By Ryan Shoemaker
Ryan Shoemaker is the author of Beyond the Lights, a short story collection from No Record Press. His work has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Gulf Stream, Santa Monica Review, Booth, Juked, and Silk Road.
Or download the audio file here: Adam and Lilith. And Eve
God took Adam and the woman on a walking tour of the garden he’d planted for them eastward in Eden. “You’re going to love this!” God said. “Grass and herb yielding seeds and fruit trees of every kind. Eat from any of the trees, just not that one with the round, red fruit.” Then God raised his mighty arms in the air and spun around, the hem of his white robe rising in a perfect circle. “And look at the hills and the forests and the meadows, all for you. What do you think?”
“Wonderful,” Adam said. “Just fabulous. I’m speechless. All this abundant goodness. We love it, right?” He nodded to the woman.
She gazed out over a grassy clearing rimmed with broad, towering trees. “It’s nice,” she said, “but all the green’s, like, a little overwhelming. Don’t you think? How about a touch of red and yellow? Maybe some wild flowers?”
Adam felt a sudden burst of tepid moisture pooling in his armpits.
“And what about opening things up to let in more light?” the woman continued. “Feels so cramped. Then some boulders for sitting and maybe a pond with a waterfall. Running water really calms the mind.”
God tipped his bearded chin up and puffed out his broad chest. “Didn’t you see the four rivers to water the garden?” He nudged Adam with his elbow. “How’s that for water? And get a load of these names.” God smiled as he fluttered his raised hands. “The Pison, Havilah, Gihon, and Hiddekel.”
The woman bit her lip and snorted.
God’s hands flopped to his sides. “Something wrong?” he asked.
The woman shook her head. “Those are like the weirdest names.”
Adam scratched his neck and laughed nervously. “I don’t think she means weird. Weird’s such a strong word. Maybe uncommon? Or how about unique?”
“No,” the woman said. “I mean weird. Who’d want to take a moonlit stroll on the Hiddekel River? Who’d want to picnic on the mighty Gihon? What about the Serenity River or the River Felicity?”
God’s brow furrowed. He looked hurt. “I thought the names sounded strong, authoritative, grand—”
“You mean masculine?” the woman interrupted.
God sighed. “Well, it’s your world, Adam. Name the rivers what you want. In fact, give everything a name.” He pointed to the woman. “Even her.”
“His world?” the woman protested, two fisted hands suddenly planted on her naked hips. “And I’ll choose my own name, thank you very much.”
Adam crossed his arms. “Eve,” he said, wanting God to see he could handle this woman. “I’ll call you Eve.”
The woman let out a retching sound. “Eve! Ugh!” Her right hand shot up from her hip. She pointed at Adam. “You’ll call me Lilith.”
God cleared his throat. “Wow, look at the time,” he said, tapping the gold watch on his thick wrist. “I’d love to stay and chat, but I have to talk to my oldest son about his role as Savior of Mankind.” God clasped his hands together. “So, Adam, I’m putting you in charge of this garden, the fish, the birds, everything. And”—God winked—“I want you to multiply and replenish the earth.”
“We won’t disappoint you,” Adam shouted through cupped hands as God ascended into heaven.
Lilith closed her eyes and made wet kissing noises, then doubled over with laughter.
Adam frowned. “What?”
Adam spent the rest of that first day surveying the garden, fording streams and trekking over steep, wooded hills, naming the creatures and plants he found. He’d decided to devote eighteen hours a day to his garden duties. Maybe he’d even finish naming everything by the end of the week. He could just imagine God’s pleased astonishment, how he’d say something like, “It took me six days to create the earth and you named everything in less than a week!” Then he’d tousle Adam’s sandy hair and declare, “My boy, this just proves you’re my greatest creation.”
Later that afternoon Adam found Lilith next to a shaded brook that bubbled over smooth stones. She was bent in a strange position: hips fixed to the ground, legs extended, her back arched unnaturally. Then she shot up onto her toes and hands, her body forming a perfect V. A low humming sound vibrated in her throat.
“What are you doing?” Adam asked. He couldn’t help noticing the curved, sculpted lines of Lilith’s calves and the hard swell of her triceps, and how his own arms seemed puny compared to hers.
Lilith stood, raising both hands high above her head while breathing deeply through her mouth. “I call it yoga. I pretend I’m an animal or a tree or a mountain. It’s a totally awesome way to relieve stress patterns and relax the mind. You should try it!”
Adam wiped at his damp forehead with the back of his hand. “Too much to do. You have any idea how big this garden is?”
“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” Lilith said. “Have you noticed how the wind moving through the trees sounds like rushing water? Or those little tube creatures in the ground—”
“Worms,” Adam interrupted. “I’m calling them worms.”
“Worms, then,” Lilith said. “How worms make, like, this faint popping noise when they wiggle out of their holes. And look at that huge mountain over there. What’s that white stuff on top?” Her eyes widened. She licked her lips. “Should we find out?”
Adam shook his head. “I’ve barely named half the creatures and plants. So much work to do, so little time. I’m sure you can imagine the weight of my responsibilities.” He regarded his reflection in the brook, the beautiful symmetry of his face and the bow of delicate blond hair sweeping across his forehead. “But I guess that’s just the sacrifice you make when the all-powerful creator of the universe gives you dominion over all things and commands you to subdue the earth.”
“Yeah, I get it,” Lilith said. “You’re very important.”
Adam nodded. He wouldn’t argue with that—but there was something he’d been meaning to bring up with Lilith.
“So, I’m sure you remember God’s command to multiply and replenish the earth?” Adam said. “Well, the last thing I’d want is to disappoint God. I’m sure you feel the same way.” He pointed to the tuft of wiry hair between Lilith’s legs. “Now, I’m not exactly sure how this works, but I think I’m supposed to insert my—”
Lilith took a step back. “Buy a girl a drink first, will you!”
“What’s wrong?” Adam said.
“I mean, sure, you’re an attractive guy”—Lilith looked Adam up and down—“though your core and upper arms could use some work. And I’d really tone down the egomania crap.”
Adam felt his brow crease and the sides of his mouth droop. “Well, God’s perfect and he created me in his image. I don’t think it gets any better.”
“Sure, an impressive pedigree,” Lilith said, “but I’m, like, really not into that whole pedigree thing. Plus, there’s too much to do and see. Who wants to be tied down?” She placed two fingers to her neck. “Well, I need to get my heart rate up. See you around.”
Adam watched Lilith jog up a short hill and disappear over its grassy crest.
“Swing and a miss!” a man said, ambling out from behind a sprawling bush. He wore a black leather jacket over a white T-shirt, thick steel-toed boots crisscrossed by three silver buckles, and dark, stonewashed jeans rolled up to his boot tops. His slicked-back hair had an oily sheen.
“Who are you?” Adam asked.
The man extended his hand. “Well, I have lots of names, but my friends call me Snake.” His palm felt smooth and eerily cool, and he exuded the faint odor of garlic.
“Do you live here?” Adam asked. “I thought it was just me and the woman. Lilith. Whatever her name is.”
Snake raised his hands as if surrendering. “Hey, I’m just as surprised as you. This place ain’t my style, man. I like heat and endless, barren stretches of sand and rock and dirt. Thing is, the old man didn’t dig me, kicked me out. What a square. Said I was a bad influence. So I might crash here for a while, if that’s cool.” He winked at Adam, then flicked his chin in the direction Lilith had gone. “Your girl cut out on you, man, told you she didn’t want none of your mojo?” Snake shot his sleeves, then raised the collar of his jacket.
“You mean Lilith?” Adam said. “I don’t think she wants anything to do with me. I don’t even think she likes me.”
“The thoroughbreds are like that,” Snake said, squinting until his eyes were just two dark slits slashed across his face. “Unless you know how to handle all that horsepower.” Snake cracked his knuckles. “Hey, you wouldn’t mind if I, like, asked her out, man?”
“Good luck with that,” Adam said.
Snake pulled a plastic comb from his back pocket and slid it through his oily mane. “Right on, Daddy-O.”
That night Adam ventured out to name some of the nocturnal animals. Fruit bat, gray wolf, bush rat, white-tailed dear—all sensible, practical names he thought God would like. Earlier, he’d let Lilith take a shot at this naming thing, thinking with her help he’d finish up by the end of the week—though he’d immediately regretted his decision. Aardvark, kangaroo, wombat, possum. Who’d ever heard of such ridiculous names?
At about midnight, in a grove of trees overlooked by a slick, stony embankment, Adam found Snake sitting on a boulder, hunched over and staring at the ground.
“Hey, man,” Snake said, his voice flat, each word punctuated by a moist sniffle. His hair was matted and disheveled, littered with grass and dirt. The neck of his white T-shirt sagged. Adam wondered if he’d somehow toppled over the embankment, until he saw an angry red welt the exact shape of a hand on Snake’s cheek.
“Lilith?” Adam asked, wincing as Snake lifted his head to reveal a swollen eye the exact color of a ripe plum.
Two lines of snot glistened above his quivering lips. “She’s such a meanie. A big dumb meanie,” Snake said, his voice a whimper.
A spattering of small, fuzzy stars danced across Adam’s vision. He turned away from Snake’s battered face and took a sudden interest in the bright moon winking through the upper branches of the trees.
“Why’d she have to treat me like that?” Snake asked, gazing up at Adam with one dark, pleading eye. Snake grabbed a passing squirrel that had stopped to investigate the noise and wiped his nose with it, then tossed the animal over his shoulder. “I thought she was really into me. I was like, ‘Baby, that’s some tan, or do you always look this hot?’ And she was like, ‘Hot?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, baby, scorching my eyeballs hot. And that’s a nice ass. It’s a shame you have to sit on it.’ And she’s looking at me and like, ‘Some tan? A nice ass?’ And I’m thinking it’s a good sign that she’s kinda repeating back everything, like she’s digging it. So I go on, and I’m like, ‘Baby, I wrote a poem for you. It goes like this: My name is Snake. It might sound corny, but you make me horny. I’ll give you a hiss if you give me a kiss.’ And since I thought she was into the jam, I tried to kiss her.” Snake brought both hands to his cheeks, as if he were trying to steady his head. “And then boom, like a tree fell on me, bright lights, and then I’m on the ground, and she’s over me waving her fist, and yelling something like, ‘I refuse to be an embellishment or an ornament. I am not an object of your sexual desire.’” Snake wept loudly into his palms. “What does that even mean, man? I just wanted to tell her she’s hot.”
The next morning Adam awoke coughing violently. A pall of thick smoke slid through the trees, catching in his throat and stinging his eyes. Panicked, he trailed the smoke to a clearing where Lilith sat next to a small fire, holding a stick over the leaping flames. There was something on the stick, a brown mass that sizzled and popped.
Adam’s heart knocked in his chest. He could barely catch his breath. “I thought the garden was on fire!”
“Don’t get your panties in a bunch,” Lilith said, her gaze fixed on the stick. “It’s almost done.”
Adam squinted at the stick. “What is that? Fruit?” But he suddenly knew, a realization that squeezed at his guts and filled his mouth with a sour taste. Whatever was on the stick looked oddly familiar: the oblong skull and stubby tail. And what was that white, red-flecked thing at Lilith’s feet?
Lilith turned the stick slowly in the fire. Juices dripped onto the glowing embers and hissed. “This? It’s one of those fluffy things. What did you call it? A rabbit?”
Adam covered his face with both hands, peering to the heavens through the thin spaces between his fingers, suddenly terrified that God might be watching them. He spoke in a whisper. “You killed a rabbit? God didn’t say anything about killing the animals. We’re supposed to name them, not eat them.”
“Hey, I don’t know about you,” Lilith said, “but I’ve had the screaming craps ever since we got here. It’s all this fruit. Fruit, fruit, fruit. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I need protein to build muscle mass. I need solids.” She took a huge bite of the rabbit, her eyes closing in ecstasy. A trickle of grease oozed down her chin, through her ample breasts, and pooled in her bellybutton. “Oh, this is good.” She waved Adam over. “Try some.”
Adam had to admit the cooked rabbit smelled delicious, and the sight of Lilith smacking her greasy lips made his stomach growl and gurgle. He was beginning to feel the same way about their all-fruit diet. His bowel movements had been less than firm, coming explosively every hour or two. Still, God hadn’t said anything about eating the animals, the very animals they had dominion over.
Lilith dangled the rabbit in front of Adam. “Sounds like somebody’s hungry. Take a bite. Come on.”
“Lilith,” Adam said firmly. “God didn’t say anything about eating the animals. We’re supposed to watch over them, protect them.”
“Now about that,” Lilith said, gnawing at the rabbit’s shoulder. “God’s great, and he gave us this really cool garden, but it just doesn’t seem fair that some distant patriarchal figure should enforce, like, some autocratic moral system that we don’t have a say in. I mean, we’re down here, and God’s up there, doing whatever it is he does, so shouldn’t we, like, make our own rules?”
“Well,” Adam said, standing a little taller, “since God put me in charge, I can certainly pass along your concerns and suggestions.”
“You’re, like, so cute when you get all hierarchal,” Lilith said. “But seriously, maybe we should really think about, like, deconstructing patriarchy and then, like, reconstructing some social system that’s more equitable and based on our own empirical knowledge and experiences. You know, like a more pragmatic approach.”
Adam turned away from Lilith, suddenly feeling the strong pulse of a vein in his forehead and a rising heat spreading through his neck and face. His molars ground together.
The next afternoon, God and Adam were walking together in the garden.
“Well, I did just what you asked,” Adam said. He’d barely slept in the last five days, working through the nights. His arms and legs felt heavy and unwieldy, throbbing with a dull ache. “I named every beast of the field and fowl of the air and fish of the sea, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. All the plants and trees. Everything.”
But God just stared at a distant bloom of dense, silvery clouds and tugged pensively at his long beard.
“Do you think I’m portly?” God asked.
Adam was confused. He wondered if this was some kind of test. “Portly? Not a chance. I’d say sturdy, firm, hearty. But not portly.”
God nodded, considering Adam’s words. “Do you think I have a stiff walk?”
“No way,” Adam said. “I’d say your walk is kingly, majestic, noble.” Adam gave God a quick side-glance, then looked at the ground. “Is something wrong?”
God clucked his tongue. “It’s just Lilith. We were talking yesterday, and she said, ‘God, can I tell you something?’ And I said sure, expecting her to thank me for all the beautiful, pleasant things I created. But instead, she’s like, ‘I’m just a little worried about you. Do you snack between meals? Are you getting enough exercise? Because that might explain why you’re a little portly.’ And then she said, ‘And I’ve noticed you kind of have a stiff walk. It might be tight hamstrings, maybe from sitting too much on your heavenly throne.’ And then for the next hour she was bending me this way and that, and she kept saying strange things like double pigeon and open lizard and downward dog. It’s just that I’m kind of a big deal in the universe and not accustomed to people bending me into weird shapes and telling me to breath deeply.”
Adam swallowed hard. “God, I don’t want you to think I’m ungrateful, because I’m not. You made an awesome world with lots of really cool stuff, and I’m so honored to be part of it. It’s just that I don’t think Lilith’s working out. She’s not really into rules and respecting my authority or yours, and she’s always going on about sunsets and what the air smells like after it rains and the sound of wind in the trees. And worst, she doesn’t want to multiply and replenish the earth with me. Maybe something went wrong with her, not that you’d ever mess up, God. No way. But maybe something, like, fell in the mix when your back was turned, or maybe one of the ingredients was a little old.”
God breathed out a long sigh. “Sometimes I worry too much about what people think of me, so maybe I shouldn’t even tell you this. It’s just that when I finished creating you, you fell asleep in my arms, and you looked so peaceful, your ruddy cheeks and pouty lips. I knew I should take one of your ribs to create a woman, but I didn’t want to wake you up, and I thought taking a rib would really be painful and, frankly, a little yucky. Blood totally grosses me out. Instead, I took some dust from a passing comet to create Lilith. Maybe I really messed up.”
Adam touched God’s elbow. “Hey, that’s all right. I still think you’re great.”
God brushed away a tear that had fallen in his beard. “That means a lot to me. Really. It’s like everyone always thinks, ‘Hey, it’s God. He doesn’t need a compliment now and then. He created the universe.’ But I do.”
The watch on God’s wrist chimed. “Wow, it’s that time already. I need to meet with my oldest son again about this Savior of Mankind business. With all the sweating great drops of blood and flogging and crucifixion, it’s been a hard sell. Well, let’s talk later about this Lilith business.”
And with that, God was off.
A couple days later Adam was inventorying the animals. He checked and rechecked his ledger, but for some reason mammal numbers were down.
Adam turned quickly, astonished that an animal he’d never seen before was walking upright toward him. It was covered from head to toe with thick fur. And then Adam peered at the face, suddenly recognizing Lilith. He stared and pointed, a wh-wh-wh sound wheezing through his lips, until he could form some coherent words. “What are you wearing?”
“You like?” Lilith said, turning slowly. “It’s fur, like from animals. Feel how soft it is. And so warm.”
Adam’s body stiffened. He scanned the tapestry of fur, his lips mouthing names: beaver, fox, wolf, mink, and those adorable raccoons. An entire skinned coyote sat atop Lilith’s head, one flaccid paw dangling over her right shoulder.
An emptiness shot up from Adam’s stomach and washed over him. He’d failed. God had commanded him to subdue the earth, had given him dominion over all things, and he couldn’t even subdue this woman, who was ruining everything, challenging his authority, breaking the social order, and eating and wearing the animals. Adam swallowed hard and blinked quickly to stay the hot moisture pooling in his eyes.
Lilith flicked the dangling coyote paw over her shoulder. “Well, I’m off to see the world,” she said. Her eyes had a distant look. She tipped her head up, like an animal on a scent, and took a deep breath. “Don’t you ever just turn to the wind and take in all the smells, and you know they’re from some far away place you’ve never been? That’s where I’m going, to all those places.”
“You’re leaving?” Adam felt a sudden lightness in his chest. A haze cleared from the edges of his vision. Leaving? The woman was leaving. Adam interlaced his fingers, feeling a sudden need to pump his fists in the air. “Well, it’s been a pleasure,” he said solemnly, bowing slightly. “Best of luck out there.”
“I was kind of hoping you’d come along,” Lilith said, “We’ll see it together.”
Adam gazed at the distant mountains, dark and skirted by foreboding clouds, so high, so imposing. His hands trembled. “I don’t think so. God didn’t say anything about leaving the garden.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Lilith said, smiling. Her eyes sparkled. “I almost forgot: you’re God’s most obedient creation.”
Soon after Lilith left, God created another woman, this time from one of Adam’s ribs. The procedure wasn’t painful, just some soreness for a couple days and a small, glossy scar that Adam thought made him look tough.
He called the woman Eve, a name she accepted without protest. She was blonde and petite, soft and curvy in all the right places, super deferential to his authority, and totally on board with multiplying and replenishing the earth.
If only the easy living in the garden, though, could have gone on forever: branches forever bowing with ripe fruit, docile animals frolicking at their feet, and long walks with God on Sunday afternoons. It wasn’t long before Snake came slinking around again, feeding Eve some line about how sexy the forbidden fruit was, just like her, and how just one tiny bite would make her like God.
Well, that really upset God—like anyone could ever be as powerful and glorious as him—and he banished her to the dark and dreary world. Adam felt awful, watching Eve shiver and cry and go on and on about how all that sweating and planting and weeding in the fallen world would ruin her hair and nails. So Adam ate the fruit, too, just so Eve wouldn’t be alone.
Soon enough, Adam learned that the fallen world is a real bitch.
All the thorns and thistles—Adam could barely keep up. And the animals he’d once named and tickle-wrestled in the lush, verdant meadows of Eden were always stealing his corn—or trying to eat him.
God never came around anymore, never wanted to take a Sunday walk, just shouted down from heaven or from some cloud-coiled mountain. Do this and do that. Worship only me. Don’t labor on the Sabbath. Sacrifice the firstlings of your flock—as if good sheep grew on trees. “And if you don’t do everything I ask,” God would say, “then I’ll curse you with plagues of lice and frogs, and your cattle’s teeth will fall out, and I’ll afflict you with hemorrhoids.” It seemed God was always angry about something.
And too often Snake would just show up unannounced around dinnertime. He’d traded in the leather jacket and black boots for a double-breasted suit and a pair of Armani calfskin loafers, and he’d sit by the fire, watching Eve over his Ray-Bans, and go on about his latest business venture, selling spray-on vitamins or timeshare condos in Phoenix, and how his downline was earning him six figures a year, and how he could set Adam up, if he wanted, really put some dough in his pocket to feed and clothe all those little bodies. Adam didn’t like the way Snake ogled Eve’s breasts and shapely backside—though he couldn’t help thinking that maybe Eve liked the attention, the way she batted her eyes and canted her hips a little more whenever Snake showed up. And why wouldn’t she? Why wouldn’t she prefer some cocky bad boy with a two thousand dollar suit to him, a working man who smelled of cow dung and sour armpits?
So six days a week, sunup to sundown, earning his bread by the sweat of his brow, Adam worked. The kids—dozens of them, so many he couldn’t keep them straight—were so needy and mischievous, especially that Cain, the way he was always shoving acorns up Abel’s nose or inflicting super wedgies, and then blaming his sisters. Adam wished Eve would take a firmer hand disciplining the kids, but she was just so timid—and gullible.
Sometimes Adam would point to the sky and say, “Sky looks green today, doesn’t it?” Eve would say, “Sure does.” And then Adam would say, “Actually, it looks kind of red.” Eve would squint up at the sky again and say, “Yes, red. Now I see it.” Then Adam would say, “Well, what color do you think the sky is?” And without fail, Eve would cozy up to him with that sexy smile, comb her fingers through his golden chest hair, and thrill warmly in his ear, “I’m really more interested in your opinions.” Well, if Eve was gullible to a fault, at least it comforted Adam that she made a really tasty gruel and always gave his loincloths an extra rock beating so they wouldn’t chafe him on hot days.
Still, some nights as Adam sat next to the fire, the flickering light pushing at the darkness, he couldn’t help but think of Lilith and smile. Eve would look up from her nail file and ask why he was grinning. Adam would belch quietly into his hand and tell her it was nothing, just a little gas from the mastodon brisket and tuber mash she’d made for dinner.
Lilith, with all her strong opinions and whimsical observations, challenging God and throttling Snake. Sometimes while gazing at the sharp peak of a distant mountain, Adam wondered where Lilith had gone, and every so often, when the moon hung like a luminous disk in the sky, he thought he heard her somewhere out there in the great big world, a howl of pure, contagious ecstasy, as free and wild as wind moving through the treetops.