God sighed. “Can’t you get anyone else around here to help you?”
Noah narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips. He stared at God in silence. “How should I ask them? ‘Hey, guys, want to help me finish this giant boat so that I and my family will live through the coming deluge that will eradicate the rest of you?’”
“Well you don’t have to phrase it that way,” God said.
Noah sighed. “My neighbor’s little girl came up to me the other day and told me she wanted to marry a nice man like me when she grows up. That put me in a terrific mood, let me tell you, what with her imminent drowning and all.”
God took a glance around. “Where are the women? Why isn’t your wife helping? And your sons’ wives?”
“They are helping,” said Noah. “Who do you think are looking after the animals? We’ve had to transform our house into a zoo these last few years while I built the ark.” Noah pointed back toward his house, which stood at the top of a hill a short distance away. He noticed how black his hand had become with pitch, and tried to wipe it off on the fabric of his robe. “And that’s another thing — how are we supposed to gather specimens of all the fish? And once we’ve got them, how do we keep them alive on the ark — assuming, again, that we can even find room for them — for however long it takes for this flood of yours get over with?”
God blinked at him. “Wait, what? What are you talking about? You don’t need to keep fish on the ark, stupid. They’re fish! They live in the water already. They’ll be fine.”
“Well, that’s what I thought, too. Then I remembered that there are some fish that can only live in sea water, and some that can only survive in fresh water. And since in some places the sea is liable to flood over and run into the fresh water, and in other places the rivers or lakes might spill into the sea, I should try to get two of each just to make sure they all make it through.” Noah sighed. “But I’ll barely have room for all the animals, the food and drinking water, and my family, as it is.”
God turned away. He scratched the back of his neck. “Fuck,” he muttered to himself. Turning back to Noah, he sighed, smiled and said, “Okay! Forget the fish!”
“Are you sure?”
God nodded. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll take care of them somehow. Just, you know, worry about the animals.”
“Great,” said Noah. “That’s a load off, knowing I only have to find some way to keep and feed two of every land animal for . . . how long is this flood going to last?”
“I don’t know,” said God with a shrug. “Maybe forty days, maybe a hundred-fifty days. I’ll play it by ear. By the way, that reminds me: for the clean animals and the fowls, I want you to take seven pairs of each.”
Noah lowered his head. He rubbed his temple with the fingertips of his right hand, leaving behind a sticky black smear of pitch. “You just heard me say I barely have room for everything as it is. Where am I going to put seven pairs of each kind of clean beast and fowl?”
“You’ll find room.”
Noah shook his head. He waved at God with both hands. “No. No, I won’t. I won’t, all right? There’s no more room. There’s no more room.”
“Relax, relax,” said God. He gently lowered Noah’s hands, gave him a pat on the shoulder. “I’ll take care of it. We’ll just have to make a few cuts, that’s all. Where’s your manifest?”
Noah took God up the hill, behind his house, to the building which he and his sons had constructed some years ago to accommodate the ark’s manifest. Inside, from front to back, were rows of shelves packed tight with scrolls. Each scroll was dense with writing that detailed the name of each animal species to be taken aboard, and where their particular quarters would be on the ark. Most scrolls were many feet long, several inches in thickness when rolled up tight. Noah led God inside and directed him to the shelves with a wave of his hand.
“This is the manifest of the ark,” he said. “Every animal species I have collected to preserve aboard the vessel is listed here, arranged in alphabetical order.”
God walked up and down the rows of shelves, peering at the piles of scrolls. “This is . . . a lot. More than I would have thought, actually,” he said as he walked. Finally, he stopped at the head of one row of shelves and said to Noah, “What about the animals accounted for in these scrolls here? What are they?”
Noah looked at the row of shelves God was indicating. “Those are all the many species of dinosaurs.”
“Would they give you the room you need for the seven pairs of clean beasts and fowls?” God asked.
“I guess they would, but—”
“Okay, then,” God said. “Leave them off.”
“But they’ll all drown.”
God shrugged. “Hey, I can live with that. Just get those seven pairs of clean beasts and fowls onboard, okey-dokey?”
Noah sighed. “I’ll get to work collecting them right away.”
About this time, Noah’s son Shem came racing toward them up the hill. “Father,” he shouted, “come quick! Foreigners have just landed in a strange boat! They wish to speak with you!”
Noah and God returned to the edge of the sea and met a group of men and women who said they had crossed a vast ocean on their small but sturdy craft. They spoke with many accents, and were all different colors, though all were darker than any people Noah had ever seen. Their leader, the darkest one among them, stepped forward and explained that he was a representative of the Koori, the Murri, the Nunga, the Palawah, and the numerous other tribes who had lived for many generations on a far-off island continent. The leader, whose name was Tulo, introduced the remainder of his party as representatives of the other tribes he encountered at various stages of his long ocean voyage:
“The man at the far end of the boat is a representative of the Maya, who are only one of many people living on a great continent that lies on the ocean halfway between this place and my home. Beside him are two, husband and wife, who speak for their people that are called Majiabang, and are just one of the cultures that live in the far reaches of the great continent to the east. Finally, the man and woman standing at the bow of our vessel are from an island even farther to the east, called Taiwan. It was only through good fortune, or perhaps a miracle, that we have all endured to reach you here today.”
Noah called out to his sons to stop work on the ark and go to the house and fetch food and water for the newcomers. He invited those still on the boat to disembark and rest themselves on the land. “Why have you all risked everything to come so far?” Noah asked Tulo.
“Many long years ago,” said Tulo, “before I set off on my journey, a seer in my tribe foresaw a great flood that would drown the world and everything living upon it. The seer told me that our people, and all people in all the countries of the Earth, and all the animals and birds and insects, and every other kind of creature, would die. Then he told me that one man had been granted mercy by the Creator, and was building an ark to preserve his family and some small portion of life, so that he might start the world over after the flood waters had ebbed.
“The people of my tribe, and many others, joined together and helped me to build this boat. I set off on my voyage, but it was longer and more arduous that I had anticipated. I lost my course, and had to land many times to rest and gather more food and water. Each new place I landed, I found people of other tribes. When I told them my purpose, they determined to join me, hoping that all of us, representing our many different cultures, would be better able to persuade you to help us.”
The hair stood up on the back of Noah’s neck. “Help you do what?”
“Help us escape the flood,” Tulo said. “Understand, it is not only for ourselves that we ask, or for our tribes, but for the animals native to our particular regions of the world, of which you could not possibly have collected specimens — koalas, kangaroos, iguanas, llamas, sloths, penguins — all of whom will be rendered extinct by the flood.”
Shem, Ham, and Japheth returned with bread and water for the travelers. “Excuse me a moment, won’t you?” Noah asked as they began to eat. He took God by the arm and led him several yards away. “Why didn’t you tell me there were all these different people and animals living on the other side of the Earth?” Noah asked through his clenched teeth.
God extracted himself from Noah’s pinching grip. “I had no idea they were there!” he said.
Noah crossed his arms. “You had no idea they were there? You made the world!”
“Well that doesn’t mean I’ve been over every inch of it! You people have kept me pretty busy these last few thousand years, you know? I keep meaning to check in on the other ninety percent of the planet; I just haven’t gotten around to it yet!”
“Maybe you should have before deciding to flood it and drown everybody!”
“Oh, excuse me, I forgot I was talking to Noah, who never, ever made a mistake!”
“I must have been doing something right all these years for you to choose me and my wife and kids as the only people who get to live past next week!”
“Yeah, well keep talking, pal. There’s still time to pick someone else.”
“Oh yeah? Is there time for them to build their own ark? Because before I let someone else take mine, I’ll set that fucker on fire, motherfucker. Just try me.”
At this point, Tulo appeared and stepped in between them. “Pardon my interruption, but you’re only standing a short distance away and I couldn’t help overhearing. I may have a solution.” Tulo turned to God. “Creator, if you were truly ignorant of the people and creatures of the rest of the world, is it possible you may have only reserved enough water to drown the portion of it with which you are familiar?”
God sneered at the question. Then he stopped, considered things a moment. He turned to Noah. “Actually, I think the colored guy’s right,” he said, pointing his thumb at Tulo. “The flood’ll only be big enough to drown your part of the world!” God reached out and gave Tulo a pat on the top of his head. “Don’t you worry none, little Tulo. Go tell your friends that their people have nothing to be afraid of.”
Tulo, his jaw set tight, stared at God until he withdrew his hand. “Thank you, Creator,” he said, and turned to rejoin his companions.
“You’re welcome,” God said. He turned to Noah. “Well, glad to see everything’s going so well down here. I think I’ll be off.”
Noah waved as God walked away. “Always nice when you drop by,” he said.
Tulo and the others were starting to climb back aboard their little boat. Noah called for them to stop. “Wait, don’t leave yet. Come inside, meet the rest of my family, have a meal with us. You must be exhausted. You should rest awhile.”
“Don’t let ‘em rest too long,” yelled God, looking back over his shoulder. “Next week will be here before you know it, and that ark still needs work!”