The Garden

by Michelle Barney

      Eve looked over the garden with a sadness she could not explain except to say that it moved around inside of her, sometimes pressing down at the centers of her eyelids until she could no longer keep her eyes open, sometimes expanding inside her chest until she had to cough to get the feeling to subside. She should be happy, she knew, in this paradise Father had given her. She should see the bright blossoms and take pleasure in naming them. She should feel comfort in her new companion, Adam. But the sadness only grew until it took up all her bones, created from his.

       Maybe each rib of Adam’s harnessed a different emotion, and she had been made of the one that held his restless spirit. He seemed content enough, scooping up the little lambkins and pushing his face deep into their wool. He whistled when he walked the garden pathways, running his fingers over all that was his and smiling at the bright goodness God had given him. She liked watching him. It was almost enough that he was so happy here in paradise, almost enough to feed on his shining eyes.

      But this was his garden. Eve knew this without words. God had gifted Adam with a whole garden, beautiful and sweet and very much him, but she’d never felt at home there. She’d never belonged in the way that Adam belonged. How could they have such a big beautiful world around them and not a single piece of it felt like home? Now, when she saw the dripping emerald of the rubber tree plant, she saw heartache. When it rained and the drops slid down the bridge of her nose, she felt them pulling her downward, and she wondered why. Why did she feel this way? Why couldn’t she just be glad for the gifts Father had given her?

     She had no answers to these questions.

     So Eve walked the garden, and she did her best, and she tried to be happy but failed. And when Adam approached her, beaming at another new animal to be named, she pretended to be excited for this opportunity by smiling even though it hurt her face to stretch in a way that seemed so unnatural.

     “I think I’ll call him Deer,” he said. With a steady hand, Adam stroked the creature’s soft brown fur.

     “Hmm,” Eve said. “Yes.”

      Adam congratulated himself, setting the little creature down on the ground to hurry away from them. He took in a deep gulp of air and let it out in a puff that ruffled Eve’s long dark hair. “It’s nice,” he said, “doing Father’s work.”

     And Eve nodded because she was meant to, but inside she felt that something was wrong, something was missing. This was not her work. This was not her home.

      Eve took to walking the garden by the river, away from the meadows of Adam and the animals that flocked to him there. She stuck her feet in the water, but the cool drops made her want to sink under the water and never emerge. “Father,” she said in a quiet whisper so that Adam could not hear her, “Is this really all there is for me?”

      And she knew in that moment, though the sadness lingered, there would be more. More soon. She didn’t hear a voice or see Him there, but she felt His hand making the sadness less somehow. She could wait a little longer.

      One day as Eve strolled through the trees, perfectly planted, pristinely groomed, she met a stranger. He stood at the base of the tree Eve was not meant to touch and beckoned with his long fingers. “Come,” he said, “and I will cure you of your sadness.”

     “How did you know?” she asked, thrilled to hear his words, afraid of this new man. He did not resemble Adam, covered instead with layers and layers of dark fabric, smooth and shimmering. She could not look away.

      He smiled, and her whole body froze. “I am Lucifer,” he said. “You cannot hide such things from me.”

      Eve found she could not question him. The power he held showed in the way he stood with his shoulders rolled back, the way he sneered when he looked out at the garden, the way he ate her up with one glance. Serpent, she thought. That is what I will name you.

      She sat so that the grasses under the tree could tickle her thighs, and she leaned against the sturdy bark, waiting for the serpent to speak. He pulled a crimson fruit from the tree and sat beside her. “Eat,” he said, placing the plump fruit in her hand.

      Adam had not named this tree. He steered clear of this spot, avoiding temptation as best he could. Eve knew this. It was why she had come. Not that she did not feel the connection between them, not that she could not sense that she was part of him, and he was a way of completing her. She did. Often she felt the pull that brought them together, as if the rib she’d been formed from wanted desperately to return to him. But she didn’t like being drawn to him without understanding why, and she couldn’t look at his perpetual grin without breaking in two.

     She glanced at the serpent, sadness stretching through her shoulders until she was sure it poured out of her and deep into the earth like the roots of a tree. “I can’t,” she said. “I will die.”

      The serpent laughed. The sound trickled through her ears, too sweet, too light, loaded with ice that tainted the sound. “You cannot possibly believe all that. Do you really wish to obey every little commandment?”

     Eve nodded. She wanted to obey. She wanted to see Him smiling at her the way He smiled at Adam. She wanted to do His work, the work He gave her. She wanted to feel joy in the serving. “I do,” she said, and she knew it to be true.

      “Eat this,” he said, “and you will be like Him.”

      His words confused her. How could she, small as she was, ever be like the God who created her? She meant to ask, but the crinkle of her brow was enough. The serpent spoke again.

       “You must taste sorrow to feel joy.” With that, he placed the fruit into her palm and waited.

      Eve looked at the ripe fruit. She rubbed her fingers over the skin and pushed into the soft meat. Suddenly, the terrible sadness she had always felt made sense to her. She saw the balance they lacked. She understood that only this way, could she find peace. Only this way, would she gain a chance at happiness. And she knew that even though Father had commanded, even though Adam walked the garden pathways with a smile on his lips, even though everything she knew told her not to listen to the serpent sitting beside her, Eve felt for the first time that she finally understood her purpose.

      She knew what it was she was meant to do. She would be cast out. She would be blamed. She would be hated by the children she would bear, but she would be free. Free of the sorrow. Free of the guilt. Free to feel whatever she chose. That was worth the price. And someday, they would understand. Someday, they would see.

       With trembling fingers, she held the fruit to her lips, brushing it along her mouth, the sweet scent sinking into her lungs. She opened her lips and took the fruit inside her mouth, biting down softly as the juices flowed through her, awaking her to a world she did not know, a truth she had never seen. And for the first time since Eve had been formed from that small piece of bone, she felt hope.

      “Now.” The serpent’s smile like so much ice. “You have work to do,” he said, filling her hands with the fruit she was never meant to resist.

Michelle Barney is a graduate of the MFA program at Antioch University. Her work has appeared in The Good Men Project and Mamalode. She lives and writes in the beautiful mountains of northern Utah, where she teaches junior high school.