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The Innkeeper’s Wife

A SHORT STORY

By Joseph Benevento | December 2023
Joseph Benevento retired after 40 years as a Professor of English at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, where he taught creative writing and American literature. He is the author of 16 books of fiction and poetry, and his stories, essays, poems, and reviews have appeared in more than 300 publications, including Poets & Writers, Bilingual Review, St. Anthony Messenger, The Catholic Missourian, Prairie Schooner, Dappled Things, U.S. Catholic, and Wisconsin Review. He is the longtime poetry editor of The Green Hills Literary Lantern. This is an adaptation of the sixth chapter in his recently published novel about the life of the Holy Family from the viewpoint of St. Joseph, My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect Son (Addison & Highsmith, an imprint of Histria Books). All royalties from the sale of the novel will go to Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri.

The cave was spacious. The goats, the fowl, and the owner’s mule all had sufficient room. None of the animals seemed to object to our presence; in fact, we put our donkey in a makeshift stall right next to the mule, and neither of them seemed a bit disturbed. The trick was to find room for ourselves and for the little one to come. The owner had allowed us to shelter in his manger and line it with hay. He told us we could settle in wherever we could make room, so long as we didn’t disturb his milking goats. That man was really fond of his goats.

The innkeeper’s affection for his goats was the reason he offered his stable to us after telling us there was no room in his inn. To call the place an “inn” was being generous. The man and his wife had a modest, three-bedroom home; two of the bedrooms they rented to infrequent boarders. It was our bad luck that both rooms were occupied by Roman soldiers assigned to Bethlehem for census purposes. Neither pagan was inclined to give up his bed to a very pregnant Jew and her frantic husband.

“If it were up to me, I’d have them both out on their ears,” the innkeeper said. “I’ll be lucky if they pay me when they get ready to leave. What recourse will I have if they decide not to? To whom would I complain besides God Himself, who is very good at keeping silent about these Romans? I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do.”

The innkeeper was a handsome man, tall and erect, with black hair and a heavy beard. His piercing, dark eyes shone with indignation. But when Mary grimaced a little from a sudden contraction, he was moved to sympathy.

B’sha’ah Tovah,” he said to Mary, the blessing for a pregnant woman. It seemed as though by invoking that blessing, he was trying to forestall the “good hour” of our son’s birth from coming too soon. “I’d give you my own room, I really would,” he continued, “but my wife is not well and I can’t in all mercy make her leave the comfort of her bedroom, what little comfort it is. If not for that, the two of us would sleep with the goats tonight and let you have our room. But it can’t be helped.”

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