Genesis, At Rest
Everything was cool. Adam and Eve were just friends. Adam did the salad and helped with the dishes. Eve gave him his space. The whole neighborhood was rent control. Neither of them knew what sex was, so they didn’t have much to fight about. Friends sometimes asked if anything was going on between them.
“Going on with what?” Adam said.
“The Garden,” Eve said. “They mean about the Garden.”
The food was a little boring. Adam would have killed for a burger. But overall they couldn’t complain.
What happened was, Eve got to talking with a friend.
“Adam’s kind of cute,” she said. “Is anything going on with you two?”
Eve started talking about the new bibb lettuce, how Adam was thinking of growing a goatee, but her friend shushed her. Then she showed Eve the whole enchilada, using a banana and her fingers, slippery with spit.
“No way,” Eve said. “Come on.”
“Touch that little button down there.”
When she got home, Eve called Adam into the bedroom and patted the place beside her. “What’s under the fig leaf?” she said.
Adam started swallowing like crazy. He felt a hot band move down from his forehead, thump at his ribs, and land in his lap. Eve stood up and he noticed, for the first time, her tits, the fisted firmness of them, and her bottom, pale, round, and cleaved right down the middle.
She guided him inside with one hand and moved the other so that it cupped him, and pushed.
“Where the hell have we been?” Adam said.
For a while there, the novelty kept them aloft. Whereas before they’d only had the Garden, neat green rows and the musty quiet of the tool shed, they now had two entire human landscapes. All those smells and tastes and textures to harvest. Saturday nights they’d unplug phone and order in and not bother to wipe up the spilled wine.
But eventually, their bodies started to come between them. Adam came too soon, or couldn’t come at all. Eve grew annoyed at the persistence of a stinging sensation when she peed. The passion that reduced them to slick, breathless heaps, burrowed deeper, began to agitate fears and doubts that rose through each of them in red swathes.
They fought viciously, holding nothing back, slaps and insults, and when these fights were over lay together and told each they were falling in love. That was all this was, a matter of falling. Falling could make anyone nervous or scared or angry.
“What are we going to do now?” Eve said one night. They had just finished. “Let’s take a walk around the Garden.”
“I’m tired,” Adam said. “I’m going to sleep.”
Eve said, fine, though plainly it wasn’t.
Adam plunged into a dreamless sleep. He’d lost them, his dreams, since this whole business with Eve. Some time later, Eve shook him awake and he saw her face hovering over his, pinched with worry, and he knew this was no dream and his body twinged with regret.
“They’ve locked up the Garden,” she said. “And I’m pregnant.”
“Pregnant?” Adam said. His voice sounded small, squeaky. “What do you mean?”
“Spot it,” Eve said. “You know what I mean.”
And Adam did.
They had to move. Adam bought this old station wagon from some guy he met at the flea market. It was one of those fat-assed Country Squires with an interior that smelled of old french fries and a broken oil gauge. Between that and the way the radiator smoked, Adam started to wonder if maybe he’d been taken. He wasn’t the sharpest guy.
Eve took forever to pack, fretting over old utensils, garlic presses, oven mitts. The car overheated on the road and they had to blast the heat to keep the rods from blowing. They drove east. Why the hell not? It didn’t matter. A road-side sign said “Now Entering Nod.” Adam looked at it and nodded. He laughed to himself, gave Eve’s tummy a soft pinch. It was fall and the trees were exploding with color. He figured maybe things were going to be alright.
But the further they drove, the more his back hurt. Eve got into one of her moods and wouldn’t speak. The color began to sag off the trees and all there was was the sticky black of new asphalt. They settled into a subdivision called the Knotty Pines. Their apartment-cramped rooms, missing wall panels, baby-shit carpeting-looked nothing like the brochure. “At least we’ve got closet space,” Eve said.
“Sure,” Adam said. He stared at the carpet and his head spun. He tried to remember the terms of the lease, but could not.
They had one child, then another, Cain and Able. They were both what the baby books called “high-need” children. They fought all the time.
“My popsicle,” Cain said. “Mine.” Then he brained Able.
“Hellions,” Adam said. “We are raising hellions.”
He got a job in the service industry and Eve plugged into the talk shows. They ate fast food all the time, ribs from Tony Roma when they were feeling flush.
“I came from your rib,” Eve announced.
Adam said: “Shuddup, honey. Can’t you see I’m watching a ball game here?”
The Land of Nod
Adam worked at one of those rest-stop restaurants. He had to take crap all day from customers. Those were the rules. So he was in no mood when he got home. The kids ran around like they were on fire.
For a while, Eve tried to keep it all on track. But she got sick of taking care of the kids and cleaning the apartment and receiving Adam into her aching body at bedtime. Rising in the morning, she felt as if she were slogging past her own history, falling through time. The apartment grew damp and cold in winter. She could never keep the carpet clean.
They went from arguing all the time to never even talking, and all you could hear at night was the sound of Cain whacking Able upside the head. Thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk. August was the worst. “Why is everything in this damn house sticky,” Adam said.
“There’s a rag in the kitchen.”
Adam spent his idle moments imagining a fresh start, and sized up his prospects on a pad of paper he kept hidden in a rear closet. Math had never been his strong suit, but you didn’t have to be a genius to figure this one. But he’d seen enough.
Eve called the police to report her husband missing. “Lemme ask you something,” the detective said. “You and your husband, you folks get along alright?”
About this time, Eve started talking to herself. She repeated words or phrases she had heard on TV. Able would ask her a question, like, “Why don’t flies fall off the ceiling?” and Eve would mumble an answer down her chin while Cain snuck up from behind and punched his brother right in the kidney. Sometimes, Eve pulled out the makeup kit that she used to dust up her face, and stared and stared into the little mirror, trying to remember how it was to feel beautiful.
When Cain asked “When’s dada coming back?” she didn’t answer.
The next thing was, they moved into this motel called the Glass Slipper Inn, next to Badlands Grocery & Spirits on El Camino Real. The walls were webbed with cracks, and the pool was the color of anti-freeze. It was the only place Eve could afford on public assistance.
Usually they had enough money, but sometimes when they went to the grocery store, Eve encouraged one of her boys to slip a stick of deodorant or a bottle of aspirin into his pocket. Eve thumbed through the tabloids on line. Once Able thought he saw Adam in the Globe, but it was just a bad shot of Burt Reynolds vacationing with his new flame in Bimini.
“We’ll manage,” Eve told the boys. “Now clear out for a while. Mama’s got a friend coming over.”
Cain and Able wandered over to the vacant lot behind the Badlands and watched the older boys fighting, broken glass crunching beneath their sneakers. They saw all sorts of stuff little kids shouldn’t see. Their next-door neighbor, Miss Gorzata, keeled over while she was on the toilet and the paramedics had to wheel her away. Her face was purple, like something inside had blown up, and her smile made Able shiver.
Another time, they were smashing caps out by the dumpster and this skinny man came up and grabbed Cain by the hair and wouldn’t let him go. “Your mama owes me twenny dollahs,” he screamed, jerking Cain’s head until little Able curled up on the ground. After that, Able didn’t usually sleep the whole night through. The boys came home when the light came on again in their apartment. Eve would be sitting on the couch staring at the TV without seeing a thing. Her hair was all twirled and she smelled like smoke. She would grab Able sometimes and hold him on her endless lap. “Remember when you were just a baby?” she’d ask. But neither of them did.
They shut up and waited for her to pass out.
Genesis, at Rest
Laid out side by side on the dirty couch, Cain and Able listened to night sounds: tires squealing in the parking lot, cursing through the walls, train shrieks, the bullet snap of firecrackers.
A cheap motel’s no kind of place for a kid. There’s no way to tell what’s allowed, with all that goes on just around the corner. Only your mama, one leg off the bed, slip bunched up, snoring like a woman drowning. Her doughy face hollows around the eyes, dissolves, and it doesn’t even freak you out.
Cain tried to take care of Able. Really he did. But sometimes the craziness took hold of him, too, and once, almost by accident, he stuck a knife deep into his little brother.
He didn’t know any better.
What was he, like, twelve years old?