At the beginning of the world, God created everything that is. On the Earth, he created a garden known as Eden. (Yes, the Bible calls God “he,” I don’t think of God being particularly male or female, but to avoid confusion, so will I.)
The Bible tells us:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’”
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.
So God created the first woman, Eve.
The Snake, who in those days could stand tall, walk, and communicate with humans, convinced them to taste the fruit of that tree.
God was not pleased:
And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.
Adam speaks as he stands in his last moment in the garden, as he watches it disappear.
Snake stands tall beside me. His bronze scales reflect the steady sun as they glisten in this constant misting rain. My left hand rests on his strong shoulder, as his hand rests on mine. “So this is the end,” my thoughts say to him.
“The end of this existence,” his thoughts reply. “The beginning of the next.”
Around us, the garden is shrinking. All my life, it had extended throughout all that we could see, off beyond the horizon where everything grew vague. Now the garden has edges, and they are rushing toward us.
Beyond them, I can see dusty ground with infrequent, stunted shrubs. Clouds, at once both pale and dark, hide the sun and sky. Shards of lightning flash between them, as if sparks of heaven are shattering, exploding above the land. An endless curtain of heavy rain pounds down. The shrubs, defeated, are crushed even closer to the earth. The dust becomes mud, smears, runs, into gullies and puddles that make the ground look even more treacherous, even more grim.
“What happens now?” I think to myself.
“Do you really want to know?” Snake replies.
I turn my head to look at him. “Do you know?” I ask. “You know the future?”
Snake does not turn his head. He stares more fixedly at the garden’s edge. “Some. Not enough.”
“Did you know what would happen—”
“When I did what I did? When I… gave you that fruit?” His mind becomes clouded with pain, with memory, with flashes of guilt and anger at our God.
I shift my hand from his near shoulder, sliding it gently along the scales of his back, until it embraces his far shoulder, drawing him closer to me.
His mind clears, the pain replaced by sadness, heavier, dense. “No.” He sighs. “I thought I knew, thought that the fruit, the knowledge would bring you joy, instead of… this. God told us that it contained the knowledge of good and evil. But all that we have come to know now is how much we do not know. Everything—the garden, the world, the future—with just that one taste of that enticing fruit, everything has changed.”
“I had—I thought I had loved God,” I think. “How could he have done this to us?”
Snake’s mind darkens again with another inverse flash of anger, of pain. His tongue lashes out into the air in front of him, slashing through and disrupting the misting rain. “This God fooled you, tricked you, though when those who come after you tell the story they will call me the Trickster. They will come to hate me, to fear my children.”
“I could never hate you, could never fear you, my wisest friend,” I think.
“No, but only you will ever have shared my thoughts, shared my heart, you and Eve. The others, your children, will only know second-hand whom I have been. They will only know the thing that I will become, the mute, hissing, slithering serpent that will haunt their dreams. They will only know that once we could communicate, that once I was this God’s pawn, his instrument, as he forced you out of this garden into the harsh world that rushes in toward us. They will hate me for the pain of being pushed into that world. Some will even blame me for the pain with which your children will be born into that world, pushed through blood and screams and tears from the warmth of their first home into the harshness of the world of the rest of their lives.
“And I will never be able to speak to them again, not even to explain, not even to apologize. My kiss will kill them, and they will crush my head beneath their heels. I will be forever on the move, forever on the run, forever leaving my skin behind and starting out anew. But I will never be able to escape the hatred that they will feel, the guilt and the regret whose embodiment I will forever have become.”
The storm, the sodden desert, are closer now. Standing in silence in Snake’s embrace, I can feel drops of colder rain, wisps of harsher wind biting through the barrier, slicing into the garden, lashing us with hints of what lies outside.
I look up at Snake and wonder whether the streaks of denser water on his face are rain from the impending world or are tears. “Must all my children hate you?” I ask.
“Some may come to worship me,” he replies, “to build icons of me that glisten in the sun as I do now. But that worship will come from fear, not love. Some will dance with my children, or will play music that forces my children to dance. But they will do so out of daring, of bravado, to try to convince themselves that they do not fear me.
“Some will come to handle my children in worship of this trickster God, believing that their faith in him will protect them from my children’s kiss. And as my children whisper in their ears, mix their sound with the music that your children find holy, new languages will break forth that our children will not understand, will completely understand. Together, they will break out past words and return to this communion that we now share.”
“And, one by one, our children will join together, toward a world we can share in love?”
“No.” He sighs and his head, his scales brushing against my skin. “That moment will end, and they swiftly will forget. They will return to their battle, return to their hatred.”
“I do not know. The future that I can see ends sometime, though I do not know when, and I cannot see what lies beyond it. Perhaps all is destroyed, all is for naught. But perhaps…” He pauses, closes his eyes.
“Perhaps all will be healed someday.” He speaks slowly, tentatively. “Perhaps your children, perhaps mine, perhaps this God will find some way to put things back together, to put things right. Perhaps what we have come to know from eating that fruit is not the end of knowledge but its beginning. Perhaps we are being sent out of the garden to learn, and when we have learned what we must, we might return to the garden. The garden might return to us.”
I look down, then look up at Snake, and see that he is, indeed, crying. I turn and embrace him fully. He holds me in his arms, as I hold him in mine.
Then I hear a massive, terrifying, rushing sound. I look down and see the edges of the garden a long stride away, an arm’s length away, a step—
And then the ground drops from below me, one, two hands’ breadths, and I fall into a puddle of mud where green grass had been. I hold Snake more tightly within my arms, but feel his skin collapse, hollowed. I roll to my knees and kneel. The harsh rain pounds my head without mercy. Flashes of lightning and explosions of thunder surround me as I kneel, helpless. The clothes that we had fashioned from the leaves of the garden are thrashed by the rain, shredded, peeled away, until I am again as naked as I had been for most of my life.
I kneel in silence, not knowing what to do. Then I feel something writhing against my arm. I open my eyes. It looks like Snake—it is Snake—but small, crippled and diminished. He has no limbs, no arms, shoulders, legs, just a long body that moves in an ever-changing line against the ground, against my arms.
“What can we do now?” I think to him. And I realize that he can no longer hear my thoughts, that I can no longer hear his. My mouth opens and tries to speak aloud, but I have no language, no words.
The small Snake slides up my arm, faces me, strokes my lips with his hissing tongue, and I understand what he means: I will need words now to speak.
Snake slides down to the ground, to his former skin, now inert beside me. With his fangs, he grasps the underside of where his head had been and pulls down, slicing an opening past his arms, his belly, his legs.
I know what he means me to do. I stand and slide my arms into the skin of his arms, my legs into his legs, pull the skin of his head over mine. I look out, protected from the rain, and see Snake slithering away from me.
At the nearest shrub, he slides upward, wraps himself around a limb, and shakes it. Fruit, hidden by the spare leaves while on the tree, drops to the ground. I look at the fruit, wonder if it is forbidden or not, then shrug. I am already in the harsh world. I will eat what I can, what I want.
Looking farther from where I stand, I see that there are breaks in the clouds, spots of drier land, places where the sun shines down. And in one of the drier spots, not far away, I see another person seated beneath a tree, the only other person, the one that God had named Eve. She is safe, unharmed from when she ran screaming from me, from Snake, from the knowledge of good and evil, from the knowledge of what we had done.
I know that that knowledge has followed us now, that it did not die when the garden disappeared, and I know that we have much more to learn. I will have to communicate with her, to let her know that all may be well.
For that I will need words, will have to build language. I reach back in memory and find an idyllic moment:
Snake and I sit on the ground beneath that fateful tree, in the timeless time before Eve arrived. He and I have discovered that I can use my breath, throat, and mouth to create sounds, more subtle than those made by any other animal. At first I only use my voice in song, sounds with no meaning other than the joy of the singing itself.
But Snake challenges me to create brief images in sound to depict the other animals. Enjoying this game, I create words, create names: a great beast, lying beside us, his mane ruffling in the breeze, becomes “ari”; a smaller, woolly creature that it nuzzles, that it cradles gently with its broad paws become “seh”; a tiny bird, lithe and fragile, becomes “drorit.”
I recall these words, and remember those that God used in building these worlds.
I test my breath, my lips, my tongue against these words, give them sound. I speak these words, at once sacred and mundane, and know that with these words my new life begins: