The Book of Voices

Biblical Microfictions by Joseph Zitt

The Wife of Cain

(Context: Genesis 4:17)

I slide down from atop the man, feeling the damp earth for the first time, remembering how it will feel when I feel it again. The man and I are also damp, damp with sweat. I remember that his name is Cain. He is breathing heavily, eyes now open, smelling the way that I remember that men who sweat will smell.

After a while, his breathing slows. He turns his head to look at me. “Who are you?” he asks.

“I am your wife.”

“Yes. But who are you? Do you have a name?”

I think. “The stories don’t tell me of one.”

“Where did you come from?”

“I come into being in your embrace. I am here at least until Enoch is born.”

He frowns. “Enoch?”

“Our son. We have a son.”

“We have a son now?”

I frown, too, then remember that he has a different sense of time. “Our son has begun his process of existing. He will be born soon.”


I rest my head on his outstretched arm. I place my hand on his breast, so flat and hairy where mine are round and smooth. “You learn these things in time. And you do have time.”

“Yes,” he says. “Though I have little else.”

“You need little else,” I say. “You find plenty of food, water, shelter, here in this land of wandering. What do you lack?”

“I am alone. Since my brother… since my family…” He turns his head abruptly. “But you are here. Am I no longer alone? Do you remain with me?”

“For a while,” I say. “You will no longer be alone. And when I am gone, there will be Enoch.”

“A son,” he says. I nod. “The son will be… born? To you? As my… my brother was born to my mother.”

“Yes. And as you were born to her.”

He closes his eyes, thinks. “So this is how it works? Women appear in men’s embrace, and boys are born to them?”

I laugh. He wrinkles his brow, starts to say something, stops, starts to smile, frowns instead, and closes his eyes. “This is not how it works?”

“I see why you could think that to be so,” I say. “Your mother did appear in your father’s embrace, as I appeared in yours. But girls—that’s what women are called before they grow up—are also born to women. You have sisters now (that’s what women born to your own parents are called) as well as another brother, though you never get to meet them.”

“Were you made from my rib, as my mother was made from my father’s?”

“Let’s see,” I say. I touch my finger to his belly, just below his ribcage, and run it over each of his ribs, up the left side and down the right, as if I were playing a zither. “They all seem to still be there.”

“So did God create you so I would not be lonely? I thought that God was angry with me, and had punished me by making me alone.”

“Yes, God was angry with you, and he did punish you. But the punishment is to help you learn that you can never again do to another person what you did to your brother. And, maybe more important than that, he wants you to learn that you can learn, and that other people can learn, too.”

“Yes.” He nods. “But why?”

“When you raise Enoch, you have to help him learn. And there are times when you are angry with him, and you have to punish him—but not too much, just enough to help him learn.”

He nods again, then lays his head back and looks at the sky. The few clouds pass slowly, revealing the nearly full moon.

“These things that you remember,” he says, “these things that have not yet happened… had they happened already in your past?”

“I have no past,” I say. “I begin—I began here. Now.”

“So how do you remember?”

“There are stories. They are my memory. I don’t know how I know them.”

“Stories? Told by whom?”

“In future generations—”


“In future times, when, just as your parents bore you and I bear Enoch, Enoch has children who have children who have children. Those people tell stories to each other, and they believe that these stories are true. And sometimes, when you have so many people believing a story, strange things happen. The past can change—that is, things that didn’t happen can turn out to have happened after all. And where the stories don’t make sense, things happen to make them work correctly.”

He nods. “And you came from the stories?”

“People tell stories about you, Cain. They tell the story that you had a child. For you to have had a child, you have to have had a wife, or a woman of some sort around.”


I rest my hand on his chest again. “This is another thing that you have to learn. Actually, I’m surprised that your parents didn’t teach you, though, come to think of it, they may not yet be clear on the connection themselves.”

He smiles. “I have a feeling that I may enjoy learning about this.”

I smile, too. “Yes, you will. But that you have a child in the story presents a problem: since you are alone, off in the land of wandering, there is no woman there, here, to be Enoch’s mother. So I appeared.”

He turns his head and looks deeply into my eyes, trying to understand more than even I understand. I return his look, and we remain there, silent, for a long time.

Finally, he breaks the gaze and looks off to the east, where the sun is rising. “So what do we do now?” he asks.

“What do you want to do?”

“What we were doing when you appeared?”

I laugh. “There will be plenty of time for that. But there are many things that you have to learn so that you can be a good father to our son. You need to have food for him—”

“I find food here in the fields. I can find more for him.”

“Yes, eventually. But at first he is not able to eat as you do. He needs milk.”

“Where will I harvest that?”

“Do you see those goats there on the mountain? They create milk for their young ones. I will teach you to befriend the goats and how you might get them to give you their milk. And you will need to make clothing for the cold and to build shelter from sun and rain.”

“How do you know all this? Is it in the stories?”

I try to remember, but find a blankness between knowledge and memory. “This body that I wear seems to have memory of its own.”

“Your body is not you?”

I open my mouth to reply, but can’t find an answer that precisely fits that question. I close my mouth, close my eyes, and answer, more roughly than I intend, “It is me now. I don’t know how it fits elsewhere in time.”

He nods. “I have a lot to learn. We have a lot to learn.”

“Yes,” I say. “It is time that we begin.”

And time passes from there. Memory accelerates, and not all is clear, not all is memorable. But I do teach him these things, ways of taming goats and collecting their milk, ways of weaving together branches so that he can shelter himself from the sun and rain. And most importantly, I show him the way of sharing his world with another, to speak and listen, to feel and to know what others feel, and, when his anger flashes as it did toward his brother, to know what he is feeling and what he must not do. And he marvels at how his world changes with time as wisdom grows within him, much as my body changes as Enoch grows within me.

Then, as if an eternity has passed, as if no time has passed at all, as the world has grown cold and warm again, as the rains have come and gone, as the days, which were long and hot when we met, have shrunk then returned to being at least as long as the nights, I awaken in the long moment before sunrise to see him sitting, already awake, his long hair illuminated by the once again full moon.

“Are you thinking?” I ask.

He looks back at me, then turns around to face me, away from the cliff that looks down on the meeting of the rivers. “Yes. Of you.” He smiles, more easily than he had when I first appeared, but with hints of fear and sadness in his eyes.

“What are you thinking?”

“That, as you will say, you will be gone soon, and I will be alone, alone with Enoch to raise. And I fear that I will not be able to remember you clearly, that you will fade, appearing, like my brother, only in dreams.”

“How can I help you remember me? What helps you remember other things?”

“When I was young and I had to remember things,” he says, “my father would bless those things with words, would create words for them, would give them names. I wish you had a name. But I am not good at creating them.”

“And the stories have no name for me.” I sigh and try to create an answer, try to remember how I best remember things myself. “Could you connect me in your memory with something else that has a name?”

He looks around himself. “With what would I connect you?”

I pause, thinking of a response. “When you picture me in your mind, what do you see? Where am I?”

He closes his eyes, frowns, waits, and smiles. “It is the morning after you appeared. I awaken and see you clearly for the first time. You are standing looking over the cliff, one arm embracing that tree. When I see you in my mind, I see that tree alongside you, as if you and its spirit are somehow one.”

I close my own eyes, easily picturing what he sees. “And that tree, or trees like it—did your father give it a name?”

He looks back at the tree, then up at the sky. “My father never liked trees much. But he named this type, if I recall. He saw that I loved playing under the tree and gathering its fruit, and he named it the Tree of Happiness: ‘Asherah.'”

And I laugh, long and loud, surprising him, worrying him. “Is that a bad thing?” he says. “Is the name laughable?”

“No, no,” I say. “It’s just… yes, I now know how an old story now begins. Yes, call it Asherah, and remember me, too, as Asherah, so whenever you see that tree or others like it, you will remember me.”

I creep over to him and put my arms around him. He buries his face in my hair and whispers “Asherah… you are my magical, my beloved Asherah.”

Then, after another moment, long enough to allow the sun to cast shadows of us onto the ground, I look up suddenly, gasp, and wince. Cain looks at me, frightened. “Is something wrong?” he says.

“No, all is right. But Enoch will be here very soon.”

And we proceed in a blur of activity, getting everything ready, reciting what needs to be done. When the time comes, everything happens more quickly than I had feared, and Enoch joins us, emerging from me, then crying out with a sound that pierces the evening, that summons the ravens to join in his calls.

Then it is night, and Cain and I sleep side by side on a goatskin on the ground, our baby nestled between us. As the moon rises, I feel that I am fading, and see that I have become translucent, and can see Enoch clearly through my hand where it rests on him.

I awaken completely, though Enoch and Cain still sleep, the baby comforted by the sound of his father’s breath. I think of awakening him to tell him that I am going, but I have never taught him how to say goodbye.

So I quietly rise and go to stand by my tree, the tree that bears what has become my name. I rest my back against it, place my hands on its branches. I can see its roots through my feet, its leaves through my arms. I feel myself falling, fading backward, upward, downward, inward, into the tree, and out, out through its roots into the water, into the ground, out through its leaves and flowers into the air, the mist, the night.

And I feel the stories calling me again, and I dissolve into the matter beyond matter from which myths and gods are forged. I wait, always ready to return, remembering or not, to the world of appearances, whenever truth or necessary fiction once more need to be given life, to be given flesh, to be given form.

(Next: Japheth)


February 16, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. Wonderful! Intriguing notion of the stories we tell, that form our identity, leading to a sort of retrospective change in the events of the past. Given our epistemological limits, could we tell whether or not our stories changed the reality of the past?

    Comment by Tom Bickley | February 27, 2008 | Reply

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