In this extract from his latest novel Richard Beard casts a "hyper-rational eye” on the Bible story of Lazarus rising from the deadby Richard Beard / June 22, 2011 / Leave a comment
Richard Beard is director of The National Academy of Writing, and has been shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award. In his fifth novel Lazarus is Dead, from which this excerpt is taken, he sets out to bring “a hyper-rational eye” to the Bible story of Lazarus rising from the dead. He uses fictional sources (such as lives of the saints, paintings, and opera) to create a biography of Lazarus the man. He is not a Christian, but holds that “Christianity has a lot left in it for those interested in storytelling.” He adds: “The debate about Christianity has been largely a non-fiction debate, where reason applied to Bible stories makes them collapse. In fiction you can arrive at a different, more surprising result. In this case the story of Lazarus, I hope, is enhanced.”
Lydia works in the Lower City in a narrow building jammed between alleys. Her windowless room is beneath a sloping roof, reached by a tapered ladder that rises to a trapdoor in the first-floor ceiling. This is Lydia’s idea. If a man can’t climb the ladder, if he’s that tired or drunk, she doesn’t want his custom.
Halfway up the ladder Lazarus rests and swallows a gulp of air, ignores the ticking in his inner ear, shakes his head. The rash on his arms flares up. He climbs another rung.
Lydia has beautiful feet. The soles of her feet are waxy and clean, as if she never walks on common ground. He sees her feet, then the curve of her lower legs. The rest of her is wrapped in a length of purple cloth tied beneath her arms, and the skin of her shoulders is bur-nished by lamplight, the flames reflecting in the broad silver bracelet on her upper arm.
“If it isn’t Lazarus.”
She is unprepared for the paleness of his face, the tightness of the skin across the bones. And the smell. She hides her wince, tucks her legs beneath her, picks up a cushion which she hugs to her chest.
Lazarus hauls himself over the rim of the opening. He lies still, his cheek crushed into the softness of a heavy rug, his staring eyes level with the cushions landscap-ing the floor. He flops over onto his back. The walls are softened by Persian drapes, and their swaying rounded shadows.
“I’ve been ill,” Lazarus says, eyes open to the furnish-ings.