I am Job’s second wife. I have a name but no one remembers it. My husband never uses it. He says he wants to protect me from evil but I remain a shadow moving across his field, temporary. A shift in the wind and I am gone.
My children call me Mama. They have names but he has forbidden me to say them outside our home. When we visit my sister, I say Eldest Boy, and Little Boy, and Jumping Girl, and Girl with Black Eyes, and Boy with Scar on his Chin.
There was a rush of blood when he fell on the rock he was climbing. It stained my robe. It turned the grass red. I thought it was beginning, he would be taken away and wrapped in cloth and put in a cave, but I was wrong. The blood stopped spilling out. I washed his chin and made a cloth into a strap that tied in the back of his neck, and in a few days he was restless and went out to join the others in the field. I would have prayed to God but my husband said, No. He made the other children stop talking. We were quiet. But the animals, they brayed, and stamped their hooves and we couldn’t explain why we didn’t talk. Since then the Boy has grown. He stands as tall as his older brother.
In the night when I lie with my husband he scratches at his skin. He scratches so hard it will bleed and if I hold his hands he screams so I let him alone. Some nights he weeps in his sleep and his face and his beard are wet with tears. Some nights, he curses me for living when she is dead.
One night, he went to the crib of our first daughter and picked her up and held her over his head. I am going to slaughter her, he said. I ran to him and put my arms around his waist and begged him to give her to me. Later he promised me he would not do that again. But can he keep that promise? I put dry leaves around the children’ s beds so I will hear the crunching if he steps near. Each morning I sweep up the leaves.
When he drinks with his friends, when we have celebrated a wedding or a birth, after he has fallen heavily into his bed, I wake all the children and we take our bedding out into the field and sleep under the stars. Once it was raining and we slept with the sheep. Their wool was damp, but the smell was sweet.
Year after year, the grief does not go away. It settles deeper into his bones. I see in his eyes the absence of the now and the here. He is with them—not with us. He will not say his morning prayers. I worry that will bring thunder, lightning, flood. He says, no, nothing will happen. It has already happened.
I would ask him what makes him so sure. But that would make him angry with me. I might ask him to make peace with God and all his angels, but he would despise me. I think he despises me enough for not being Her and being me instead.
Sometimes, now that the children are no longer babies, I go out into the field and I call out to God to give me a husband with tender hands, who would stroke my hair and sometimes laugh with me. He doesn’t laugh. I understand, but I remember when I played with my brothers and we had smiles between us.
He doesn’t remember the children’s names. He says, “We don’t name clouds do we?” I want to say that children are not clouds but I know he would just reply: They disappear in the wind, like clouds.
He has friends who come to sit with him at our table. They tell him to Thank God that all has been restored down to the last donkey, the smallest dog. But he says it has not been restored. It has been echoed but he is not fooled by an echo. No, say his friends. Enjoy the present, they encourage him. Then he goes away for a few days, but when he returns he is the same as always.
It is not my fault. Or perhaps it is my fault. Am I less lovely than she was? Are my children less than hers? If I woke in the morning with a fever and died in the evening, would he be sorry he had not wanted me? I think he would find another whose father would ask no questions and would be grateful for the bride price.
I know many a girl would be grateful for the comforts we have. But God knows my thoughts—I cannot hide them. Above everything else, I wonder if God will always be pursuing us, all through the generations, placing bets, using us as pawns in some test of loyalty or righteousness, a test we will always lose. Whirlwinds will come and go as the seasons change, and we will still understand nothing.
I have heard rumors of what Eve did in the Garden at the beginning. It is not my fault. I would have obeyed. I would have chased the Snake out of the gate and watched as he dropped out of the sky into the lower regions. Why am I guilty of a transgression I could not have known of, since I knew nothing in my un-bornness? Fair? Is that fair?
When I wake at night I see him as far away from me in the bed as he can get without falling off the edge. I try to think of all the creatures in the world, the caterpillars, the crows, the fish and the frogs, the donkeys, the butterflies, the oxen and the creeping and the crawling of things with legs and the flapping of wings and the gnashing of teeth and the biting of flesh and the stars in the sky disappearing each morning, but sooner or later coming back. Is that where Satan goes to sleep, when he has drunk his full of human sorrows?
What right have I to try to understand the Lord of the Universe? What right has the Lord of the Universe to forget me—to leave me without a name.
Think of me sometimes. The second wife, the replacement wife, the second wife without a name.
Anne Roiphe is a novelist and a journalist.