Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On the Nature of Love: Ink Scrawl Nugget 24

The Context:
The deck of Noah's (or Noe's, as he is called in this book) ark is covered in birds. Ilya (Noe's daughter-in-law), each time she looks at that great whirl of birds, has only one thought in her mind — There should be some way to organize them — not physically in rows or something, as she explains to her husband, Cham, but in categories, waders and forest dwellers, insect-eaters and seed-eaters, carnivores and scavengers and so on. This urge of Ilya's is not something that Cham understands but he knows this is what she really wants to do. Instead she is hauling up the dung of animals from the interiors of the ark, climbing up to the deck, and pouring it over, pail after pail. Day after day.
Cham's musings on watching Ilya work herself, hauling up pails of muck, to exhaustion and oblivion:
I thought I loved her then. When we married I was dead sure. The wedding was a small thing, a few friends and the necessary authorities, what with her family gone and mine days away and besides, I didn't want Abba wading in and scaring her off with his heavy talk. But I realize now what I didn't know then: I'd no notion what love is. Not the faintest hint. Sure I was ready to jump off a bridge for her, or slap any man who dishonored her. Big deal. I'd lie with her all night and labor the next day to give her what she wanted. So what? That's not love, that's commerce, that's taking care of your property, ensuring that your investment pays a profit, but it's not love by a good many spans. So what is?
Love, strange as it may seem, is what you feel when you watch your wife emptying slop buckets she's collected from some demon-spawned lions and wolves and then tottering away for more, so skinny you can practically see the sun shining through her. And this when there's no sun. Knowing she'll keep doing it, no complaining, because it needs to be done, and knowing you're willing to do the same—no, scratch that, you demand to be allowed to do the same for her, with anything that keeps you from lightening the burden just an obstacle that's expendable.
When Ilya's next on the deck I take the pail from her and dump it myself.—Stay up here awhile, love.
—Later, she smiles, but wearily.
—Now. Right here.
I sweep my arms and clear away enough birds that she can sit with her back to the water barrels and look out over the rail at the waves and the clouds, not much view I'll grant but the air is clean and the goldfinches and hoopoes are a hell of a lot more palatable than the beasts.
—You can start your organizing right now.
     —There's more to do, she reminds me.

I hand her a cup of water.—It'll get done.
—From The Flood by David Maine
Cham, by the way, arranges for 'it' to be also distributed amongst other people on board the ark.

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