Shem's Wife

Forty days and forty nights in the rolling dark of the ship's belly. Forty long days and forty endless nights by candle-light, while outside the earth purged itself.

With every flash of lightning that rent the sky, a fresh memory seared across my brain. Playing with my brothers by the stream that ran by our hut. Picking flowers for the shrine at Esh-la'em. My mother teaching me to care for the Olive trees, the sacred plant of the Goddess. My father's face as I was brought to my husband's house as a new bride. The pungent scent of the crushed Olive leaves of my wedding night.

All this, lost. My home, gone. My family, dead.

They had had to bind me, hand and foot, and carry me aboard the ark. Had it been within my power to do so, I would have stayed behind with those I loved, I would have sought shelter at the temples and caves of She-Who's-Name-Cannot-Be-Spoken. We would have been safe within the womb of the earth, while She watched over us. Had Shem heeded his father's advice, and not taken me to wife; had I but pleased my mother by becoming a priestess of Her mysteries; were I not already heavy with child...

All of these things I pondered in the midst of the mighty storm. I pondered, too, the other women. My sisters-in-law, had not they lost as much as I? Did it not grieve them that their first children would be born, not in their mother's house, but in a new world? For Zillah, too, had a child in her womb. In fact, I feared she might come upon her time while still aboard the ark. And Lillith had not yet conceived, though she had been married nearly two years. Japheth accused her of barrenness, but I blamed his own handiwork - the bruises that appeared every so often, purpling her face.

Lilith and Zillah bore their burdens with such ease. Half of me envied them their grace, but half of me wanted to scream at them for bowing their heads to their husbands. Of course I did not. They looked down upon me already as an outsider, a sinner, whom Noah had not readily accepted. I would have been so alone, had it not been for Shem. For even though I held against him my abduction into the ark, I also saw his intentions to be true. He comforted me when I could no longer hold back my tears, though I feared to let them fall lest they wash away my last bit of warmth.

My mother-in-law bade me stay hoveled deep within the ark, for the sake of my baby. But sometimes, as everyone else slumbered, I would creep to the single window, and thrust it open. I could stay there for hours, feeling the fresh-water spray, watching my life be swept away by the raging, frothing, water. The trees, the rocks, the animals, the ancient temples that had stood since the first Eve built them as she passed through on her flight from Eden, even as she planted the sacred Olive groves, that every generation might share in her new-found wisdom.

Sometimes, when the darkness became too much for me, I would be tempted to cast myself into the angry flood. I would like to say that, at such times, it was the thought of my unborn child that kept me from it, but in truth it was my pride. I would not let them remember me as a tragic sinner, nor would I let my history, my heritage, lay forgotten at the bottom of the sea.

And so, after battling with myself, I would always return eventually to my lightly snoring husband, safe and sound for the time being.

One day, I was awoken by an exclamation from Noah. And then, before I even opened my eyes, I knew. It was finally silent, finally morning. Finally, finally, the rain had stopped.

At once all eight of us, the only eight left in the world, gathered by the window. Light, heavenly, celestial, light, flooded in. But then I looked out upon the water, and my eyes widened in awe. I had never seen, never imagined, anything so flat or so vast. It stretched endlessly in every direction. I was struck anew with the horror of what had happened. The surface of the water was glassy, utterly calm, pristine, dead. I turned my face to the sun, drinking in the warmth. The sky was a beautiful, breathtaking, blue. This, at least, remained. But even the sun was tinted yellow, no longer its pure white.

As I gazed longingly at the flooded earth, Noah came to the window with a snowy-feathered dove in his hands. I watched as he released it into the fresh air, which I found disturbingly free of scent.

Three days later, the dove returned at long last, alighting upon the bow. When I saw what it carried in its beak, I had to smile through my tears.

An Olive branch.