Chapter Fifteen

They ate better that winter than they ever had before. Usually winter meant growing thinner and going to sleep hungry. As the season went on, and warmth and plentiful food seemed further away, they would become more and more irritated with each other, and would long for the time they could get out and away from each other. Cain and Eve always spent the fall gathering everything edible they could find, even if the taste was intolerable, even if it was unripe and had holes in it made by hungry bugs or animals. It looked disappetizing as they picked it, putting it in their cowhide bags to carry home, but they knew that when snow killed and covered every plant that bore fruit they would be glad enough to have it. Even told him that long ago, before he and Abel were old enough to remember, winters had been even harder. Then, Adam had had to hunt every day for the few thin, shy animals that were still to be found. They were much more comfortable now that all the meat they could want was grazing outside their home.

They ate the meat from the herd very sparingly. It would be easy for them to consume too many, and then not have enough of them to reproduce later and keep them comfortable with the knowledge of the food right beside them. Besides, in the winter the herd didn't have enough to eat, either, and they were always thin, too. They had to be used carefully. Not a single part was wasted, no matter how much they hated to think of eating it. Eve tried to make each organ unrecognizable, to ease their distaste, and they all tried not to think about what it was they were eating. By the middle of winter, however, she didn't have to bother. By then, they were willing to eat anything.

Cain and Eve had spent the first part of the fall reaping Cain's field and preparing the food to be saved, usually by drying it. Some vegetables and fruits could simply be piled at the back of the cave; they would last. Others were set aside to be frozen when the snow came. As usual, Eve persuaded Adam, by sweet words and reminders of how he liked venison, to hunt for a few deer; any extra food was valuable, no matter how little.

When the task of preserving Cain's harvest was done, Eve could not devote all of her time anymore to storing fruit for the winter. Adam was becoming tired of raw fruit, and he believed that Eve could make time to cook, even when she was storing the winter's food. He insisted that she was merely lazy. Since he himself was never busy anymore, he could not understand that anyone else way. Eve did not dare to serve raw vegetables for very long. When Cain saw the suppressed evidence of why, the red-hot rage burned in him again. He hated to think that someone so lazy and stupid could dominate his mother, who had always been so wise and comforting and, from the stories she had told him, brave. He wanted to stop it, but he did not know how.

He thought of this as he went out and gathered all the fruit and vegetables he could find. With the combined stores of both his harvest and his gatherings, this would be a plentiful winter indeed. Eve spent a part of each day helping him with this gathering, and spent every evening preparing this for storage, too.

Throughout the winter, they ate Cain's harvest — except for Abel. Cain took each bite with a new savor he had never felt before. Adam ate it too, commenting that God had blessed them with this new skill. Eve ate it, and praised her son every day for his great discovery. Sometimes, when the two of them were alone, she would tell him all about how difficult life had been when she had first left the Garden, and remind him of how hard they had had to work before and how hungry winters had always been. She strove to impress him with just how important his new knowledge was.

Abel seldom ate any of Cain's vegetables. He would look at the piles expressionlessly, and Cain would wonder what he was thinking. Occasionally he would nibble a piece without much appetite, but almost everything he ate was meat, from the herd he watched. The meat's toughness did not seem to bother him, even when he had to chew each bite hundreds of times. Eve offered him vegetables frequently, but he would refuse with a curt shake of his head. Cain could not understand why. He tried to figure it out, but none of the reasons he thought of seemed good enough to explain eating nothing but hard, tough meat.

He ate some meat himself, and it was as yielding to his teeth as wood. If only the herd didn't get so lean in the winter. If only he could save food for the animals, as well as for the family.

Cain sat still for a moment, then jumped up and laughed. His father gave him a bored look. Abel's expression was annoyed. Eve's was anticipant. "What?" she asked, her eyes shining at the prospect of something interesting to hear.

"It's so obvious!" he cried, laughing again. "Oh, why didn't I think of it before? It's so obvious! How stupid of me!"

Eve looked excited and happy, too. "What? Cain, tell me!"

"Wait, not yet. I can't tell you yet. I have to figure it all out first. Then I'll tell you all about it!"

"Promise?" Eve asked eagerly. She looked so much younger already. He laughed in joy again.

"Of course I will." She wouldn't be able to stop him from telling her all about it a thousand times. He skipped around the hut, trying to start to plan. He felt the energy and general goodwill toward everyone he always felt when he had a good idea or when he had succeeded at something. "I need to decide how to do this. I have to go outside. Will you help me?" He began to pull on warm clothes. Eve jumped up happily to help him. When every inch of him except his face was covered in skins and furs, he left the warm hut and went out into the cold.

His fenced-in field was only a few paces from the hut. On one side was the fence, topped with frozen snow. On the other side was the pasture for the herd, where they were all standing in three or four tight groups. Sometimes when the animals piled together for warmth, the ones on the bottom would be smothered or crushed to death. These were eaten immediately, but the whole family would be annoyed at the unplanned waste. The animals had nudged almost all of the snow away from the ground in the pasture, looking for some grass. In his happiness, Cain loved even them. He was going to do people and animals both a favor now.

Bordering the pasture, and reaching the fence around his field, was the forest, very dense. The trees were so close together it was often difficult to walk through. The ground was well covered with rotting leaves and branches. When he had fenced his field in, he had cleared away the sparse trees and plants on the outskirts of the forest; the rest of the way was so crowded that the limbs of the trees were often tangled with each other. Cain looked on the other side. There was the pasture. The herd needed all of that land to graze. He looked at the dense woods thoughtfully.

He stood thinking for quite a while. He didn't really notice when the icy wind stung his eyes and made tears flow, nor did he notice how numb his fingers and toes felt beneath the clumsy fur wrappings. He forgot the cold as he surveyed the trees next to his field.

When he had finished thinking, he strode to the fence with a determined expression. Hefting one of the larger rocks he had found, he carried it to the corner of the fence, where he placed it on the ground. He returned to the piles of rocks and carried each one to the low barrier he was forming, into the forest.

He forgot to return home for the midday meal; he was too busy moving the rocks and thinking about the possibilities of his new idea. He wondered if this new experiment would yield any new discoveries, ones which would excite him and make him happy as others had. He smiled as he imagined some of the things that his work could yield, even though he was cold and tired from moving the rocks. He kept on moving rocks until he suddenly noticed it was dark.

When he came inside, Eve greeted him with a questioning look and warm food. She bundled him in warm skins that had been near the fire and made him lie down next to it and eat as she rubbed his numb feet and hands. She didn't ask him what he had thought of. She understood that he didn't want to talk about it yet. She looked curious and happy. Adam and Abel didn't seem to notice him. They were eating, Abel gnawing at the meat from the thin cows. Cain smiled, thinking that tough meat would soon be a memory.

Every day he went out again to build the barrier of rocks. He wanted it to be up to his waist. In a few days he had used all of the rocks around the fence, and he had to dig through the snow in the forest to find more. He was glad he had started this in winter. Doing this alone would take a long time. At last, however, the barrier was finished to his satisfaction. He had marked off a new field with his wall of rocks, about the same size as his first field. The side that the new field shared with the old had a much higher rock barrier, all the way to the top of the logs. He looked over it again to be sure it was exactly as he wanted it. Then he returned to the hut, tired and content. He had finished the first step in his new plan.

The next day he went out with the strongest, largest tools he and Eve had been able to make: axes with handles made of cows' thighbones and blades of very hard stone, so hard they had pounded until their arms ached to form them into blades with sharp points. He went to the part of the forest he had fenced in and began to chop trees down. Checking on their herd, Adam and Abel watched Cain's activities without comprehension. Adam whispered to Abel, "He may simply be doing random things now, just to pass the time. I can't imagine why else he would be doing this."

Sometimes when the trees crashed down, they knocked down part of Cain's stone wall. Then he would have to chop the felled tree into smaller pieces, put them all inside the wall, and repair his barrier. This happened many times. He wished that rocks stuck to each other.

When he finished chopping down all of the trees, the pile was only slightly higher than the rock wall. He added a few more rocks here and there, gathering the three axes that had broken from too much chopping as he went around. Some of them trees still had some leaves or supple new twigs. He pulled all of these off and took them in great armloads to the pasture, scattering them about so the herd could eat them. Abel watched this with the same blank expression he gave the piles of Cain's harvest. Cain stopped his work for a moment to look back at Abel. Abel looked away, toward one of the huddled groups of animals. Cain wondered, but continued with his work.

Once he had finished clearing the space inside his fence of anything the herd could eat, there was nothing he could do but wait for spring and the melting of the snow. He returned to the hut feeling fresh, and rested for the next several days. His father made a few comments about laziness, and for once they were not meant for Eve, but Cain pretended not to understand. He had worked hard, and soon the hard work would begin again.

 

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