Saturday, March 24, 2012

"Man of Red Clay: A Novel of Adam" by Jonathan Hooper, Chapter 3

Chapter Three

Standing by the pool, Eve bent and looked at her reflection. Was this the woman she had been in the Garden? Her skin had been smooth and unblemished then, but it was now prematurely aged; under her eyes, there were deep hollows, her temples were marked by bold furrows. And her eyes were dim and darkened by one son's loss and another's expulsion. It was not the face it had been.

She remembered the first hour, waking by the pool with no memory, the reflected image of herself wavering on the water, hypnotically drawing her in, a naked form yet untainted by shame; an image of beauty transfixing her there. The reflection had wavered, and she had gone to find the source of a voice that had beckoned her through a field of flowers.

She let her covering of animal skin fall to the ground. It shamed her to see her nakedness, more so because she had grown old. Her breasts were ample, drooping. The wound between her thighs had dried up now, but sometimes left a throbbing pain. Sighing, she stepped down into the pool and began to swim.

The rocky valley was baking in the sun again. On either side of the river, slopes of olive trees looked out on the valley; the hills were fertile and fruit-laden; a paradise cradling the banks of the Jordan. The olives were warmed by the sun all day and cooled by the breeze from the river. High on the slopes of the valley, the old patriarch slept with their sons around him.

Adam was dying; his heart ached, his body was numb, infected with the slow poison of old age. It was her curse that she would outlive him. For years she had watched his spirit slowly give up the fight against his body. The slow and humiliating sickness had drained her of resolve; no supplication or sacrifice could prevent the final outcome of their fall. “I have scarcely made a mark on the earth,” he had said, “or told the tale to my sons; I have scarcely honoured you, my true companion and equal.” The time had come for them to be separated at last.

It was dawn; seeing the light in the east, she recalled her first remembered sunrise, with the streams of golden light pouring their wealth over the Garden. And the river felt like those pools in the Garden, as she relaxed and floated alone. The Jordan, in murmuring tones, called her “beloved matriarch”. Around her were water lilies and red-tinted passion flowers; she drifted, blissfully free, like the time when she was free before the naming of things and queries of origins. She remembered the fruits and the nectar, the warm springs and the waterfalls.

Later, when she was returning to their hut, Seth came towards her and told her about Adam; the pain was worsening and he'd cried out repeatedly during the night. The women's hut was somewhat down from the patriarch's so she'd not heard him. Seth told her about the latest bout of sickness: sometimes he sat up in bed, his face vacant and expressionless, as if the spirit had gone out of his eyes, as if the withered body was all that was left. It frightened his sons.

Eve calmed Seth and went to see Adam herself. She found him meditating in his bed, his face lit up by the bright morning sunlight; full of spirit again. She'd noticed the vacant moments too, when his spirit seemed to have left his body, as if, at that moment, it had crossed over to some other place. Then he would exhale a deep sigh, the consciousness of pain returning, and Eve recalled again that his heart was weighted with the burden of life.

She brought him fruit and he squeezed the juice into his mouth; his eyes skirted across the shadows of the ceiling, at the dust swimming like stars in the light. He coughed. His lungs gasped, but when he spoke from his thin, bearded mouth, his voice was deep, strong, full of earthiness.

"It is good to have our sons around us. Our daughters too, who even now are bringing in the wheat. They will take care of you when I'm gone".

"I had hoped that you would outlive me".

"Ah, Eve. Still thinking the blame is yours, I see. The responsibility was ours - mine as much as yours. You are fated to live longer than I, and there is little you can say about it".

"I suppose so, my lord".

"When Seth comes back, tell him I'd like to sit outside again. The valley is labouring through the spring, and I'd like to watch it one last time. I like to see the fruit ripen on the olive trees, the sun to run its course. Do you suppose this will be my last season? - now come, don't say anything. You know that God decides these things. So much to try to remember. I have to make do with this old, fading memory; where there should be light, there is darkness: I'm sure He thinks that it would be better if I didn't remember anything at all. Eden, then. What do you remember about Eden?"

Eve thought for a moment. "It is hard to picture it. I remember how I felt, but when I try to recall it clearly, I fail".

"I have tried to do much the same, always in vain. I wanted to describe it to our sons, but couldn't do it. My mind's eye failed me. What about an angel? Can you remember distinctly the appearance of the seraphim?"

She tried to imagine Raphael or Gabriel, whom she'd seen talking to Adam, never having heard what they were saying. "I glimpsed them only from far away. You talked with them. Can't you remember?"

He shifted his position. "No. I can't. I cannot bring Raphael into my mind, no matter how hard I try. And I would dearly like to see Raphael again; it would comfort me, I think, now that I am on the last. The whole thing's a fog: only the feeling, the joy, remains. What about the tempter, the fallen one, who came to you and urged you to take the fruit?"

Eve experienced a chill. "I cannot see him; only the snake, whose form he took, reminds me of him when I see it on the ground. But when he appeared to you as an angel, on that night in the wilderness - ?"

"That was like a dream. I can't remember exactly, except that he was radiant. Would we forget it all, I wonder? When I tell Seth my tales, and I want to tell him about the angels, my words dry up - I struggle to remember, to be able to describe what I saw. Sometimes I invent the most beautiful form and give it shape in my mind. Is that what I have come to, choosing fancy over truth? I tell Seth about a winged form, noble and radiant, as if made of fire, yet that is fancy's angel - I would implore God to send his messengers to men in the times to come, so that they would believe for themselves. What other foundation is there on which to build our beliefs? What would they think of my stories in future days - the rantings of a madman?

"When we were young, we thought the air full of powers, fallen and unfallen; when the crops died, we fought with these powers and made sacrifices to keep away the blight of their kind. But our sons - they realise that nature sometimes robs what it is giving. Sometimes, I want to wait out the night on that distant hill until the powers come; until the wind finally enfolds me and I see a devil at its head. But my eyes are clouded with dust. Maybe “’this“’ is the fruit of knowledge - to lie on nature's cold ground, to no longer see the powers all around one; to slowly sink amongst the mud and the clay.

"The mountain - Sinai - not far from here, mind, forty leagues into the wilderness where we faced our expulsion - that is still a Godly place. When we walked there, years ago, it was like I'd just been born. I would have Seth take me there again, to die, and to see if there is enough spirit left in me to talk with God. All these years, my spirit has withered at the body's expense; now the body, victorious, consumes itself. It seems it cannot live without the spirit after all. So I will speak to Seth about going to Sinai."

"Sinai? But who will look after the farm?"

"Oh, the farm belongs to them now. They already do my work for me; they manage the animals, they harvest the crops. Isn't it funny that the only thing man can rule is nature; he can only form the clay with his hands, draw out shapes from the basest things. Maybe we - you and I - were bound to despise nature, unlike the ones who will come after us - because we alone know how imperfect it is, how it seems always to turn against itself. Not so the angels, who seem to shun this world.

"Tell me, Eve, what do you remember? Try to picture the Garden in your mind - help me picture it. All I remember is the wilderness, the struggle - everything that came after. Tell me about your first waking, how you found me, the voice that spoke to you."

Eve drew breath. She knelt opposite her husband, the ashes of the fire between them. He saw her then as a noble beauty, yet fading as he was.

"It is what I said before. I don't remember."

"Try. It is all we have. We are the only ones who have seen these things. Perhaps if God sends his angels to earth men will see paradise reflected in their countenance. But for us, memory is all we have. Close your eyes, Eve."

"I've closed them."

"What do you see?"

"The light. The first hour. I remember being, simply, in your presence almost at once, as if I was brought to you by a will that was independent of me. I think that before that I was walking through a field of flowers - I don't remember what flowers they were - with the sun above me, though somehow shining through me as well. The sun made me feel I was loved. And when I saw you..."

"Go on. Don't stop now."

"Well, the wilderness has marked you since. But when I first saw you, you were standing in the sun and the beams shone through us both; they ignited you. But oh, it is so hard to remember."

"Don't think of this world. Put nature, as it is, and the sun that now burns us, out of your mind. What do you see in the Garden?"

"You and I and the sun shining through us both. That is it. And you - I cannot see you now as I saw you then. I did not desire you, I did not crave your affection, or wonder what was on your mind; I was part of you, and you of me. And the flowers, the trees, the sun - it was as if I was looking at God, and could see God in them. He and his works were the same thing."

Adam frowned at her words, but could not reproach her; it seemed his heavy-lidded eyes shone again with this feeling of birth. "For a moment only, you allow me to go back. Give me this, Eve, before I die. Help me remember."

Eve thought to embrace him, but held back.

Later, Seth brought Adam out into the sun, and he sat, still wrapped in blankets, shaded by the carob trees. He watched the sun hasten on its course, he watched the hurried sowing of the workers in the field, the ground, having cast off her chilly indifference, submitting to their gentle hands. Eve saw that he was silent.

The women, her daughters all, sang as they dug the water ditches that would irrigate the young corn. It was a courtship song. Their voices were clear and pure like water from the mountain, and carried no sense of the hardship they would later face as their lives brimmed with toil; the swelling of children in the womb, the flood of pain that came with birth. They sang of a unity between man and woman, like the harmony between the pebbles and the sea, as though they too had known the same harmony once. Yet how could they know?

But perhaps the young inherit our memories, Eve thought; perhaps the memory she and Adam had, though more feeling than anything else, was a memory to be shared by all their children. It may be, she thought, that the spirit lives perpetually inside us and as such is not subject to time - therefore nature and natural life are not the sum of all our memories. There is a spark inside us, and the loss of Eden, the Fall, is inside us, and felt by us all.

She thought this as the women began a new courtship song; perhaps this was the source of the desire for unity, the harmony between wife and husband, ever in a world of antagonism. It was a re-enactment of the divine state, of Eden, paradise lost, but regained where nature's imperfection cannot touch us; the human soul.

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