As the cloud withdrew from the tent, there was Miriam stricken with snow-white scales. When Aaron turned toward Miriam, he saw that she was stricken with scales. And Aaron said to Moses: "O my lord, account not to us the sin which we committed in our folly. Let her not be as one dead, who emerges from his mother's womb with half his flesh eaten away." So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying: "O God, please heal her!" But the Lord said to Moses, "If her father spat in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut out of camp for seven days, and then let her be readmitted." So Miriam was shut out of camp seven days, and the people did not march on until Miriam was readmitted.Numbers 12:10–15
So this is what happens when God spits. It's been snowing and raining and hailing for days now. I can't keep track of how much time has passed. I can't tell if the storm covers just the small desert hill I chose for my exile, or every place in the world. It's as if someone took the well, chilled it, and dumped it upside down on my head. When I look up, the water pours into my mouth and nose. Each morning when I wake up from a few hours' sleep in my bedraggled tent, I hear the voice. You wanted to know what it's like to speak to me mouth to mouth, it says. Now you know.
I sit curled in a blanket, not bothering to wipe the frozen drops away from my face. There will only be more later. That day at the sea when I danced, salt flew in my face and I laughed. This is not like that. I wonder if the camp will wait for me to return. I sneeze a few times and wonder if I will live to return.
When I was a little girl I had prophetic dreams. It was a family joke. I'd predict the sex [End Page 60] of babies. Then Moses came back. Then, God, I saw what you could really do. The dreams were only a tease. I stood at the mountain for hours. I sweated to build your tabernacle in the hot sun. I spun colored wool until my fingers bled. Even when I was delirious in labor, you didn't say a word, just maybe a look from a midwife's face, or the glint off a gold-plated almond blossom. I'd go out and deliver babies, your babies, the ones you said would be part of your covenant. I'd hear something in their cries, but not enough. I'd sniff their bellies hoping for your scent. Every morning Moses would go out to the tent of meeting. The cloud would come and cover the entrance in a sparkling haze, like the kind you get if you splash an open cistern in the sun. Every night I'd lie down to sleep and wait for at least a dream, a feeling, something. I felt like a jilted lover— worse than that, a girl you slept with once, waiting for you to come around. All those words you gave to Moses, I put them to music so that we would remember them. It was like a love song you wrote to someone else. But it was so real I didn't want to let it go, didn't want to think it wasn't about me. For a year now even the dreams don't come anymore.
Nine months ago I stopped sleeping. I'd lie awake for a while, then get up and walk around the camp. It was a long walk, from tribe to tribe to tribe. I'd pass my hand over willowy girls I taught to dance. I'd go into the Levites' camp, where I still almost belong even though I married out. I'd stare into the center where the priests are, think of wearing a robe of blue and purple and scarlet. I'd swing...