Eve found the serpent and stood before him, waiting. He looked at her for a long time before he spoke.
"Yes?" he said at last.
"Tell me the secret," Eve commanded in a low voice.
"Of how I can find new things."
"Ah." The serpent paused, an expression of understanding on his face. Then he shook his head. "Eve, you do not know what it is that you ask."
"I want to find out."
"If I tell you, and you do it, you will suffer hardships far beyond your imagining."
"I don't care."
"Don't care! Child, what do you know of hardship? All you know is playing in this Garden with foolish animals."
"I know, and I hate it! I want to learn something more. I don't care if it is bad!"
"You do not know what you are asking for." The serpent shook his great head. "If you do this, you will be in constant pain for the rest of your life. You will face death every day. You could die only a few hours after you--" but he stopped abruptly. Eve stomped her feet in fury.
"Tell me!" she cried. Then, remembering her resolutions and arguments, she put her hands on his smooth, scaly neck and looked into his golden eyes. "Serpent, don't you understand? I'm bored. There's nothing for me to do, don't you see? All there is to do is sit around and play with these stupid animals. Oh, yes, they're all pretty and happy, but I'm not one of them! I have a mind! A mind ought to be used! But all it's doing now is sitting here wishing something would come along for it to think about!" She tightened her grip on his slender neck. "Oh, serpent! You could give me something to do! You could give my mind a... a purpose! And all you have to do is tell me how!"
The serpent was frowning, his eyes on the ground. He raised them to her face, looking doubtful. "Eve--"
"Oh, don't look like that! How can you refuse me this kindness? You're the only one who can help me. Do this for me! Please!"
The serpent stood silent. Eve could see that he was thinking. What more could she say? Oh yes -- the promises!
"Serpent, if you do this I will always be grateful! And no matter how terrible things get, I will never blame you, and I will never, never regret it, not even for a moment!"
"Eve," said the serpent, "you still do not understand what you are speaking of. If I tell you what I know, you will not be able to keep any of these promises." He paused, studying her. "Can you imagine being slammed against those rocks in the sea a dozen times every day? Can you imagine always having the ache of exhaustion and hunger you felt after digging that hole for hours? Can you imagine being bitten and scratched and stung by the animals who play with you now? Can you imagine having to face great dangers every day and use your mind to combat them in the blink of an eye -- or die? Can you imagine all that -- and do you still want to know?"
Eve's face was pale, but she nodded. She dutifully imagined the constant pain, fatigue, hunger, and danger, and imagining it, she decided that it would be worth it. Her body did not seem to matter very much when her mind was hungry. "Tell me," she said, her voice even.
The serpent gave her a troubled glance, then sighed. He looked back at the ground, thinking. At last he raised his head. "Climb on my back." She did, and he flew across the Garden, to land in the center, next to the two great trees which stood so tempting and deadly. "Has God said, 'You shall not eat of every tree in the Garden'?"
Eve was instantly wary. "We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the Garden, but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the Garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat of it, nor shall you touch it, or you will die.'"
The serpent shook his head. "You shall not surely die, for God knows that the day you eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."
"No," said Eve. "We shall die." As much as she desired knowledge, certain death terrified her far more than an eternity of boredom in the Garden.
"No," said the serpent, "you shall not." And to demonstrate his words, he stretched his neck to one of the branches, plucked off a fruit with his mouth, and ate it, as Eve watched in helpless terror. But as she stared at him, he did not change at all. He stood there, healthy and alive. Then he leaned toward her. "If you eat this fruit, you will be able to leave the Garden, and there is much to know, outside. But remember, Eve, that hardships and pain beyond your imagination will come with every bit of knowledge you gain!"
Having said this, the serpent turned away and sat down under a mimosa, just in hearing range. Eve watched him, and then she looked at the tree.
The tree he had eaten from was the one which bore red fruit, round and shiny. What about the one with golden fruit? Perhaps it would truly kill her. She looked at the alluring scarlet fruit, wondering. It had not killed the serpent, so she could eat it, but would it give her the knowledge she desired? She smiled and slowly extended her hand toward it. It was smooth and cool to the touch. She pulled it off the branch and held it before her face. It was beautiful. But would it -- could it -- give her knowledge? She held it before her and slowly, still smiling, brought it to her mouth.
There was little juice, so none of it trickled down her chin as she ate. The flavor was sweet, with the slightest touch of sour. The flesh was white, firm and yielding. She chewed and swallowed and plunged her teeth in again. It was delicious. She ate every bite, chewing every scrap of fruit from the bitter core. Then, tossing the core to the ground with a flourish of triumph, she waited, face glowing, for the dazzling enlightenment that was to come.
She still stood there, and she felt the same, and the Garden looked the same, and she had risked death and nothing was happening. She threw an accusing frown to the serpent, who was sitting in an attitude of waiting. Waiting? Perhaps it took more fruit. She tore another bright red fruit from its branch and devoured it quickly. Then she ate another, and another, until finally there were cores scattered all around her feet, and Adam was rushing up to her.
"Eve, why did you eat it? You'll die! You'll die!" he cried, jumping up and down in alarm when he stepped on one of the cores. He looked in amazement at their number.
"Oh, hush," she said crossly. "I've been eating this fruit since noon and I'm not dead yet. The fruit won't kill you, it's supposed to make you smart."
"But God said it would kill us!" cried Adam.
"He didn't mean it. He was playing a trick of some kind." Eve was not really listening to what Adam said and she made her replies automatically, not paying much attention. She was far too absorbed in her own thoughts, in wondering why the serpent had told her the fruit would bring her knowledge when it didn't, and why God had said it would kill her when it hadn't. Why was everyone deceiving her about this fruit?
Adam was looking at her, light slowly spreading over his face. "Oh, a trick? I get it." Taking this "trick" to be like the games he played with the animals, he snatched the apple she had just picked out of her hand and took a great bite.
Eve stood still, too shocked to move. When she recovered, she reached for the fruit. "Wait, you don't understand--" she cried, but he was swallowing great mouthfuls. Eve looked at him in despair. The fruit had not brought either death or knowledge, but it might still bring hardship, and Adam had not been warned. Never had she imagined that he might actually eat it, even if she had offered it to him and showed him what it could do -- or what the serpent had said it could do. He was always content to be like the animals, ignorant and happy. Now he had eaten the fruit without the slightest idea of the consequences.
He tossed the core away and wiped his mouth, smiling happily. Then his smile faded and his posture became awkward. He looked down at his body and he and Eve noticed at the same time all the little flaws and weaknesses they had overlooked before. Walking with a gait that was intended to somehow conceal his body, but which did not, he quickly went to the fig tree nearby and pulled off the broad leaves, holding them over his body as a covering. Eve sighed impatiently, strode over to him, took the leaves, and fastened them together by hooking the stems into tiny holes in the leaves. When she had several joined together, she held them out for him. He took them hesitantly, averting his eyes from her. The furtive way he glanced at her body made her notice that she, too, was exposed. "Well, so what?" she thought, but when she looked at him again, he was staring at her and quickly looked away. Her face flushed, and she suddenly became self-conscious. Her body, too, had its flaws. If only he would quit looking at her that way, as if looking was something to be ashamed of. But he kept alternately gaping and turning away, until she angrily snatched another handful of fig leaves and made herself a covering.
There was a bright, blinding flash, and Adam and Eve knew at the same moment that it was God. Sudden fear went through her. The serpent had lied, and now God had come to kill her. Adam, too, was cowering with sudden fear, forgetting his unconcern of a moment ago. They ran behind a bush and hid, both knowing that hiding was useless.
"Adam, where are you?" the great, echoing voice of God called.
Adam slowly left the shelter of the bush.
"If it were not for my decision, he never would have eaten that fruit," Eve thought, and followed him into the open.
Adam was saying, "I heard your voice in the Garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself."
The light brightened for a moment. "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded you that you should not eat?"
"The woman whom you gave me to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat," Adam exclaimed helplessly. Eve's mouth fell open in astonishment.
But now God was speaking to her. "What is this that you have done?"
Eve thought of all the serpent had promised, and she said, "The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat."
God turned to the serpent, who had been waiting in stillness and silence since Eve had picked the apple. "Because you have done this, you are cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field. Upon your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life."
As God spoke, the serpent began to change. Eve watched in horror as his beautiful body became thinner and thinner until it was scarcely thicker than Adam's thumb. His wings shrank and shriveled and his legs curled, becoming smaller and smaller until there was nothing left. His great head pressed itself in and in until it was smaller than her fist. His glittering green and gold scales dulled to beige and dark, murky green. In a moment all that was left of him was a long, thin strip with a tiny head. Looking at him, Eve knew that he had not deceived her, for he would never have brought such a great punishment on himself without a purpose. No wonder he had been so hesitant to tell her the secret. He had known that this would happen to him, yet he had told her. Tears started in Eve's eyes as she saw what he had done for her. And if he had done all this, then surely she would not die, but would somehow live to learn. A tear fell down her face when it occurred to her that she had already broken her promise never to blame the serpent.
God was still cursing the serpent. "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; they shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise their heel."
God then turned to Eve, who was calm now, waiting for what would happen with anticipation and only a little anxiety. "I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception. In sorrow you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you."
An angry flush came into her cheeks. Adam could not rule over anyone, and God was commanding her to obey him! She raised her eyebrows, and her expression showed that she had no intention of following that command. But God did not seem to mind her defiance. He turned to Adam. "Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree, of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' the ground is cursed for your sake. In sorrow shall you eat of it all the days of your life. It shall bring forth thorns and thistles to you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, for you were taken out of it; for you are dust, and you shall return to dust."
Then God reached for the nearest animal, which was a goat. In a moment it was dead. In another its skin was gone. Adam and Eve both retched, their stomachs revolted at the sight. But then the skin was about them, and it was a much better covering than the fig leaves.
The deafening voice was heard again. It was God, speaking to his angels. "Behold," he said, "the man has become as one of us, to know good and evil, and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever, we must send him forth from the Garden."
The tree of life? Eve, terrified of death, reached for a golden fruit from the second tree. But before she touched it, a searingly hot yellow light came between the fruit and her hand. She drew back quickly. Above her was an angel, a cherubim, holding this strange light, and there was another beside him, in front of the tree of red fruit. Then God made Adam and Eve turn and walk away from the tree, and suddenly they were no longer in the Garden, but in a new, strange place. They turned, and saw the angels guarding the two great trees. Then they turned back and continued walking east, Eve leading the way in her eagerness to discover this strange new world.