“Did they tell you we were Mormon?”
Rashid’s book now made sense.
“Oliver belongs to the mainstream Church. But my faith would not be accepted by the Church at all. I don’t think it would be accepted by anyone.”
Jude wondered why she chose the kitchen for her theological confession. His awkwardness was ameliorated only by his knowledge of the fact that he was supposed to behave even more diplomatically than her husband.
“It’s all about Joseph Smith in the end. How you understand him.”
In the faith of Zina, Joseph was, to the Church, as Mormon men are now. Polite, God fearing gentlemen, upright in every possible way. Like her husband. The fundamentalists embellished this image only with polygamy.
“The problem is Joseph was so much more than all of this. In fact, he was none of this.”
Jude’s head spun. He was trying to recollect every word he had read about the Mormon prophet. He wanted to appear, at the very least, an educated listener.
“None of this?”
At length, Zina went on to describe to Jude how Joseph Smith had not been a gentleman at all. At least not in the way her husband was. Joseph was almost an anarchist. Willing to tear down worlds that had been established for centuries. And more than this: Joseph was as gnostic as they come.
“Gnostic?” “Willing to reach out to Freemasonry, the Kabbalah, even the occult to help us understand the mystery of the divine. Now, it’s time for a woman to do this. Are you hungry?”
Jude wondered if this was a trick question. He had been invited for dinner after all.
“I’m hungry if you are.” “I had a feeling you would say that. Would you like some coffee?”
Mormonism: History, Theology and Sects had made it very clear that adherents of the faith were prohibited from drinking coffee. From imbibing any form of caffeine, for that matter.
“Coffee?” “Well, it’s like coffee. Let’s call it Mormon coffee.”
Zina reached to a phone that was hanging from the wall. With a push of three buttons and the delivery of seven words, dinner plans were cancelled.
“You see that’s one way I’m like Joseph. He clearly hated rules.”
Whatever rules Joseph had shared, he clearly didn’t stick to, at least according to the Ambassador’s wife. Most Mormons would disagree with this.
“The funny thing is I think this makes him far more endearing. Have you heard about The Book of Abraham?” “Yes. A little.” “This is a good example of what I mean. Taste your coffee.”
Jude stared at the cup. He ran his fingers over the peculiar symbol on its side. An astronomical chart of some sort, and an inscription in what appeared to be Hebrew.
“Whatever you drink from this cup is permissible. The cup makes it so. Not the contents.”
Jude took a sip. It had a strong taste of chicory. A hint of liquorice. There was also something else. Something he couldn’t identify.
“That’s very strong.”
“You like it?” “It’s very different. Almost… medicinal.” “Perfect. That’s the intended effect.”
She returned to The Book of Abraham. Part of the Mormon Canon. Officially, the God-inspired translation by Joseph Smith of Egyptian papyri. Officially. Joseph had even completed a drawing that was partially preserved in the papyri.
Jude suspended his sense of taste and gulped the remaining black liquid in his cup.
“Sure.” “Are you planning on saying yes to everything I propose?”
Jude stared at Zina. Three black swallowtail butterflies flew out of her hair. Papilio polyxenes. They circled her head. Twice. Then her ankles. Two of them fluttered upwards and disappeared into her dress. One glided towards him. It hesitated, then floated down and rested at the bottom of his cup. Zina refilled his coffee. Jude swallowed the contents in one gulp.
At precisely three forty-five that afternoon, Zina had decided that no animals should be sacrificed at her behest that day.
“I’m not a vegetarian, but there are times, like today, when I just can’t brush aside the image of a lamb seconds before it’s slaughtered. There are times, mind you, when I wake up at night craving steak tartare.”
They would eat omelette. She would prepare it. Judging from what he was drinking, Jude was not expecting a regular omelette. For a few brief seconds, he allowed himself to examine the woman at the stove. Athletic. Broad shouldered. A freckled complexion. Her hair was short, blond, and curly. Quite possibly bleached.
Her back was still turned.
“My Mormon underwear is invisible, in case you were wondering.”
Had Jude managed to finish the book Rashid had given him, he would have read the section on Mormon attire which detailed the specific requirements for ‘temple garments’. White undergarments which covered the shoulders and reached to the knees. Jude chose to hide both his embarrassment and confusion by examining, once again, the markings on his cup.
“Mormons were quite content with the Book of Abraham until the 1960s, when they discovered what Joseph had done.”
Upon examination of the papyri that Joseph translated from Reformed Egyptian, and the document that detailed how he went about it, scholars concluded that the actual contents of the papyri had nothing to do with Joseph’s translation.
“Nothing?” “There’s no such thing as Reformed Egyptian.”
Two more swallowtails flew out of Zina’s hair.
“To the unfaithful, this discovery meant that Joseph was a fraud. To the faithful, it’s the scholars who got it wrong.” “What do you think?” “That they’re all missing the point. Who cares about what the papyri say? That’s history. What matters is Joseph.”
In Joseph’s eyes, an ordinary papyrus had become sacred text. The very words of Abraham.
“The Book of Abraham is in fact an invitation to interact with the world in the same way.” “I’m not sure I understand.”
Zina placed two plates on the table and sat very close to Jude. The scent of garlic and oil was overwhelming. Jude was trying very hard to stay in command of the moment. More swallowtails emerged.
“It’s spicy. I hope you don’t mind.” “It looks very colourful.” “I’ll go back to Joseph after you have your first bite.”
Each forkful was a natural continuation of whatever it was that had begun with the black liquid, three full cups of which Jude had so far drunk. Fighting the scents, spices, and scenes, he formed his face into a picture of appreciation.
“Ah, good, I’m relieved. I was worried it was all too much for you.”
He felt her knee touch his leg. This could, of course, be easily explained as a natural occurrence at a table this small. If one were looking for an explanation.
“You know how with Midas, everything he touched became gold? Well, with Joseph, everything he touched became sacred. Anything and anyone could become part of something profound. Worthless papyri became the words of Abraham. A woman, even a married woman, became a person to whom he was sealed for eternity. Commerce, an insignificant town in Illinois became Nauvoo, the most sacred city in North America. This is what Joseph is. To me.”
As she uttered these last words, Zina placed her hand over his. Jude felt her breath before her lips.
Her scent arrived, despite the strong competition of garlic and oil. White musk. Jude closed his eyes, as though declaring his surrender. Whatever this was, he couldn’t resist it. But nothing else followed.
He opened his eyes again. She was sitting back. Smiling.
“You do realise we are supposed to do this every week.”
An excerpt from The Passion of Jude in When Her Hand Moves, by Omar Imady