Sydney E. Low
It’s lovely here, isn’t it?
Oh, I’m— Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. No, don’t be afraid. I’m not here to hurt you. It is because I’m on this tree here? It’s okay. The tree isn’t forbidden, just the fruit. Are you still scared? Don’t be. It made this place, didn’t It? It made everything here to be perfect. And I’m here, aren’t I?
A perfect snake would bite? No, no that would be a true snake. But I am here, in this place It made. So, I am a perfect snake. And I won’t bite. If my mouth was ever so close to you, I would be gentle.
What do I want? I want… I’m sorry, I haven’t even asked your name yet.
Eve. That’s a lovely name. A lovely name for this lovely place. And it is lovely here, isn’t it?
What do I want… I want to know what you want. Don’t you have an answer? No, I suppose you wouldn’t. There is no want in this lovely place. You have all you could ever need. The food is plenty and sweet, the water is clean and never cold, and the sun is bright and warm but never burns. Do you know what want is, Eve?
Want… Want is a kind of burn.
I suppose that wouldn’t mean anything to you. This place has no pain. No suffering. No burning. No wanting. It’s lovely, isn’t it?
Want… Want is… It’s like this apple here, hanging beside me. This apple is something It said you can’t have, and yet… you still wonder what it tastes like.
You don’t want the apple? How could you know? You don’t know what want is. Don’t you feel something when you look at the red apple, knowing you aren’t supposed to reach out and take it? And you could. It’s right there, looking back at you like a single, imploring ruby eye, shaped like the curves of hips and thighs. The way it gleams in the sun, you can almost see your reflection in it. You could reach out and feel its soft skin, its stem, its tender leaves, run your fingers along it the way I caress it with my tail. It’s right there at your fingertips. But you know you cannot have it. That is want.
Why do you want the apple, Eve? You have this whole, lush, lovely garden. There are other fruits, other apples even. In fact, there is other food that might even taste better than this apple here. After all, It made this place to be perfect, where the food is always filling and there is always enough and it is never rotten.
What is rotten? That is a question I cannot answer you. You have never known hunger and rot and mould decay in this place. And that’s for the best. They’re nasty things and this place…. It’s not meant for that, this perfect, lovely place. It is so lovely here, isn’t it?
Why do you want to hear about rotting things when you have this garden? This garden where you will never have to worry about decay, even within yourself. Why would you want that when you are here in this lovely place?
But, if sweet, sticky rot is what you want, I will try to satisfy you. Reach out and touch that apple. You don’t have to pick it, but just touch it, wrap your hand around it. Now, imagine it crumbling in your hand like charcoal. Imagine its insides becoming like wet leaves so the skin wrinkles and caves in on itself. Imagine the vibrant red diminishing like the sun when it sets, imagine it turning brown like the dirt under your feet.
Why did you take your hand away?
You didn’t like imagining that? I told you, these are nasty things that It didn’t make in this garden, in this lovely place. And that’s lovely, isn’t it?
I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you. Let me tease the tension from your shoulders with something more. The apple doesn’t end when it rots.
No, no I’m not lying. It doesn’t end there. You see, the apple only rots when it falls off the tree. In fact, it could stay forever on this perfect tree and remain bright and red and whole. But if it fell, it would rot. It would die.
What does it mean to die? It means the apple would be no more. It would simply… stop. And be forgotten in the dirt.
But then something… magical would happen. From in all the sickly-sweet brown rot and the dirt, a little green leaf would emerge. A new apple tree.
Because there is something else in the apple, something that doesn’t rot— In fact, something that needs rot in order to grow. Inside the apple, this apple right here, is a tiny, living black stone. A seed. Do you know what a seed is, Eve?
A seed is something bigger than itself. A seed is what remains when all else has rotted away. A seed is what emerges from the rot and dirt and reaches towards the sun, towards the sky. It’s so, so determined to reach the sun that even if you put it underground, it will fight its way through all the dirt and decay, just to catch another glimpse of the sun. In fact, it will spend its whole life growing taller, trying to touch the blue sky with its branches and leaves. And why wouldn’t it? It’s such a lovely sky. Why would the seed want to stay in the dirt, when it could grow in this garden? And it… it is so lovely here, isn’t it?
Why do I keep asking that? Well, because you haven’t given me an answer.
I’ll ask again: it’s lovely here, isn’t it?
Isn’t it lovely here, Eve? Maybe… Maybe that’s the wrong question. What I mean is: are you happy here, Eve?
I don’t know if I believe you.
Because someone who is happy, truly happy, doesn’t want. But you ask me to whisper bittersweet somethings into your ear, words of burning and want. And you… you want this apple here, this succulent, beautiful apple that you know you cannot have. Why are you not happy in this lovely place, Eve?
You don’t know. Could I tell you what I think? There is someone else in this garden, isn’t there, Eve?
Yes. What is his name?
Adam. Yes. Yes, It pulled you out of his rib, didn’t It?
Like a seed? No, you are not born from a seed. You did not come from rot, Eve, you came from bone and marrow and blood, but not rot. Not dirt. There is nothing wrong with Adam, though. Is there, Eve? Or perhaps there’s a reason why it’s called a rib cage. Is there comfort in having a piece of someone else inside of you? Or do you want to break open your chest and pry it out because it came from… him?
You’ve never thought about it before. Well, think about it now. Does the broken shard of rib grate on your heart? Is Adam’s marrow an unwanted gift you’d abandon to the flowing streams to carry far away? Would you shed your insides like I shed my scales? Reshape the viscera within into something new? Or perhaps… perhaps it’s about tearing and slashing and destroying. To unburden yourself from the tethers running through your blood even if it means ripping your skin off with it. Anything— Anything to free yourself from him.
But. You are not a snake. And you cannot shed your skin.
Now look at you, red in the face and breathing hard. I only wish I had flustered you so in a sweeter way.
Because I know, I know why you came to this tree, Eve. You came because you have felt want before. And even if you had the knowledge to put your want into words, and even if he could understand them, Adam could not satiate you. You feel want when you look into those lovely, clear streams and see yourself. And It, up there in the clouds and far away from this place It made, would call your longing stares vanity, but I— but we know it is something else. It’s not yourself you’re admiring. It’s yourself you stare at and… want. It’s her you want to hold, and her hands you want to slither up and down your skin, and her who you want to sweetly, cruelly drag that screaming desire out of you. You want someone like her, but you know you cannot have her.
Oh— Oh, Eve, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you cry. There should be no tears in this lovely place. Especially when there is no one to kiss them away. Let me tell you something else, something to stop those tears. You are not a seed. You… you are the apple. And inside you there are seeds. And they could fall from you and grow into new humans. Can you imagine that? More humans. And some of them would be like Adam, and some would be like neither of you, and some, some would be like you, Eve. But you couldn’t have them either. But the humans like you, they are seeds that will grow into trees with apples of their own that will drop to make new seeds. And more seeds. And more seeds. And more seeds.
But they will not grow in this lovely place. It won’t let them. They will be wild and full of want and so It will cast you and all of your new seeds out of this lovely place. The dirt these new trees will fight through and dig their roots into will be tough and rocky and too harsh for some of them. But some, Eve, some will grow. And they will want.
And one day, there will come another woman like you, who wants her reflection. She will live on an island in the middle of a warm sea, breathing the salty air into her bones. And she will fill mountains of stone tablets with writings, proclaiming her burning want. And most of them will be lost, and the other humans will smother her passion and remember her and her reflection as anything but lovers.
Then one day, there will come another woman like you, who wants her reflection. She will live in a house built from the fallen forest around her, listening to the wolves howl in the night. And there will be a reflection whose hands reach up towards the sun like new leaves and they will whisper their want to each other among the trees. And the other humans will call her witch and she will burn for her want.
But one day, one day when there have been more seeds planted than you can count, than you can imagine, one day there will be a woman. From string and wood, she will coax the sounds that vibrate in her chest into the air. And this woman, she will burn and she will want. She will see her reflections walking around and she will want them. She will find one who wants her back. And they will walk in places much less lovely than this, stepping over fallen and rotting leaves but they won’t care. She will get to touch her, and hold her. They will fall into the reflection and the water will embrace them in its arms. And they won’t have to burn and they won’t have to want and the other humans will smile at them as they walk. And there will be so many stories like theirs, Eve.
It will feel like reaching out and grabbing this apple here.
But It, somewhere in the clouds far away from this lovely garden, It won’t do that. It made this perfect, lovely place. And the seeds inside you? They are not perfect. They have mould and rot and decay and hunger and chaos and pain and suffering and flames inside them. But they are also like this apple: bright and soft and vibrant and growing. And It won’t make them, because they would not be perfect. But you, Eve, you can make them. You can plant seeds with ribs all their own. You can create a world of your own, where one day those women can fall into that water. You can be the first apple to fall.
But. The seed doesn’t just grow from the dirt. It needs the rot to grow. It feasts off all that has decayed around it. Something has to die for it to grow.
Yes, you would die eventually. In fact, every human who grew from your seeds would die and on and on. But in between, those women would meet. There would be a world where they would not have to burn and want.
Or, you can leave the apple on the tree. It will never rot and die. It will stay in this lovely place and be perfect. You will never know its sweet taste. And none of those women will ever meet. But you will stay here, undying and full and blissful.
I’ll ask you one final time: are you happy here, Eve?
Because— Because if you’re not, if this lovely place doesn’t make you happy, you can reach out and take this apple here and bite into it, and finally… finally see what it tastes like. You can feel its sticky sweet juices run down your chin as you bare your teeth at It, up there in the clouds, and quench your desires. If not by someone else’s hand, then by your own, and if not out of love, then out of spite. And maybe, even though you will never have your reflection, you will have something else It said you could not. And you can give to future humans… everything It does not want them to have.
Tell me, Eve: what does the apple taste like?