I just read Paradise Lost (and blurbed about it). It would be an insult to its titanic place in the canon of English Literature to simply say I was impressed. Milton doesn’t need my adulation, but I give it freely anyway. It’s a fine book and well thought out. In it the reader will find intellectual discussions on the size of the universe, life on other planets, the Christian view of pleasure, and the advisability of suicide or self-enforced barrenness as reasonable solutions to the problem of Adam and Eve’s sin. Even Milton’s chauvinist propaganda is not enough to taint the genius of the rest of the work. All in all, I was impressed, even enthralled by his work.
So I decided to write my own short story on the same topic, with just one small twist. It will follow this unbearably long and verbose author’s note. It is, more than anything, an experiment. Most likely, it will turn out to be dull as a knife in a museum, dry as the moon, and an affront to Milton’s large brain.
P.S. If you have read either of the “Gerald the Robot” stories, you might appreciate this one’s tone.
Eve was feeling fresh as dew and particularly clear headed this morning. She had waked with the sun, made coffee, munched on pecans wrapped in lettuce, run with the gazelles, bathed in a waterfall, dried in the nine AM sun and lay, contemplating the glory of the color yellow in a meadow filled with lilies of the valley, ringing their inaudible little bells in a gentle breeze blowing through the valley of Eden.
Satan was feeling rotten. His possession of a snake that morning had given the animal a headache which he was forced to share (one of the many downsides, he thought, of being corporeal). His head pounded like Michael’s war hammer as he slithered to the nearest pear tree weighed down with hundreds of fat, juicy bulbous semi-orbs. He burned with terrible hunger at the sight of food and gorged himself on the fruit. This gave the snake—and therefore Satan—a stomachache (Another downside of being corporeal, he thought). He had expected to like Eden, but it had only made him sick and a little fussy.
“Oh well,” he thought, “At least I’ll feel better once I’ve tempted these smelly humans and made them as miserable as I and this blasted snake. Ah great! Now it’s raining. All I need is a head cold to make this day perfectly unbearable.” Presently the snake developed a cold (naturally, so did he).
Meanwhile Eve, in a burst of inspiration, thought it might be fun to find the very center of the garden. So she sprang up and sprinted to locate her husband, Adam. He was leisurely pruning an orange tree and sipping coffee laced with the fresh, warm milk of a garden cow.
“Ah! good to see you, wife of my youth and my rib.”
“Oh, Adam! We both know that might just be a poetic way of saying I was made of your essence.”
“All I know is that you are the essence of beauty and freshness, Eve.”
“That’s sweet of you.”
“Anyway, how’s your day been?”
“Perfect. And yours?”
“Perfect. I thought about the color yellow this morning.”
“Good to hear. I thought about you.”
“I try. Say, Eve, I do have some news! Gabriel informs me that Satan (a.k.a “The Adversary”) has entered the garden.”
“You don’t say! So that ‘testing of our wills for the sake of building true love toward our creator’ thing will finally happen?”
“Maybe. We only need be vigilant.”
“Don’t worry about that, dearest. No¶ matter how much he wheels and deals, I’ll know he’s up to no good when he tries to convince me to eat from that forbidden tree. That’s the rub, am I right? Everything else is fog in clear pools.”
“That last metaphor you used could also be applied to your perfect eyes.”
“I try. Yes, Eve, it’s as simple as not eating from that tree. Avoid that, and we’ll continue telling each other how perfect our day was for many, many wha-tu-ma-call-its to come.”
“Be specific, dear.”
“Many . . . ages! Ages to come.”
“I’ll be careful, Adam dearest so gracious and sweet. I’m off to find the very center of the garden. After that, I think I’ll pick gardenias and weave their stems into my amber tresses.”
“In my opinion, all the gardenias in this garden can’t match you in beauty and simple grace.”
Nearby, in a bush that scratched every square inch of the snake’s scaly body, Satan was sitting and listening. “Goodness gracious sakes alive!” (Those may not have been his exact words, but think of the children!) “If I have to listen to one more saccharin, perfect word coming out of their pretty little perfect mouths, I just might make this snake hiss until it croaks . . . (sneeze sneeze).” Following his sneezing fit Satan, like Lancelot, mused a little space, “I must follow Eve—catch her alone and near that tree. Then I’ll make her as miserable as me!” (Notice, Satan sacrificed proper grammar on the altar of rhyming, which is quite common among fallen beings). So, head pounding, sniffling, wet and chilled Satan slithered after Eve and toward the tree of, as Milton put it, “[The] knowledge of good, bought dear by knowing ill.”
Eve was skipping along over hills and through tiny rills singing in a voice as sweet and smooth as strawberries and cream:
“I’m not quite sure what ‘desert’ is, and ‘ice’ I can’t explain,
But neither one can be as nice as this green, fruitful plain.”
“Oh stop the torture!” Muttered Satan, slithering silently just behind her, “When I get done with you, you’ll know plenty about extreme cold (sneeze) and heat . . . and, hopefully, free verse! (sneeze)”
“Hark!” said Eve, “What were those two odd sounds like tiny tree branches striking water?”
“It isss I, oh queen of the garden,” said Satan groggily through the snake, revealing himself at last.
“Oh! Hello, Mr. Snake! I didn’t know you had been given speaking privileges. Neat! Perfect day, isn’t it?”
“No . . . I, I mean yessssss.”
“How funny you talk!” said Eve, “But now that I think about it funny isn’t the apropos word—sinister might work better.”
“SINisssster? What a sssilly word choice! Ssso sssilly. You’re sssilly. Let’s change our topic of conversation.”
“Okay, what would you like to talk about?”
“How about thisss tree, royal highnessss of thisss verdant valley-realm?” said Satan, indicating with the tip of the snake’s tail a small tree with branches weighed down by chartreuse fruit.
“Oh . . . that one.”
“Yessss, thisss one!”
“Why not this one?”
“I prefer thisss one.”
“Well I prefer this one.”
“Then we’re at an impassssse.”
“I suppose we are.”
“What if I said pleassse?”
“Oh! Alright. We’ll talk about that tree, but I probably won’t enjoy it.”
“Why isss that, oh empresss of Eden?”
“Don’t you know? It’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and we are not to eat of it for, ‘on the day you eat of it’ (I’m quoting here) ‘you will surely die.’”
“Did God really sssay, ‘You musssst not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
“I’m not sure if you heard me correctly. It was just this tree—this specific tree. Does that make sense?”
“Yesss, I think I have that now. Thingsss are clearing up a bit. But don’t you know, majesssty of majessstiesss, you will certainly not die if you eat from it. On the contrary! God knowsss that when you eat from it your eyesss will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Now Eve, like Lancelot, mused a little space, “But I do know the difference between good and evil. Good, as far as I can tell, is not to eat from this tree. And evil, if I have my logical ducks in a row, would be to eat from this tree.”
“Well yesss, if you happen to ssset God’sss word up as your ssstandard of morality.”
“Well I do.”
“But if you didn’t, and ate thisss delicioussss fruit (ssso pleasing to the eye and good for food) you could make your own morality! You could be the ssstandard of morality. Wouldn’t that be fun, regina mundi? (sneeze)”
“Not really. I’m not wise enough. I’m not even sure what a desert is . . .”
“Yess yess, and ‘Icccce you can’t explain,’ pleasse don’t ssstart that horrible sssong again. My point isss, thisss fruit will make you wisser, eh eh! Ssee what I mean, oh . . . I’ve run out of titless.”
“I suppose I do, but it’s a risk, you have to give me that.”
“Oh I’ll give you that, unmatched gloriousss one, just eat the fruit and you’ll sssee what that all good thingsss come from taking big risssksss.”
Eve looked at the tree and saw how lovely it was and how juicy and nourishing that chartreuse fruit looked. She must have stood there for twelve minutes, just thinking. Finally, she said matter-of-factly, “Sorry! I think I’ll pass . . . No, scratch that! I’m not sorry at all!” with this she laughed a silvery laugh like small bells ringing through winter air. “Of course, Adam will have to decide for himself. I’ll call him. Oh ADAM, DEARY, COME TEST YOUR WILLPOWER!”
Adam came crashing through the undergrowth with great strides and stopped next to his wife, not even winded, “Am I mistaken, or did the most beautiful creature in the universe just call my name?”
“Oh put a ssstoper in it!”
“Tut tut! Temper!” said Eve, “Now, Adam, this snake has something to ask you. Go ahead, Sata . . . I mean Mr. Snake. Give Adam your spiel.”
“Ehem, D-Did God really sssay, ‘You shall not eat from any tree . . .’” Satan began mechanically, but without much heart. Adam cut him off.
“No need to go on, Snake. I’ve been in the trees all along, and I have already heard your entire spiel, as my wife so aptly put it.”
“I try. And this is my response to your spiel: Bring me a watch-a-ma-call-it!”
“Be specific, dear.”
“An . . . axe! Yes, an axe! This snake (whom we now know as Satan thinly disguised) has given me plenty of knowledge of evil. I need no more!”
“You’ll have to get your own ssstinking a-a-a-choo! Axe.” (Again, I’m thinking of the Children as I relay his language) said Satan petulantly, “I’m finished with you!”
“Well said, Eve. I’ll say it too. Good riddance!”
With that, Satan left the snake and it slithered into the undergrowth to recover from its cold. Adam made himself an axe and chopped down that sinister tree and burned it without ceremony.
Adam and Eve stood there, their arms around each other, watching cinders float into the dark of evening glowing like orange fireflies. The garden was peaceful and still except for the sound of running water and a light wind through the treetops.
In time, Adam and Eve had many children all of whom grew up to be good citizens and productive members of society. Cain, their oldest son discovered North America and the quadratic formula. Eva, their oldest daughter, built the first fission reactor and explored the planets around Orion’s belt for a couple hundred thousand years, settling on one and naming it Earthtwo of all names in the universe. Their fifth son, Enoch, invented sliced bread.
One night, thousands of years after that afternoon in Eden as Adam and Eve were stargazing and smelling some roses that happened to be near Adam said,
“We’ll never know what life would have been like if we had eaten that fruit.”
“I don’t think we’d want to know, Adam.”
“Good point. You’re really smart, you know that?”
R. Eric Tippin
In my office at Kansas State University
August 16, 2013
"Woodbearers in Fountainebleau"
Oil on Canvas - 1864