by Alicia Ostriker

Page 7

Yet the very end, the folktale frame of the story where Job gets everything back and is richer than before, vindicates man and his challenge and is almost a divine apology. It is as if God were saying: It's true that I'm unjust and that's the way I like it, and of course the conventional piety of your friends which claims that I am just and that your suffering is justified is false as you are well aware; but, do you know, you have embarrassed me a little. There. I hereby rebuke your friends and give you back your health, sons, daughters, and cattle. And Job was more blessed in his latter end than his beginning, they will repeat. For it is important that reputation, too, be repaired.

No woman can read the story without thinking: other sons, other daughters, other cattle. Not the original ones, who were killed when enemies attacked, when the fire fell from heaven, and when the great wind destroyed her eldest son's house while all of the children born from her body were eating and drinking there. The dead ones are permanently dead. The daughter who could run as fast as a boy, the one with the hot temper. The gentle one with the eyes of a deer. The son who was wild, lazy, a womanizer, along with the secret, sententious, prosperous and hard-working one. They are all under the ground now. "And I only am escaped alone to tell thee," said each servant after each scene of malefic catastrophe, as she well remembers. Job has his recompense but the killed children remain under the ground where she cannot touch them again. And by the way, who compensates the wife, who has had to live with Job in all his phases: as righteous and complacent servant of God and super-holy man; as stricken beast; as the vibrant rhapsodist of an absent justice? She would be cooking breakfast and darning the clothes. He in all his phases the focus of the story, she its periphery, like the sheep and the sons and daughters, but preserved alive so that she can be conscious of her peripheral status, rather than mercifully and suddenly annihilated. Job has many lines to say in the Book of Job but Job's wife has one line and says it early: "Curse God and die." That is woman's wisdom. Look at it, a large cinder in her outstretched palm.

For she knows all along that God is not just. Never in her heart of hearts has she been deluded by the pieties she mouths along with the rest of the community. Any fool who looks with her eyes can see that God is not just--to daughters, to wives, to mothers. They don't even exist for him. As for the man's world, why do the wicked prosper? But her husband has been lucky, and confidently believes his good fortune to be the consequence of his uprightness. So when he is stricken, and complains, she rushes in immediately with knowledge of which the distillation is "curse God and die." It is interesting that he has to do this, in her eyes; perform this brave rebellion; for her, too, he is the protagonist. He is a sort of dinosaur, howling when wounded. She is the leaf-green lizard slipping among the pebbles between his feet. She would never curse God and die herself. Shrew that she is, she is too timid for heroism.

But one day it will be the woman who rises, wounded and agonized, empty-handed, having thrown away needle and pan, her body pustulant from crown to toes. Rage will blister her and the blisters will be bursting as if it were an orchestra playing. Tiny as her body is, insignificant speck as she knows herself to be in God's universe, she will become so swollen with the demand--justice for me! Justice for me!--that she will bellow it out against all rationality. And when she makes that cry, God will appear violently to her and the play will be played. She will taste, bitterly on her tongue, the condensed cruelty and beauty of the universe. She will recognize her own nothingness as she has never done before, and the experience will be the most rapturous torture for her so that she wishes only to be dead and not conscious or crazy and not conscious, and she fears she will be made to stay alive forever with this consciousness unchanged, bright and flaming as a thousand suns. That would be a hell indeed, to avoid which she will repent in dust and ashes. And then finally God will recompense her. It will have to be a large recompense. God will be embarrassed by her as by her husband Job.

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