Noah on the Ark
Lily Dodge

On the fourth day after the dove returned with nothing in her beak, one of Noah's favorite parrots died. He found it, the male of the pair, lying dead in the sawdust under the perch where its mate still sat. The parrots were purple, with red and gold feathers down the wings and tail, and the eyes of the dead one were sunken and black. The female turned her head and blinked at Noah as he collected her late husband. Did she know she was the last alive? No other bird on the ark had such purple feathers. Why this one, and not one of the dozens of ugly brown birds? Noah couldn't feel guilty for the thought. Even God plays favorites.

Noah threw the bird overboard, realizing as it left his hands that he should have kept the feathers and reminding himself to strip them off the female when she died. Tuck them away in a cedarwood box, leave them behind for future children to see what died before them. He would open the box and say here, see what you missed: those purple feathers; months alone shivering on a bloated sea. The parrot's body fell toward the water gracefully, like it only half-remembered how to fly.

The white dove, one of the only birds to leave the aviary, sat on the railing and cooed. Below him, the dead purple parrot floated away from the ark. There were no waves. The waters had been still for weeks now. Noah wanted to see a fish, but the surface was too far down and his eyes were old. He only saw them when his sons pulled them on board for dinner, and then they were disgusting, slimy creatures. Fish were only beautiful to see in the water. He turned away, disappointed.

The smell of animal dung shoved against salty air in his nostrils. Everything stank at sea. Inside, his wife was cooking fish in the dark. Fish were not beautiful when his wife cooked them. Noah was bored. He would send the dove out again soon. Three more days. Seven is a number of God. Or maybe four. Eight is a nothing number. Noah wanted to find land, but he was worried. The world would be alien and fetid, and he would have to start over, rebuild a life on soggy new land fertilized by the bodies of his fellow men. But staying on the ark was not a choice. He would leave the ark and build a home with its wood and wait to breathe air not tainted by saltwater or animal stench or rotting flesh. For that, Noah could wait a long time.

He reached out to the dove and it sat on his finger but would not let him stroke its head. None of the animals let him touch them. The monkeys screamed, the foxes bit, the rabbits hid. Most would not even take food from his hand. It made him angry. Noah spat over the side of the ark. The dove fluttered off his hand and turned her head like a question. Noah had no answers. It was all wrong, like the shriveled eyes on the dead parrot, like fish flopping on the deck, like the taste of food after months at sea. The dove cooed again like she knew God's mind. She blinked and her eyelids were the silver color of waves cresting.

Lily Dodge is a recent graduate of Goucher College. She lives in Tucson.

Detail of painting on main page: Giovanni Bellini's "The Drunkenness of Noah" (oil on canvas; circa 1515)

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