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Copyright 1999 Grippy and Cormo
The Women's Scrolls
Grippy and Cormo
I try to be an honest woman. I was brought up in Paddan-Aram to speak the truth and avoid trickery. Then I went to my great-uncle's tents, found beauty of soul, and fell in love.
As a child, I often visited with Great-uncle Abraham and Great-aunt Sarah. I knew why; I haven't been formally schooled, as city boys are, but I can add one to one without using my fingers. Their only son Isaac was my age.
Great-uncle Abraham is a religious nut. This is not my opinion; it is fact. I'm only saying this because I don't want anyone thinking I'm hiding something worse. Somebody who might hide anything like this might be a nutcase, too. Everybody has a crazy or two in the family. Admit it up front; it gives you credibility.
My whole family has decided that it's easier to go along with Great-uncle Abraham and do whatever he says his god wants. They've cut off a circular flap of skin around the tip of their penises on his say-so alone. Great-uncle is persuasive in his insanity.
But my dad says, there's no way he can make a profit off the few drops of blood. It sounds insane; so it must be pure religion. If my great-uncle asked for precious metals or firstling flocks, that would be another matter. Blood he can have.
Or a daughter. Dad isn't crazy at all, and Great-uncle Abraham is rich for a nomad, with many,
large flocks. He could pay a generous dowry.
So off I went, hardset against Isaac before I met him. Nothing against him personally, but there was The Problem, like the hard, sharp pit you have to spit out after eating a tangy ripe olive. I didn't want to be condemned to a nomad's life by marriage. I liked the city. I liked civilization. I didn't intend to wander barefoot through the hot sands and rocky mountains of Canaan the rest of my life.
Canaan is green enough, a true land of milk and honey . . . in the winter, when it rains. In the summer, it is hot and dry and miserable, and animals must be moved constantly, to graze on what little there is.
So no nomads for me, thank you, no matter how many animals they owned, when I budded out to womanhood. I was determined to marry a city man, cultured and educated. I would live in a cozy mud brick beehive house, with no more walking than to a reliable well outside the door.
But then I met Isaac.
Isaac sang to the sheep as they grazed, his fingers as skilled on the lute as any city lad trained in musicianship for years. When he spoke, his voice was tender music, too. He saw dreams in the stars. He showed me the world in wonder -- mushrooms springing from a dead tree like shelves, tiny flowers opening after rain. He fascinated me with his thoughts about life and love and his father's god.
But I could find sweet tongued singers, with wondrous thoughts, in the city.
All that was before the wolf.
Great-Aunt Sarah had the habit of sending me out with Isaac's lunch of dates and figs and ale. "Our dear, silly lad has forgotten his luncheon again," she'd say, a look on her wrinkled old face she thought all innocence. "You're young and sturdy, my girl, take it to him so he doesn't feel nasty hunger pangs."
Well, it was better than grinding grain, or churning butter, or the endless spinning and weaving of
goat hair for the tents. I'd take enough for two, and we'd sit and eat, watching the animals and
I heard the screams and howls before I saw anything. I panted up the slight rise, terrified. Making insane promises to every god I had ever heard of, if only Isaac would be all right. I knew that was a wolf yowling. How could Isaac, tender, soft bodied child that he was, hold off a wolf with only a shepherd's simple stick?
He was still standing, covered with blood, face contorted with pain. The animals were rushing about, bleating and baaing in terror. A large hairy body lay still at his feet.
"Becky!" He dropped to his knees, and tears made runnels on the blood and dirt of his face.
I didn't think I could run any faster over that rocky ground, but somehow I seemed to be flying. Only Isaac was important.
"Becky." His voice trembled. "Oh, Becky."
The body was a huge wolf. It wasn't breathing.
"I wish I hadn't had to," he said.
"Your father gave you the responsibility for these animals. That must come before anything else."
"Yes." He nodded slowly. "I understand. But . . . I still feel sad, that I had to."
I snorted. "You'd feel sadder if it had killed you."
He smiled like a rainbow shimmering over the green hills. "Dear Becky. You always help me to . . . to put things in their proper places."
As he did, for me. We fit together. I knew it that day. Just as he had forced himself, against all his thoughts and beliefs of the oneness of life, to kill the wolf, so I would force myself to accept a nomad's bitter days, because that was the only way I could be with Isaac.
Isaac was much, much more important than the treasured, lovely, cultured life in the city. He laid his head against my shoulder, as though drawing strength. Killing the wolf had taken a lot from him. Not just physically, emotionally, too.
"Becky!" Almost a wail. "Look!"
I saw only the dead wolf, with its crushed, bloody skull. "I don't --"
He gazed at me, wide eyed. "You know what father would say. Help wolf cubs to survive? He'd be furious, call us crazy."
I had had similar problems with my parents. Outwardly, I was a good obedient daughter. I spoke my philosophy aloud, for Isaac. "What parents don't know of, they can't be angry or disappointed about." I held his gaze steadily. "Or forbid."
"I love you, Becky," he said softly.
"I love you, Isaac." I rose, dusted my hands. "Let's find the cubs."
We did find them; the gods must have been pleased with us. Then Isaac and I milked from the ewes and she-goats, a little from each, and nourished the wolf cubs. They were whining feebly and weak when we found them, which explained the she-wolf's desperation.
The cubs grew quickly, accepted us as surrogate parents. They were -- they were fun. We played with them. They treated us like . . . like their mother. As they outgrew the milk, Isaac used his slingshot to bring down birds or small animals for them, but he didn't like that, and we soon left them to learn to hunt on their own. But now and again, one or another would seek out Isaac, and come and rub up against him, in friendship.
Our special favorite was a sleek male with a streak of light colored fur down his forehead. Even after the others drifted away, he still came, rubbing against me or Isaac, curling up at our feet while we talked.
The cubs conspiracy against the adults, drew us together. I loved Isaac. I knew he loved me. We pledged ourselves to marry when we were old enough.
Sadly, his father was often disappointed with for Isaac. After their greatest argument, great-uncle
never visited my family again.
Suddenly, his hand stopped in mid-air. His fingers paled as the blood drained out of them. His expression turned meditative.
"God says we are to go to Moriah and sacrifice a burnt offering to him on the mountains. He will talk to you there."
They stood, man against child, father versus son, each stubborn, determined. The aroma of baking bread wafted over from great-aunt Sarah's fire. Then my great-uncle said, "Get packing. We leave tonight."
Abraham was 100 years old, and Great-aunt Sarah in her nineties when Isaac was born to them,
their only son. Great-uncle Abraham always called him, "My only son, whom I love -- a gift
from god." Isaac took being a gift to mean that he had special responsibilities. He packed.
Isaac, my beloved cousin, was smooth skinned and intellectual, not physical. I knew he'd find the donkey ride into the desert uncomfortable. I watched and waved as they rode their donkeys, bouncing across the scrubby fields toward the mountains. And I worried.
I never saw Isaac again. But I have felt him and heard him and borne his child. And sometimes the wind whispers his love to me. These are not lies.
When Great-uncle Abraham returned from the mountains, he had a different boy with him. I don't mean Isaac had changed. I mean a different boy, a wild boy, a rough and hairy boy -- his lower body and legs were as coarse pelted as any animal's -- who loved to hunt and kill. A boy who smelled like a goat, and had worse manners. As different from Isaac as drought from sweet cooling rain.
At first I avoided the strange boy. I hated him because he wasn't Isaac. Isaac was dead, and my crazy great-uncle Abraham intended this wild, strange goatish boy, whoever he really was, to take Isaac's place. Slowly I found out it wasn't that simple.
One evening as I stood in the fields, watching the sheep, I heard Isaac's song. I turned, and there was Isaac's replacement, Abraham's choice, the goat-boy. He sang Isaac's song with Isaac's voice, moved with Isaac's grace. Goosebumps rose on my arms. I felt drawn to him, but I kept my distance.
After that, I watched him carefully. Sometimes he wiped his nose with his fingers, picked his teeth, and deposited it all on his hairy arm. Sometimes he relieved himself where he stood, seldom bothering to get whatever filthy clout he was wearing out of the way. Mostly, he ignored me completely, except when he wanted some food, then he treated me like a slave girl.
But sometimes I saw intelligence shining out of his lackluster, animal eyes. Sometimes he spoke softly and treated me like a human being, instead of a mere girl, just as Isaac always had. Sometimes he acted so civilized, it was as if there were two different souls in the one hairy, filthy body.
Sometimes, I almost thought, almost hoped . . .
Then one day when I was again (sullenly, dragging my feet) bringing him lunch, we heard anguished bleating. The goat-boy, Isaac's replacement, raced toward the sound. A wolf was loping up to the camp, toward me. The animals were scurrying about, baaing and screeping. The goat-boy had often belittled animal herding. Yet now he ran, waving his staff, shouting "Hai! Hai!" as Isaac used to.
The wolf, growling loudly, tried to dodge around the goat-boy. Suddenly the goat-boy hurled himself on the wolf, biting his neck. Blood spurted, and the wolf collapsed. The goat-boy gave a guttural, triumphant cry, then put his mouth to the wound and sucked.
I ran to the animals, tried to calm them. I soothed the sheep, the goats, petted them, crooning as Isaac used to. One lamb came up and gave suck. As I petted the lamb, I felt a gentle, familiar hand on my shoulder. Again, the goosebumps. The hand was warm. This was no ghost. "Isaac?" I asked without looking up.
"Yes," Isaac's voice said softly. "I'm sorry, Becky. I couldn't stop him. He's all fierce inside." I put my hand on his, did not pull back despite his scaly, hairy, scabby skin. For a while, we talked, like old times.
"I just wanted to scare the wolf off," he told me. "But the wild boy wanted blood." I turned and looked at the repulsive, bloody-lipped goat boy. "The wolf . . . it's one of ours, Becky."
I had seen the forehead streak, too. I mourned our fosterling, but couldn't let him see, lest it
double his pain. "It's okay," I assured him, knowing at last, with utter certainly, that this was
Isaac. No one else knew about "our wolves." "You did your best, I know that."
Isaac told me what happened, during the times he controlled the goat-boy's body. Abraham took Isaac up on that mountain all right. While poor Isaac was telling himself that his father's god was a harmless hallucination, Abraham became angrier with every step. When they reached the appointed sacrificial place, Abraham bound Isaac to the wood he had placed on the altar. As Abraham swung his knife, Isaac called out, "Look! A ram caught in the thicket!" Simultaneously, an angel cried, "Halt!"
Abraham thought his son was still arguing with him. Then it was too late. He'd cut Isaac's throat. Afterwards, he wandered about, muttering to himself. He felt empty, forsaken. How could he face Sarah? He'd killed her only son. How could he face his god? He'd killed the promised child.
Then Isaac called out, "I'm here, father!"
Abraham turned, and saw the wild child, the goat-boy.
"I am your son, Isaac. God has promised you descendants as numerous as the grains of sand. You shall have them through me."
Together, Abraham and the goat-boy sacrificed the ram still caught by its horns near the altar.
Then Abraham took the goat-boy home.
Great-uncle Abraham pretended to all that this feral, hermit child was his son, Sarah's son, given to them by god in their old age. He kept introducing the goat-boy to everyone, even passing traders, "This is my only son, whom I love -- a gift from god."
"We can still get married, Becky," Isaac said. "I still love you, and I can still give you a child."
"With that body?" I said. "You look like a goat. You smell like a goat."
"The child won't be a goat child," he assured me. Then he added, "Don't tell me you loved me only for my body."
"Did you talk to your dad's god in the desert?" I asked.
"Yes," he said. The word spoke volumes.
Now both my great-uncle and my beloved were religious nuts. Funny how when you love someone they can get crazy ideas and it doesn't change anything. Well, one thing changed. After that, I did not mind the goat body. I only minded when the goat-boy used it. I would be marrying two men, only one of whom I loved.
I knew the boy wasn't Isaac, but kept my mouth shut. I had promised to marry Isaac and I still intended to. I don't believe in lying, but this wasn't truly a lie. The outward boy wasn't Isaac. But enough of Isaac was there that I still wanted to marry him and spend my life with him.
The goat-boy didn't want me. He told Great-uncle Abraham, "That girl's no wife for me. I need a strong, rough woman. Someone used to the wilderness, not a tender city bred female."
But Great-uncle Abraham was firm. "You'll marry Becky if she'll have you. God wills it."
I wasn't keen on Great-uncle Abraham's god getting mixed up in my marriage. But it would ensure my father's blessing.
Great-aunt Sarah would have none of it. "That boy is not my son, and you'll marry him over my dead body!"
We had to wait until she died. Isaac and I were 40.
I was home with my family at the time. Abraham sent his servant for me. Ishmael was there the
night the servant arrived with his message.
"He may be a goat-boy," I told him. "But he is also Isaac, and I will marry him."
We didn't have a fancy wedding. Abraham's servant escorted me back and to Isaac's tent. I went in and we made love. Even in the goat-boy's body, Isaac was tender and sweet with me.
We lived together many years. The goat-man rarely intruded into our happiness. The only flaw was our lack of children. Then when we were making love one night, at the very height of passion, Isaac's spirit said, "Good bye, Becky. I can't --" Almost desperate: "I love you!"
Suddenly our love-making changed to wild grabbing. Isaac had gone. As I realized later, his seed had fertilized my egg, so his mission on earth -- to have a child to carry on the line of Abraham and Sarah -- was complete. Only he didn't know there were two eggs. The wild man's seed fertilized the other. Being wild stock, his child came out of me first, even though Isaac's was conceived first.
Once pregnant, I was left without Isaac, married to a wild man I didn't know and didn't like, much less love. But soon I had my son, who reminded me of Isaac. Sadly, I had the goat-man's son, too, even wilder and shaggier than he was.
For years I was angry with Isaac for leaving me. A seer once told me Isaac's spirit was in my younger child. I sensed this was true. But being Isaac's mother isn't the same as being his wife. Still we were together.
There had been the two voices in my husband. Now I heard the two voices of my twin boys, Jacob, Isaac's son, and Esau, the goat-man's get.
Great-uncle Abraham came over to meet his grandchildren. No sooner were they in his hands
than I heard two little cries. He'd snipped off the flaps on their penises. "Now they belong to
god," he said. He didn't bother to ask my permission. Once it was done, why argue? It's not
like he could put anything back. The man is a fanatic, like I've said.
"Isaac's gone," I told him. "All that remains of him is Jacob, the younger son."
"Older, younger, who cares?" he growled. "Jacob must inherit after Isaac. God says so."
"What's the big deal?" I asked. "You're a nomad. You own a few wells and some herds of sheep, a few slaves. Who cares who inherits something so common?"
"God has promised me offspring as numerous as the stars. He has promised me all this land of Canaan. Jacob is to inherit these promises." Crazy Great-uncle Abraham. When he's in that mood there's no arguing with him. But I'd had it with religious nuts. My insane great-uncle had killed my beloved and left me married to a goat-man.
"All your god does is lie and trick people and boss them around," I said. "I want no part of it."
"When god speaks, you cannot say yes or no," insisted Abraham. "You just do it."
"You have six children with your new young wife," I persisted. "Give the promises to them."
"God promised them to Isaac," said Great-uncle Abraham. "I told him, Isaac died on the mountain in Moriah. God said, `Yet he has born a child who will inherit the promises.' So, what can I do?"
I saw it in his eyes. My crazy great-uncle honestly believed what he was telling me. "You were a good woman to marry my son in the body of the goat-boy," continued Abraham. "God will reward you. He will speak with you personally."
"What, and make me cut off the tip of my finger?" I asked. "Your god is a bloody god. A lying and tricking god." I raised my voice as if I were defending my life. "I want nothing to do with him!"
My crazy great-uncle just stood there and nodded his head. "God is," he said simply.
For years I stiffened myself not to listen if that crazy god should talk to me. Sometimes I thought it might be exciting. Or terrible. Often I was just curious. But always I fought it.
Abraham died, and I thought this god business was ended.
Then my blind old goat of a husband asked me to send Esau hunting to prepare his favorite meal. Afterward, he would bless Esau with his best blessing.
That was when I heard god speak. "The blessing is for Jacob, not Esau. You can help Jacob. If you trick your blind husband and send in Jacob with a tasty meal you've prepared, your husband will give the blessing to Jacob."
This was definitely the same god who'd talked to Abraham and Isaac. Up to his old tricks. But he wasn't ordering me around. He couldn't. I wouldn't obey him. So he had to ask. I had a choice. He had plans for Isaac. When Abraham lost his temper and killed my beloved, god managed to fulfill his plans with Isaac's spirit. Most of them. Now he needed me to finish the job. Or maybe not. Maybe god would achieve his plans without me.
My choice. I could help god by tricking my husband. Or I could do as I was taught in Paddan-Aram and make god find another way.
I called Esau and sent him out to hunt. Then I started a fire for my husband's meal. I saw god's whole plot clearly. I could let Esau catch and fix his hunt for his father and get the blessing. Or I could use a goat, prepare it as if it were game, use its hairy skin to put on Jacob's smooth arms to trick the blind goat-boy grown old into thinking Jacob, my son, Isaac's true son, was the hairy Esau and giving Jacob the blessing.
As the heat of the flames warmed my hands, I thought, What's wrong with lying and tricking? It was mere accident that Esau was born first! By what rules does the first born inherit instead of the second? If a rule doesn't make sense then breaking it isn't wrong. I realized that I was sounding like my crazy great-uncle. But I was happy. I loved Isaac. I loved his son, Jacob.
I called Jacob and told him to go kill a goat for his father's supper.