Under the light of the full moon looming close in the sky, she takes a single, delicate bite of fruit.
Nothing happens at first. And then everything happens. The garden fades away from sight and in its stead she sees unfathomable flashing lights, images that pop and crackle and mushroom, great flying beasts, nightmares terrifying the skies, a river of blood, bodies, bodies that look like her own, except much smaller, and she can hardly comprehend what monstrosity she is seeing, so she closes her eyes to banish the display. But the sounds continue, the whirring and growling and droning of some strange beasts, cries and screams and moans, and she is falling to the ground, depleted, hands striving to block her ears against the battering assault on her mind. After what seems like an eternity, the images vanish to darkness and the sounds fade to silence. Shivering, clutching her arms to her chest, she lies there witnessed by the snake and the silver moon.
In time, awareness returns to the woman. Lying down, knees hugged close to her chest, she stretches her hand out, reaching for what she knows not. Only cool air meets her grasp, then when that hand drops, something new. Spreading her fingers, she strokes the soft strands of grass beneath, feeling them gently caress her back. Opening her eyes, she peers intently at the blades feathering through her fingers. She has seen grass before—of course she has—but she had not known what to look for or why. After contemplating each tiny growth in a meditation calming to her battered, tender mind, she opens her gaze wider to see the blanket of white, luminescent flowers within reach, the circle of elder trees, the dark mystery of night beyond and, as she turns onto her back, arms flung out from her sides and hair pooling around her head, the stars and the moon.
She had not known that Eden was beautiful. Breathtakingly so. Her heart fills, unburdened and light, as she takes in a deep breath of air that now tastes fresh and vital. Each star above winks and sets her to dreaming, lungs, awareness, mind expanding as she views the oceanic sky. And the moon—the moon shines pearly light onto tears shed for the sheer joy and beauty of it all. She lies there, contemplating the moon, until it slowly passes below the horizon and rays of light creep into sight. The first stirrings in the trees and the morning flight of the birds set her heart racing giddily. Other animals gradually lumber into view and she looks upon each new miracle with wide-open and wondering eyes. When the sun makes his full appearance to the East, she slowly sits up from her flowery bed and stretches, the miracle of life coursing through her body, and she turns her eyes to herself.
She sees her nakedness, her unadulterated beauty. She appreciates the form given to her, and she twirls and dances among the flowers, joyous for her new sight and the wondrous gift of this body. As she turns, the great tree swings into view and she pauses to mark its majesty and the vibrant colors swirling in its depths. She spots the snake there, and runs forward to greet it, speaking freely of the wonders she could now see. The snake listens avidly to her poetic descriptions of the world, witnesses the first laughter as it erupts from the woman’s belly, sees the shine in the woman’s eyes, and is glad.
A soft rustling interrupts the woman’s continued description. In the distant wood, she spots the man walking slowly toward them. Turning back to the snake, she requests another fruit be brought down for him. Why? the snake wonders. You are from my rib-bone, the man had said, and why should she withhold knowledge from her source? No. The snake is adamant about this. You are a serpent shedding its old skin. Nodding toward a higher branch, the snake draws the woman’s attention to a translucent, delicate membrane, formless without flesh, lifeless without breath. So your skin happens to retain its own life…but you shed what you no longer need, what no longer serves. She wonders at this unkindness, this casual casting off of her mate. Can nature be unkind? the snake wonders. She does not know.
The man is there now, right beside her, and she sees the vacancy of his expression, the meaninglessness of his experience. She can understand now the snake’s desire for a companion. She will not, cannot, keep knowledge from him, not when it would mean being alone in that knowledge. Giving him the fruit and gesturing to him to eat, she witnesses his own transformation from ignorance to knowledge, sees the moment the images first appear, and the sounds, watches as they fade and he falls, overwhelmed. She sits with him that whole day, and the following night, as he recovers and stares with astonishment at the stars and at the world around him.
When he speaks at last, his words ragged with emotion, she cannot understand. Beautiful, he says, and mine, he says as well. Watching him closely, she sees his eyes change as he takes in this world made anew. When he turns to look at her, saying it again with that look in his eyes—beautiful, mine—she feels fear. When he moves toward her, grabbing her and pulling her down with him, she knows what comes next, knows what to expect. The knowledge does not stop her from crying out, from telling him to stop, from feeling the pain—pain made more harsh and unbearable because she does not want it and knows she does not want it, yet it is ripped into her all the same. And the man the whole time repeats his mantra of beautiful, mine in between grunts and the sickening splat of one body against another.
He moves away at last, collapsing into the deep, unconcerned sleep of the righteous, and she looks down at her bleeding, dirty body and feels shame. A low hiss catches her attention and she sees the snake there, profound grief in its eyes. Tears prickling at hers, she runs from the man, runs from the snake, runs from the tree of knowledge, until in a daze she falls to the forest floor amid a thick patch of moss and leaves. When movement finally returns to her, it is with a heavy heart that she fashions a makeshift covering for herself, that she does not have to see this body that can elicit such violence.
The sky is angry that night, water pouring from unseen heights, cut through with spears of light and a thunderous drumming that shakes her to the core.