I am always amazed anew at the destruction of my hands. The intense cold of the river’s water stings my knuckles and blisters open raw against the scraping metal of the washboard. They seem the hands of another and it is hard to believe that they once reached deft and smooth for an apple. As I watch these gnarled hands work, I am suddenly overcome by the need to explain it all again, if only to reassure myself that despite the destruction, I have no regrets.
It is hard now to go back and explain the suspension of that time. Lulled to stasis by Adam’s endless litany, who knows how long I floated there? Not that we weren’t happy. The Garden suited Adam, and for many years it also suited me. I was never so light as in the Garden. When I look now at sunlight dancing with leaping sparkles across the river’s waters, I am reminded of myself and how I must have looked traipsing through the grounds.
I loved our rambles, and the warmth of Adam’s hand in mine. As we walked, he kept up a hypnotic repetition of nouns, naming each of the creatures and plants we encountered. He needn’t have, for I knew them all by heart. Sharing the same balanced space of the Garden for so long, every one of us knew the whole script. It was as if we stood poised in that pause on opening night, right before the curtain rises. We’d had plenty of time to learn each other’s places.
As I said, for many years I floated in this pause. But slowly, slowly, something began to emerge inside, to gather steam and press through the sameness. I found it increasingly difficult to listen to Adam and I began to spend time away from him. I’d awake before the dawn and steal across the Garden. I was the Princess of the Dew and I tripped through the shimmering drops on my way to breakfast with the sun. By the heat of late day, I was high in my favorite tree, wrapped in its mystery.
I remember the first time I saw the tree, elegant on its own circular bed of moss and clover. It was hung with a shining red fruit that sweetened the air and I remember thinking that those red orbs looked like something I would very much like to play with. “Apples,” Adam called them, and every evening before our supper he’d remind me that I was never to eat them, because God had said so. He never said what would happen if I did eat the fruit, but I knew better than to ask, for the look in his eyes told me he never wanted to find out. Thankfully, God hadn’t said a word about climbing the tree, and I, for one, took this omission quite seriously.
Stretched on my favorite bough, I was surrounded by apples, and if I sat too long and breathed too deeply, the sugary air would spin my head dizzy. It was in one of these lightheaded moments that I first met the snake. I’d reached up to steady myself on the branch above my perch and put my hand right on him. He too must have been drunk on the fruit’s air, for instead of slithering quickly away as he’d always done from Adam and I, he stayed and began to talk to me.
Before long we were fast friends and met almost every day in my tree. I think it was high amidst the leafy branches that I first understood the restless unease that fueled my solitary walks. “Dear Snake,” I remember exclaiming, “I do believe I’m bored!” At which my friend laughed, his eyes gleaming. Come to think of it, most all of my discoveries had something to do with the snake. After all, it was he who taught me how to dream.
Hidden deep in the tree’s leaves, we’d close our eyes and retrieve animals, flowers, entire landscapes from all over the Garden. I found that once I’d captured them in the space behind my eyes, I could move them around as pleased me. That was when my boredom left me for a whole year, when I learned that part of dreaming, rewriting the script.
I still laugh when I remember the very first time the snake asked me to dream. “What shall I dream of?” I asked. “Grapes,” he replied. I rushed back to the tree, a fistful of grapes held high in triumph. There he was, smirking, saying, “No thank you Woman, I’ve already eaten my grapes, and they were ever so much sweeter than yours.”
But no fruit was sweeter in my dreams than the apple. I’d eaten it countless times, often as the dazzling main course of an elaborate feast the snake and I attended as honored guests. Knowing so little about the taste of the fruit, these complicated scenarios made the dreaming more fun. In my favorite dream, the apples sat under covered dish in the exact center of a long table spilling over with every food the Garden had to offer. After we’d sampled from every plate on the buffet, the snake would sit back, sigh, and say, “Now a nice sweet apple would be just the thing for dessert, don’t you agree?” And I’d lift the cover and select the two largest apples, one for each of us.
The snake ate his quickly, opening his jaw wide and popping it down whole. I’d hold mine for a time, running my fingers across its waxy surface or bringing it to my face for a draught of its heady aroma. Then, with a breath for courage, I’d begin to eat. I loved the way the skin split under my teeth and the sugary sweet smell exploded as juice in my mouth. But soon, even this kind of dreaming wasn’t enough to quell my boredom and the snake and I began to talk about learning what truly lay beneath the apple’s shiny skin.
One day, when I’d already slipped out of the tree and was heading home for supper with Adam, I turned to wave a final goodbye to the snake. The sun glimmered low on the horizon. It was an autumn sun, and it lit things from within so that they poured light as if through a prism that only emits gold. On this day, a single apple was caught as in an opened palm of golden air, and I needed to hold that apple, seize it from the golden fingers and make it my own. And suddenly, I was upon it. And it was waxy smooth under my fingers and it did smell even sweeter in my grasp. Then, I raised it to my mouth and bit deep.
As my teeth punctured the red skin and the sugary white flesh crumbled into my mouth, I felt the Garden shudder. Not a trembling, earthquake, but more a jerking forward, like a flickering light that false starts before it finds a constant stream of oxygen and burns bright in a steady hum of consumption.
I wish I could say that in that one bite, all was made clear to me, but that would be a lie. The truth is that experience was in that apple, and from that point on it was only through experience that I slowly began to understand what I had done. In that moment, I knew only that I needed to share what I had found and I rushed home to Adam. I fed him what was left of the apple, mixing it into the evening meal, and then, well, life began.
I want to tell you better about eating that apple, about how at that moment the curtain finally rolled up and we were free to speak our lines. How in the fear that followed and in our expulsion from Eden, I took away an incredible prize, a name. But it was more than that. It was the very laundry that I am now scrubbing against the aging washboard. It was to know that even in the dark numbing periods, when my world is as cold and heavy as my river-soaked and graying bedclothes, that like the huddled mass of wet linens, I too will catch God’s breath and become dry again.
Perhaps there is one part that I regret, blaming the snake. If I could go back now, I would stand tall before God and say, “Yes, I ate the apple, and it was life and I am now alive.” But I suspect he knew this, after all he did name me Eve. In fact, he came to see me shortly after we’d moved from the Garden, and we passed quite a pleasant afternoon together.
I told him how silly he had looked, his face red and the spit flying as he ran around the Garden, locking up this and protecting that. He smiled and told me that I’d taken him by surprise, grabbing that apple when I did. He said he’d always known I’d eat it, but thought he had years to prepare.
He seemed like a terribly lonely soul and at one point he asked me, quietly, “So how are you managing?” And I knew in that question that God had wanted me to eat that apple, if only for the company. I knew too that he had done well to guard the Tree of Life, that he had done so out of kindness.
So I told him about my favorite part of the laundry, the drying. I told him how Adam had strung me a line between the two oaks in front of our house and how after the cold waters of Eden’s river, the sun and wind are welcome companions. I told him how I stir in my soul with the gentle swaying of the clothes, every fiber open wide.
And I told him how I sing to the trees as I work. How, when the wind is just right, the kind that animates as it floats through, I can remember the time before. I can remember what it was like to know the trees deep down, when we could feel each other. For in those times, after I’ve straightened up and I’m stepping back to view my work, I find that I have words to sing for the trees, words enough to make their leaves shine.
© Jennifer S., 2003, in VOICES, a publication of the Duke University Women’s Center.
© Jennifer S. and harvestliberty.net, 2012.