I feel pretty much decided to change the novel to a first person perspective. Particularly I’ll be using two points of view, Ham’s and Noah’s.
The COMPLETE first chapter redrafted in first person is below. Have a read and let me know what you think. I found it interesting to rewrite in first person as I had to lose some of my favourite sentences from the story. But overall even though this redraft is 300 words longer I feel that it flows more quickly. A draft of the same chapter in the original third person is readable here.
I am the father of Canaan. I have looked upon the emptiness of the world, I have beheld the barren plains of my future and I have mocked the sight of my origin.
Japheth, Shem and I disembarked the ark out of ramp in its belly, and walked with unsteady steps. The solid ground, the first our feet had touched for a year was hard, odourless and scoured clean of all history. We made faltering progress stumbling like three drunks with our legs wobbling as if we were still on the ship’s swaying deck. As we wandered out of the great boat’s shadow and the sun hit our thinning bodies with full force we felt warmed. The relief of its rays allowed us to straighten ourselves. We had landed on a small mountain plateau; it was dusty, littered with rocks and open to the wind that constantly blew the sand about our feet. It seemed as if the whole mountain might be blown away, grain by grain.
The three of us, my brothers and I, found a spot at the edge of the plateau that was sheltered from the wind by a crescent of boulders. Orange-red sand had banked up around these stones and we gathered up the dust to wash our bodies with it. We rubbed it over ourselves in an instinctive attempt to remove the clamminess and stagnant festering from our diseased skin. But in part I smeared my hands and face in it to remind myself of the feel of earth. I had not seen the ground since entering the ark over a year before.
We applied the sand to our skin as a cupped hand of granules but rubbed it off as a paste composed of sand, sweat, dead skin and water from our weeping sores. I was careful to avoid open wounds but to the creases in my neck and around my joints I scooped up more and more of the course dust and scoured at the dead skin that festered in stinking pockets. The new skin beneath was red, raw and thin with sickness. It hurt to rub at it, but felt better to be clean.
Inside the ark, waste from the host of beasts and creatures had saturated every board. A mould lived in the air and grew like stalagmites climbing each upright beam. There had also been limited food, much of which became spoiled during the voyage. We were forced to cut our rations more than once, more than a few times.
My muscles had perished within my body and my lungs sounded like a pair of worn and punctured bellows. Our skin had been turned pale aboard ship by absence of the sunlight; Sunlight that burned us now that we had found it again. Despite our sickness and that of all the family our father, Noah, made us wait before disembarking. He stood at the open door of the ark for months, watching the earth dry and ever repeating,
‘We must wait for God to finish his work.’
The ark sat heavily on the mountain’s plateau and nearly filled it. There was steep cliff all around holding the ark up like a pedestal. Below the cliff the rest of mountain sloped away into a desert. Our wives were already some way down a natural path in the bluff. Descending as fearlessly as mountain goats aimed not to the desert but toward a natural pool they’d spotted in a bowl of rock at the base of the cliff. They rushed to bathe and the thought of it sped their progress, belying both their aching bodies and their fear of slipping. Even my wife Nisa, though pregnant at the time was as sure footed as her sisters in law.
We saw them and we saw the water from the top of the mountain. Japheth said we should join them but none of us moved. Instead we watched our wives. They slowed as they neared the edge of the pool, encircled it, and together disrobed. And we looked on as they lowered themselves slowly into the water. I exhaled a long and exaggerated breath, Spat, and said to my youngest brother Shem. ‘Not since Eve, has the Lord made a woman as handsome as Dodi your wife.’
‘Look to your own wife.’ He replied, his tone was jovial but short. He was annoyed with me. ‘Nisa too is handsome and will soon bear you a child.’
I spat again, there was no way I’d take his rebuke, but before I could respond Japheth interrupted me;
‘We each have handsome wives’ and again he added; ‘we should join them.’
Before we descended I looked back to the ark and saw that our father had finally emerged from it and behind him the beasts had begun to file out. He stood surveying the new world. He seemed not to notice us as we watched him from the rocks, nor did he notice the women in the pool far below. Instead he turned his face upward and looked to the sky. He was looking for a message from his God, or perhaps he was in silent conversation with him. Father’s trances were both familiar and strange us, occasionally I wondered whether the dialogue between our father and the divine existed at all and I knew that my brothers sometimes thought it too.
Our mother, Naamah was sat on a boulder at the edge of the plateau. She looked out over the plains below and seemed somehow lost and sat in some way, off extra from what was happening. She was in quiet contemplation of something, as if this was the first day of her life and the desert was the first thing she had ever looked upon. Perhaps she thought of our sister; her daughter, whom had been lost to the flood by marriage just as our wives had been saved from it by marriage. Perhaps she thought of nothing at all. Another moment of distance passed before she decided to slip down from her rock and rejoin the events of the present.
She said nothing as she passed and the three of us stayed silent too. I’d have said something, offered to help her but it seemed like she was still lost in some deep and troubled thoughts. She began to slowly and cautiously descend the path toward her new daughters, her arm half outstretched for balance.
The animals were dispersing, in search of appropriate habitats. They were still docile and solemn, under whatever spell had suppressed their wild natures whilst they were cargo. Father, the great Noah himself looked like one of the creatures. His eyes saw the new, dry earth with no hint of surprise or wonder, like an animal he just accepted it without question. He was covered with a collection of goatskins; they were thick grey and ragged. His long stiff beard was almost lost within it so that the skins looked like his own fur. His gleaming eyes looked up and stared at the sky; a trace of humanity behind his bear-like exterior.
Father’s hair grew upon him wherever possible. He had a downy covering on the tips of his ears and it sprouted from his permanently flared nostrils like grass in a patch of shady ground. On his forearms it amassed like a carpet. His crown was adorned with silver rings that hung luxurious to his shoulders. There was no patch of baldness on the globe of his old head. God blessed my father with a long life and even now in his sixth century his hair grew in abundance as evidence of the vitality of his body.
He looked to the sky out of habit; he watched it in the years he took to build the ark knowing that one-day it would fall. But it looked different now, it was wider, brighter and he thought somehow further away. Casting his eyes back to the world around him he glanced about and then began gathering stones. Carrying or dragging them, he piled them up and them went to seek out more.
I asked Shem whether he knew what dad was up to.
‘He’s building an altar,’ he replied.
‘Do you think that God will answer him today?’ Japheth asked without irony.
‘Do you think that father would hear him if he does?’ Said I referring to Noah’s increasing deafness and his stubbornness. Then Shem piped up,
‘We should probably go and help him,’
‘No!’ Japheth implored, ‘we should join our wives. Why is no-one listening to me?’
I laughed at this and clapped my youngest brother on the back, ‘you’re right, why are we waiting around up here?’ Then all three made our way down to the pool.
Owing to the fact that sons my sons and I were the last men on the face of the earth, I should have known that it was Ham, Japheth, and Shem who were hooting and hollering their way down the mountainside, quickly approaching Naamah as she struggled over loose stones and splits in the rock. However for some reason their faces were painted with red dust from the mountaintop and I didn’t recognise them. I was struck by panic and assumed them to be native savages of the unexplored and alien region. Their faces were obscured by the smears of red dust and I assumed these to be markings of war. For a terrible moment he thought that I had brought his family to a world as dangerous and sin filled as the one we had left. By some dark art the savages had survived God’s flood and now they intended to kill his chosen. My bones tensed and his heart raced, I thought I was to be witness to my wife’s murder. But when the dirt-men drew close to her and she turned I could see no fear in her. She didn’t run, nor did she tremble.
After a moment my confusion had passed as I saw them talking, embracing, and I saw Japheth offer an arm of support to his mother. I knew even from that distance that it must have been Japheth: He was always the first to help her, always honoured her better than the other two. Shem followed behind and Ham skipped along ahead, making unnecessary leaps between rocks, clowning for his brothers.
Our sons didn’t know it but Naamah and I would joke that Shem was my son, Japheth was hers and that Ham refused to be the offspring of either of us.
‘He’d much rather be the nursling of Yahweh only’ I used to say, though within me I had always imagined that Ham would have moulded himself from the clay if only he had hands with which to do so: He was so fiercely independent.
After my confusion had passed I watched and chuckled as Japheth and Naamah tried to negotiate the small switchback, the path was thin and both would find the going easier in single file. But I knew that Japheth would be refusing to remove his help from his mother’s arm and knew that his brothers would be insisting that he just leave her be. I thought I heard her laughter on the wind, but then it was gone and I could not be sure. She had not laughed since the first drops of rain began to fall.
‘What’s the old man doing now?’ Shem asked, distracting us from our laughter.
‘Probably watching us,’ mother said still looking at the ground for her next step and still clutching her belly from laughter just passed, though she was now dour and serious once more.
I asked her ‘why would he watch us like that?’
‘He likes to remind himself of The Lord’s blessings before he makes an offering and you boys were the greatest blessing he ever received.’
We turned a shade quieter at that; each remembering moments when we had thought our father to be nothing but an old fool. At least I hope that is what my brothers were thinking too. I think I saw Japheth blush at the guilt. I know that we each felt to varying degrees that we didn’t deserve our father’s pride.
Swallowing, Japheth spoke up, ‘and you mother, he looks to you also. You are a blessing to all of us.’
Shem and I made agreements, obviously, I was glad to be distracted from my internal thoughts.
‘We’d never have made it without you mum.’ I said, and it was true.
‘You are sweet boys, but I do not know how much your father sees it.’
We were now but a short way from the pool and we continued in silence so as to not be overheard. I saw Shem watching the ground, obviously felling a little uncomfortable at glimpsing the reality of how our parents related to each other. He liked to think that they were perfectly confident of each other. Shem knew, as well as we all did, that father was rarely vocal about his emotions, but probably felt that mother should know implicitly how much father loved her. Maybe that was the first time he realised that she needed dad’s feelings to be displayed more often. Japheth and I were much more aware of how things worked between our parents. But generally Shem could not conceive of our father ever being anything less than perfectly righteous and correct all the time. Shem had a blind-spit about our father’s inability to demonstrate his feelings, and this only caused him to strive all the more for love, acknowledgement, and approval that the rest of us understood to be already present but rarely demonstrated. When we reached the pool Shem knelt down by his wife’s shoulder and kissed her.
‘What was that for?’ Dodi asked. Shem shrugged, pulled off his clothes and slipped into the water beside her. Japheth and I also entered the pool. Japheth put his arm around his wife Abichail and she cuddled into him. Our father may have been incapable of it but the rest of the family was demonstrative with our affection.
‘Are you tired Ham?’ Nisa asked as I rested my head on her shoulder.
‘A little.’ I replied.
‘You can go to sleep on my shoulder if you like.’
‘I wouldn’t fit.’
She gave me a sarcastic ‘Ha ha,’ and then went back to a conversation she was having with Abichail. I put my hand on Nisa’s belly and felt our baby kick within her. It was only a few weeks before the baby was due to be born, and we were relieved that the child would not be born inside the ark. I listened to Nisa’s voice as she talked and noticed how the baby’s kicks affected her speech, causing her to stop for breath in the middle of sentences. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.
Naamah was last to enter the pool. My entire family, the entire human race aside myself was contained in the warm clean water that swelled up from a spring deep in the earth. I watched them and pondered the future: Soon we would make our way out onto the plain, build a farm, repopulate and maybe down that path unrighteousness would return. After all, somewhere inside we each carried Adam’s sin, a seed from the fruit that was the potential for rebellion. Though, didn’t that potential exist even before the fall? That’s just what potential is; the ever-present possibility.
I put the thought out of my mind and watched my wife, sons and daughters-in-law enjoying the pool.
‘I have much to be thankful for,’ I said aloud, not sure if I was reminding myself or praying to God, it was some of both. I allowed myself to watch for just one more moment before I turned to collect clean animals for the sacrifice.