name all that year and hung like a bracelet on his arm while they paraded through the bright lights and music of the city. She was dazzled with the pageantry and with all that was new and daring. One morning, she woke late and went looking for the man who’d promised such affection. Her knees locked when she spotted him—over there, wearing a new woman on his arm.
Her husband stepped out from the alley to let the wind could carry his scent her way. When the tang of wood and oil met her nose, her eyebrows lifted and she bent in his direction. But it was an instant only. She waved the smell away and fled the city for the desert.
In the desert she sought no man, nor did she call out any name but her own. The terrain was difficult and rocky and she walked it alone. Soon enough her throat went dry.
A water bottle hung over her shoulder (a gift from their wedding day), but she shifted and chafed under its strap. Her husband had always insisted she carry it and keep it full. “So you won’t be thirsty as we work together.” She’d made no secret of the annoying way it banged against her hips.
She took a sip and contemplated the canteen. “This thing is too heavy,” she complained to the desert. “I hear a person can suck water from cactuses and the roots of plants. I’ll let the earth quench my thirst. I don’t need this.”
Her husband stood behind a great rock and cupped his hands around his mouth. A song in the language of birds floated from his lips, its music skipping across the sand. “Remember me,” he sang, “Remember I care.”
She hooked her wrist through the bottle’s strap, gave it a spin and abandoned it to the desert.
She grew lean and tough that year. Once, as she slept under a shady overhang, a company of snakes gathered around her. Her husband, careful not to wake her, stepped around a mesquite bush just long enough to scatter them. She woke without knowing there’d been trouble.
Sunburned, thirsty and hungry, she had reached the edge of the desert the third year, and had wandered into this wood. She cried out to the sun, but it couldn’t penetrate the underbrush. The rains chilled her and kept her ever damp. The mud sucked at her feet. The vegetation cut her, shredding the beautiful garments that had once formed her trousseau.
She cried out for a drink, but the only water was pooled in the muddy footprints of animals. The few edible berries she found were small and mealy. Worn out, she fell headlong into a clearing barely large enough for her to lie down.
Scarcely three paces away, her husband was whispering. “Remember me.”
She closed her eyes and gathered her legs to her chest, as if to warm herself a bit before she died. A sound passed through her lips—so small it could hardly be called a breath, so faint it could hardly be heard. “Help me.” Then her husband’s name rose from her lips and drifted on the breeze to his ear.
It was enough. He was in the clearing and stooping next to her in the mud. From beneath his cloak, he drew a carefully wrapped parcel. He pulled out an oilcloth and tied it to the tree branches above her, covering her with a lean-to. Reaching under a pile of leaves, he pulled out some wood that was not yet completely soaked and built her a fire. He spread out a mat, lifted her gently out of the mud and laid her on it.
He exchanged her dirty, waterlogged clothes for clean ones and poured fresh water out of his own bottle, cleaning her cuts and washing the mud from her eyes. Then he took the flask off his shoulder and hung it over hers. “So you can soothe your throat whenever you need it.” He pulled one last item out of his pouch. A loaf of bread—fresh, somehow, as though it had just come from the oven. “Take. Eat.”
Then this wife of his began to cry, apologizing for her foolishness and hardness. She needed him, she said. She wanted him. “Oh, please. Can I just go home?”
Without a word, he drew out his ax. Slashing left and right, he felled trees with a single stroke. From the very brambles that had so torn and cut her, he created a cart. Lifting her into it and sheltering her under the oilcloth, her husband put his shoulder into the loop of heavy rope at the front of the cart as into a yoke and began to draw her home.
It seemed like only a few turns of the wagon’s wheels and they’d cleared the woods. As they crossed the hard-packed sands of the desert, he found her discarded water jug and laid it in her lap.
On their way through the city, he made one more stop. Pulling the cart over to a sewer grate, he lay on his stomach, stretched his arm into the dark hole and drew out her wedding band. He wiped it clean and picked up her left hand, poising the ring near her finger, his eyes asking a question. She held her breath and turned a liquid gaze his way. She let herself sink into his longing eyes and gently nodded.
Her husband threw his head back and loosed such a whoop, doves exploded from the plaza in a thundering cloud. Eyes streaming, he turned his face to hers. With a joy that melted mountains, he slid the ring home.
Love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned. (Song of Solomon 8:6-7 NIV)