Saturday, 21 January 2006

Saline Sodom, by Ben Sheth

Saline Sodom

“Bugger!” said God, as he looked down from his cloud upon the smoking ruin of Sodom, which he had just condemned to destruction with armfuls of burning sulphur. He changed his exclamation to “Fiddlesticks!” when he spotted one angel blush with embarrassment and another smirk at the irony of the remark.

“I really didn’t want to do that. But they left me no choice. I’d given so many warnings, explained their iniquity to them so many times. One can’t go on warning without taking any action,” he muttered wistfully. The smoke below began to disperse, revealing the once sophisticated metropolis now reduced to low piles of ash and rubble. He cast an annoyed glance at the still sniggering angel. “I’m no toothless lion. That’ll teach them not to take me seriously…”

In the far distance, had he been looking, God could have seen straggling groups of survivors inching their way across the plain away from the carnage of their devastated homes.

Lot and his daughters were part of that group. They struggled through the heat, watering the desert with tears which evaporated within seconds of touching the sand (though they left a tiny trace of salt on the surface of the desert: the only salt which they would know now). They looked back to the hill, six miles behind them, where they could make out the large pillar of salt erect on the top. That was all that remained of Lot’s wife.

When evening came, the rag bag of escapees stopped walking and tried to restore a certain community feeling by gathering together to eat, as they always had done in Sodom. A goat which one family had brought was slaughtered, a fire built, and the solemn group sat around the fire, trying to remind themselves of happier times. The feebleness of the bland, unsalted meal, as well as the glaring contrast between the fun they used to have at feasts, and the misery of their current circumstances, made their losses and deprivations seem all the more stark.

“This doesn’t taste of anything,” one boy complained. “Where’s the salt?”
“That’s not funny!” Lot growled. “She only looked back to make sure our daughters were coming too. God got the wrong end of the stick, as usual.” With that he picked up a piece of gnawed goat bone, and threw it at the boy.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” the boy whimpered. “It’s just that since our town was destroyed, everything’s been so dull. Even after a bad day, I used to cheer myself up with some really tasty, salty roast goat. But now there’s no salt – that idiot” (by which he meant God) “used it all up on his wife” (with this he cast a resentful look at Lot) “and I can’t even enjoy my food any more. This just tastes of grease,” he added, tossing his tasteless, half-eaten piece of goat shin into the fire. There it sizzled and crackled, and the escaping fat threw up a little glare of flame, which illuminated a ring of glum, weary faces.

There was silence as they all turned and looked out into the barren, featureless desert. There was nothing but sand and rock in all directions. Yes, they all thought to themselves, life without salt is really not worth living.

It was Saturday afternoon in the lively, desert metropolis of Sodom, and the preparations for that evening’s party were in full swing. Far across the desert Sodom was renowned for the liveliness of its feasting, drinking and dancing. The desert had been turned, through careful planning, the good fortune of a few water sources and the conviviality of its people into a centre of cosmopolitan glamour, which offered the most sophisticated entertainment, and, it was rumoured, the freest attitudes towards sexual congress for hundreds of miles in any direction.

The atmosphere was joyous, as couples, groups, families and individuals of all ages and both sexes conversed and caroused. Later on that night, after the eating, drinking and dancing had finished, everyone went back to their huts. Though quite a lot of people did not go back to their very own hut, but to the hut of someone else they’d met that evening. Sounds of salty, sweaty, straining satisfaction emerged from the huts until well into the early morning.

God was watching from high up in the sky. His omniscience enabled him to see what was going on at the festival. He could not see through the walls of the huts, but he could imagine it. He looked around at his androgynous, anodyne angels. None of us is sweaty, salty, or, frankly, satisfied, he thought. So why should they be? And his brain began to boil with the indignant, intimidating intimations of enforced moral improvement, which he would tell them in his daily Godcast the next day.

“I want men with long beards to run your society,” he practised to himself. “And women will cover themselves up so that all sexual feeling is repressed. And men who want to lie with men will also have to repress their feelings, although if they grow a long beard I might turn a blind eye to what happens. I will tell the men with beards what to do every day, so you mustn’t question their decisions, because they’ll just be doing what I tell them.” That sounds much better, God thought. Then they’ll all be as bored and repressed as I am.

But he knew in his heart that they wouldn’t take much notice. Why would they, when they were having so much fun? So he began to collect pieces of burning sulphur as well. That’ll really sort them out, he decided.

Moab and Ben-Ammi had just woken up.
Moab stuck his head out of the window of the hut to look at the day, and tell the time from the shadow on the hut peg.
“Oh, just in time for the Godcast,” he observed.
“Can you really be bothered?” Ben-Ammi asked.
“It looks rather gloomy up in the sky, and there’s a sulphurous smell in the air,” he said worriedly. “Maybe God has a warning for us?”
“Oh, don’t take any notice. Come back to bed, darling!” He grabbed Moab’s arm, pulled him back into bed, and they had passionate sex, and rubbed salty semen into each other’s skin.

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