down from the tree before you hurt yourself, child.
…What is hurt?
It was not like waking from a dream. It was not perfect. It was not day.
It was not like waking from a dream, because there had been no dreams yet. It was not perfect, because there was nothing imperfect. It was not day because I did not yet know night. It was simply being, and even that had yet to sink in as something out of the ordinary. I suppose, looking back on that, that we were simple—we were almost animals. It didn't occur to us that there might be anything different than being, and being alive, because there was no precedent for anything else.
And so, animals, we went about our days, Adam and I. After the first night we spent together, under stars that were not the same as the sun, we began to perceive that things might be different; that we should give thanks for the day. It seemed that He listened, because the days were long, and warm.
Adam and I spent the days wandering about the garden. For every tree, or flower, or beast we encountered, he had a name for it. I loved the aryeh and the ayal, the yonah and ayit. I loved the scent of the veradim and arar. And he was delighted that I was delighted, and we spent long afternoons tasting rimonim and tapuchim.
I can tell you now what perfect means.
Adam and I spent our every moment together. There was always sunshine, and laughter, and such feeling, such…I can't even describe it any more. The words are lost to me now, because we didn't need words as much then. It was perfect that way. So perfect!
Until one day I found the footprints. I was confused by them. I had experienced confusion before—at seeing night for the first time, or calling an animal by the wrong name—but this was very different. This time, Adam was not with me.
Adam was asleep beneath a tall oak tree. He was so beautiful, asleep there, and I couldn't bear to wake him up. Not tired, I thought I might walk about the garden by myself. It would be the first time I'd done so, but I was sure I wouldn't get lost. And even so, I knew He was watching us and would always guide me back home to Adam again.
I wasn't sure how long I'd been walking when I first came upon the footprints. Time—except for sunset and sunrise—was fairly irrelevant to us then. I smiled upon seeing them at first, because, in my womanly heart, I supposed that they were Adam's, marking a path he'd worn while naming all the animals and wishing for me.
But looking at them, just a bit longer, I realized they seemed a bit small for Adam's feet. I'd thought I was walking in a fairly straight line—it seemed I had circled around and had come upon my own previous path. But the more I thought, the more I was certain that wasn't it. I looked all around for Adam's footprints beside these, because I'd never walked alone before. They weren't there. These weren't mine, and they couldn't be Adam's.
I didn't mention the footprints when I returned to Adam, or that night. But I had to the next morning, because this new and unwelcome feeling—doubt—was lingering at the edge of me. I trusted him so completely; I trusted him to explain away the doubt. But he tried hard not to answer me, telling me I must have been dreaming, or simply wrong about them not being mine. It was only after I pressed him that he admitted that there had once been someone else in the garden.
I walked away from him then, confused. And hurt, though I didn't understand that particular feeling until later. I thought it was my fault. I thought I had done something, said something, known something I shouldn't have. Adam had seemed upset that I knew about these footprints.
Confused, frustrated, I made my way back to those footprints and made sure to walk right over them, erasing them from the earth. And part of me felt triumphant, and part of me felt bitter, and I did not like the feeling.
That, I suppose, is when I found the Tree.
It was not the same Tree I knew. Adam and I had been introduced to the Tree of Life, a willow tree dipping its branches into the long, clear river. This was a different Tree; I didn't know what it was called, but I could feel that it was special. There was fruit hanging up high in the branches of the Tree, but I couldn't recognize them.
Seeing the Tree was when my frustration boiled over. I didn't understand Adam's evasiveness, the footprints—I didn't even understand my own frustration. It was like my heart was burning as it beat, and I had no idea what to do to fix it. I sat down disjointedly by the base of the Tree and bit my lip, trying not to cry.
"Poor little human, doesn't understand, does she?"
Startled, I scrambled up, finding myself face to face with a snake. It seemed to be smiling at me. "I am the nachash, little human. What is your name?"
I explained to it that I was Adam's wife. And it kept smiling. I asked it about the tree. "This? This is the Tree of Knowledge, of Good and Evil."
"Adam told me about this Tree," I said after a moment. "He said it was very bad. Eating the fruit kills you."
If anything, the snake's smile grew wider.
"Little child, listens to everything he says to you?" it asked. I answered that I did, that I had no reason not to trust him. Even as the words left my lips, I encountered my first lie. "So sorry for you, then." I watched, mesmerized, as it brought the end of its tail out of the leaves, a plump piece of fruit in its grip.
"Such knowledge," it said, taking a bite.
It didn't die, and I found I was trembling with want. After watching me, still smiling at me, the snake extended the fruit towards me. "Will?"
"I can't," I whispered. "It will kill me. Adam told me."
"Mustn't believe everything he says," the snake said sadly. "Lied to you about footprints. Lied to you about wife." I had nothing to say. "Yes, lied to you about wife. Footprints of a long-gone wife. Lied to you. Did not warn you about night, lied to you about Tree."
My face was burning. Another wife? He'd had another wife? That was who those footprints belonged to? Someone he loved who was not me?
"I am still alive, I see," the snake said after a moment. "Is little human hungry?"
The moment lasted forever, as I stared at this one piece of fruit. He'd lied to me…So I grabbed the fruit. I could feel the snake watching me as I took a tentative bite. "Is it good?"
I wasn't sure. Was it good or bad, was it both? It was sweet, but bitter as the juice slid down the throat. It was everything I'd ever known up until that point, and it was everything I would come to know in the nights that followed.
I told the snake I should bring the fruit back to Adam.
"That piece?" The snake's weird grin never faltered. "Bitten, eaten. Up in the tree are new pieces, better. That piece is like footsteps—better forgotten now."
My heart burned just a little as it mentioned the footsteps, but he was right. I could get a better piece of fruit. It seemed content to watch me, so, mind made up, I climbed the tree towards the fruit hanging from the high branches. I had never climbed quite so high before; I took a long time to just look around the garden, the trees and the paths from above. I turned around and around on a wide branch in my own little dance, unable to fathom falling.
"Come down from the tree before you hurt yourself, child," the snake called up lazily.
I didn't understand. "What is hurt?"
I never did hear the answer; I learned it for myself not long after. As I twirled around I saw something, so far off I couldn't be sure it was real. It was made of stones, stones piled high on top of one another. I looked behind and around, but I could not see anything else like it. A wall, I would learn; I was towards a very far edge of the garden, where the river spilled out and became the Gishon.
I had no name for it, but I think I understood what the wall meant, this close to the footsteps that were made by Adam's other wife. She was no longer in the garden, whoever she was, and I recognized that the wall meant there was an outside.
My heart ached, and I hated it. I did not like the Tree, so I took a fruit and climbed down. The snake had gone, and I felt better for that. I didn't like the way it smiled or talked, like it knew all the secrets of the garden.
I took the fruit back to Adam. I told him where it was from, that the snake had told me I could eat it, and that I had. I didn't tell him what the snake had said about another wife. He ate.
Just like that, he ate.
Did he trust me then, to do what was right for him, to devote myself to his well being? And after—did he ever really trust me again? Did he ever love me after he ate the nameless fruit?
His trust, or my trust, didn't matter just yet. Suddenly I knew why the snake smiled at me like it did. Eating the nameless fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil did not kill you. It gave a life, that you might die.
We were banished from the garden. Adam blamed me, I blamed the snake, and it smiled. It smiled to see Adam lose his love for me. Could I ever love him after that, after his betrayal?
So we walked out of the garden, to the east. In the dry bleached earth, we encountered a trail of footsteps leading far away into the desert.
I carefully trampled each and ever one, and the bitterness in my heart made me glad.