By John Thomas Tuft (from Midnight Shepherd)

Cracked Pearl put one arm around Zanna and looked in all earnestness at Crea, studying the crimson pattern that covered half of Crea’s face. “Are you the woman at the well? She made a really good commercial, you know!”

Crea did not know whether to smile or frown, so she tried both. “What? Who are you?”

“It’s like a ‘Go Jesus!’ campaign commercial. Come meet Mister Know It All! And it’s full of stage whispers.” Pearl giggled, as she enthusiastically pushed on. “I just love a good play. My husband and I used to get all dressed up and go to the Pittsburgh Public Theater. Oh my, I was a sight to behold, mind you.”

Crea tried to follow the excited ramblings of the gaily dressed woman, gently cradling the most important child in the world. But all she could manage was a shake of her head. The gunshots and the sight of Eli and Jenn crumbling to the ground left her shaken. Hearing Pearl go  on and on served as some sort of balm, strange as it was.

“You’re a prophet, you’re the messiah. You’re a Jew and I’m not, you have water that I need a lot! What was John thinking when he wrote that scene?” Pearl laughed after her singsong rendition. “Enter stage left, he’s too popular for the preachers back home, so he’s run out of town. Hark, forsooth, he stops at a well in  a town with the wrong kind of people, like a NASCAR crowd at the Sistene Chapel. And, gasp, he asks a woman with a bad reputation for a drink of water because his boys are off getting food. Can’t he get his own damn water? Then, like something out of Good Will Hunting, Mister Know It All tells her he knows everything she done wrong. If that’s not good theater, I don’t know what is!”

Crea struggled to keep a straight face as Pearl kept going. “So, she runs off to tell people about it and I’ll be damned if I know why they’d listen to her? In the meantime, his boys come back and they get all mad, thinking ‘Jesus Christ, what the hell is the matter with you?’ but because, you know, he’s not able to even get himself a drink of water so they ease up on him. Then they have a Sunday School picnic where there’s an argument about what’s the best way to do communion, even though it hasn’t been invented yet,” Pearl paused to make an aside in stage whisper, “We all know the Presbyterians get it right, don’t you know?” then back to her tale, “and it goes on for two days because if Jesus knew anything it was how to party, and the folks get all happy and put up a banner that reads “First Annual Savior of the World Benefit Picnic” that turns into an annual argument over who it benefits, while Jesus and the boys exit stage right.”

“Can’t say I ever heard it quite that way before,” Crea said, after a long pause. “What happens to the woman at the well?”

Pearl hesitated, thought for a minute. “Huh. Don’t you know, she kind of falls off the page. They probably left her the mess to clean up after two days of partying. Trying to figure out what on earth is living water? Jesus goes on to do more flash and dash, and she’s back at the well, trying to muddle through her life. Don’t seem fair.”

Crea reached over and touched her hand. “What do you want to happen to her?”

Tears sprang to Pearl’s good eye. One escaped and made its way down her weathered cheek. “I wanted it to be a love scene. She’s from the wrong side of the tracks, he’s an up and comer. Maybe she’s Julia Roberts and he’s Richard Gere in Pretty Woman. Why doesn’t she get a happy ending? What’s wrong with happy endings?”

“Maybe John didn’t know how to write happy endings, Pearl.” Crea tried to be gentle.

Pearl swiped at the tear. “I don’t know. Somebody ought to write a book about how Jesus meets a woman, they fall in love, get married, have kids, get them raised and out of the house and watch sunsets. Then there would be people in this world who have Jesus’ blood inside of them instead of all over them. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.”

She sat back and sighed as the old ambulance raced off into the dark night, cradling the hopes and fears of the world.

Words are magic, and writers are wizards