Then, although it was still the end of the story, I put it at the beginning…, as if I needed to tell the end first in order to go on and tell the rest.  Lynda Davis


Rachel looked like a candle flame, even in her sleep. Outside, a single tent away, I could hear Leah, my first wife, being sick. She was carrying our third child – even as I strove to give Rachel her first.

I gazed at her and thought that there would never be a time when I was not thirsty for something that Rachel was. When her father told me that seven years had passed and that I finally had the right to take his second daughter as well as his first, a small voice within me panicked. For years I have been insatiable in the face of this woman. I have seen her at the well, in the sheep pens, at fields’ edges, in twilight, at noon, in the snows, beneath the burning sun. I only need to see her outline from far off and my heart beats faster. Sometimes I think she is a test from the Lord my father’s God. Sometimes I even care about passing that test.

I have watched her age and begin to show a tracery of those lines which surprise you underneath the face you believe you’ll always wear. I have never ceased to desire her, right to the sharpest point of my very being. I feared that, when the fold of a marital tent finally dropped on us, there would be no more than silence and empty air, and the awkwardness of a brother- and sister-in-law who were now husband and wife.

They had darkened her eyes with kohl and covered her hair with a red veil. She made a kind of clutching, beckoning movement with her hand as if she was closing the years I had waited for her in her palm, and crumpling them like an old leaf. I looked at her decorated palm, her pale wrist. My mouth met hers and we drowned the lost years.

Rachel woke and we lay together in our marriage bed and talked quietly until it seemed right to get up, show the bloodied sheet outside and get on with being the husband of two sisters.

Laban embraced me. ‘Don’t forget Leah,’ he said in my ear. ‘She’s alone now.’ I thought And whose fault was that?

Laban cheated me. But that is not the end. Nothing which results from a trick ever ends. I know, I’ve pulled off enough of them. Deception is a kink in the threat of events; it follows you, popping up again and again, sometimes like a joke, most times like a nightmare.

Perhaps this is why I loved Rachel and Leah. From a father so crooked, to a husband equally so, they remain as straight as peeled poplar rods. In my worst moments – after my first wedding night, for example, when I turned to see my wife in the early light, expecting Rachel’s sleeping face and finding instead Leah’s – I have wondered what it would take to ruin their sweet honesty. I thought about getting my revenge on Laban for tricking me with the wrong daughter by making her as crooked as he was. But I left it. Dug in for the long haul and waited until he would let me have Rachel too.

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