Leah (Part 2)
She could have walked in front of the television naked and Jacob wouldn’t have seen her. Leah was utilitarian, the wife they asked to run to the CVS at 11:30 to pick up a gallon of milk.
“Can you get that, Leah?” Rachel whined, commanding as much as asking when the phone rang, and Leah dried her hands on the dishtowel. Jacob sat on the sofa with Rachel’s head in his lap, playing with a curl of her pretty hair.
When he came to her, it wasn’t gently done. The farmer who bred his sheep impregnated his first wife, planted his seed by the moon in all his fields like a man driving a tractor.
Still, the God who causes growth opened her womb and gave Leah a son.
That boy was born with his father’s hands and chin, and when Leah saw it was so, she folded cloths and wrapped them around her to staunch the blood. Weak yet, she carried her boy to his papa to claim the bond that bound them.
Behold, a son. Ruben. "Surely he will love me now," she thought. But Jacob pulled the swaddling back, checked the boy over, and was glad to see that the umbilical cord was cut clean.
Six months. Then, cracking his back, Jacob sat on Leah's bed to kick off his work boots. It was time to get this over with. The last deed of the day was quickly done, then he walked out of the room saying, "Clean out the van tomorrow, Leah. I need to take it to the shop."
She didn't wait till morning, got dressed and got out of bed right then, walked into the cool night air and cried her eyes out, stuffing empty water bottles and plastic wrappers into an old grocery bag bag. Sat in the driver's seat and wept, then as she shut the van door behind her, the God who hears mixed a second son to life inside her.
He was a boy with his father's feet and his mother's ears. She stayed in bed after labor this time, traced the lines of his little face while he sucked at her breast, and then she slept.
A third planting season, then Levi. "Three sons is lucky," she thought. “ Jacob will see how I do him good, will become attached to me, his good luck charm. Leah felt a line of power run through her belly. To be worth something; to be a producer; it cannot be dismissed.
But here was Rachel.
Rachel sulked and wept, so Jacob took her off for the weekend to a pretty hotel in the mountains, bought her a monogrammed bathrobe and roses that she carried home in a blue glass vase.
Two years more. Leah's body was ruined. Stretch marks and a belly paunch, varicose veins, fat on her hips. Fat on her legs.
But it didn't matter. Fat or thin, worn or new, it was all the same to Jacob. He never looked. Never felt.
So when Judah was born, Leah put all four boys in the car and went to the beach solo, wore a tankini and a floppy brimmed hat and said she didn't care who saw her.
She stood in the tide up to her knees, watched the waves shake her thighs. "This time I will praise the Lord," she laughed.
They were good boys who loved their mother. Ruben brought her presents to try to lift the weight he'd spent his whole life under. He was a tender child, old enough to know when his mother suffered.
He had seen her hope rise and fall so many times, watched her cheeks turn pink, watched her sing while doing the housework, and then, watched her sink again.
He knew the mandrake was supposed to bring more sons, and he knew how his mother carried children inside her like music she was writing, so he pulled the plant out by its roots and said (again), "Mama, it will all work out somehow."
But Rachel saw and called out for it. She wanted the gift, and what Rachel wanted, she got.
It was the straw that broke the camel's back--Leah snapped. At last, she let go and said everything she had wanted to say from the beginning, since the first year, since the years before that.
For one moment, fire.
"You took my husband! Now you would take the gift my son brings me?"
Shock on Rachel's face. The beginning of a pout. Then when there was no softness in Leah, desperation.
"Please. Give it to me."
A weak spot. Leah took note.
A trade then. One night. One night with the husband you stole.
A deal among sisters. A deal among wives. A transaction.
“You will sleep with me tonight," she said to Jacob, as businesslike as he had ever been with her.
This time she was the consumer. This time she was in control.
"I have paid for your services. Your stud fee.”
There was nothing more to discuss. Turning, she walked into her room and undressed like a woman in an exam room. It would be over soon enough.
She named the boy Issachar, because God tended her when Jacob would not. And every time her husband spoke the boy's name, he would confess that there is recompense.
How nice it would be if the void would last. The anesthesia of cynicism. The disengagement. But a wife. A wife is meant to be loved.
The earth trembles under three things; it cannot bear up under four: and in the seismic quake, the unloved woman learns to see through her husband into two worlds at once.
She learns the hand of God through a glass darkly. She praises, then she sleeps alone.
"Zebulun, the gift of God, oh ache, oh ache to be enclosed, to be indwelt. I've given him all these boys, and what is my crime? To have been born plain?"
The seed of woman would crush the head of pretty satan, that angel who preened, and sulked, and flaunted. But the woman, and her daughters, and the daughters of her daughters would strain and groan against a world cursed like a women in labor.
Those women who bear the DNA of the Messiah often live their first lives not knowing, not seeing, not understanding the measure of themselves. They can wish for a blow of the fist instead of the blow of a blind eye. They can live out their years in the shadows, taking a few steps in the next world, gaining confidence to praise God like a kite borne on invisible winds, then twisting and turning on their strings, falling to earth, walking on and on with Jacob after Rachel dies, through the mourning, through the obligatory ceremonies, through age, through the kiss of a grandchild, through the letting go of what was supposed to be, through resignation, through being packed into a tomb that is planted like a seed inside of an unloved woman's womb, waiting for spring.
- - - -
"Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise; thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies like thy father's children shall bow down before thee."
"The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be."