So it was International Women's day yesterday, a fact that I missed, due to having my head down every spare minute with a new project of mine. But here's a story I wrote a few years ago, to celebrate womanhood.
Enjoy! (or else!)
She was bored. Not that that made a change, of course. She'd been bored yesterday, and the day before that and the day before that. In fact, if she thought about it, she'd been bored for most of her existence.
Yes, the grass she sat on was soft and silky, caressing her skin; the sun on her face was warm and nourishing; the air was full of birdsong and the perfume of a thousand flowers. But the grass had been soft and silky yesterday, the sun had been warm and nourishing yesterday, there had been bird song and the perfume of a thousand flowers in the air, yesterday as well. And it had been the same the day before that and the day before that.
She wasn't hungry, but she put out a hand and felt the soft, furry plumpness of a ripe peach beneath her fingers. She pulled gently on it and it fell into her hand and she brought it up to her teeth and took a bite, enjoying the explosion of juice in her mouth. She tore the skin from the fruit in strips, sucking at the flesh, before taking tiny nibbles and swallowing. It took her about twenty minutes to eat the whole fruit down to the stone, another ten minutes or so to extract every last fibre from the stone itself. Then she sighed and lay back in the grass. She wondered where her husband was and what he was doing. Off picking berries somewhere, probably. Or bathing in the pool. There wasn't much else he could be doing.
In some ways it was quite nice to be by herself for a change. He had been particularly smug and self satisfied recently. She stretched out on the grass and wondered if she would be able to fall asleep. That was one good way of passing the time.
She sat up. What was that? Had she gone to sleep? She could have sworn she had heard a voice - a voice that wasn't that of her husband.
The voice came again. "Hello. How are you?"
It was a friendly voice, smooth and deep, deep enough to be male, but almost high enough to be female as well, coming from above her, so she knew that whoever it was, was not as tall as her husband. Who could it be? She hadn't thought that there was anybody else living here.
"Who are you?" Her heart was doing something funny, beating fast, thump, thump, thump, in her chest. Was she scared? She wasn't sure - she'd never been scared before. Maybe she was just excited.
"I am your friend."
"My friend? But I have no friends..."
“Wouldn't you like one?”
She thought about it for a while. It had never occurred to her that she might be able to have a friend - other than her husband of course. She felt a warmness that had nothing to do with the sun, rise up in her chest, filling her up, and her mouth stretched into a wide, exultant smile. A friend. A Friend.
“I think – I think I'd love a friend,” she responded at last.
“Well then, you've got one.” There was a hint of laughter in the voice.
“Really? Just like that?”
“Really. Just like that.”
“Oh thank you. It will be lovely to have a friend." She spoke the word slowly, luxuriating in it, rolling her tongue around it.
"Oh dear. I'm guessing you must get lonely sometimes."
"Well..." Not lonely so much, as her husband was there most of the time...but she knew him so well, and there wasn't much to talk about. "I don't really get lonely - but I do get a bit bored sometimes," she replied.
Her new friend chuckled. "I'm not surprised. I'd be bored if I were you. There's not much to do here all day is there?"
She shook her head. "We walk around and eat fruit and, well, we sit down sometimes as well and talk and sometimes my husband goes off like now, to bathe or pick berries or something and then I get to think and stuff...I don't know, what else could we be doing?"
There was a sigh, a hissing sigh. "You poor thing. You have no idea. There's so much more to life. So much more to life."
"Really?" Her heart had slowed after the initial shock, but now it started to beat a little faster again and the breath caught in her throat. "What else is there? Tell me - please tell me."
Again a sigh and then a small, thoughtful pause. "Well, for one thing, there's sight."
"Yes, sight. Put your hands up to the hollows in your face on either side of your nose."
She did so, feeling the tender, soft swellings under her fingers.
"Those, my dear, are your eyes. If they were opened, then you would be able to see things. Not just feel them, not just hear them, not just taste them, but see them. You would be able to see the golden sunset of a peach, the blue of the sky, the glorious colours of the flowers, the green of the grass. You would be able to see me - the birds, your husband."
She frowned. "What do you mean, I would be able to see? What do you mean - see?"
Another pause and then the voice said: "There's only one way of finding out. Would you like me to tell you how?"
"Okay. Well, you'll have to get up and walk into the centre of the garden where there is a big tree."
"Oh yes, I know the one you mean - the Special one."
She got to her feet and walked in the direction of the special tree. She always knew where the tree was, because it smelled different to the others. She could tell her friend was coming with her as she could hear him rustling along beside her. She was surprised by how good it felt, to be walking along with a friend. She held her head high and smiled.
She knew she was at the tree when the scent was all but overpowering and she could feel the deep coolness of the shade it gave out.
"Okay," she turned to her friend. "Now what?"
"Now all you have to do is reach out and pluck a fruit from the tree and take a bite."
"Take a bite?" Now her heart really was thumping. "But we mustn't!"
"Really?" Suddenly, the voice was just a touch less friendly. There was a note - just a semiquaver of a note, but a note all the same - of boredom, and even, she thought, of contempt in it now. "Why not?"
"We have been told that we mustn't."
"Hmm." There was definitely contempt there now, and she felt a wash of cold disappointment steal over her. Not just disappointment, but a nameless fear, like a lump at the base of her throat, a dragging ache in her stomach. Her Friend said nothing for so long that she thought the silence might go on for ever and she couldn't bear it. She'd been so excited to have a friend and now it looked like she had blown it already. "It's the one tree in the garden that we're not meant to eat from," she said at last, unable to bear the silence any more.
When her Friend spoke again, there was a coldness in his voice."Well, suit yourself, I was only trying to help." Again, a short pause and the lump in her throat swelled so much, it hurt her.
"I guess I'll see you around."
"No! Don't go, please don't go." The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them.
"Why not? If you won't let me help you..."
She took a deep breath. "Look, I'm sorry, it's just...please, tell me - why should I eat the apple?"
"So that you can see," there was a tiny thread of warmth back in the voice again, and her heart swelled with hope. Even though the warmth was surely nothing more than impatience - anything was better than cold contempt. "I thought I had explained that well enough."
"You said it would help me see. But why is it so important to see?"
Another hissing sigh. "Oh dear, my poor sweet child. Put it this way. You can carry on life forever, as you are. Lying around, eating, drinking, bathing, picking berries. Nothing will ever change. It will be the same, day after day, after day for all eternity. But if you can see, it will add another dimension to your life. You will have knowledge."
"Then why has it been forbidden for us to eat this fruit?"
"I don't know. Maybe because you are too naive. Maybe He thinks he couldn't trust you to do the right thing if you could see.”
A hot flush rose in her cheeks then. "But that's not fair. I've never done anything to make Him think that. Of course I can be trusted!"
“Yes, my dear, I'm sure you can. I trust you, you see, but there's probably only one way to prove you can be trusted. Take one of the fruit, go on. Just take one and have a little nibble. You don't have to eat the whole thing. That's probably what's forbidden anyway. I'm sure it wouldn't matter if you just had a little nibble.”
"You're really sure?"
Her heart was beating hard now and her head was whirling with so many thoughts she couldn't tell which was uppermost. Her fingers itched to reach out and pluck one of the fruit, but there was guilt there as well. Should she? Would there be big trouble? But her Friend obviously knew what he was talking about and if he thought it would be okay, then it must be. And if she refused, then what? Would her Friend go away? Would he never come back again? The thought made her feel so cold and desperate inside that she found her hand rising to the tree almost of its own accord.
"Go on, go on," her Friend hissed softly. "Just take one, just one small nibble. I promise you won't regret it.”
"Alright." She reached out, felt the leaves, dry and thin under her fingers and then a round, hard fruit. She fingered her way to the stem and gave a sharp tug and the fruit came away, falling so easily into her palm that she laughed with delight. She sniffed and was surprised that it didn't smell as strong as she had expected; a faint, but sweet smell. She opened her mouth and took a bite, her teeth breaking into the hard flesh. A delicate sweet flavour, just a little acid, filled her mouth. She chewed, then swallowed and then suddenly, she was bent over, she had dropped to the ground, her head was pounding and there was light filling her head – and her eyes were open. For the first time in her life, she was seeing things - light and colours and shapes and, above all, beauty such as she had never imagined. Without knowing it, she was on her feet again, racing around grabbing at a flower here, at a leaf there, bringing it right up to her eyes and staring at it, with wonder and awe. Then she gazed down at her hands, her feet and at her body, at the brown skin, the soft swelling of breasts and hips and muscles and the hard lines of her bones. And then she looked over to see her friend watching her and saw that he was completely different to her - long and thin and shiny, the same colour as the grass.
"You're different to me," she said.
"Yes, I am," he replied, and she could see he was about to say something else, but then he put his head on one side as if listening."Is that your husband returning?"
She listened as well and was rewarded by the sound of her husband's footsteps moving over the grass. Her heart leapt. Oh, to be able to show him this wondrous new gift! "Adam! Adam! " she called, and then she saw him, for the first time, striding towards her. He was tall, with strong, noble, handsome features and a thick shock of black hair; wide shoulders, a beautifully muscled chest and stomach and...well, well, so that's what it looked like was it...and long, straight, hairy legs. Hmm, not bad, she thought. Not bad at all."Adam, you have to meet my new Friend!"
His brow wrinkled. "Your new friend?"
"Yes -" She turned, but to her astonishment, there was no sign of her Friend anywhere. "Oh, he was here a minute ago...” She wondered where on earth he was, but she was so excited, she turned back to her husband. “Oh Adam, he showed me the most amazing thing! I can see - I can see!"
Adam's forehead wrinkled even further. "See? What do you mean?"
"I'll show you. Just take a bite from this fruit."
"But Eve! That's the forbidden fruit!"
"Oh yes, I know that, but Adam, you've got to try it!"
"Eve!" His voice had gone high and staccato with shock. "Eve! Please tell me you haven't eaten the fruit!"
"Only a nibble and it's the best thing I've ever done. oh Adam, you've got to try it!"
"But we mustn't!"
"Oh come on Adam, don't be such a goody goody. Just a nibble. You don't have to eat the whole thing. He never said we couldn't nibble on it!"
"But it's forbidden!"
"Oh for heavens sake, it's forbidden to eat the whole fruit, but just have a nibble. Go on, you can do it!"
Adam stood for a while, silent and she could see he was wavering. "Look, I've had a taste and the only thing that's happened to me is that I can see - which is the best thing that's ever happened to me!"
His mouth turned down at the corners and his shoulders drooped. "The best thing that's ever happened to you?"
She sighed. "Okay, the second best thing that's ever happened to me."
He smiled then and stood straighter.
"Come on, open wide."
He hesitated for just a moment longer and then opened his mouth and she pressed the apple to his teeth. He crunched and chewed and then swallowed. Eve watched, entranced. First he frowned, then his eyelids began to flicker and then at last they lifted, revealing beautiful dark brown eyes that were flecked with gold and fringed with dark lashes. Unlike her, Adam stood still, gazing around for what seemed like an age, his mouth hanging open with astonishment and awe. And then his eyes came to rest on her, running up and down her body, making her flush and feel embarrassed for the first time in his company.
"You're naked," he said.
"So are you."
He looked down at his own body then, at his hands and legs and stomach and..."Good grief!" He reached out to a tree and yanked a off leaf, placing it at his groin. "Eve, cover yourself!"
She cast her eyes heavenward, but even as she did so, there came a blinding light and a Voice, a deep and beloved voice, rang out into the garden. "Children, what have you been doing?"
They stared at each other, immobile with terror and guilt. "It was her fault," Adam began. "She made me do it..."
"I don't care whose fault it was. You both knew you weren't allowed to take fruit from that tree."
Eve stared around for her friend, but he was nowhere to be seen. Surely he should be here now, to explain it all? Where was he? She opened her mouth to call out, but then realised that she didn't even know what his name was.
"Children, you have disobeyed me and there will now be consequences."
"But..." They both spoke at once, but their words were drowned out by the sound of a rushing wind. It tore around them, whipping their hair around their faces, dark and harsh and terrifying, so that it was almost as though they were blind again.
“Friend! Friend!” Eve screamed into the darkness, but all she heard was a hissing laugh that speared her heart with agony. The wind buffeted and pulled at the two humans so that they had to cling together to keep their balance, and then suddenly it was gone and so was the garden.
They were standing on an outcrop of bare rock, and before them was the World.
The voice spoke again, but this time it seemed to come from a great distance. "Okay, " it said. "You think you know best, so from now on, you're on your own." And then it was gone.
Adam fell to his knees in an orgy of weeping and wailing, banging his chest with his fists, his head on the ground, kicking his legs out in grief.
Eve stood with her arms wrapped around her chest, trying to contain the tearing pain in her heart. She lifted her head and looked out to the horizon – and paused.
She could see rain forests out there; jungles and deserts; an ocean that surely stretched to the edge of the world and high mountain peaks. She could see flocks of parrots, herds of deer, the flight of a butterfly.
She could see danger out there and hardship, hunger and disease. She could time which changed and muttered and ended.
Then she looked down at her handsome husband, with his broad shoulders, his hard muscled stomach and his fig leaf. Her heart still burned with grief, but she felt as though there was a tiny light growing in there as well.
She straightened her shoulders. "Come on Adam," she said. "There's a whole new world out there, and it's ours for the taking."