Tamar and I climbed trees together. She would climb high and hang by a single hand like a cluster of grapes. I was content to watch her climb. You don’t have to deny your sister’s beauty. You can enjoy it in a nice, distant way, like it’s a sunset. You don’t want to sleep with a sunset.
Amnon always grasped, an extra fig, an extra rib, greasy-thumb and face. No one talks about how fat he was. Recently, while I was in the stables checking in on Sara, my mule, I saw a mother goat screaming. She couldn’t pass the second kid. They slit her and a squirming mass rolled out, wobbled on the floor. I almost stepped on it, just in memory of Amnon.
When I heard of the way he’d done it, with the believable lure of illness — perpetually sick — I broke a limb off an almond tree, and nearly went that night to kill him. The grasping was something he wouldn’t quit. I almost went then and shoved the stick down his throat, but I thought, “My father will deal with him. David won’t ignore the grabbing.” Two years later and Amnon was still kicking, and it fell to me. I set it all up, my men struck him once, brothers scattered, avenged Tamar, done. I didn’t regret it. I know the law. I have it bound on my wrists. It’s been stamped into my head.
I learned, looking at the puddle of Amnon, that you don’t have to wait for the Lord.
I built that lesson for myself in the weeks before we avenged Tamar. I lit a candle after Shabbat began. I pushed an ox in a ditch and then took it out again, that sort of thing. I licked a live pig. Nothing happened.
My father the king was getting weak. The thing with Bathsheba, murder. The throne couldn’t lapse. Did you know that you can just say a thing loud enough and it becomes true? I campaigned in the gate, settled their scores. They blew trumpets and said I was king, and the people flocked to me. David’s numbers were down. I could take it — I mean the throne — out of his withering grip. I anointed myself. Words were my oil. I poured my own words on my own head and it all came true.
And then I screwed every last one of my father’s concubines. In retrospect, that’s where things went pretty wrong. I’d gotten a handy from a prostitute before, down in Hebron, but nothing close to days of brainless concubine screwing. When Ahithophel said it, it made so much sense. His words were smooth.
But Hushai had my number. Screw Hushai. If I only had an almond branch. Ahithophel’s plan was sound, but it was hard. Hushai knew I thought too much of myself, knew that all he had to say was that the people would never turn against me, knew that I feared my father in battle, his frothing at the beard, his beautiful bloody cry.
And when David brought the people against me, when the forest began to devour people, I sat on Sara and let her wander wherever she wanted. I wasn’t surprised to be snatched up by a tree and held here, between heaven and earth. So much grabbing and taking. Amnon took, and then I took. We’re a stupid people, always grabbing at the fruit. It hangs there from the tree. Easy and within our grasp. My sister, my brother, our mother and father, we all have to take and eat too soon.
Image by Gabe Stevenson