Trigger Warning: This piece contains physical abuse.
The Dove found the first patch of land, conveniently located next to a gas station, hours into her flight, miles away from the ark and its inhabitants. She bought a pack of American Spirits—the yellow kind, mellow and soft—from the man behind the counter. “That’ll be $7.50,” said the man. The Dove forked it over, annoyed but not sure why.
Outside, on the small red oak—barren, of course, of its leaves—the Dove perched on the highest branch, where she lit her first cigarette in forty days and forty nights. “Ah,” sighed the Dove. She watched in satisfaction as the smoke curled up and up, enveloping the air that still smelled of rain. There had been no smoking on the ark, a rule that the Dove fully understood (she was angry, not unreasonable). Though, to say the Dove had always been angry was a lie. In fact, the Dove had considered herself very fortunate to be chosen—her and her designated partner—as one of the ark’s many couples. She had even signed onto Twitter in order to talk about it, something she rarely did after telling her fellow animal friends she had made an account (she really should have expected their bird puns). Just got chosen to go on Noah’s ark, so grateful! #blessed #noahsark #twobytwo #lovemyfloodfam
On the ark, the Dove had felt restricted, of course, but that was to be expected. She flew from one wooden beam to the next, high above the ark’s residents, who she watched with endeared amusement. The spider monkeys who played Miss Mary Mack, the pygmy elephants and their games of water tag, the cicadas who performed bluegrass duets.
But her favorite couple to watch, at least in the beginning, was Noah and his wife, Naamah. At night, when the animals had long settled into their nests, the Dove would watch from her wooden beam as the two cracked open a bottle of wine—thick and red and dark—drinking from it, taking swigs, laughing into each other’s open mouths. Every night the bottle was cracked open earlier, and every night their drinking would increase. One bottle turned into two, then three, then four. “Slow down,” the Dove almost said, but stopped herself. Poor Noah and Naamah: what else was there to do? Nothing, the Dove realized, nothing once the endless, tiring chores had been done, and so she enjoyed their end of the day ritual, the way they decompressed, how they woke with red stained lips and ready, purple tongues.
And so it was a surprise to the Dove when Noah got meaner, when twenty days and twenty nights into their journey, he’d cut off Naamah with a scowl, a cold shoulder, would pretend she hadn’t spoken to him at all. He’d snap at anything she did, say horrible things then act as though he never said them, turn on her without warning, tell her she needed to say something bright or say nothing at all. And it was an even bigger surprise—to the Dove and to Naamah both—when one night she was asking, crying, I don’t understand, what did I do wrong? and Noah turned around, swung hard, when Noah turned around and punched Naamah in the face.
The Dove’s cry had gotten lost in the sound of Naamah’s own pained scream, the silence that followed a sick sort of curdling. She flew to her partner, where he nested in their corner of the ark, unconcerned with the rest of their cohorts.
“Noah’s just stressed, that’s all,” he said, after she had told him what happened. “You can’t hold him too responsible for something like that.”
“‘Too responsible?’” she said, and, “‘Something like that?’ Are you being serious?”
“Now, sweetheart,” he said, voice condescending in its faux kindness, his eagerness to explain the situation to her all too apparent. The Dove flew away, disappointed in him, but also disappointed in herself. She had really liked her partner, her companion through their journey on the ark. She had not sensed who he was until that moment. There had been no red flags.
And so it was a relief when Noah sent her out into the world, to see if there was a trace of land for them to dock, and finally, after two attempts, to find a patch free for the taking. To stay and not return.
But what of Naamah? It was a question the Dove asked herself every day. While she was glad to be rid of Noah and her partner, the guilt and worry of not having stayed longer for Naamah’s sake began to chew at her roots (she was losing more every day now, feathers falling to the earth like ash from the tips of her cigarettes). And so the Dove eventually flew back to the ark, where the door had been opened and the animals, once her family, had been let loose, where Noah had started a vineyard, grieved for the wife who had left him upon docking.
The Dove sighed in relief. She did not know where Naamah had gone, only that she was free, too. It had all worked out in the end.
But then the texts came. The script that would be handed down from generation to generation. And the lies were written without a second thought. Naamah left Noah because he drank too much. Mean, mean Naamah. And the people ate it up, Noah’s kin, their long lost relatives, they took Noah’s lies and did not think to question it, the Dove roaring in the background the whole time, song parched with cigarettes, the Dove now onto four packs a day, as her song went unheard into the supposedly better, holier world: Noah punched Naamah in the face, Noah punched Naamah in the face! And still no one heard or even wanted to. The unimaginative lie, too irresistible, its grapes ripe with sweet convenience, rich and full on their swollen, gullible tongues.
Diana Clark is an elephant enthusiast and an MFA fiction candidate at UNCW, with special love for LGBTQIA+ literature and magical realism. Her work can be found in Longleaf Review, Peach Mag, Okay Donkey, Crab Fat Magazine, and more. Her pieces, “Singed” and “Our Achilles,” were nominated for a Pushcart in 2015 and 2018 respectively. You can find her reading about pirates in Wilmington, North Carolina with her cat, Emily D.