By April Laufer
Eve looks up from her task. There is an eerie quiet all about her. For a brief moment, she closes her eyes, trying to identify the thing that made her interrupt her work. A vibration in the air? A tremor in the earth? She looks around to see if something has happened. Scanning the horizon, the landscape is the same: the trees stretch upwards, clouds skitter across a blue sky. She can feel the sun toasting the air. But something has changed. Though there is a warm breeze, a shiver seizes her body.
She notices a trembling in the ground and for just a moment her legs wobble. When the trembling stops she looks around her once again. She looks down at the ground. She takes a breath. When she looks up, the sky is unchanged, the air still. Yet something is different.
She wipes her hands against her clothes and starts walking. She has not seen anyone all day. Not Adam and not Cain or Abel.
This is not an unusual occurrence but still . . .
She walks in the direction she remembered seeing them take that morning. Occasionally, she looks down at the ground in front of her as if she expects the earth will heave again. She notices a snake curling off into the grasses. She stops. As it slithers quickly away, she stares vacantly at the spot where the snake had appeared.
For a moment she is unable to think of where she was going. Another slight tremble in the earth, and again she finds herself scanning the horizon. If she could see something, some explanation for what is happening. But she does not see anything that is different. Still, she feels a vague sense of disquiet. She takes a deep breath and decides to continue walking. She walks carefully, at an even pace, trying to understand her apprehension.
As she moves she recalls that morning’s scene: she had watched Cain and Abel following their father’s path out into the fields. Cain had his arm draped over Abel’s shoulder. They parted easily, going off in their separate directions. It was Cain who looked back, giving her a brief wave and then, with a nod in Abel’s direction, he shook his head. She smiled in acknowledgement of his meaning.
Abel was strolling off towards the hills in a meandering, meditative fashion. How often was it that Abel would be so lost in his thoughts that he wandered off without even realizing where his path had taken him? It was Cain who went looking for him when he did not appear towards twilight.
Now she tries to think if there was anything that happened that morning. Adam had left earlier with Cain. Abel had not been talkative but ate his food solemnly, saying little. Just as he was preparing to go, Cain returned from the fields and asked him to wait so that they could leave together. He took some food and then they went off. No, she could not see that this day had been any different from any others.
She looks up at the sun. The sun is already slipping down towards the horizon. Her family should be heading towards home shortly. She stops and wonders if she should just go back home and wait, but then she decides she will go just a little further.
When she thinks of her two sons she does not often compare them, but the fact is that Cain and Abel are very different. Though her sons are the same height, Cain is both sturdier and broader than Abel. But it is the fact that Cain is somehow surer in his actions that most distinguishes them. When they stand next to each other Abel seems to shrink a little.
It is Abel that she most worries about. Abel who never seems able to settle down to things he should be doing. He could gaze at the stars an entire night and forget to sleep. Or stand and watch the clouds skirt across the sky with absentminded attention to the sheep he was meant to be watching. His mind is always elsewhere.
In some ways, Abel reminds her of Adam. After they had left the Garden, Adam was in awe. Everything he saw filled him with new wonder; he remarked on everything with respect, even reverence. The trees, the animals, the small insects, the feel of the earth under his feet; the way he breathed in the different scents of the land. Every new thing required him to pause and remark on it. All of his senses were alert to the new sensations that had been a part of everything in Eden, too, but that they had not quite paid attention to there. This sense of awe defines Abel in so many ways. But Adam always attends to the tasks he has set out to do, always measures his day by what he has accomplished or discovered or finally understood. Adam has never given her any reason to worry.
She cannot quite explain the sense of uneasiness that she feels when she sees Abel gazing off into the distance, lost in his thoughts. She does not know how to approach Abel at these moments; she does not know what she should say or do to ease his disquiet.
It is only ever Abel who asks why they had not stayed in Eden. He asksEve. Never Adam. With Adam he examines the sheep and tends to their needs and decides what animals need special attention. With Eve, he asks what life was like when she and Adam were in the Garden. Was it not perfect, just the two of them in that perfect place? Did she regret leaving the Garden?
Eve never knows how to answer Abel. What is she supposed to say? What is it that he wants her to say? Whatever it is, she does not think that she can explain things to him. She wonders why he asks her. She wonders what it is that he is really asking.
With Adam she could talk about the time before, the things that happened. But with Abel she feels lost. She feels she has not done what she was supposed to do. How to explain the things they did? The things they did not do. How to explain a world so wonderful but not quite real?
When Abel asks her about the things that they saw, the things that happened—or did not happen— she does not know what to tell him, what stories he wants to hear, what words to use to make him satisfied with her answers. Sometimes she just shrugs off his questions and tells him that “things are better now,” but that hardly seems an answer at all.
And sometimes, Abel refuses her casual remarks and demands an explanation. “What does that mean?” he asks.
“In the Garden,” she begins, for the umpteenth time, “the Garden was perfection but we, Adam and I, we were not perfect.”
He laughs when she says that. She does not know why, but his laugh unsettles her. She does not like it when he laughs like that. What is she supposed to tell him? She does not know how to explain to him that the world they are creating with their hard work is the world that was meant to be.
When she looks at him, he turns away.
Though the effortless existence of the Garden is gone, things are good. Adam is happy. Why isn’t that enough? Why can’t Abel see that they are happy? That the world around them is wonderful? When she looks around at all the things that they have accomplished, she knows, It is good.
Watching Abel from the corner of her eye as he paces in front of her, his back still turned to her, she feels a sense of helplessness that she has not felt since she and Adam had been told that they had to leave the Garden.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Abel keeps on. “You said it was wonderful,” he insists.
“Yes,” she answers, “it was wonderful. . .” And then a whispered “but” that she does not want Abel to hear.
But I ate the apple. I had been told not to. But Adam, too, ate it with me. But we did not know that we would have to leave. We did not know that. Only afterwards did we discover that we would not be permitted to stay. Only afterwards did we understand.
Out loud she says, “Everything was wonderful but it was not meant to be.”
And with these words he turns and stares at her, and with a quiet, enraged voice asks, “How do you know that?”
She has seen this anger before, she has seen Abel lash out and yell, she has seen him push his brother in frustration when all Cain has done is offer calming words. She does not understand Abel’s anger. Hadn’t she and Adam given him everything? Hadn’t they made life outside the Garden pleasant?
“You said it was perfect,” he insists. And she wants to tell him that what they had now was perfect. But instead, she sighs and admits to her past statement.
“Perfect, yes, it was perfect.” What could she say to him that would help him understand?
“We did not have to think about the things we did. We did not try to understand the Garden and the life in it.”
When she hears him sigh, she adds, “It just wasn’t enough.” And he raises his eyebrows and shakes his head.
She does not know what he wants from her, and when she looks at him and his frowning demeanour, she thinks that she cannot give him the thing he seeks. It does not occur to her that maybe he does not want to understand. Instead, she thinks, Why does Abel torture me so? Cain never raises his voice in admonishment. Never directs an angry countenance towards me. Why does Cain never question?
She wonders if it is possible to explain that something that was perfect was not enough.
She does not know how to explain the things that she and Adam have come to understand. Their life in Eden was perfect but it was not complete.
Sometimes she is afraid that Abel somehow blames her for his unhappiness. Though those words have never been said, not exactly.
Maybe she should never have told the boys the stories about the Garden. Maybe she should not have told them about leaving the Garden. She hears Abel’s wistful reveries from time to time. She is constantly trying to find words that might help. Carefully she once took him by his arm and said, “Abel, you are my Garden. You and your brother.” She hopes it was a blush and not anger that colored his face when she said those words.
How strange that no matter the exchange between them, no matter his dissatisfaction with her stories, he would return to the subject on another day. When he asked about Eden, about some aspect of the story he claimed he did not remember her telling him, he somehow implied that she had been keeping something back - that she had not told him the whole story.
Was that true? Had she not told him everything?
He found the story of the snake intriguing, at least so he claimed. But somehow as she repeated it, she felt certain that he did not believe her. There was something odd in the subtle shake of his head, in the way he did not seem to be listening. If Cain was nearby listening to the conversation, he would laugh. “Again,” he would say. “Really Abel, it is enough that we are here. Look around you.” He would slap his brother gently on his back and tell him that there were things to attend to. Abel would look at Cain and answer, “You don’t understand.” “Okay,” said Cain. “Tell me what I don’t understand, but let’s go to the fields.” And they would leave together, leaving Eve alone. Leaving her sighing. Leaving her wishing that she could walk with them to hear the words that Abel needed to say. To listen to their easy exchange. If later she asked Cain what Abel had said, he would answer easily with, “Oh you know, the usual.” But she could not gain anything more from questioning him.
“What can I do to help Abel?” she would ask Cain. And he would look at her and just shrug. “Life in Eden was only temporary; we had to leave,” she said to Cain, as if in apology. “I know,” he said. “I understand.” Why didn’t Abel understand?
Eve remembers her feelings of confusion when Abel told her that if he had been in the Garden and had known that eating of the Tree of Knowledge would have meant banishment, he never would have done it. “But we didn’t know. We didn’t know.” Resting her hand lightly on his forearm, she wanted to give him some comfort, but when she looked at his face she saw how disdainfully he looked back at her, and she quickly removed her hand from his arm.
She wanted to tell him how special the world was because of him and his brother. She wanted him to understand that this was exactly as things were supposed to be. No matter the words she tried, she could not find the right ones to explain this to him.
And why had she not said anything to Adam? Why had she not asked Adam if he knew what to say to his son?
Sometimes at the end of the day, Adam sat beside her and they watched the stars fill the heavens above them. Listening to the songs of the birds and the whisper of the wind in the grasses, Adam would exclaim, “We are creating our own Eden.” Those words always comforted her. But no matter how many times Eve told Abel the story of the Garden, no matter how many times she repeated Adam’s words about creating a new Eden, Abel only asked why. “Why did you do it?”
“If it had been me,” he had said once, “I would not have done it.”
“Done what?” she had asked.
“I would not have listened to the snake.” He had spit out the words with such a sense of fury that Eve did not know what to say. When he turned and stomped away from her, she had called after him, “But then I would never have had you.”
If he heard her words, he had not acknowledged them. Watching him as he walked further and further away into the distance, she had not known what she should do. Somehow the story she told Abel never came out right. She wished she had another story to tell him, but she did not know another.
There was a time when life in Eden in all its perfection was everything. What happened next had been so unexpected. With Adam she had sometimes talked about their life in the Garden. How could perfection be so strict? Why was the snake even there? The snake would not have tempted her if it hadn’t been meant to. It would not have sat in the tree with its winsome hiss, to say, Hey there, why not try this? She knew she had been told not to, but then she looked at the snake and she wondered. Why would it tell her to do something that she had been told not to do? Was it some test, some new thought that she was meant to investigate?
Everything around her had been hers. The earth, the sky, the moon, the stars. Everything was full of creation. And here was this other creation, saying, Why not? And what did the Creator really mean when he said, No? And why in this perfect garden of perfection would the creature even say the thing that it did unless the Creator meant it to?
The Creator’s No. Did it mean that there was danger? Like when she told Abel to be careful as he stepped near the steep precipice? What did “no” really mean? And then afterwards, she had understood that things would never be the same. They ate the fruit from the tree and they were banished from the world that they knew. She knew that Abel had imagined that world of perfect beauty and harmony. How could she tell him that it could not be? That life meant struggle and making choices. This part of the story she had not told Abel.
Outside the Garden their eyes had opened to the wonder of the world, to the ebb and flow of everything surrounding them, from the trees to the grasses, the flowing rivers and hills, that challenged them to decide where to go and where to sit down. Knowledge of the world had suddenly become something that they sought anxiously.
Eve was acutely aware that Adam was willing and eager to call their life a new Eden. With the births of Abel and Cain she remembered Adam’s words, “We are truly God-like,” he had whispered in her ear. Still, they both knew that the world that she and Adam would create would never be Eden. The quiet, gentle, uncomplicated and effortless existence of Eden was gone.
Once, in discussion with Adam, she had said to him, “Why was the snake even there except to make sure we were sent out of the Garden?”
“Ahhhh,” he had replied, “We were meant to leave.” Of this she, too, was sure.
“Do you remember,” she continued, “ when it was only the two of us? Do you remember walking out of the Garden? You looked at me as if you were seeing me for the first time.”
“There were a lot of things I had to discover,” he laughed.
They had not looked back. Not once.
Leaving Eden meant finding out what life was about. Yes, it was hard having to look for food and water. It also meant learning to depend on another human being. Another human. Not just the animals that sat placidly beside them in the Garden. Not just the fruit that fell in their laps.
Eat from the Tree of Knowledge and then you will find out what life really is. In Eden, there had been no wondering or wandering. No experimenting over what would happen or how to make things happen. No worrying. Ha, she thought. Worrying. That strange thing that sometimes helped Adam discover something new.
Eve had watched the things Adam had learned, and saw him sweat as he tried to plant the seeds in the ground, and saw him struggle as he moved rocks out of the way of his planting. And the work was pleasing to him. And to her. They appreciated the things around them. The earth that let them find the food they needed, the sky that gave them light and let them admire its wonders as the stars shone brilliantly through the dark. The water that replenished them when they were thirsty. Adam was so excited about each of those things that they had discovered. They had been born in the Garden. They had needed to leave it to find out who they were and what they were supposed to do.
Though Abel asked about the Garden, in so many ways she felt it was a place that was created just for Adam and herself. It was never meant to be shared. None of it. It was a different time. It was a different place. Maybe that was the point. The telling could never be quite right because the world of the Garden of Eden was only ever temporary. It did not belong to Adam or to Eve.
Eve was grateful that Cain did not trouble her with questions about things she did not quite know the answers to. If he ever wondered about that other place, he never said so. He was content to do the things he did, taking pleasure like his father in the harvest that provided food for them to live. Cain was devoted to the things that he did, was a caregiver to the earth. Everything he touched grew in abundance. Searching for hours for the best fertile soil, he would pick up handfuls of the earth and let it sift through his fingers. He was able to determine which plants would grow best in a certain spot. Sometimes he would bring Eve some new grass he had discovered. When he found a new fruit he offered it to Eve with a teasing smile, saying, “I do not know that there is any more knowledge to this fruit than perhaps its sweet taste.” And she would look up at him with a grin, and say, “We’ll see.” Taking the fruit from his hands, she would place it to the side so that she and Adam could taste it together.
She has been walking for a while. She is thinking that perhaps everything has been in her imagination. Some anxiety. Perhaps the only tremor that was real was something inside of her. Something she had been troubled about as she watched Cain and Abel leave that morning. She remembered thinking how grateful she felt that Cain was so good-natured. How good he was to his brother. Always accommodating Abel’s moods, always being gentle with him, even though Abel often shrugged off Cain’s attentions. She wondered if Abel liked Cain. She wondered if Abel did not resent Cain, his ease with life, his geniality.
And then she stops. There, just beyond a rock. A body is lying in the grass. She goes closer and sits down next to it. She strokes the earth with her fingertips. Then she leans over to touch Abel.
She gently lifts his head and cradles him in her lap. Her gaze travels the length of his body, his feet, legs, torso, shoulders, head. She heaves a deep sigh. Her eyes close.
She thinks of Abel and his questions and his longing for that perfect place. Was Abel right? Could she have refused the snake? Should they have stayed in Eden?
She raises herself up from his body and gently strokes his brow. All those times when he came home with blood on his legs, arms, or head, telling stories about how he didn’t see the rock. If they asked him why he didn’t pay more attention to the things in front of him, he would shrug. And now this.
Did we forget to warn him? Should we have told him there were things he should not do? She remembered that the Creator had warned both Adam and herself, Do not eat the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden. Aaah, she thinks, we did not listen either.
She had not cried when they left Eden. She had not cried when she gave birth to Cain or Abel. But now, as she hangs her head over Abel, her tears fall like dew drops onto his face. Thinking of Abel’s questions to her about whether she ever regretted leaving the Garden, she wants to say YES.
As she strokes the hair on Abel’s forehead, she sees aspects of Cain in his features. The way his chin is squared, and his high cheekbones. What will I tell Cain? she asks herself?
She sits there, not moving. For minutes, for hours, for days. She does not know. The ache that she feels inside her is somehow familiar. It is something like the pain she felt when they were told they had to leave the Garden.
Looking at her creation, she remembers that his birth was a surprise. The pain. But what joy, what feeling. She had created this life.
Now she is remembering when Abel was younger and how he had made her laugh. Laughter was something that came after Eden. She should have told him that. Told him that life after Eden meant laughter.
She drops her head on her chest and heaves a deep sigh. Her eyes close. She lets herself rest against Abel’s body. There is still warmth in his body and she jerks herself upright, thinking that maybe. . . . She does not know so many things. She feels something that she has never felt before. She feels loss.
Even when they left Eden there was not this feeling of loss. Somehow that leaving, she knows, was meant to be. And this thing. This new feeling? Is this, too, meant to be?
And she looks at the body that now lies on her lap. She created him. She and Adam made him. She walked through the days and months with him inside of her. Doing the things that needed to be done, and all the while there was the movement of creation inside of her. She looks up to the sky. She looks at the trees, she looks at the land around her. She vaguely hears the noise of birds calling; she is vaguely aware that all around her the earth is sighing.
And now she is the possessor of a new knowledge. The Creator had said that if they ate from the tree they would die. And now she understands death. She had not known what it was; she had not known what it meant. And now she understands the difference between Eden and the world outside of Eden.
What will she tell Adam? What will she say? “Remember that Tree of Knowledge all those years before? Before, in the Garden? In that place of wonderment: in that place where we met? Remember? Well, there was still more that we had to learn.”
How will she tell Cain? She will explain that she found Abel alone in the field. His head bloodied. He must have fallen. He must not have seen the rock, and slipped. You know how he did not always pay attention. He would be looking up at the sky instead of watching where he was walking. Or he would be looking down at some small wonder on the ground and walk into a tree. “Do you remember?” she would say to Cain. “Remember?” She longs to hold Cain, and she knows that he will let her.
She strokes the hair on Abel’s head. She wonders if they could take Abel back to Eden, to that perfect garden, but she is no longer sure in which direction it is. They have been gone so long; they have travelled so far away. She will ask Adam.
And then in the distance she sees him walking towards her. As he approaches her, she does not stand up but remains on the ground cradling Abel’s head.
He comes near and then stops next to her.
“There is no more life in him,” she says.
“I know,” says Adam, and he remains standing next to her.
“You know?” she repeats, puzzled by his words. “What is it you know?”
But Adam just stands there. Not moving, not speaking.
“Adam,” she says, reaching out her hand to touch his. And suddenly he collapses onto the earth. She strokes his head. “Adam,” she whispers, “We must find Cain.”
Adam sits up slowly. He is shaking his head back and forth, and she looks at him, wondering what he is thinking. She watches him gather up some loose earth in his hand, just the way Cain would do when he was testing the earth, but then, quite inexplicably, Adam throws it in the air. The earth lands on both of them, in their hair and on their clothes. It is a gesture she does not understand.
“I have spoken to Cain,” he says.
Eve looks at him.
“Where is he?” she asks.
He does not answer her, but instead rests his hand on Abel’s brow. After several minutes he chokes out the words, “Cain is banished.”
Eve looks at Adam. Adam has put his head in his hands. She does not understand what has happened. She looks at Abel and thinks of his questions, of the answers that she did not have.
In the sky just above their heads, there is a single grey cloud. As Eve looks up, she feels a gentle light sprinkle of rain. It falls for a just few moments, hardly a minute. “No,” says Eve. “No.”
Eve gets up and paces back and forth. Tears streak her cheeks.
She looks at Adam sitting beside his son, and in a strange unfamiliar anguish she does not know what she is supposed to do. Closing her eyes, she takes a deep breath, and then another, and words whisper on her lips, “Bring him back. Give him back to me!”
She must find Cain. She will not lose him, too.
She turns to go back to Adam, to tell him that she will find Cain and bring him back.
She is thinking about how she will speak to Cain, how she will hold him and tell him that things will be all right.
And in her head, she hears Abel’s questions. Why did they leave the Garden? Why did they eat of the Tree of Knowledge? She walks slowly back to Adam. She reaches out gently to touch his shoulder.
“I am going to find Cain,” she says to him.
Adam closes his eyes.
“I am going to bring Cain back,” she says more quietly, seeing him now, clutching at his hair and shaking his head. “I will bring Cain back.”
“Banished,” replies Adam. “He is banished.”
“What does that mean? Who . . .” But her question sticks in her throat.
Her understanding of what Adam has said fills her with anguish. She pinches her arms, trying to understand what is happening, trying to understand that this is real. “It cannot be,” she says out loud, and she pinches herself again. It cannot be. I will wake from this dream, she thinks.
Whatever we have hoped for . . . thinks Eve. Whatever we thought. It is gone. “My sons,” cries Eve. So many things, So many moments. The memories of their days. It is a mistake, thinks Eve. And she already misses the questions that Abel asked her; she misses her uneasiness with him. Even that.
And as her mind shifts to thinking of things she wants to say to Cain, she is stunned by the realization that not one, but both are gone.
Her tears wash over her in waves. She wipes her eyes but the tears do not stop. There is nothing for her to do. Nowhere for her to go. And now all she feels is exhausted.
And there in the corner of her vision, she sees a snake crawling lazily through the grass. As quietly as she can, she picks up a rock within her reach. Then, with a giant step, she stands beside the snake. She brings the rock down upon its head. She strikes it again and again and again.