By Leah Lax,
Abraham woke early one morning, saddled his donkey himself (not a job to delegate, this sacrifice), and tied a bundle of kindling on the donkey’s back.
“Are you coming?” he asked his daughter in an impatient tone.
“Oh yes, Papa,” she said, and she went along.
They walked side by side. She was young, fresh, and full-breasted, walking next to her old, bent father. She took care not to stride ahead of him. Their hands brushed as they walked. The servant Eleazar followed, leading the donkey.
As they walked, she thought of Sarah. Her mother had a way of speaking as if listening to something only she could hear. Know you can choose; she had said. He will not force you. It seemed a strange comment. Her old father couldn’t force her now that she was taller than him, and would not, with his gentle nature. Neither did she comprehend the choice her mother mentioned. Obedience in exchange for love had been her life.
Love is really all she wanted. She lifted her chin. She thought, of course I would choose sacrifice in a glory of light, and felt noble for the first time. The sacrifice on the mountain would be her leap into love that would last forever.
They walked throughout the day, the old servant shuffling along behind. They paused only for water and didn’t speak. Several times she noticed Abraham murmuring to himself. Finally, he stopped still and squinted at the horizon. He shielded his eyes and pointed, his arm an arrow over the sky.
The mountain was more of a hill covered in scrub with a path up the side. Abraham untied the kindling and girded himself with it. “We’ll be back,” he told Eleazar. We? she thought. She was almost disappointed to hear.
Goats scurried in the tangled bushes along the path as they climbed. One of them stopped eating and looked at her impassive, horns curled on his head. Leaves hung from his mouth. He had very old eyes.
At the top, Abraham gathered stones to shape an altar like a box to put her in. Then he was done. He appeared to be waiting. She stepped forward as if to her destiny, shoulders back, smooth brow, eyes shining…and hesitated. She couldn’t move her feet. Her arms hung helpless at her sides.
He lifted her in with a grunt and a frown and bound her there with strips of leather, tucked kindling around her like bedding. He pulled his knife from a sheath at his side. Holding it, he kissed her forehead as if to say, you want this.
“Are you okay?” he asked and tied the last knot.
Are you okay. Sarah’s voice came to her then, in the air and in her ears, saying, let this question remain before you, ever posed, daughter, let it reverberate for you and your daughters through time.
Abraham did not wait for her to answer.
She mistook the angels’ tears for his that wet her face as she lay bound and blurred her vision so that she could not see the fierceness in his eyes. She felt she must soothe her gentle father to the end.
The goat saved her. Her goat, God’s goat, the angel’s goat, stuck in the bush and struggling for his freedom, with a raw sound like a horn rising all around them. The goat’s old eyes told her, “I am you,” that animal body, all hair and heat and hunger, so very alive.
She was surprised at how easy it was. When her father lifted the knife, she simply pulled out of the binding and sat up holding her hands like a shield to claim her heart as her own. She vowed never again to allow him to pierce it. Then she was on the ground standing before her father, arms akimbo, atop that old, old mountain. Abraham was still gripping the knife, but it seemed more that the knife was gripping him. His hand shook.
She heard something then, something other than sound. It was quiet, deep, and large, with a tone so loving and intimate she knew she was eavesdropping on a secret message not intended for her ears. Now I know that you love me.
Then she knew the betrayal. Lifting the knife was her father’s proof of his devotion to the One he loved more than Sarah or her. Despite her failure, he had passed the hazing and gained entry to this new intimacy. She knew his love affair would live beyond them.
Her father had been using her body as payment to open the door. That part she could not undo. She wondered what he would have done with her, afterwards. Then she saw Sarah at home distraught over a vision of Abraham’s knife quivering in the air and knew that her mother would be the true sacrifice.
She was still his daughter as she walked away, but she would not allow herself to look back because he killed the ram and gave it to his Lover. She thought, I won’t forget those eyes. She would remember its hair and heat, and the infectious quiver in animal flesh that had sparked her alive.
The old servant waved at her from the distance. She looked away. Her lone descent down the mountain that day marked a new path. It was that ram, whose horn, it turned out, only she could hear.
Leah Lax is an author and librettist who has published short fiction, essays, and a book length memoir. Her narrative nonfiction book Not From Here: Song of America will debut this summer.