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Alternate Beginning to Sinners and the Sea
CHAPTER ONE: THE ROPE
All the fountains of the great deep burst apart, and the floodgates of the sky broke open.
God chooses cowards to be brave, barren women to give birth to prophets, passionate men to be patient, and a man who stutters to command his people through the desert. So it was He chose Noah, a man who couldn’t nail one board to another without hitting his own thumb, to build a great ark.
Noah was to put all of the species of the land into his ark. And by “his” ark I mean the one that was built by the sons I bore him. The one we are hurtling back and forth on now in a darkness as black as midnight, while fists of rain beat down the space between us. When lightning strikes I see the screaming, gasping faces of the sinners below. Noah has forbidden me to throw a rope to them. I hear their cries as they are strangled by the terrible sea that is falling from the sky.
Even as I’m tempted to disobey Noah, I can’t deny that he’s a good man. If he weren’t, it wouldn’t have been possible for him to live six hundred years without once stealing a few grains from someone else’s stores or coveting another man’s wife. Most people we know—the ones who are now drowning in huge God-hands of water all around us—can’t go more than a few days without stealing, whoring or murdering.
A blind man could see that I’m lucky to be Noah’s wife. Yet I must admit that many moons ago, when he told me about the ark, there were a couple of breaths here or there in which I had the idea that I should get on it without him and pull up the anchor. This is because there are certain things about Noah, such as how important he feels riding around town on a donkey the size of a large goat, and how he talks incessantly to himself but claims he’s talking to God, that made me think he was touched. And I don’t mean by God.
But now that the murderous flood he prophesied is actually upon us, I see that he really was talking to God and he’s not crazy after all. I would rather that he was. How can we let these people drown?
It’s raining like God’s emptying a bucket of water the size of the sky. There’s so much rain that even when lightning flashes I shouldn’t be able to see the rope. Yet I do. It is hard not to think of the people it might save. There is one person in particular who shouldn’t die. I think that not only will I regret it if she does, but that God will too.
Below us beasts howl. The girls are down there with them, in the bowels of the ship. One is the daughter of a man said to be a greater prophet than Noah, and one is more beautiful than all the beautiful things I’ve ever seen put together. I’m afraid they’ll be pecked by any number of beaks or trampled under the hooves I hear crashing from one side of the ark to the other. Smells rise up and just as quickly disappear—vomit, dung, blood.
The wind knocks me down. I start crawling, on my hands and knees, towards the rope. The last layer of pitch hasn’t fully dried yet. This gives me just the tiniest measure of traction. Enough that I’m able to make my way, ever so slowly, towards the rope.
“Wife!” Noah yells at me. “Get below!”
I should obey my husband. This is every wife’s first duty. Has life made me strong enough, or foolish enough—to question him? And if I do, what will he do to me? I’ve borne Noah sons. This is all he needs from me, and I’ve already given it to him.
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