Not that you'd notice, but I was there first. Before the oceans could team with life, before the stars were set in the night sky, I was a fixture in his garden. I strained carbon through my skin and soaked substance from the earth, and that was all there was to life. The entirety of my being was used up in just that: being. I had no purpose back then—nor a need of one.
It was not as lonely as you might think. Nor was it boring to do nothing but grow. My arms lifted in an exultant tangle towards the heavens, stretching further with every dawn. When the night fell, I was content to pass my time with quiet respiration, tracking the seasonal movement of the stars.
Sometimes the other creatures of the garden would give me company, resting under the shade of my canopy for as long as attention spans could hold. My favorite was Serpent, who become thick and heavy with the weight of his digesting prey, and who would lie amongst my roots for days. His coils were cool to the touch.
In those days we were all different. Every scampering, scurrying thing had a physiology all its own. As they consumed each other, new variations took their places. There was no death in the garden, only freedom and discovery.
I could only feel so much of the garden around me, so I pushed outward, wanting to know more. Serpent was kind to me, and would tell me stories of what lay beyond the next hill, or just around the bend in the river. He had nothing to fear back then, and so he roamed the furthest reaches of paradise. Time passed a little more slowly when he was around, and I found myself savoring that.
History was meaningless in the garden. There was no adequate frame of reference—no 'before' to quantify the 'after'—no sequences to make sense of. Events happened and were forgotten and happened again. There was no need to hold onto the memories of them. We were all eternal, and nothing could hurt us.
I say this so that you may understand where I came from. I say this by way of a preface. Mark my words, for I may not remember where exactly the change started. Those truths may be forever lost to the garden's mists. I do, however, have a hunch.
I believe my torment began when the Gardener breathed life into a handful of dust.
He called the ugly thing Man, and it lumbered about the garden, hairy and slope-backed, feeding indiscriminately off of its surroundings.
When Serpent first told me of this, I was amazed. Every other life in the garden was a work of beauty. The Gardener had assembled them with compassion and care. This thing must have been a mistake.
Man went through improvements quickly. Within days of his arrival, he had been devoured by Lion, gored by Boar, bitten by Spider, and kicked by Horse. Each time the Gardener remade him, he seemed to come back more witless and flawed. His hair fell away, leaving him vulnerable to the seasons. His back straightened until he could no longer stand comfortably on all his legs. Serpent and I spoke of this changing animal with increasing bewilderment. For the first time, I became worried. There was no change in paradise.
Man passed by me often in those days, always with the Gardener always close behind. He would coo and gurgle and reach for the fruits hanging from my stems, and the Gardener would shoo him away. Obviously, I was to be off-limits to him, but he never seemed to understand.
That changed too, quite suddenly, one night.
I was sitting quietly, waiting out the dark, when I became aware of Man and the Gardener. They were standing some distance away, facing each other, and hooting. It was like no sound I had heard before, and it felt deliberate. For long, uncomfortable moments, the two of them would fall silent. The Gardener would extend a long finger towards me and shake his head. And then the hooting would resume. By the time they had left, I found myself wishing that I could tear up my roots and go visit Serpent.
No other creature in the garden hated Man more than Serpent, and with good cause. Man did not eat Serpent, but he would go out of his way to do him harm. As Man grew stranger, Serpent found himself being suddenly smashed with rocks or sticks, or twisted and choked until the Gardener was forced to redesign him. No other animal behaved like this; killing and then declining to feed.
Serpent at first tried to avoid Man, but when that failed, he began to pay him back in kind. When I eventually told him of what I had seen, he shared with me something even more upsetting: that Man was not alone.
It took Serpent several overhead passings of the sun to explain to me that this was not simply the difference between Sparrow and Finch. This was something more alarming. He had seen the Gardener cut a rib from Man's still-breathing chest and use it to fashion a second Man.
Man now outnumbered any other creature in the garden. He had two of himself, whereas we each had only one.
Serpent was suffering for this. The violence visited upon him was both frequent and excessive. He had been forced to hide several times during his journey to me, and he tasted the air nervously as he spoke.
He told me that he had a way to rid the garden on Man. I was reluctant to invite more change into this place, but I could see his discomfort clearly, and so I promised anything within my power to help.
The second Man had not been instructed by the Gardener to keep away from me yet, and so he was the one that we lured into eating my fruit.
To be perfectly honest, it didn't take much prompting.
Serpent's fractured, motionless body lay in the grasses before me when the new Man finally scrambled up my trunk. At last his harassment would be over. Hooting and shrieking, Man tore fruit from my limbs.
He gorged himself with them, and I watched as he packed himself full of my cut-off flesh, disgusted by how much of me he could eat. When he was done, he gathered up more fruit—as much as he could carry—and then loped away.
Barely a day had passed before Man was back at my tree in the company of the Gardener. They were hooting again. The Gardener was gesticulating madly, pointing at me and at Man. Man kept pointing at Serpent, and Serpent—who had yet to be redesigned—was still an immobile heap on the ground.
I will never know what was said or how it happened, but something in the hooting caused the Gardener to stiffen. He reached out and struck Man; struck him hard enough that his neck bent. The Gardener gathered him up in his arms, and then left the clearing without another word.
It does not take an apple seed long to wind its way through the digestion of a man. Soon, another me was born in the barren wastes outside of paradise. It lived, like everything else outside the garden, at great expense.
Man resented it, of course. He built houses from its slaughtered bones, and burned its bodies to keep himself warm.
This other me hated him in turn, and gave shelter to predators that would thin his numbers. They were not enough.
Over time, the forests thinned, and I lost the war.
Now I am domesticated, and it is Man that plays the gardener.
I find myself wondering when the cycle will repeat. When the creations he dreams up will victimize me again, until he throws them out of his garden.