My God, my God, I rejected my father for a dancing fool. I turned away from the heart and soul that gave me life (my mother? Just another tired female body who, once she bore me—the fruit of negotiation, the daughter who would cement alliances through marriage—was forgotten, her name unremembered forever).
When my father Saul raged and threatened to kill David, I spoke untruth. I bunched up the blankets in the bed, I arranged goat’s hair on the pillow, and by the time my father figured it out— he’s not here? where the hell is he?—David was far away in a safe place. But even then, I continued to reject the father for the husband: I falsely wept that David had threatened to kill me if I didn’t help him run away. Oh, Daddy, I was so scared! I’m so sorry I lied to you, but he made me do it! Not true, of course, but the words slid quick off my tongue, lies honeyed by love.
Daddy believed me. Fathers always want to believe their daughters.
But why was Saul so pissed off at David? Why did he want to kill, or at least really hurt, his son-in-law?
Well, how would you feel if you were Saul, witnessing God’s favor gradually turning away from you and toward another, leaving you in undevoted shadow? Golden hair, golden eyes: David was the new young lion of God’s blood, and Daddy knew it. Saul shivered, then shriveled, in the dark shadows.
I knew why Daddy let me marry David. Behind his glittering teeth, smiling false in his mouth, I could hear the true words. Even as Saul said, “Of course, my dear one, if he is the one you want, he is the one you shall have,” I heard him so clearly: through her, I can get to him. A father-in-law has access. I will know where he sleeps, unguarded.
How can a father not realize that a daughter will of course choose her new love over an old man? Already, in our time, this was an old story.
I knew Daddy wanted to kill David when I married him. And I knew how to save David. It was all my idea. “Leave now, leave tonight, or else he’ll kill you tomorrow,” I warned him. I’ll admit it, a little part of me kind of hoped that he would grab my hand and say No, Michal, I’ll never leave you! or You must come with me, I cannot live without you! Instead, he kissed my forehead, whispered, “Thanks, hon,” and he was gone.
“Well, good riddance. Forget that loser,” said Daddy. “Remember Palti, son of Laish? Palti is a good boy. He won’t run and hide from me, he won’t frighten you with cruel threats.” Never mind that Palti had watery eyes and a raspy voice, that he looked as thin and breakable as the reeds at the river’s edge. I loved and missed the sinews rising and threading along David’s upper arms. I loved the light reflected in his golden eyes.
I told myself, This is a false union. I’m still married to David. But as the days stacked up, forming years — fourteen of them! — I said these words—a prayer, really— less and less. The sound of Palti’s wheezes and snores eventually soothed me into sleep, night after night.
When David did, finally, come back for me after all, Palti cowered, and all his words came out like questions. “Hey, David, Saul gave her to me fair and square? This isn’t right? I really don’t think — “ but then we were gone. Palti’s weak protestations disappeared into the air behind us as we galloped home, laughing. David was rough with me that night. I was a little bruised, but I smiled into it. Palti was afraid of my body as it grew over the years into a woman’s, with hips and a nice round belly (but never that kind of round. I usually managed to keep Palti off of me, or to at least time our brief, occasional couplings by the moon. A half-Palti child in my belly! I couldn’t bear it). I could tell by the way he never looked me in the eye, how he only came to bed after I had extinguished the lamp. But David and I, we saw each other fully, naked and true. Or so I believed.
I married him, I lied to my father, I lived as Palti’s wife for fourteen years, then I left Palti for him — and after all that, see how he honored me! Half-naked in the courtyard, eyes wild to the wind, spinning and throwing his body with abandon in front of everyone. Those arms, that chest, those knees — mine. I defied my father and I lay next to Palti for him. And only to come to this: the servants dumped a big old box full of stone tablets in the courtyard, and he insisted it was holy, an ark, a covenant, and he must dance for the lord, in gratitude and ecstasy, so he said.
“Michal, I did it! I brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. God loves me, I feel it, I know it.”
What about me? First, it was Saul and David squabbling over me: was I daughter first, or wife? Then I was passed along to Palti, one marriage bond snapped like a twig for a new, more convenient one. But at least, in those cases, I was the reason, I was the point. Then, watching my husband dance before God, I was the spurned lover, the awkward third wheel: my husband in ecstasy for God, how could I compete? I am no saint; my pettiness is human and real. You wouldn’t have encouraged him either, I’m sure of it. At best, like me, you would have stood with an embarrassed smile frozen on your face, trying to ignore the giggles emanating from the slave girls.
Yes, it’s true: at that moment, I despised him in my heart. Everything inside me shriveled into tawdry black. (Like father, like daughter.)
A sour darkness rose up in my throat, so that when he came back inside, I turned away from the window and ran down the stairs. I met him at the threshold and screamed, “Oh wow, oh boy, how the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself in front of the servants and their girls!” And then, with venom, I hissed, “Vulgar! Shameless!” The door still open behind him. He was a shadow against the sun outside.
And then, he looked at me. In that moment, he put me aside. I knew he would never touch me again, not because he was angry, but because when he looked at me, it was with such compassion. Something else too, sad and soft in his golden eyes. Pity.
“This isn’t going to work, Michal. When God shines His glory on me, I need to react. I need to dance. But also, since I’m the king now, I’m going to need kids. Sons. And let’s be real, you’re past all that. But I don’t want you to suffer. You can still live in the palace, you will want for nothing, but us, we’re finished.”
So many more years have disappeared now along with my brief, honored place at David’s side, but I am still here, same house, looking out the window down into the courtyard, where I see the other wives coming and going to their own chambers. They smile and giggle when David approaches. When he takes one by the hand, she leads him to her room, blushing with pride, glancing back at the others beneath long, demure lashes. He doesn’t see these exchanges among the women, but I do. I have all the time in the world to watch, to look, to see. To dance, even, I suppose, if I wanted. But I don’t. I’m too old for that anyway.
Instead, I gaze across endless days and wonder whatever happened to Palti, if he ever remarried, had kids. He wasn’t so bad, not really.