The Sons of Martha
The sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited
that good part;
But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the
careful soul and the troubled heart.
And because she lost her temper once, and because she
was rude to the Lord her Guest,
Her Sons must wait upon Mary’s Sons, world without
end, reprieve, or rest.
~”The Sons of Martha” by Rudyard Kipling
Martha watched as the news crew from WSAZ parked their van and exited. A prickle of excitement and a little pinch of anxiety made her heart beat faster. She slipped a subtle glance across 7th Avenue to make sure her sister Mary was still over there in front of the City Mission, pacing with arms hanging and fingers splayed, a terrible glower on her face.
“Martha Dew?” the reporter said somewhat breathlessly as he came to her side. “Hi, I’m Mark Thacker, reporter for Channel 3 News. This is my cameraman Rick, and our sound-lady Tamra.” He waved his hand at his two-person crew who were already setting up their tripod and Steadicam and extending the fuzzy end of the boom. “Glad we could do this interview. I’ll be off camera, asking the questions. You just try to be as natural as possible.”
Martha nodded, a pleasant expression on her face. She checked her orange cable-knit sweater, brushed off pieces of lint. She straightened her cream-colored blouse collar and smoothed her dark brown, shoulder-length hair. She was a large-breasted, heavy-set woman with a relatively small rear-end and spry and agile legs now covered by tight, black slacks.
“Are you ready?” Mark Thacker asked.
Martha smiled, and said, “You bet!” as she continued to monitor, from the corners of her eyes, her sister’s reaction.
“Now why did you decide to build a bar across the street from the City Mission? And why did you name it the ‘Mission Bar?’” the reporter asked then motioned with an open palm that it was time for her to respond.
“Well, I prefer to call it a neighborhood pub. But this was an excellent piece of commercial property, going for a good price, and so I thought, why not?”
“Did you expect there would be any difficulties…?”
From across the street a high-pitched and enraged voice screamed, “She is an ungodly and evil woman! She’s going to hell, and not soon enough!”
The reporter and his crew instantly turned around and stared at the source of the noise. Rick instinctively pivoted his tripod and began filming. Martha muttered, “Oh, for God’s sake,” and lowered her head, bringing the side of one hand to her forehead. She smiled broadly.
“Who is that?” Mark Thacker asked, shading his eyes with a hand as cars zipped by temporarily obscuring the figure of the woman who was shaking a fist in their direction.
“That is my sister, Mary McCallister. She runs the City Mission. She thinks she’s a pastor with the Church of God.”
“That’s Mary McCallister, the supervisor of the Huntington City Mission? She’s your sister? Wow,” the reporter said. And then he added, “Keep that camera rolling!”
“Just ignore her, please. She’s become a right-wing Bible-thumping cracker-nut,” Martha said, but she almost laughed out loud as she noted Mary was checking traffic and was obviously preparing to march across the road.
“Well, I mean, she’s your sister, and you opened a bar across the street from her ministry,…” the reporter said, not really forming a question.
They all watched as Mary squinted against the sun, paused as a car sped by then darted into the three-lane street and strode as hard as her skirt would allow towards them, her arms pumping and her chin down as if she were on a power-walk at the mall.
“Hi there, Mary,” Martha said as her younger sister reached them. “Do you want something to drink? How about an ice-cold beer?”
Mark Thacker extended his hand, said, “Hello Mrs. McCallister, I’m….”
“I know who you are,” she said fiercely, her face a few inches away from his as she was almost equal to him in height. Her hair was dark with streaks of gray, coiffed in a helmet of waves and curls that dated from 1960. “Do you hear her? Did you hear what she said? Are you getting this? She offered me alcohol, me, a woman of God!”
Thacker glanced nervously at his crew, who had turned the tripod and camera back and were recording. Tamra’s extended microphone crept a little closer to Mary’s side. “Uh, well, we were filming an interview with Mrs. Dew, concerning her choice of locations,…” Thacker begun.
“Choice? Choice? Don’t use that word around me!” Mary interrupted, nearly shouting, her face getting blotchy.
Martha folded her arms and quietly stepped back away from the group, into the shade formed by the roof overhang, close to her plate-glass window displaying the neon letters MISSON BAR. She brought the knuckles of her right hand to her mouth to keep from giggling.
Mary noted this, and pointed in her direction, “She’s evil, she’s a whore, an apostate. She called Jesus a Socialist! Obama is the Socialist! Jesus is our Lord, and he is God!”
Mark Thacker didn’t seem to care any more where Martha was. He moved his left index finger up and down to signal his crew to keep the camera rolling, and he maintained his position immediately in front of Mary. “Mrs. McCallister, could you identify yourself for our audience, and could you tell us what you think about a neighborhood bar being opened directly across the street from the City Mission?” he said in a calm and almost professorial tone.
Mary held her breath for a moment, then looked directly at the cameraman and stretched her mouth, showing her teeth. “Hello, I’m in charge of the city mission. We are a fifty-bed homeless shelter and kitchen that serves the tri-state area. We are supported by local and national funding and donations, and we welcome volunteers, especially during the holidays. We are open to anyone who needs a place to stay, and a hot meal….”
“As long as they listen to your sermons and your attempts to convert them and agree to everything you say. As long as they say they’re Believers,” Martha said loudly, taking a couple of steps forward, stopping by the side of the reporter.
“That’s a lie,” Mary snarled, riveting her glare on her sister. Her complexion darkened, her mouth twisted with rage.
“No, it’s the truth. Don’t try to play the holy saint with me,” Martha said between pursed lips.
“And we don’t allow alcohol,” Mary returned to the camera. “The men and women who seek help with us usually are problem drinkers, and they don’t need her,” she pointed at Martha, “serving their poison right across the street.”
“Didn’t the zoning board and city give Mrs. Dew permission to open her business here?” Thacker asked coolly, gazing at Mary even though she was staring at her sister next to and a bit behind him.
Mary shot her eyes back to him. “Well, that was a mistake. That’s going to be changed.”
“Yeah, right,” Martha said, laughing.
Thacker ignored Martha, and asked, “What do you plan to do about the bar?”
Mary paused, tilted her head slightly, as if she were judging the questioner as well as the question. “We have many people to help,” she finally answered.
“You mean the people who support a murderer who killed a doctor you didn’t approve of, or the ones who think the government is trying to kill them if Congress wants to help all people obtain health care?” Martha interjected.
“Wrap it,” Thacker ordered, running the side of his hand under his chin, a strained expression on his face. “Well, I think we have enough….”
Rick was quickly capping the lens, hefting the tripod and collapsing it as he hoisted the whole against his shoulder. Tamra deftly folded the mike back towards the recorder, turned off the equipment.
Both women watched. “Is that it?” Martha asked after a moment.
Mark Thacker patted her shoulder, motioned his crew back to the van. “I think we have enough for the news tonight,” he said.
“Wait,” Martha called after him as he followed Rick and Tamra to their vehicle parked in front of the far window of the Mission Bar. “This woman is a racist, she’s insane and a flaming hypocrite….”
“What?” Mary yelled. “What? You spawn of demons, you bottom-feeding scum.”
The WSAZ van doors slid shut with a metallic bang. The engine started.
Martha turned to face her sister. “Picture her, leading religious fanatics against those she and her friends call heretics, tying people to the stake with her own hands and lighting the first embers, singing and dancing as human beings burn to death. Picture her, down through the centuries, demanding uniform thought, a single devotion, no matter how corrupt, no matter how twisted and bent by the privileged and powerful. And punishing with death anyone who disagrees.”
The van curved backwards out of the parking lot, then lept forward and slipped into the traffic heading east on 7th Avenue. A few people walking by stared at the two women briefly, before hurrying away.
“Picture you,” Mary hissed, her eyes narrowed and her mouth contorted, “running with the peasant mobs in Germany, knitting while the guillotine falls in Paris, marching with Bolsheviks, you killer, you commie!”
Martha stiffened, came within inches of Mary. “Our Lord overturned the tables of the moneychangers. The very word ‘communism’ comes from the description of the way the apostles lived, giving up their worldly goods to the people and living as simply as possible. There is no way He would have supported the bloated and wealthy against the poverty-stricken and helpless.”
Mary’s face burned red. “If a government takes the money from rich people and gives it to poor people or gives them health care, it’s socialism. And He said nothing about forcing people to give up their money, or a government taking their money. There is no Christian charity if one is forced to give.”
“That’s bullshit, Mary. We can’t wait a thousand years for the rich and powerful to give up their material rewards while hundreds of thousands die; the responsibility of an elected government is to protect the helpless and weak from the strong, and to provide for their security and welfare. That is the very essence of what He taught us.”
Mary whispered, “You never listened to Him anyway, you traitor, you harlot.” And with that she spun around, and stepped off the sidewalk, into the street, and didn’t bother to wait for a break in traffic. Car horns sounded, brakes squealed. Mary advanced with long strides, her hands tightly balled at her sides, back to the City Mission.
Several hours later, the Mission Bar was open and filled to capacity. Some patrons sat on stools at the counter across from a display of smoky mirror tiles and glass shelves lined with bottles. Others occupied the half-dozen booths along the walls under the windows. The place was suffused with a warm glow created by soft illumination from the recessed spots and amber pendants hanging in a rows. Conversations buzzed, the electronic karaoke jukebox belted-out one song after the other as customers held forth on the small stage nearby. Martha sat on a stool next to the servers’ window, watching the television high on the wall to her right. She was shaking her head, muttering, “What the hell was that?”
Martha’s brother, Mary’s brother too, was bartending. A large, swarthy older man with a graying goatee, he wore an ash-colored kufi on his shaved head. He swiftly mixed some drinks on a small round tray. “What did you expect?” he said, glancing at her.
“But all they showed was her, speaking normally and rationally for a few moments, then that reporter did the rest of the talking.” Martha was angry, but she also wanted to cry.
“You shouldn’t have set her up like that,” her brother said, lifting the tray then sliding it over to the waitress waiting for it. “You keep treating her like a clown, and you know how dangerous she can be.”
“I wanted the world to see how bigoted and crazy she is,” Martha said.
“And around here, everything she said is considered reasonable and true. It’s normal for these people to believe the lies that work against their own best interest.”
Martha faced front, reached out and touched her brother’s wrist. “But L., she’s wrong. We were there. She’s got it all wrong. Everything has been torn and perverted and used against the people.”
A waitress brought a couple of orders to the window area of the counter; she was a pretty and young woman with copper-streaked black hair pulled straight back in a pony-tail. “Hi,” she said to Martha, “how are you doing, Mrs. Dew? You look spent. Who was that on the TV?”
“The lady who runs the City Mission across the street,” Martha said, removing her hand from her brother’s. “She wants to shut us down.”
“Well, screw her,” said the waitress, sweeping up two new trays covered with different drinks. “If you need any help, let me know,” she said as she maneuvered into the line of customers standing behind those seated.
Martha stretched one corner of her mouth and leaned on her elbows as they rested on the spotted and wet acrylic-sealed mahogany countertop. She watched her brother work. “It’s like another Dark Ages is coming,” she said, feeling a wave of sadness engulf her. “Thank you for staying with me, by the way, Bro. If she finds out….”
The bartender screwed caps on bottles just used, put these back on the shelves, selected several more and carried these — a bunch of bottle necks grasped in each large hand — to his work area. He didn’t look up as he took an orange and started slicing it. “She’ll call the hounds out, and have me torn from limb to limb. Or burned at the stake.” He wiped his palms down his apron front . “It’s sundown. Time to say my prayers. Simon….” he called to his assistant and apprentice. “Take over for a bit, will you?” He turned back briefly to look at Martha as he pushed through the swinging double doors to the left of the mirror tiles and bottles. “Will you join me this time?” he asked, as he always did, out of courtesy.
Martha sighed but smiled tenderly. “No, thanks,” she said. “I’m more the Christian than the Nazarene.”
Her brother nodded and smiled back as he disappeared to tie on the Tephilim, take up his Hebrew prayerbook, and give his thanks to God, in whatever guise, for granting him this long life.