Sunday, January 9, 2011

Love Letters to a Nameless Wife

NPR has a short story contest called Three Minute Fiction. I always forget to enter or I miss the deadline. Yesterday, I looked over the contest to see what I needed to write: a short-story in 600 words where at least one character tells a joke and another character cries. Before I started to write, I thought I'd try to find what I've already written. I usually write on my graduate school laptop, so most of my files are research files or papers I've written. Why would I have a story with my graduate papers? One of my favorite professors, who teaches Jewish Thought, loves to make his grad students write stories instead of papers (awesome for a girl who thought about getting an MFA in creative writing before turning her attention to Jewish Literature).

Anyway, because of my worship of wordiness, I can't find one story less than 1,000 words. I guess, I'll have to start from scratch. However, I did find a goodie from my course on Job. If you aren't familiar with Job or you've forgotten the details, I suggest you take a peek at the real story---CliffsNotes® , (yep, there are CliffsNotes® for the Bible!) wikipedia, the actual Torah (or Chabad's version. For all their social shortcomings, I'm a big fan of Chabad's online Torah) or the King James Version.

The most important concept to remember for my purposes is that in the story of Job, his wife has no name and has only one line (and now, I'm quoting from my Jewish Publication Society Tanakh app on my IPhone): "Dost thou still hold fast thine integrity? Blaspheme God, and die." When most people quote the line, they say, "Curse God, and die" Multiple interpretations exist out there that explain what she meant by the line. It is her only line. Job retorts, "Thou speakest as one of the impious women speaketh. What shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" After that, she is never mentioned again. Thus, my professor asked us to write a story answering the question: What's up with Job's wife? The story below is my answer:


 


Love Letters to a Nameless Wife


 

I never intended to stray, but Job left me for hours, then days, then weeks to oversee the grounds, the flocks, the sheep. And there I was, left with ten children. Do you know what it's like to be in charge of ten children? Job and his holiness-- He just doesn't want to be in the house. He wants to look good for all the neighbors. He's all about image really. He looks good for the servants, for the flock, he even tends kindly to the wild beasts. You should see him, going on about the greatness of wild goats, and lions. Levithans even. Have you ever met anyone who's actually come across a leviathan? Hogwash, I say: just a big story to keep the people down here fearful.

All I was to him was a baby maker. I bore him child after child. When those children started grow instead of paying more attention to me, he went off to their feasts: more opulence, more reasons for him to brag about his great piety. "Oh, look at me. Job. The great one. Look at all my children. Look at how they exalt the Lord." Exalt the Lord, my ass. They exalt their father's money. Job sees none of this, of course. He doesn't see his thieving children, or his lazy servants, or those animals he insists on feeding leaving their mess and their newborn babies all over my yard. More than anything, he doesn't see me. I'm not sure if he ever saw me. We had one of those typically arranged marriages. He came from money. I came from money. I had a nice dowry and an even nicer face. Now that I look back on it, I don't remember ever really loving him or even lusting after him. He was always so pious, and yet, so selfish.

My thick black curls, olive skin, and big…eyes, did attract attention. It always attracted attention. When I was young, my father came to me over and over with marriage proposals. However, none of them were good enough. My father wanted more for me. He wanted riches for me, and he also wanted piety. (Heaven knows why, I can't remember him ever acting piously) But that Job of Uz, he was a prize. It wasn't even worth putting up a fight.

With all my servants, I was a lady of leisure. I really had nothing to do but make babies. When I wasn't making babies (who by the way, I just gave up to the nursemaid), I was, bored. So boring this life was.

While Job and my children ignored me, Job's friends, did not--especially Eliphaz, Bilad, Zophar, and the young one Elihu. (he was a catch; he may be young, but I still had my beauty.) When Job was off in the fields, or helping the poor, or visiting our children, his friends were visiting me. They never came all at once. However, each of them found excuses to visit. Eliphaz, an older gentleman would visit to make sure I was safe. He said he worried about me alone in the house. He'd say to me:

"In thoughts from the visions of the night, When deep sleep falleth on men, fear came upon me, and trembling, and all my bones were made to shake. A form before my eyes told me I must see you. I must make sure you are protected from forces outside your door. They say your children are far from safety, but I do think, my dear, that you are the one far from safety. Alone in this big house. Alone in the wilderness. Affliction may not cometh not forth from the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground. Evil forces surround the world, and you are left unprotected. Let me protect you."

So, I let him protect me. Job never worried about my safety. He never worried about my loneliness. All he worried about was his precious God. Eliphaz, worried. And eventually in the darkest of nights he'd whisper, "Neither shalt thou be afraid of destruction...Neither shalt thou be afraid of the beasts of the earth. For thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field; And the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee. I will seek unto you and unto you I will commit my cause."

Who can resist such words? With Eliphaz, I felt protected in a way I've never been protected in my life. He brought light to the darkness of my night. He redeemed me from the famine of loneliness.

But then, Eliphaz was seized with guilt and slowly he visited me less and less. It didn't take long for Bildad to come to my house. With Job gone more and more, I was left to deal with a small legal matter. Job's father left the son of his servant to us and the servant did not want to serve. I could do nothing. It was the law, but Job, in his infinite kindness, did not want to force the servant, so he left, went to the house of our third youngest son. He would pray at the altar of God, and God would decide. Of course, the servant wasn't waiting for God and I certainly wasn't waiting for Job. I called Bildad. "You dear, would never pervert justice." He assured me. "You are pure and upright and the law is on your side. Tell this servant, apply thyself to that which their fathers have searched out. For we are but yesterday, and now nothing. Job's father gave him the servant's son, so he must serve you. The father's will it. The matter is done. Let's concentrate on better things. This man of yours has found himself on a path where he forgets you. You should be the joy of his way and out of the earth his love should spring."

Then, he looked deeply into my eyes and whispered, "Let me fill your mouth with laughter and thy lips with shouting." And I let him.

While Bildad was wise of heart and mighty in strength, he too was seized with guilt. Many a season passed and my life was filled with children, servants, and Job's piety. A third time Job left me, our eldest son wife's had given birth to a boy. I begged to go, but Job felt it was best that he visit alone. He didn't want our daughter-in-law to feel uncomfortable. Angered by Job's decision to leave me at home, Zophar came to check on me. "He has mocked you, and he should be ashamed. Does he ever try to find the deep things about you? The measure of your worth is longer than the earth and broader than the sea. Maybe if he didn't pass you by and he shut up for a moment he would not be such an empty man. He is a wild ass and you are steadfast and you shall not fear. Forget your misery. In your darkness, let me show you morning. I can make you secure. I can give you hope. Thou you shall lie down and none shall make you afraid." And so I did.

My three valiant men, more worthy of affection than my pious absent husband, gave me much joy in my loneliness. They filled my days with words and my nights with wonder. For husbands should know, it is their faults when wives do fall. And fall I did. I fell and fell again.

Though, let me tell you truthfully, none of these men made me fall the way young Elihu made me fall. He must have watched these men visit my house. For in a time of quiet, he'd sneak in my kitchen, sit at the table and tell me, "Hear my words. These men may seem older and wiser than me. However, if they looked upon the heavens, and beheld the sky, they would see what is higher than them. Who is a better teacher than love? Do these men really enjoy it the right way? I hear your voice. I listen attentively to the noise of your voice, and the sound that goeth from your mouth. Your flesh is tenderer than a child's. You bring me back to my life. Your presence redeems my soul. I look at you and behold the light. You've brought my soul back from the pit."

I would go to bed at night, and he would come to me in my dreams.

But, alas, those dreams soon became nightmares. Instead of sweet nothings, my sweet Elihu came to speak curses in my dreams. He haunted me with pain. I'd wake up chilled and stiff and frightened. Visions of flesh dripping off bodies, and haggard hungry men filled my vision: whirlwinds of death and destruction consumed my night. The man I loved stood laughing over the pits of hell as I fell deeper and deeper in darkness. I'd wake up drenched in fear and sweat.

And so, I ended it with Elihu. The dreams were too much: the guilt too overwhelming. When Job came home from our sons, I threw my arms around him, thankful for his piety; grateful for his presence. But then, just when I thought I could give up my own passions, the messenger came from my eldest son's house, and all was lost…

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