The Gift (Day Nine)

The Story of Hannah and Samuel

There was once a man named Elkanah who had two wives. Their names were Hannah and Peninnah. Elkanah loved Hannah more than Penninah, because she was a kinder person and her conversation was more engaging than Peninnah’s who, as her name implies, was a bit of a ditz.

(“How does her name imply that?” asks Alana flatly. “It just sounds ditzy,” says Peter. No response. He keeps going with the story.)

And so Elkanah favoured Hannah, and always chose to spend more time with her than he did with Peninnah. On days when Peninnah went into town, Elkanah and Hannah would go for long walks together, enjoying the opportunity to be alone, to talk properly, without Peninnah’s incessant complaining and self-centred rambling.

The only issue was that, while Peninnah had given Elkanah several children, Hannah had not yet had any children of her own, and so not only did Peninnah demand large amounts of Elkanah’s time in taking the children to school, making their lunches, watching them play sport and the like, she also would use her many children as a way to taunt Hannah, whom she knew Elkanah loved more than her.

(Peter pauses in his telling of the story. He looks down at the page to the picture of Hannah crying by herself. It isn’t a very comforting picture for a children’s book, he thinks. Nor does the story lend itself to the wild embellishments he had hoped for. For a story about a miracle, this one seems remarkably sedate, remarkably like real life. He glances at Alana. He cannot tell from looking at her how the story makes her feel. Not knowing what else to do, he continues.)

Elkanah always did his best to console Hannah. Whatever time he was not required to spend with Peninnah he spent with Hannah; and yet Hannah could see, for all the frustrations they caused, the joy that Elkanah drew from his children, and longed to be able to give him that same joy herself.

When she felt sad, Elkanah would try to comfort her by asking, “Aren’t I worth more to you than seven sons?” and Hannah did not know what to say.

It depended, I suppose, on what you thought of the pros and cons of having seven sons. Peninnah had five, which was close enough, and on days when they had been running around outside and came in tired and filthy Hannah did not feel at all jealous; neither did she envy Peninnah when the boys ran through the house and broke Peninnah’s precious ornaments. At times like that, she rather fancied the score was even.

But then she would watch Elkanah helping the boys with their homework or drawing pictures with them or sitting and talking to them or chasing after them outside and, yes, at those times her old friend Envy was very nearby. And when she saw the girls – three of them now, though Peninnah was pregnant again and hopeful of another girl – with their wildly imaginative games, almost always involving the toy horse they had in the backyard (games the boys could sometimes join but only if they kept strictly to the terms and conditions set by their sisters), she would start to feel her scalp tickle and burn with that heated sensation she had when she was nervous or afraid and her future would flash before her eyes, a future where Elkanah was surrounded by grandchildren all looking like Peninnah and she, Hannah, was sitting in a rocking chair in the corner, all but forgotten, all bit invisible, valued only for the booties she knitted –

~

Peter stops. Alana is silent but is looking away from him, away from the book and its illustrations of the story he tells. Closing the book, he moves closer and puts his arm around her shoulders. She shrugs, as if to shake off his hand.

“What is it?” he asks. “I thought you wanted to hear…”

“Not like that,” she says. “You’re rubbing my face in it. I wanted to hear the ending, not that part.”

She gets up and leaves the room, back to their bedroom. Her back tells Peter not to follow.

Go to Day Ten

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