Saturday, March 24, 2012

"Man of Red Clay: A Novel of Adam" by Jonathan Hooper, Chapter 1

Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me Man? did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me, or here place
In this delicious garden? As my will
Concurred not to my being, it were but right
And equal to reduce me to my dust;
Desirous to resign and render back
All I received; unable to perform
Thy terms too hard, by which I was to hold
The good I sought not. To the loss of that,
Sufficient penalty, why hast thou added
The sense of endless woes?

- MILTON, Paradise Lost, Book X.

Chapter One

Seth, most beloved of my sons, come into the light of the fire. Let me look at you. Ah yes - you are made in God's image. He, whom we knew only by His footsteps in the Garden, or by a voice of gentle law, is present in you. Enosh, pass the water skin for your father. Drink deeply, Seth. Be glad that you have not tasted water from any purer spring, as I did long ago, in the beginning.

The night's wind, ravenous spirit that it is, gives me no peace. Night after night, it shakes the walls of my hut and would enter. I shelter here, hidden from its breath, knowing that the time will come when I am dust and it will scatter my remains over the desert. The time to hide is passing away. My body would return to the earth.

Nine hundred and thirty years. So much spirit, yet my body expires like the flesh of an animal. None of your prayers can keep it from the ground. The body is like the kid that is food for the wolf - it would go willingly into nature's maw, were it not for my spirit, which would beg its companionship forever; which would not be parted from it, even at the moment when the one must die. I am dying. I do not know what death is, though I saw the body of my second son deprived of that life that made him a man. I am afraid, Seth. Stay with me awhile.

I see that the others are fit for sleeping. Do not abandon me here to the darkness, with no human voice to remind me that I am alive. I cannot be left alone to listen to the wind; nature's ghost, the wailing, disembodied complaint of everything that has died because of me. In its calling, I hear the voice of your brother, Abel, killed as a consequence of my fall. The ground took his body, but he still cries out every night and I hear it, huddled next to the fire, hidden by these four walls from what I am afraid to face. I hear such voices, Seth. Stay with me awhile.

There is much I would say to you, even here, at the end of my life. I would tell you how we came to be here in this wilderness. You have asked me about your origins. Once, long ago, I wanted to know mine.

One day, I asked Gabriel what came before the first day, and even though he told me such knowledge was forbidden, he sang a hymn about my creation that made me all the more curious. And I went for myself to look on that place near the centre of the Garden, a mountain of red earth from which no plants grew. I took a piece of clay in my hands and tried to shape it with my fingers, but I could not fathom out the mystery of Gabriel's hymn. It angered me that the clay simply crumbled into dirt; I blew on it, but it was lifeless. It did not have a living heart. My failure had only made the mystery greater. What kind of breath had entered the clay to transform lifeless earth into understanding, to instil love, obedience and supplication?

These questions nagged me when your mother bore Cain. He came from her womb with his lungs gasping into life, his heart beating with determined strength, independent in will, a life born of some fleeting desire, explaining nothing. I took my son in my arms and pondered the mystery of the clay; he was alive, but his life had come from nothing, for thus did I try to explain his conception and fail; from nothing had come the rage, the jealous wrath with which he had killed his brother. I am old, but still I do not understand.   

Is that the wind, or are the wolves at the flocks again? Stay, Seth - you too are old. Let the young ones stay guard. If it's not the wind that's assailing me, it's these life eaters, who make our days in the wilderness hard, in that they steal from the one who was their master. Life has turned against itself. Is this our doing - your mother and I? Ever since the act was done, I have watched this ravaging; life destroying life, the lion feeding on the lamb, the wolf on the kid; the winter too tearing away everything to which the spring had given life. I have come to regard it as our punishment. Away from God, this is the burden we must bear.

I cannot go back to that moment of disobedience; not yet. I have much to say about what came after. How we entered the wilderness, and came to understand the consequences of our one action; though bitter, it was to accept what we had done. This you will know, Seth, if you stay with me. Your brothers are sleeping.

Put the blanket over my legs. It is chill outside and I feel it through all my bones. The pain is great, and my heart is weary of fighting, always fighting against this body, against clay that would turn to dust. The breath that entered my body is nearly expired. But come, Seth, there is still time for a tale of origins. There is still time.

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