Chapter Fourteen

Cain spent most of that winter preparing the ground where he was going to plant that spring. He had thought about the best way to do it all autumn, so when the time came he had a good idea of what to do. First, he built a sturdy fence around the area he had chosen. This took him several days. He had to do it all himself, since Adam and Abel were both busy watching the cattle. Eve offered to help, but he knew that her back often hurt and that gathering fruit, cooking, making tools, and sewing kept her working hard all day. She was beginning to look tired all the time, with lines on her face and a slightly bent posture. She worked too hard, and worried too much, Cain thought. Even her hair was turning grey, as if she couldn't spare the strength to keep the color. He refused her help, assuring her he could do it alone. When he came home in the evenings with every one of his muscles aching, covered with dirt and sweat, he tried not to show how exhausted he was. He tried to stand up straight and walk with a springy step, as if he had as much energy as he had on the day he saw that his experiment was working. She knew that he hurt more than he admitted, but he hoped she did not know how much. Sometimes when her eyes rested on him, they did not look tired any longer. He saw love in them then, and admiration for him. She looked as she had years ago, before her body became so tired. That look made him stand straighter, and made the pain seem less.

When the fence was built, from strong logs rooted deeply in the ground, and stood as tall as he, he invited the animals his father and brother tended to come inside the fence. He locked them in and kept them there for five days. Adam and Abel ambled around the fence, coming inside every now and then to look at the herd even though it needed no tending at all there. They had nothing else to do. There was no other work they could do that needed to be done, and they had nothing to do with leisure time. Cain thought of how he and Eve never seemed to have enough time every day before the sun set, and was uselessly angry at them.

When every sprout and blade of grass was gone, he let the animals back out and replaced the large, heavy stones he used to block the entrance, to keep the animals in or out. The ground was barren and empty, ready for him to plant whatever he wanted. He regarded it with satisfaction, then turned to see his brother and father patiently leading the herd to the usual pastures. Adam had always rebuked him for his lack of patience, but witnessing someone else's patience with such a boring, tedious task filled him with rage and frustration. Imposing patience on himself would drive him berserk. Adam and Abel patted the animals as they plodded by. Now they would spend all their time watching again. Suddenly the excitement of a new idea seized Cain and he rushed after them.

They turned placidly and regarded him. Their eternal cool seemed absurd next to his passionate enthusiasm. Almost jumping up and down in glee, he shouted, "Wait! Wait! I just got an idea!" They looked at him as if he were the sky. It was nothing important or unusual; he was always getting ideas. Waving his arms a little with suppressed exhilaration, he said, "Why don't we build another fence, a bigger one, around the pasture to keep the herd in? Then you wouldn't have to watch them." Flushed, he waited for their answer.

They paused, then Adam said, "But I like watching them."

"Me, too," Abel agreed.

"But then you could do something else, and we would have more, and Eve and I wouldn't have to work so hard."

Adam's features tightened. '"It is woman's lot to work hard and suffer. She caused us to lose paradise."

Abel added, "It is justice as it is now."

Cain saw red. He had never before felt this blinding flash of anger that made him hot all over. His hands jerked in small spasms.

"See, he blushes with shame, Father. He knows we are right."

Cain's hands trembled. He clenched them into fists and raised them a little, straining to control himself. "Abel, be quiet or I'll…." He ground his teeth painfully.

"Or you'll beat me up, like you did when we were children? I've never been angry in my life, because I'm better than you, even if you are stronger and work harder."

Cain wanted to kill Abel. His muscles ached, not with fatigue, but with that terrible, furious desire. He could talk to Abel for years and he could never make him understand the truth, about work or freedom or the Garden, or anything else. There was nothing he could do to cure his lack of understanding, so he wanted to destroy. He found every moment of life so precious, but Abel's life seemed worthless. His fists twitched. He wanted to kill Abel — and his father, too — so badly he thought the sheer intensity of the desire would destroy him.

He stood still and trembled for a moment, then yelled as loud as he could. The cry came from deep in his throat and filled the entire world for a moment. Then he struck the fence as hard as he could, with all the force and strength he could muster, bruising his knuckles. He glared at Adam and Abel for an instant, then ran away as fast as his legs could go, into the forest.

Adam and Abel watched him go, and then Adam shook his head. "That boy is too full of passion," he told Abel. "You see how he acts. Such violent extremes in both anger and joy. These extremes can lead to no good. Avoid passion, Abel. Avoid extremes."

"Always, Father. Unless God tells me otherwise."

***

When his rage had cooled, Cain returned to work, trying to think about it instead of about Abel. Now that the ground had been well cleared of plants, he removed every rock he found. These soon made a useful addition to the barrier around his field. Having done that, he took a strong, sharp stick and used it to loosen the soil, making it pliable and easy to plant in. He found still more rocks doing this, and added them to the growing pile outside the fence. Even the tiniest pebble was not allowed to stay. The barrier began to look very formidable. Good, thought Cain; it held what was, to him, the most precious thing in the world.

When the soil was soft and ready, he gathered all the seeds he had saved through the winter, and all the ones he had gathered from the fresh plants that spring, and planted them painstakingly in his field. He tried to make clear divisions between the different fruits and vegetables, and every seed had to have its own tiny hole, so that it would have room to grow and bear the food he wanted from it. Some plants, too, were larger and needed more room, or needed sticks driven into the ground to lean on. He wished he had some help, but Adam and Abel both said simply that they both had to watch the herd, and he knew that Eve didn't really have the time or energy, in spite of her offers. When he worked and sweated all day and came home scarcely able to lift his supper, even with both hands, it annoyed him to think of his father and brother lying idle, with nothing to do but look. One day, weary of the pain and exhaustion, he left his work for a short while to confront Adam about it.

"You and Abel should have built that fence!"

Adam looked at him with as much curiosity as the cows showed when they looked at grass. "What fence?"

"The fence to hold the herd in, so you two wouldn't have to watch them all the time!"

"We don't need a fence. Abel and I can watch them."

"If you didn't have to watch them, you could help me plant this field! It's taking me days, and it could be done so much faster if I had some help! We—"

"Your mother could help."

"She offered to, but I told her no, because she doesn't have the time or the strength to do it, even though she won't admit it! She works and works for you and all you do is sit around! If you two — or even just one of you — would help me, we could get it done much faster and have more fruit when the time comes to reap, and—"

"You would have your father and virtuous brother be your servants?"

He glared at Adam. "I would have you do something useful!"

"We have our place and work. You have yours. Your mother has hers. She should help you. She could do it if she wanted to. She's just lazy."

Cain saw the red flash again. Why was it that this had never angered him before? He had heard such things all his life; why had it never had such a deep effect on him until now? But before, he had been a child. He had not truly understood the importance of these things. Now, he had made a great achievement, and was making another, and he understood that he owned himself. With his new knowledge, he could scarcely bear to hear such lies told so calmly.

Shaking, he looked his father in the eye and put all the venom he could muster into his voice. "I hate you." Feeling that an animal was trapped inside him and trying frantically to escape, he stalked back to the field and continued with his planting.

***

That fall, Cain did not hate his brother or his father any longer. He loved them. He still loved his mother, as well, and the serpent he had never met. He loved the lethargic cows and the stupid sheep and the giddy goats. He loved the sky and the cave and the trees. More than anything, though, he loved his garden.

The garden had been a success. Before them was spread a field of fruits and vegetables, enough to last them all winter. They were all ripe and looked delicious. The flavor and nourishment seemed ready to swell and burst out of them. Cain had just eaten a large meal, but he felt hungry again just looking at the rows of vegetables.

His father and brother stood on one side of him, his mother on the other. Eve embraced him. "You are a man now, my son," she whispered. Hearing her say so, he felt that it was true.

Adam turned to him, stiff and grave. "God has blessed you well with a great achievement, my son. You should thank him for it."

In his blissful happiness, Cain could not care about his father's absurd ideas. He merely glowed at the praise and nodded.

"It is as our father says, brother," Abel said, not looking particularly happy either. Most of Abel's statements amounted to something like that. Thinking it, Cain laughed.

Adam looked just as grave. "What are you laughing at, my son?"

"Nothing." He smiled, turning to Eve before Adam could say anything else. "We have to preserve most of this in one way or another. Let's get to work. How much should we dry, how much should we keep to freeze in the snow?"

Eve smiled at her son's eagerness to begin working, and put her arm around him as they walked through the field, discussing how they should use his first great victory.

 

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