Mila's Tale

Mila's Tale by Laurie King

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Authors: Laurie King
Mila’s Tale
    a story
    with commentary
    Copyright 2014 Laurie R. King

                  “Mila’s Tale” occupies the center ground of my life: I write fiction; I was trained in Old Testament theology.  The story is the first in a proposed series that will, if I am granted the years and the wit, become a collection of modern midrashes (for a definition and comments, see below.) 
                  First comes the story itself, then the Scripture on which it is based, with the texts followed by definitions, my comments, a closer analysis of the text, and suggestions for further reading.
                                                                                                                    —Laurie R. King

Mila’s Tale
    (Jephtha’s Daughter)
                  The girl’s name was Mila.  It is important to remember that, not because Mila means something— Queen or songbird or the clouds in morning— but because it was her name, and she was Mila.
                  Her father’s name was Jephtha.
                  Mila lived in a land of mud-brick houses roofed with scraps of corrugated metal, a remote piece of hillside where thin chickens scratched outside the doors and only the richer men owned pigs.  In her village, five houses had water brought through pipes to the kitchen, four men owned trucks that, when running, belched clouds of black diesel smoke, three citizens had been away to school, two had been to university in the capital city, and one man claimed to have been to America and returned.  No one, however, believed his stories; all thought he had got as far as the port, scraped a living on the docks for two years, and skulked home again.  His house had been altered on his return, and given an indoor toilet, but the problems inherent in digging a septic tank in living stone had proved too great, and the white throne was used for storing root vegetables.
                  Mila had been one of the three who had gone away to school. 
                  Perhaps if her mother had not died, none of this would have happened.  Her mother was an educated woman; the marriage had been a scandal, when the schoolmaster’s younger daughter wed the bastard son of the local whore, a man who supplemented the income from his tiny farmstead with a touch of illicit smuggling across the border.  But they were happy, and he did not beat his young wife as her mother had feared.  He even showed a degree of pride in his wife’s pregnancy that the village men mocked and the women found unexpectedly endearing.
                  But Mila’s mother died giving her birth. 
                  People agreed that Jephtha was not the same.  Certainly he began to spend more and more time away from his home in the dusty hills, turning over the daily chores of farming to others as he built up a shady but lucrative business in smuggling—primarily guns.  He married again, of course, but his new wife proved sickly, a poor stepmother for a lively young child with an inquisitive mind.  She died, too, when Mila was four. 
                  So he sent his daughter to her aunt, the mother’s childless younger sister, who lived in the capital city.  There Mila lived, with a woman who loved her as her own, who educated her and encouraged her and made plans to send the girl to university—the country badly needed doctors, and the girl had the hands and eyes of a healer.  Once a year, Mila travelled home to the village; once or twice a year, Jephtha came to see her.  The girl preferred it when her father came to her, since at home she could not fail to be aware of the sorts of men he worked with, and the source of his increasing wealth and importance.  The village was mildly surprised

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