There is a kind of book in which the clever child protagonist is destined to become a writer, the author, in fact, of the story in which the child is the protagonist. David Copperfield is such a child, but not infrequently it's a girl. The Bible does not say that besides his three boys, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, Noah had a daughter who would have been a writer had she not lived before the invention of writing. It was several generations before scribes like Ezra set down the stories that had been told by authors like Noah's daughter.
There are people, of course, who believe that the author was God, who (as it says in the stories) had made the people. Male and female created he them and commanded that they be fruitful and multiply, and the women conceived and bore men and, of course, women, but they, except for Eve and a couple of others, did not get to have names. Noah's wife was called Noah's wife, and the wives of Noah's sons were called the wives of Noah's sons. Noah's daughter, we take it, was called Noah's daughter. “The men were off before sunup,” Noah's wife said to the four younger women. She was looking through the tent's opening and could see Noah, Shem, and Japheth some way down the hill, cutting lengths of gopher wood for the third of the ark's three floors; Ham had gone to fetch the pitch with which to pitch it within and without. “I don't know why he has to get the boys up so early.”
“Don't you?” said Noah's daughter. She happened to have been born with the talent to observe and to connect, along with a tendency to seesaw between self-congratulation and self-deprecation. “Father is the kind of man who thinks if anything can go wrong, it will, so when God says he is going to make a flood, Father takes to it like a duck to water.”
“Go and start the fire,” replied her mother. “When the sun stands overhead, the men will be in for their lunch.”
“Why can't Ham's wife do it?” said Noah's daughter, and Ham's wife said, “Why can't you?”
“Because I'm in the middle of something,” Noah's daughter said. “I'm working on a prayer—more like a memo— to God. I'm developing the argument against the flood.”
“We have been hearing about this memo every day for a week,” Shem's wife said.
“Why do you think God needs your prayer to be so all perfect?” asked Japheth's wife.
“Perfect is not the point. It's that I myself don't know what I'm saying until the right word is in the right place.”
“All right, all right!” Noah's wife said. “One of you wash the gourds, one of you knead the dough, and someone start the fire. And you go finish your memo.”
The reason this memo was taking so fatally long had to do with her modus laborandi, over which Noah's daughter had little control. She could never help going back to the beginning to cut any word that a sentence would be clearer, sharper, better without. It troubled her to think that she might bore the Lord who, after all, had the whole world in his hand. She was always challenging every word to hit the nail on, instead of next to, the head. And she was searching for the tone that would startle God's attention without getting him angry. This is what she had got down on the tablets of her mind so far:
Dear God, I wonder if you have ever never asked yourself why whether the Flood might not be such a good idea might be a really bad idea might be useless not be useful.
The memo was fated not to get done that afternoon. It was one of those days when Noah's daughter might have preferred chopping wood to words. “Maybe I need to get out and do some more research,” she told her mother.
Passing the ark, she called up to her father and brothers who were getting the side door set in the upper deck. “I'm going over to Great Grandfather Methuselah's.”
“I have been warning everybody that the Lord will bring a flood to destroy both man and beast, and the creeping things, and the fowls of the air,” Noah called down to her. “If Great Grandfather has not got started on his ark, it is going to be too late.”
The widow woman who lived in the next tent was putting her washing out to dry over the back hedge. Noah's daughter reminded her about the coming flood. The widow hoped the rains would hold off till tomorrow. Seven sons, she said, was a lot of laundry.
To Abner, standing among his flock of sheep, Noah's daughter also mentioned the Lord's drowning man, beast, creeping things, and the fowls of the air. Abner said he was thinking of moving his animals up to higher ground.
Noah's daughter liked to drop in on her Great Grandfather Methuselah. His conversation, at age 969, was more congenial to her than that of her immediate family. “I've been thinking,” she told him. “Again!” said he fondly. “Have you got any new stories to tell me?” “I'm thinking of writing the one about my father, Noah. Why is he the only
human of all mankind to be building an ark?”
“Because he is a righteous man in his generation,” said Methuselah. “For your father, listening and obeying are synonymous. If God says to Noah, `Go and make an ark out of gopher wood,' Noah goes and makes an ark out of gopher wood.” “Yes, and what exactly is the rest of mankind saying to itself?” “Mankind, you mean, like me?” That was what Noah's daughter meant. It is interesting that she should have been puzzling over human passivity in the face of imminent catastrophe at a time when most instances had not yet occurred. Generations would pass before Lot's sons-in-law, warned about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorra, would fail to get their families out of town; two and half millennia later, the Jews of Europe were not going to leave while it was still possible.
“Habit?” suggested Methuselah. “It's easier to continue doing what you are doing than to consider changing. My tent is nothing to boast about, but I love my bed. No postdiluvian straw would arrange itself under my back in just the right way.”
“I know what you mean,” said Noah's daughter. She worried that she would never find any other place that suited her so well as her corner of the tent where, six mornings out of the seven, she sat and worked on her stories.
“I may not look forward to nudging yet another sacrifice up to the high place for another burnt offering—and always with the same people!” went on Methuselah. “But we prefer the hills we know than to climb others that we know not of.” “That is a truth!” said Noah's daughter with that little thrill of recognition. “And then,” continued Methuselah, “we tell ourselves that it may not be all that serious. I've fixed— that is, I'm going to fix—the stakes that hold my tent in the ground, and then I'll sit tight and wait it out. I mean, how bad can it be? The augurs are always telling us there's going to be this weather and that weather and afterwards it is no such thing. And anyway, how would I even know how to build myself a live-in ark?”
“Neither did Father, until the Almighty specified the dimensions: 300 cubits in length by fifty by thirty, with a window above, the door set in the side, and a second and third deck that will house all flesh to keep each kind alive.” And lowering her voice, she said she hoped it wouldn't occur to God that the flood was not going to affect anything that swims. “Where in the ark would Father fit a tank to accommodate a male and female leviathan?”
It has been said that Noah's daughter was an observant girl. She could see that in spite of his protestations, the dear, ancient man was afraid; he had the look of one staring into the end times. “Fear not, Great Grandfather,” she said to him. “I'm going home to finish my memo to the Lord. There isn't going to be a flood.”
Whether it was her reassurance, or because the human mind is not capable of sustained terror, old Methuselah looked up, his smile a little sickly, and said,
“You do that. You go home and finish your memo before it starts raining.”
But the small rain had started by the time Noah's daughter reached the parental tent. She stepped over a great puddle and stood a while to watch the animals assembled at the ark's entrance begin to arrange themselves into what looked like an endless line of two-by-twos—a good thing they were used to being rained on.
Then she went inside the tent and got to work, going all the way back—she couldn't help it—to the opening salutation:
Dear God, I wonder if you have never asked yourself why making the a Flood might turn out to be useless. I can sympathize with the temptation to drown everybody and everything (except the fish) the lot of us and to start over from scratch, but how will this solve the problem of man's evil?
She heard—she could feel—the rain drumming on the tent over her head. It was really coming down. At this juncture (a marvel, surely, considering that written language had yet to be invented), Noah's daughter came up with the idea that was to change future usage. She started over from the beginning, employing the upper case for all pronouns referring to the Lord, before continuing:
That You are Your preserving one male and one female of each species (including my father and my mother) means that You are going to will mean to restart the earth without having to redesign everybody from scratch.
The tent rattled with gust after gust and she went to stand at the opening. There were so many new puddles. Noah's daughter watched the stately rocking motion of two noble elephant behinds disappear into the ark, followed by the crowd of cattle—such a lot of ears, a forest of legs. There went the white tails of a pair of jackrabbits, skittering under the hindmost billy goat, to avoid having to queue up in the rain.
Noah's daughter knew that she needed to get her memo finished in a hurry, and now she knew what she wanted to say:
What I don't see is why Why do You think that mankind after the Flood will be any different from better than mankind before the Flood? My father is really righteous, and Shem and Japheth are nice good men, but my brother Ham—i don't want to snitch, but I've seen him do stuff things. . . . God, You know. The thing is that I mean that You won't be starting over from scratch.
Noah's daughter thought she heard her mother shouting, but it was the voice of the widow woman hollering the names, one after the other, of her seven sons, while, body bent, her arms outstretched before her, she chased a white tunic that looked to be swimming away and getting farther and farther downriver where there had been no river. The water cataracting from the higher ground brought a sheep wheeling heels over head, and a second and a third,
tumbling over and over and Abner trying to find his feet, swallowing the water that was swallowing him.
That was the day the fountain of the great deep broke up and the windows of heaven opened. Noah's daughter saw the cattle not destined for a place in the ark, saw all the dead creeping things and many fowl carried down the roiling rapids that covered the place where Methuselah's tent used to stand. Now it was her mother shouting for the women to get their stuff, right away.
“Just as soon,” cried Noah's daughter, “as I do my memo over. This is the final draft!” But her father stood in the opening of the tent saying “NOW!” and there was nothing to do but follow him out, crossing the puddles that had joined into a second waterway. They stood in the downpour waiting for what had to be the last of the animals: two naked, pink earthworms inching up the ramp into the ark. But here came the two water bugs and two mosquitoes, a male and a female; and the maggots who, sans sex, sans color, sans legs, mouths, or eyes, always know when to turn up and where; and those black mites, like the living dots in the bag of all-purpose flour that you have kept in your kitchen past the “best used by” date, they too went into the ark to keep their kind alive; and behind them must have queued the myriad instances of life which no eye, male or female, would see until the invention of the microscope; and when the least of these had gone into the ark, Noah and his sons with him, and his wife and his sons' wives went in as God had commanded him, and the Lord shut them in.
And now it was forever too late to prevent the catastrophe. Never, in the overpopulated ark, would Noah's daughter find a corner of her own. It was in the tablets of her mind that she inscribed the story of the Flood as we read it to this day, how the waters increased and bore up the ark and it was lifted and went upon the face of the waters, and the water prevailed. All the high hills and the mountains were covered. All flesh died upon the earth, both of fowl and of cattle and of every living thing that creeps on the earth, and every man died.
It says that when the waters had covered the earth for one hundred and fifty days, the fountain of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped. Noah's daughter notes the date (it was in the seventh month) on which the ark came to rest on Ararat. She tells the story of the raven and the story of the dove and the olive branch, and records the day in the tenth month, when the water had so far receded that Noah and his wife and his sons and their wives came out, and so did every one of the cattle and every creeping thing and all the birds that had been in the ark with Noah.
We wonder and we worry: Which of every clean beast and every clean fowl, of all that had been in the ark all that time, did Noah pick for a burnt offering on the altar that he built to the Lord?
When the Lord smelled the sweet savor, He said, “I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake,” for He saw what Noah's daughter's memo
(oh, if she had only finished getting it written!) could have told Him—that the imagination of man's heart would go right on being evil from his youth; that Ham was going to sneak a peek at his father's nakedness—everybody going right on being who they were!
The Lord made a covenant with Noah and set His rainbow in the sky as a sign that He would not again smite any more everything living, as He had done. What the Lord must have meant was that He was never again going to destroy every living thing all at one and the same time, because ever since the Flood, the tsunamis, the avalanches, the mudslides and blizzards, the plagues, the droughts and famines, the world wars and genocides, and the Holocaust have happened only here and there and now and then, and seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night have not ceased, while the earth remains.