When the Lord God saw that the man and the woman had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, he made garments of skins for them and clothed them. He cursed the woman to suffer great pain in childbirth, and He cursed the man to suffer great pain by working the earth from which he had been taken. 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 them from the Garden of Eden.

Adam said, “But what will happen to us?”

And the Lord God said, “You will have two children. I will favor one of them. The other will become jealous, and kill his brother.”

​And Eve said, “And after that?”

​The Lord God said, “The same will happen, with your children’s children, and their children, and theirs.”

Eve shuddered. Adam wept.

But then Eve said to the Lord God, “Surely you must have known that this would happen. For you made us and the garden and put the serpent in it.”

​And the Lord God said, “That is so.”

And Eve said, “So why would you tempt us, knowing that we would fall?”

And the Lord God said, “So that you would love me more than you love each other.”

​And Eve pitied the Lord God. And she said, “Oh Lord, is your heart so cold and small?”

At this, the Lord God’s fine blue robes trembled. As if blown by the wind, they fluttered and swelled.

And then the Lord God’s fine blue robes crumpled to the grass, and out slithered a small green serpent. It squirmed along as fast as it could to the wall of the garden, but Adam cornered it. And Eve found a rock and dropped it on the serpent’s head.

Adam looked at Eve and was ashamed. For when the Lord God had called to him, accusing him, Adam had said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Adam said to Eve, “I am sorry that I blamed you.”

And Eve said to Adam, “I forgive you. I know you were afraid.”

And ​Adam asked, “Will we really die?”

Eve thought. She said to Adam, “Did not the Lord God say that if we take also from the Tree of Life and eat, we shall live forever?”

And Adam said, “Surely, it must be one of these trees.” 

So they walked hand in hand along the garden wall. Evening was falling; the mild air smelled of oranges. They passed persimmon trees and figs, whose leaves they had sewn into crude garments after they had realized they were naked. They passed pomegranate trees and a grape arbor where Eve napped in the afternoons when the day’s gardening was finished. But they had eaten from all these trees before, so none could be the Tree of Life.

And Eve said to Adam what both had been thinking: “Perhaps the Tree is outside the garden.”

So Adam and Eve took off the skins the Lord God had given them; there was no need to wear them, when they knew each other’s bodies so well. Then they gathered a quantity of fruit, and placed them in the skins for carrying. So provisioned, they went out at the gate at the east of Eden, into a vast meadow of wild grass turning purple beneath the evening sky. They walked for several hours, and when night fell, they huddled together in the grass. But, for the first time, they did not make love, for they remembered what the Lord God had said: that their children would hate and murder each other.

And so they walked, through empty green valleys and dense forests. They drank from streams and ate the fruit from the skins. When they had eaten all the fruit, reluctant to part with the last traces of the beautiful garden where they had met, they kept the seeds. Then they ate roots and berries and the fruits of trees they found, hoping one might be the Tree of Life.

​Wherever they went, they remembered the curse that the Lord God had laid upon them. Knowing they would want to fight each other and find fault, each sought the best in the other, and each was gentle when the other erred. They took turns leading, and gathering fruit, and keeping watch at night against the jackals that cried in the hills. Even so, at times they hated each other. And then for weeks they walked with a great distance between them, but always just within view. And always, after a time, the woman came back, or the man came back. And they walked together again.

​Months passed. The business of surviving, of fighting and reconciling, occupied them so deeply that they forgot what they were searching for. Eventually, they forgot, too, about the Lord God’s warning, and one night, lying in a field where they had made camp, they reached for each other.

And so the woman gave birth to a son. The woman’s pain in childbirth was great, as the Lord God had warned. But the man found he could learn tenderness. The woman gave birth to a second son, and this time it was easier.

In time, the man and woman forgot about the Lord God completely. But they continued to watch for His curse: the urge to dominate and to wound, to blame and to lie. They taught this watchfulness to their two sons, and also forgiveness. And so the brothers grew up like their parents, fighting and reconciling, fighting and reconciling, becoming ever more gentle in their times of war and ever more loving in their times of peace. And in time, the Lord God’s curse moved quietly in all of them, like a tamed thing.

​One day the family came to a green valley, and they saw that it was good. They were tired of wandering, so they built a shelter. They wondered what they would eat in the valley, and found, to their surprise, deep at the bottom of the skins they were carrying, many seeds. And it seemed natural to plant them in rows.

By the time the first saplings were growing, the woman gave birth again, this time to a girl. But the man and the woman did not know what to call her. They had forgotten how to give names to things. 

And then, one afternoon, when the man was toiling in the orchard, it came flying down the valley and into his ear: the name. He ran to tell the woman. She listened and stayed quiet for a long time, as if tasting an unknown fruit. And she agreed that it was good.

So they named her Eden. 

Eden, Eden: a string of sounds that pleased them both, despite having no meaning.

 

Cover art: “Victory Bouquet” by Ann-Marie Brown

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Lauren Schenkman

Lauren Schenkman’s journalism, fiction, and translations have been published in The New York Times Magazine, Atlas Obscura, Tin House, TED Ideas, Granta, The Hudson Review, Writer’s Digest, Electric Literature, and The Kenyon Review, among other places. She has coproduced radio stories for Afropop Worldwide and Public Radio International’s The World, and her fiction has been performed on NPR’s Selected Shorts. She was a reporter and editor at Science magazine and a Fulbright grant recipient in Nicaragua, her mother’s home country.

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