The Pledge (27)

This chapter was the first one I wrote in narrative form. A lot of the story (and others I have researched and written) was written in character development form – moving the story along, but mostly delving into who the character is, because to me that’s the important part: why did they do what they did? How did that affect the story? It’s true of Tamar, but for me, this was the pivotal point. Tamar realizes who she’s become and acts in a certain way that left me wondering if that was really who she was. But after everything she’d been through and had yet to go through, it was fitting.

You can click here to read the story from the beginning. 

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Tamar keeps her mind off the time as she cuts up the leeks and cucumbers, knowing he is coming home soon. She despises Onan’s touch, loathes the way he looks at her, but she is his property; what can she say? To whom could she argue? This was her life now, the plaything of her first husband’s brother, who would never give her a child, never fulfill her as a woman, never cherish or appreciate her. Never.

At least with Er…

And the denial starts.

At least with Er, he didn’t make me feel like this, Tamar finishes, then chuckles.

No, he made her feel like she was nothing. He made her feel unloved. He made her feel stupid. He made her feel…

What did it matter? He was dead, never having loved her. He was dead, never having appreciated her. He was dead, never having returned to her what she gave him. He was dead, and she was alive and stuck with his brother, who didn’t have an ounce of decency in his body.

She wants to cry, but she is weary of crying. She is weary of pleading to her gods for help. She is tired of bringing offering after offering to Ba’al Mot, asking if nothing else for a child, to make this life worthwhile, to make her marriages worth the pain she’s endured, but it’s still the same, day after day. Still the same man, ogling her, making her feel cheap and dirty, taking her as a man his wife, but spilling his seed on the ground each time, unwilling to fulfill her, unwilling to give his brother a child.

And once he tired of these games, what will become of you? Tamar asks herself. Er was ever watchful, but Onan was strong.

The door opens and an icy cold shiver shoots up her spine. It’s Onan. She doesn’t have to see him to know it’s him. There was something in the way he walked, the way he moved that she could single him out in a crowded room.

She continues with the task at hand, ignoring Onan, hoping he will ignore her. They had played this game often enough for her to know that he would eventually have his way with her, but she prayed – hard – that he would leave her be. She was no longer under any illusion that her love for Er meant anything to him or that this family was great because of Judah’s wealth and power. No, she had come to see them for what they were and she could only wonder how she had been so blind to it. Alit didn’t like her. Onan didn’t love her. Judah was self-absorbed and Shelah? He was still young enough to be innocent – but still young enough to be corrupted.

Tamar can barely concentrate on the vegetables. Onan is in good-spirits, whistling and moving about. He is talking about something, but she can’t focus on his words, too busy trying to keep tabs on him. Perhaps he would simply eat and imbibe and forget about her.

Tamar feels him behind her. A hand on her arms, a hand on her back. Sliding down. She would have relished this kind of attention from Er, knowing she could have given him an heir.

She tries to shrug Onan off, saying, “No, my husband, I am fixing your dinner.”

“You would deny me?” He asks, his hot breath close to her ears.

She drops her head onto her shoulder, his breath uncomfortable on her. She turns around and looks at him.

“Of course not,” Tamar responds trying to keep her voice from shaking. She could see mischief in his eyes and she knew where this was going. Still, she had to try. “I am only trying to make sure you have a good meal, after working so hard all day for me.”

She doesn’t mean the words, any more than he was capable of doing anything altruistic for her.

Onan touches her again, and she flinches, trying to squirm out of his touch.

“Please, Onan,” she begs.

“You are my wife,” he states, his voice husky. A shiver runs down her spine again and she pulls forward, only to have him pull her back. He caresses her hips and kisses her shoulder. “I am only doing my duty.”

She knows better than to argue – he had taught her that with a well-placed backhand – but she cannot hold it in anymore. She turns around to face him and looks up to his steely cold eyes, matching the sentiment.

“Then give me a child for your brother.”

All playfulness drains from Onan’s face and he stands up to his full height, towering over Tamar. A pang of fear stabs her heart. Onan the Strong was about to show himself. The abuse didn’t hurt her, though; not as much as the knowledge did that she was trapped; that she could do nothing but let him hurt her; that she had to take it, again and again and again.

Tamar utters a silent prayer to her gods, but it’s only out of habit. They had never answered her, nor had they helped her. And as Onan raises his arm to show himself, Tamar regrets the day she set her eyes on Er and the House of Judah.

Bracing herself for the hit that’s coming, Tamar draws her arms over her head and closes her eyes. The punch never comes, though.

Tamar waits, but nothing happens. Then she hears Onan groan, like nothing she’s ever heard before, as if he was struggling for breath. She lowers her arms and looks up at him. He is clutching at his chest, his face a pained, ghostly expression. He lunges forward at her, unable to remain standing, but Tamar only moves out of his way, letting him fall. Onan hits the table, scattering food everywhere, then slips to the floor, his eyes wide open, pleading with Tamar for help.

If ever there was any humanity in her, he seems to say. But he beat it out of her, and as he breathes his last, Tamar ponders what exactly had just occurred. She had been expecting a beating, a rape – and now, her husband was dead, his eyes open, his face, frozen in terror, his limbs haphazardly dropped by his side.

He doesn’t amount to much now that his soul had left him, Tamar considers. She wouldn’t miss him. And though her cold, callous attitude should scare her, it doesn’t. This was who she was now, not that young, emotional girl, who viewed life so cheerfully. Life has brought her nothing but pain and this latest development was only proof of that: she would have to deal with Alit. The woman had tolerated her before, but now, having suffered through this charade that was a marriage to give Er an heir, Tamar knew what Alit and her friends would say: she had killed another husband, no doubt because she was barren and didn’t want the blame to rest on her.

Tamar sighs. She didn’t want to deal with that now. She was hungry and if nothing else, she was guaranteed one last peaceful meal until she had to deal with Onan’s family. Tamar moves Onan’s leg out of her way and begins gathering up the vegetables.

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