The End of Eden
by Jason Hart
The conversation came easier when we weren't making eye contact. When our focus was on navigating the roots, bumps, and rocks on the path ahead, the walls came down and what was inside came out. Hand in hand, we approached a sharp curve that took us deeper into what felt more like a jungle than a garden. He always seemed to know where the path was taking us. Even though we were side by side, I knew he was leading. That's when he said it.
Do you ever wonder if this is all there is?
It was a throw away phrase, spoken because it was on his mind. Only I didn’t take it the way he meant it. His was from a place of curiosity - wanting more of what we already had. Mine from a place of restlessness - wanting whatever we didn't.
I slowed down and tucked a loose strand of brown hair behind my ear. I stopped and tugged on his hand. Now we were making eye contact. Would he really understand? My wall came back up. This is all we've known. I like it that way. I lied.
Me too. He smiled and pulled me in close, his embrace was strong and firm.
There was a time, years ago, when it would have steadied me. But now, on this path in this garden, I found it suffocating. I gave him a quick peck on the lips and then continued walking, pulling him back into stride. Now I was leading. I thought about his question for the rest the day.
Do you ever wonder if this is all there is?
His breathing was rhythmic and slow. I watched his bare chest rise and fall with each breath. I quietly murmured his name to make sure he was sleeping. Nothing. I slipped out of bed and headed into the night. I'd heard whispers of a tree with magical fruit. Seven years ago, when God placed us in the garden, He'd expressly forbidden it.
But why would God create something that couldn't be enjoyed? It didn't make any sense. Technically, God never said we couldn't eat the fruit. All He said was that if we ate it, we'd die.
But would I really die? Would God really kill someone? God? A murderer? God wouldn't kill someone he loved for enjoying something He created. Would he?
With no difficulty, I found the tree - teasingly placed in the center of the garden. The full September moon illuminated the tree. I could see the shiny black fruit, slightly larger than an acorn, dangling from the low-hanging branches. My heart rate quickened and adrenaline spread through my body. I stretched out my sweaty hands and took hold of a piece of fruit. I tugged until it snapped free from the branch. Even though the air was cool, the skin of the fruit was somehow warm. I pondered it skeptically, turning it over and over in my hand. As I drew the fruit to my mouth, a raspy, shrill voice broke the silence.
Startled, I turned and saw the serpent and clutched the fruit to my chest in fear. It was a truly wonderful creature, thick and powerful. Easily twenty feet in length. Maybe thirty. It was hard to tell since the majority of it's long body was safely tucked away among the endless tentacles of the tree. Slowly lowering itself, it came within a few inches of my face. It's eyes were bright green, it's patterned skin various shades of gray and red.
What do you want? I asked, keeping a tight grip on the fruit.
I could ask you the same thing?
What are you? The keeper of the tree?
The serpent looked around. I guess you could say that.
I guess I just did.
Where is your husband?
I glanced behind me. At home. Asleep.
Why didn't you bring him with you?
He wouldn't have come.
The serpent's head swayed slightly in the breeze. How can you be so sure?
Just a hunch.
I'm betting you have a hunch about this tree don't you?
I'm betting you're right.
It's forked tongue appeared briefly, then retreated. It's wrong.
I crossed my arms. You don't know what I'm thinking.
You're thinking there won't be any consequences if you eat that fruit in your hand.
God says it will kill me.
It will kill you. That's what it costs.
There was something strange about how the serpent was hanging from the tree. Almost like it was afraid to move around too much.
You're just trying to scare me. I said, more for my own benefit.
It's a simple formula. A value exchange. Only nobody likes to think of it in those terms. You keep trying to convince yourself that you won't have to give up everything. That you can taste that fruit and carry on very much as you were before. But you can't. That's not how it works.
I was tired of being lectured by a snake. Get away from me.
Why didn't you bring your husband, Eve?
Does he know how you feel?
Leave me alone!
If you eat that fruit, you can never go back.
Now! I put my hand over my mouth. I hadn't intended to scream so loud. I looked over my shoulder towards home, worried I had woken him. When I turned back towards the tree, the serpent was gone. I walked a little distance from the tree and stood with my back to it and considered the fruit again. Bringing it to my mouth, I dug my teeth into it and took a bite. Juice ran down my cheeks and dripped off my chin onto the ground below. Wiping my mouth with the back of my hand, I chewed it slowly. I took another bite. Then another. Soon, the small fruit was gone.
Adam stirred and rolled over as I slid in beside him. I stared at the canopy of branches speckled with stars. Hot tears formed and rolled down my cheeks. I wiped them away, but they were quickly replaced with more. I began sobbing, not from guilt, but from emptiness.
Why hadn't the fruit satisfied? Isn't it what I had wanted?
The next morning, I found myself craving the fruit again. My desire grew throughout the day until I knew, I had to eat it again. To taste it. That's when it dawned on me. It was in the eating that the void in my soul had been veiled. The fruit hadn't filled me, it had emptied me. And the only way to satisfy my craving was to eat again.
The tree looked different in the daytime. Smaller. Less foreboding, less sexy. I nervously looked behind me.
He's working in the field. I told myself. You're alone.
Again the serpent's voice interrupted the silence.
You already want more, don't you?
It's tone was different than the night before. Less aggression. More pity.
I licked my lips involuntarily and swallowed when I saw the bright fruit. Yes, I do.
I quickly reached out and grabbed a piece of fruit. I enjoyed it slowly, savoring every bite. Just as I was finishing it, my eyes caught something spectacular on the tree. Another piece of fruit was growing to replace the one I'd eaten. Within seconds, the empty branch I'd left was already filled with a fresh piece of fruit. The serpent saw my stare.
A sickening awareness flooded me as I pieced it all together.
The serpent continued. You can't consume it. It can only consume you.
What can consume me? The fruit?
The fruit is harmless. It's the idea of the fruit that kills.
The idea of more.
I was beginning to understand. A pit formed in my stomach.
What I couldn't see by the light of the moon was now obvious in the bright afternoon sun. The serpent's long body was completely tangled in the tree. Tied in a giant knot among the branches of the tree, it could only move the small section of it's body nearest it's head.
You're stuck, aren't you? You can't leave.
The serpent nodded slowly. I tell myself that it's the last time. That I'll never do it again. But with every bite I become more and more entrapped in this God forsaken maze. I want to stop. But it's too powerful. Years ago, I would start to leave, but then, before my entire body was free, I'd turn back for more. Gradually, with every twist and turn, my long body became trapped. It's so numb now, I can barely even tell where it is. I can't leave. I have to stay. To eat. Don't eat any more of this fruit, Eve. You have to stop. Are you really prepared to give up everything?
I thought about his question. And then I thought about Adam. I thought about our home. And I thought about our garden. I thought about our walk, and walls coming up and down.
But then I thought about what I didn't have. And I thought about that fruit.
I reached up and snapped off another piece of fruit and held it out for the serpent. It stretched out it's neck and took hold of the fruit in it's mouth. Then I grabbed one for myself.
And together. We ate.
You can read my other short stories here.