It is dark now and there is a finality to it, as if the sun had not sunk below the horizon but had instead died, its flames ripening into thick slimy vines, then hardening, calcifying into chalk and crumbling altogether. The night swept through Sodom like a plague, a cold darkness you could suck in and cough out in short splinters.
Lot’s wife is in her home, stirring a black pot of clotted stew while her husband trades dark words with two strange men who came into her home without addressing her. Lot had told her to make supper with such urgency she thought the strangers might be violent, but were unarmed. Even so, she feared them. She feared everyone these days. Her two daughters sit by her side, rinsing olives for supper. They are, neither of them, talking. This is no longer unusual. Lot’s wife remembers the days of Abram’s camp (She had never grown used to calling him Abraham). The chatter among the girls in the camp ceased so rarely she had marveled that any of them ever understood what the other was saying. The days were long and water was often scarce, and yet every woman from Abram’s wife talked as if their words bore them aloft.
Lot’s wife suspects Sodom has taught her daughters silence, as if holding their tongues hid them from rough men. But in this, she knows they are mistaken. The world is cruel to all women, soft spoken and otherwise.
“Anna,” Lot’s wife says. “Take some water to your father.” ”
What about them?” says Anna.
“Them too. Rachel, help your sister and then both of you come back here and don’t say a word.”
They rise up in a flurry and are gone to the other room. They are quick and obedient girls. Would they have found good husbands in Canaan? There were good men among the tribe of Abram. If Anna had been raised among them, she would have loved the fields—she had a wildness in her. Rachel would have danced, Lot’s wife thinks. The girl took to music like a ribbon in the breeze.
And she thinks they are both beautiful. She is not wrong in this, but who could fault her if she was? What mother is not a little bit in love with her daughters?
Perhaps her girls would have loved men in Canaan, she thinks. Perhaps she herself would have been happy in Canaan. Abram was very rich now, and he was generous enough. She thought of him often, and the life they had left for Sodom. She thought of the camels and tents, and the smell of the hot self step after step through the endless expanse of desert rock in search of an unbidden promise from an unseen God.
Was she actually happy there? Lot’s wife does not know. She thinks so, but perhaps she has always been like this: wondering whatever became of the future for which she had had such hopes. But whatever hopes she may have had, Lot had sold them to save his own hide. It was in his nature, she had decided.
* * *
Once, when she was a girl, Lot’s wife thought she saw God. She had woken up in the night to see a white light seeping through the flaps of her tent, and in her sleepy delirium, the light seemed like a line hooked to her guts, drawing her from her bed and into the night, up Jacob’s ladder.
She rose on fleet feet and went from her tent out into the night, even as she knew that no one could look upon the face of God and live. Out in the night and the air, she saw that the light was not streaming from the sky, like she had thought, but from the horizon.
She stared at it, unable to make out what was going on, and she was aware of neither past nor future, but only the infinite present which brooked no inquiry, only wonder.
And as her mind roused from sleep, mustering its analytical weight to keep step with her pattering heart, she realized that the light wasn’t coming from the horizon, but beyond it. It was the morning.
* * *
There is a commotion at the door and she springs to her feet, and goes to the other room, where the door is open and men are outside shouting in. The two strangers remain seated, looking for all the world as if they never intended to move again. Anna and Rachel are in the corner. Rachel has her hands around Anna, and Lot’s wife wonders if, all along, Rachel has been a better mother to Anna than she.
Lot is standing in front of the door, barring the entrance to the men and the night and in this moment, his wife almost loves him for this courage. Lot is asking the men at the door what they want, and she cannot rightly make it out, but she knows the men of Sodom. They are all so alike. Small and hungry and shrewd and lean.
“Bring them out to us!” She hears one scream. “Bring them out so that we can know them!”
“My brothers,” Lot says, and his wife chokes on a black chuckle. “I beg you! Do not act so wickedly! Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please.”
And when Lot’s wife hears these words, it is as if she hears them from the bottom of a well, and a man is shouting them down at her. And she is shoving her fingers into the cracks between the rocks of this well, slamming her feet into the sides, feeling her own fingernails prying off as she tries to find a hold to climb out, to get to this man. And when she gets to him, she will press her fingers into his eyeballs until they pop and she will peel his face from his head with her teeth and she will pound on him with her fists until she feels her hands sink through his skin and into the squish of the muscles and tendons and warm blood but then she comes to and there is no well and there are no walls to climb. There is only a man, her husband, Lot, and he is no longer guarding the door against the darkness, but he is the darkness himself, and the night will claim them all.
* * *
She is surprised when the strangers send the men at the door away, but she knows she is not safe. They are telling her she is not safe. “You are not safe,” they say, and she doesn’t understand why they are telling her, because she knows it. What safety can there be in this night and in this world?
To Lot, they say “take your wife and your daughters and all your family and leave Sodom, for we are about to destroy this place because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord” and she cannot hear the rest. Her daughters are packing their things and they are crying, they are still crying.
Lot is in the city, talking to his brothers and future sons, trying to save the righteous.
“Up!” cried the strangers. “Lest you be swept away in the punishment.” “We must go!” Lot tells her, shaking her face with his hands. “God is going to destroy the city! If we fly, we can still live!”
And she stares into his face as he says it and his words fall on her ears like stones.
“Our girls,” she says. “Our daughters.”
“Our daughters will come with us and be safe,” he says. “They will live.”
“No, no, no.”
And she is bustled out into the darkness and the streets and the night. She thinks, “isn’t it supposed to be morning?” but it is not. The sun has frozen into a sphere of ink, and a blackness weaves through the city like an actual thing—almost a presence that breathes and sees and judges the quick and the dead.
And so Lot takes her hand in his and pulls her out the door. Anna and Rachel follow her into the night and the horror. “Don’t look back!” Lot is calling, and his speech sounds odd to her, as if the words had a secret meaning. “Don’t look back!”
And as they push through the blackness and to the outskirts of the city, she feels that old hook in her guts again; the lighted line of God Himself, shooting through the blackness and along the damned streets of Sodom and into her breast.
And though her husband pulls her forward and out into the grim and craggy desolation, her heart knows very God of very God is at her back, measuring the muster of her home.
“Don’t look back! Don’t look back!”
She sees her husband flee into nothingness and she knows she cannot save him. Her daughters follow him, their feet flitting like wings. She tries to open her mouth to shout that they are not safe, but she has no words left, and her own legs feel like earth. And though she knows that no one can look upon God and live, she feels His call nevertheless. Some are called to live and some to stand forever to look upon the desolation and weep for lost hope as a testament and a martyr until all things are made new. And when Lot’s wife turns, she does not see darkness, but the eternal fire. Daylight.