A distant sound like a heifer groaning to give birth woke her at dawn. It was the shofar, the sacred horn blown by the priests to summon the people to prayer, but Michal hadn’t prayed in years.
One long call of the horn was followed by a staccato of blasts that pelted the palace walls like a spray of stones. She sat up on the bed and covered her face with her hands. Her husband David had finally gone ahead and done it.
“Nothing good can come of your scheme,” she had warned him. His servant saddled his horse in the middle of the night as he and his retinue prepared to leave for the house of Obed-edom.
“You’re looking for trouble, David,” she accused him, refusing to call him My Lord as she was taught. “Don’t bring the Ark into the Holy City. Something bad will happen.”
He stood silent at the door and flung a purple cloak over his shoulders as if brushing off her words. Finally he said, “You are afraid of your own shadow, Michal. You sound like a quack diviner who makes his money on people’s fears.”
“Do you remember what happened to the Philistines when they stole the Ark from the battlefield?” she demanded. “An evil illness seared their mouths until their tongues turned black and they shat out their bowels.”
“We aren’t Philistines,” David answered.
“What about those imbeciles at Beth-shemesh?” Michal’s words tumbled from her lips. “Our own people! They pried open the Ark, took one look inside and thousands were slaughtered on the spot, writhing in the dust like snakes that had bitten themselves to death.”
“Michal, my wife and Queen, maybe there are things in this world that humans aren’t meant to touch, or best left unopened.”
“This makes no sense. You forget Uzzah, the son of my father’s brother,” she shouted.
“It was you who ordered him to bring the Arak into the city,” she said, pointing a finger at his chest. “He followed to the letter the protocol prescribed in our law.” Michal’s hands began to tremble. “Was it his fault that the cart lurched and the Ark was about to fall? Was he wrong to reach out his hand to steady it?” she demanded.
“He touched the untouchable.” David shrugged, shook his head.
“You erase my cousin’s memory with empty explanations.”
“I wept when I saw Uzzah’s lifeless body among the trampled chaff on the threshing floor. I loved him, too.”
“Answer me, My Lord,” she begged. “Why try to bring this danger into our midst once again? It will do you no political good, if that’s what you think.”
“Michal, you forget that the very presence of God descends upon the Ark in a cloud of darkness.”
“So the priests say,” Michal said gravely.
David had turned away, and strode through the door without looking back. And now, as she stood on the cold stone floor of the palace, Michal knew it was true.
She could smell it in the air, awash with sweetened smoke and the coppery smell of blood. She heard it in the noise of shrieking trumpets and cymbals as the procession that accompanied the Ark marched through the gates and into the Holy City.
In a hoarse whisper, refusing to kneel or fold her hands or close her eyes, Michal tried to pray– What kind of a God are you?
She paused and listened for an answer, but the noise from the procession had grown too loud as it halted in front of the palace steps.
Directly below Michal’s window, the Ark was encircled by an empty ribbon of earth that no one dared approach. It was just a wooden box with flaking gold and two rudely carved angels covering their faces with outstretched wings. Michal had never seen it before, but imagined something larger, grander.
A sudden push parted the crowd and David appeared, threw off his cloak and took one wild leap into the air, landing directly in front of the Ark. He was nearly naked except for the linen ephod wrapped around his waist, and every time he moved, he exposed his ass as he danced.
Fool. Vulgar fool. Is this the way Kings behave?
Tight-lipped and unsmiling, Michal closed the shutters and turned away.