(In this prologue, Dinah invites the readers to join her at the beside of her dying father, Jacob, in Egypt. She sets her intent to serve as a kind of Biblical Cassandra, revealing what lies behind the “truth” of her family’s stories that make up the core of Genesis.)
Listen to “Night Returns,” an excerpt read by the author Lucy Marx.
Here, now, will you come? Yes, come and sit with me and listen as night returns to Father’s compound.
So, can you hear the plaintive flute-song wavering in the dead air? That’s Zebulon, last of Mother’s many sons whose tunes are always filled with longing for the sea.
And the clank of pots? That’s Bilhah, Father’s ancient concubine and Rachel’s slave, carrying off the evening meal, her ample form so dwindled now, her step is weighed by age alone.
And that deep voice is Reuben, Father’s first-born boy, wheedling with his wife. Soon you’ll hear the harsh staccato of her reply and then the heavy thud of feet as he escapes to roam the streets of this bleak desert outpost in search of whores.
And can you hear the whimpering from the next tent? That’s Tamar’s hungry grandson, seed of Judah, fourth of Mother’s sons she bore for Father while Rachel’s womb stayed closed.
And if we listen well, we’ll hear—faintly from the pens—the bleat of lambs as they too yank at their ewes’ dry tits before they settle and grow quiet.
So, now, all that’s left is that dry noise from here beside us. That’s my father, Jacob—the one you may have heard of by the name he took the night he claimed he fought a God and won. Yes, here lies “Israel”—the one first overtaken by his twin inside the womb, who later pulled ahead as favorite of the ancient Abraham and of the God he worshipped.
Yes, what you’ll hear until he falls into a fitful sleep is Jacob’s lamentation for himself and all he’s suffered here on mortal earth smoothed down into the cadence of a prayer he interrupts only when a fit of coughing seizes him.
And then, at last, all will be still except the shuddering of the blasted grain as the night wind catches hold and what we cannot hear seeping under the hides—the dust, you’ll see when it turns light, that covers everything.
So, let me welcome you to Father’s compound, here where we fled at Joseph’s mercy and stayed these long, long years—now seventeen—as the drought that ravaged Canaan followed us into Egypt.
Yes, I am Dinah, Israel’s only daughter, born of Leah, and now my father’s closest living female kin. And so each night I sit here draped in white, my hair tied back and covered up, my face behind the veil, high priestess of my father’s dying.
Oh, you may know of me perhaps—have heard of how I rose above myself and fell. How I betrayed my father and so provoked the wrath of El. Yes, heard the story told like this: “The Rape of Dinah.” And so perhaps you’ll think it strange to find me here, my father’s trusted nurse as he sinks down towards Sheol.
And, yes, I find it strange as well. Though this is the time I crave the most, when I can simply sit beside my father’s bed and watch the paleness of my hands dissolve into the dark.
But hear how Father’s starting up again? A fit of coughing seizes him, so I must rise. See how he clings to me as if he clings to life itself? And how, in turn, I cradle his bald head and stroke his bony neck beneath the last sparse clump of hair until his coughs subside.
Yes, Father knows how near he is to death. Last night he wept inside my arms. But now he shrugs me off and points down to his feet which, despite the heat, are cold.
Sometimes I knead his gnarled toes or even stoop to kiss them as if they were a baby’s dimpled ones. But now I’ll simply coat his cracked lips with balm, coax him to open them for water, hold his hand, and whisper, “Joseph comes.” For all my father waits for now, I know, is him, his favorite son who, summoned, races back across the desert to claim the blessing he is owed before our father’s gone.
So, if you’ll stay until the dawn you’ll surely witness it—the drum of hooves inside a cloud of dust, the golden chariot lit by rising Shamash, and then my brother swaddled in his gorgeous cloak beneath his jewel-encrusted crown. My twin, my opposite. My father’s precious prince as he steps down to take what he was promised.
But now, again, hear how Father grunts? See his hand held up—his left, commanding me to be his cane, and hoist him to his feet, and raise the skins as he goes out.
And there I’ll wait as he fumbles with his cloak, still propping him, my eyes averted as I let them sweep out past the shadowed pens to where my brother rides across the desert until I hear the splatter in the dust. And then, when Father’s done, I’ll turn and find his face relieved—a small boy pleased with himself. And when he ducks his head to give command, I’ll guide him in and lower him to his bed, and as he hikes his feet I’ll wipe them off before I ease the pillow under his neck.
So, now, can we be still again? Until my father finally sinks into his weak, incessant drone.
Then let me ask another time, now that you know who I am—oh ghosts, oh dead, oh not yet born—will you still come? Come closer in and listen?
And let me tell my stories before my father passes into the underworld.
Yes, let me begin.
Start at the start.
Go back again to Paddan-aram where I was born, and tell of those I lived among. Of how my brothers and I arrived, issue of four wombs, and of the rivalries that grew with us. And of our days with old sweet Laban. And of the time my father fled with all of us and Laban’s wealth. And how we wandered in the wilderness goaded on by Father, and how we met his God, and how my brothers sacrificed themselves to Him.
And, yes, I’ll tell of how we entered Canaan. And all I came to know of Shechem.
And how I fell.
And then I’ll tell of what I glimpsed as the sword came slashing down—the slaughter taking place in Heaven of which our part was echo.
Oh, yes I know, some of what you’ll hear from me you may have heard before—passed down by Father’s sons and all who bow before the God of Abraham.
But what I have to tell, I promise you, is different.
And this, too, I can promise you.
My words will never falsely honor Father’s cult nor bring dishonor to the ones my father loathes.
For if bitterness should taint my tongue, the bitterness will be against my own.