Far above the visible heavens with their cold wandering planets and fixed stars lies a great void, or so it seems to human eyes that can detect neither life nor movement there. This is what many call the Seventh Heaven and others, somewhat less colorfully, Eternity. It is, however, the domicile of the most vibrant and most intelligent life in the entire cosmos, the myriad of pure ethereal Spirits and their creator, the Almighty God.
The Spirits, for all their intelligence, were not always well informed.
“This isn’t the smartest thing I’ve done in Eternity,” Satan said somewhat too loudly. “Dancing on the head of a pin.”
“Now, now,” Gabriel said gently. You know the rules: No judgments.”
“It’s all about the numbers, I’m pretty sure.” This from Plato. “It’s to see how many of us can dance on the head of a pin..”
“Stupid!” murmured Satan. “And there’s no real pin, so what does that prove?”
“So how many of us are dancing here on the head of this non-pin?” Raphael asked.
“I have no idea,” Plato said mildly. “So far I can count only as far as three.”
“Does the Name know about this number thing?” Raphael wanted to know.
“The Name” was of course God, who created the Spirits and everything else, most of it invisible at that early stage. His name unfortunately was so long that the Spirits took to referring to Him simply as the Name, a practice He somewhat surprisingly permitted, at least tacitly.
“The Name knows everything,” Satan said. “The other day I was thinking, just very casually thinking, of taking some time off and in an instant that thought disappeared from my mind.”
“That is scary,” Raphael said.
“Time off from what?” Gabriel asked. “We have no duties except maybe to circle the Throne and think-sing Hallelujah.”
“Is that what I was created for” Satan asked, “a beautiful Spirit only a tad off the Name Himself?”
“You the Spirit!” shouted Lucifer.
“You be quiet,” said Gabriel to Lucifer, the last created of the Spirits and privately referred to by some of the spiritual wags as “The Afterthought” and described by others as “taken out of the oven about twenty minutes too soon.”
“And why does He need a throne?” Satan continued. “Does he have a lap?”
Suddenly, at an inaudible signal, the dancing stopped.
There was a second signal, also inaudible but understood and immediately obeyed by the Spirits, this a summons to a Spirit Assembly, the rather random –but was anything really random, many silently wondered— at which the Name delivered brief and sometimes enigmatic homilies to the Spirits.
“Welcome, My creatures.” He began, “I hope you enjoyed your dance. Angelica, come sit up here next to Me.”
Scattered chuckles, not at the favor shown to Angelica, which was habitual, but at what was by now the rather well-worn joke of one of them having the wherewithal to sit, or even stand for that matter. One of the most enigmatic of the Name’s homilies had been on “Metaphor,” how spiritual beings, without the slightest suggestion of body parts, could be said to see or hear, to dance or, the Name added with a metaphorical chuckle of His own, “to sit on a throne.”
Gabriel cast a meaningful metaphorical glare at Satan.
“It’s simple,” the Name had explained. “You see without eyes and speak without tongues simply by intention. For you Spirits intentionality is actuality.”
“But we cannot see You,” someone sad, “although it is certainly our intention to.”
“Let’s just say I’m a special case,” was the Name’s rather curt response.
“Back to intentionality. That is the point of dancing on the head of a pin. Since you’re dancing intentionally, the number is irrelevant.”
“Number?” Raphael said.
“Ask Plato,” the Name said.
“But it was only a thought experiment and a rather unsuccessful one at that since the pin was a virtual and not a real one.”
“Are we like the pin, not real?” a frightened Lucifer asked. “Are You real?”
“Now, now, Lucifer,” the Name smiled indulgently. “You’ve been spending too much time with your friend Satan there. Perhaps you should take a long walk with Augustine and Thomas and have them explain to you the difference between virtual and spiritual. You are real and I am very real. Any other questions?”
Thomas raised a metaphorical hand..
“Thomas, of course. No Assembly would be complete without a question from Thomas. Yes?”
“You used some odd words before. What is an ‘eye’? A ‘tongue’?”
“Ah, yes,” said the Name. ”I really must be more careful in my expression. Those are organs, instruments, that belong to a different order of being with which I am experimenting. But that’s enough for today.”
The Spirits, could they have murmured, would have been murmuring excitedly as the Assembly dispersed. Had they heard correctly? A different order of being?
“Higher or lower?” Satan asked aloud, giving metaphorical voice to the thoughts of many others. Too late; the Almighty had gone.
As already noted, and as even some humans were eventually to figure out, God and the Spirits dwelled in Eternity, that most extraordinary of domiciles, infinite in breadth and depth and height, unmarred by irregularity and untroubled by alteration until one day –there is no way of saying exactly when in that unmeasured vastness– the entire celestial realm began to shake in a quite terrifying way.
“Whatever He’s been experimenting with, this has got to be it,” Gabriel gasped.
“No one panic,” Michael added more calmly. “He knows what He’s doing.”
“Let’s hope so,” said Satan. “Lucifer, you OK?”
Lucifer was quite otherwise occupied. He was testing the limits of metaphor by attempting to take steadying hold on Angelica. No dice. Sometimes apparently a metaphor was just a metaphor.
“Sorry,” said the Name to the Spirits, “I should have given you more notice, but I really didn’t expect it to happen in quite that way. But now you must prepare yourselves. I am granting you a special sight by a process that I call panavision. You will be able to see, not individually but collectively –think of a very large screen– the glory of my new creation.”
Then a great light came up from nowhere and the new material creation lay exposed before the Spirits: the heavens and their circling bodies; the earth all verdant and teeming with animal life; oceans and rivers; mountains, jungles, prairies and deserts.”
“Whoa!” exclaimed Gabriel.
“Totally!” screamed Lucifer.
“I wonder what it’s made of,” said Thomas. “It’s certainly different from us.”
“Yes, and it smells,” said Augustine, “and we don’t.”
“You’re right,” said Raphael. “It smells good when the skies send water down, but it smells bad, and I mean bad, when the big animals collect and do that emptying thing.”
“So what do you think?” asked the Name who came up suddenly behind them.
“Amazing,” said Michael and Raphael simultaneously.
“Awesome,” said Lucifer. “How did You do it?”
“Come now, Lucifer. How can you still be asking that question? I willed it.”
“Can we will things too?” Satan wanted to know.
“No, not really. You all participate in My will, not as initiators, of course; but as instruments. You are all one of the instruments of My will.”
“So You will,” said Satan, “and we enact or perform it.”
“Well put,” said the Name. “But do understand that I really don’t need instruments. What you now see before you –how do you like the panavision, by the way?— was simply willed. A mere ’Be!’ and it was so.”
“That is impressive,” said Michael.
“Beautiful,” mused Augustine. “Unlimited, absolute will.”
Satan had come to a somewhat different conclusion, The will seemed like an essential adjunct to the intelligence, which all the Spirits possessed. Had it been deliberately removed from the Spirits’ composition or was it simply under-developed? Interesting.
“And this I’m sure you Spirits will find interesting,” the Name continued, sending Satan a poke in his subliminal ribs. “I have thought to delegate creation in a sense and to allow each animal set…”
A virtual hand shot up.
“Aristotle and I have been discussing this,” Thomas said, and we agree that each animal set should be called a species…”
“Wait! Wait!” cried Plato. “Lord, isn’t it more accurate to call each set the Idea, the sublime universal prototype which all the individuals in the set imitate, however imperfectly?”
“Whatever,” said the Name, who was not in the mood for this particular, and all too familiar, discussion. “As I was saying, allowing each animal set to reproduce itself, leaving it to the animals to decide how best to accomplish that. But you know Me,” He chuckled, casting another glance at Satan, “Never allow the easy or the simple to prevail over the interesting. I created within each animal set or, OK, species, a radical new distinction between what I call male and female –I’m sure you’ve noted the distinctive markings— and stipulated that they reproduce by copulation, more simply, by coming together.”
Gabriel, Michael and Raphael, who had attended every Spirit Assembly from the Beginning, later agreed they had never witnessed such intense attention of the part of the Spirits.
“So I endowed them with the instinct to reproduce –otherwise they’d stand all day and graze– but I have allowed each set or species to figure out how most effectively or expeditiously that might be accomplished. And as you Spirits have seen, since I know that you’ve been observing the activity very closely, they mostly have, though the sea-horse and the earthworms still seem a bit baffled.”
Self-reproduction! What an extraordinary idea! Four or five or the Spirits were trying desperately to remember as much of this as they possibly could. The virtual notepad was still a long way off.
“How come we cannot self-reproduce?” Satan wanted to know.
“No need,” said the Name. “You are spiritual beings; unlike the animals, you will never perish. And grieve not. As you have doubtless noticed, reproduction is neither easy nor fun,” After a pause to allow this to sink in, the Name continued. “But this reproductive process does affect you in one not terribly important way. I think I may have invented unintended consequences. In creating sexual differences within the species…”
Got it, thought Augustine. Sexual: relating to reproduction and marked by external physical features.
“Most of you possibly all of you, thought that eternity would be an infinitely extended and unchanging era of untroubled calm,” the Name began the next Spirit Assembly, a particularly solemn one marked by a preliminary sevenfold processional circumambulation of the Throne led by Gabriel, Raphael and Michael and accompanied by an unparalleled Hallelujah liturgy.
“I am sorry if you are disappointed but there is, behind all the recent events, as disconcerting or even disturbing as they might be to some, a divine plan, and one in which you are all intimately involved.”
“At that point the silence was so deafening,” Lucifer later cackled to anyone who would listen, “I thought I heard the Lord’s favorite virtual pin drop.”
“I am going to create one more animal set, but this one is very different; it is more like you and…(pause)…Me. I thought, let Us make humans in Our own image…”
“’Us’? ‘Our’”? asked Satan. “Who is the ‘Us’? Is there more than one of You that You have kept concealed from us or are we somehow involved in this act of creation?”
“Calm down, Satan,” said the Name. “’Us’ is just a manner of speaking, the divine plural, if you will. How often have you heard me say, ‘We are not amused’? And now you’ve made Me lose My train of thought. Where was I? Somebody?”
“In Our own image,” said Gabriel.
“In Our own image and likeness,” the Name resumed, “to have dominion over all of Creation.”
“And what of its radical connection to us?” Gabriel asked.
“That can wait. Assembly dismissed.”
“Does that include dominion over us?” Satan managed to shout just before the Name disappeared.
The next day the Assembly was virtually full, though there was a bit of good-natured and nervous chafing about how many Spirits does it take to fill an Assembly. Satan, who had been practicing, attempted to will himself to the front, but without success.
The Name as usual appeared from nowhere and, without ceremony, caused to stand beside Himself an erect, 6 foot off-white hairless biped.
“Wow!” said Gabriel, Raphael and Michael in unison.
Cries of “Bravo” rang out from all sides.
“Amazing!” shouted Lucifer. “Radical!”
“Attractive,” murmured Angelica.
It had escaped no one’s notice that when the Spirits’ names were assigned, it was Angelica alone who received the feminine form. But the present events were overwhelming even that interesting issue.
Then, without word or warning, there appeared at the side of Adam his female counterpart, a lithe and tawny woman with a glittering smile.
Once again there were cries of ‘Bravo’ from the Assembly, louder this time and interspersed with shouts of “Fiori!’ from those few Spirits –most, who thought they knew which way the divine wind was blowing, were busy studying Greek– who had taken the pains of learning two or three additional words of Italian.
“Yes,” said the Name, “This is the ‘she’ of the human species. I call him ‘Adam,’ sort of a cross between ‘It’ and ‘my guy,’ and he, for reasons best known to himself –I’ve given him considerable latitude in the naming department— calls her ‘Eve’.”
“Well, it’s a big improvement on ‘giraffe,’ said Gabriel in an attempt to relieve the strange tension that was surrounding this presentation. “Or ‘armadillo’.”
“Hello. I’m Adam,” the male figure suddenly said. “And this is Eve.”
There was a thunderous silence. None of the other animals could speak.
“Welcome Adam and Eve, My servants,” said the Name. “These are My faithfull Spirits.”
“I see nothing, Lord,” said Adam, looking about him. “Nor I,” said Eve.
“That is because they do not belong to the Matter world where you dwell.”
Matter! Matter! That’s it. Creation is made of matter, Thomas suddenly realized. Matter and, and…”
“Can the Great Apes see the Spirits?” Adam politely inquired.
“No, of course not. Here, let me help you. Gabriel, please come up here.”
Gabriel came forward, and suddenly he was transformed into a handsome male figure, taller and more brilliant than Adam and with a pair of large and gloriously feathered wings.”
“I wasn’t sure about the wings,” the Name said, “but then I thought, why not a little fun? So what do you think?” the Lord asked the stunned Assembly of Spirits.
“The wings, I’m not sure,” said Michael, who tried to imagine himself outfitted in a pair of them.”
“No, the wings, by all means!” shouted Lucifer. “Can I try?”
“Of course,” said the Name benevolently. “Just step forward.”
Lucifer stepped forward and was instantly transformed into a tiny cherub, pink of cheek and buttock and with two gossamer wings that began to flutter and carry him gently skyward.
“Adorable,” Angelica cooed.
“Enough,” the Name said and immediately Lucifer was restored to his original state.
“The wings are largely symbolic, to add a touch of life,” the Name explained. “None of you is going to fly. You’ll simply materialize wherever I send you. Adam and Eve, you may leave now…”
The human pair did not leave; they simply disappeared.
“What you have been seeing here,” the Name continued, “are illustrations of your new and important function with respect to my human creation, half animal and half Spirit.”
“Half hippopotamus and half Michael! Crazy!,” whispered Lucifer loud enough for everyone to hear.
“Can’t you shut up for just a minute?” growled Gabriel. “This is not funny.
“And you will be My communicators, My messengers to it, or rather, to them. But with their
material eyes they cannot see spiritual beings, as you have observed. So I have designed a temporary materialization for you Spirits, almost invariably as males, which is why you now all have male gendered names. You saw Gabriel in one version, the majestic variety, and Lucifer in another. That one I designed for more trivial matters, affairs of the heart and the like. The humans will love it.”
“It’s a little undignified,” Michael suggested.”
“Yes, you’re probably right, Michael. But it’s very temporary and just so the human can see and hear you.”
“And talk back?” Satan asked.
“Yes,” said the Name, “and talk back. And as you’ve already noticed, you’ll be able to see and hear them. And one last thought, which I hope will not be too disturbing. Henceforward you will be known not as Spirits but as Messengers or, as those of you who share my harmless little interest in Greek might call them, angeloi, Angels.”
The Spirits dispersed in confusion. There was much to absorb, to analyze, to weigh, but Philo for one was still thinking about something he had heard earlier. He soon found Plato in the crowd of departing Spirits.
“My dear Plato, I’ve been thinking a great deal about your eternal, unchanging Ideas. I guess you can call me a Platonist: I agree that they are the ideal prototypes and paradigms of all created being. But Aristotle is also right: they are also ideas, as your very language
confesses, that is, notional. But where Aristotle and I differ is in that he regards them a human notions, while I am convinced that, if you will permit, the Platonic Ideas are in fact the ideas of God.”
“An Aristotelian Platonist!, “Plato cried. “Is that were my legacy lies? And have you convinced Aristotle that the Ideas are actually the thoughts of God.?”
“You already know the answer to that,” Philo laughed. “He is adamant that the Almighty thinks only Himself. Logical, I suppose, given his premises, but more than a little bizarre, self-thinking thought.”
“Bizarre,” Plato answered, “and profoundly counterintuitive. The Almighty appears to be thinking about everything but Himself. He worries about how to end the theological craziness at the Council of Chalcedon and manage to have the Catholics win the Thirty Years War; how to prevent the Franciscans from sub-dividing into non-existence and convince the Jesuits not to wear Chinese dresses in Beijing; what to do about Pius IX; and Thomas Merton; and Frater Martin Luther. And who let Muhammad out of the bottle? I know He regrets the Black Death; not blowing the whistle on Indulgences; the Lisbon and the 1906 San Francisco earthquakes –He watched the 1989 quake on panavision and appeared to enjoy it. He deeply regretted his vote for Warren Harding and moving the Dodgers to Los Angeles.”
Plato then lowered his virtual voice to a whisper.
“And the Jews. I know I should not even be thinking this much less saying it, but I think the Name seriously miscalculated about the Jews. I’m sure He was convinced that they would buy into His Jesus project, and even though it was wildly successful everywhere else, He is filled with regret, and even remorse, that His Chosen People rejected His own plan for their salvation.”
Philo, his head bowed, said nothing.
Not long afterward Plato, Aristotle, Philo, Augustine and Thomas all received urgent communications to appear before the Throne.
“I’ve been thinking a great deal about you five Spirits,” the Name began in His Almighty register. This was going to be serious. “and I have concluded that you are not suited to the Spirit world…”
All five immediately prostrated themselves before the Throne, no one of them daring to speak.
“No, no, my beloved Spirits. Rise up. There is no fault here. You have all been faithful and true in circling the Throne and chanting Hallelujah.The fault, speaking metaphorically of course, was mine. When I created you Spirits, I knew you were all individuals –No, Thomas, I do not want to get into a discussion with you now on how spiritual beings are individualized— but perhaps I underestimated how individual. You are all remarkable individuals, sometimes annoying, yes, but always stimulating, provocative and instructive. And I thought, how can they best serve Me? Not as mere messengers surely. No, My beloved Spirits, as instructors! You will be My chief pedagogues of humankind.”
“But there is a sadness here, a very great sadness. I must materialize you and send you away from this heavenly kingdom to live, and yes, to die, amidst humankind. But your memories will never die, though you, Thomas,” said the Name, attempting to lighten the mood a trifle, ”may experience some difficulty remaining in the syllabi of Catholic seminaries.”
No one knew or cared what that meant; all five said with one voice,
“Not our will, Lord, but Thine.”
“I expected no less. Bless you. Plato and Aristotle, you incessant chatterers, I’ve decided to send you to my true ‘Chosen People,’ the Greeks,” this latter with a virtual wink that was so convincing that one might have thought –Plato and Aristotle did—that the Almighty was not joking. “To Athens, of course. You should give them plenty to think about. Now, who wants to go first.?”
“I think Plato should,” Aristotle said. “He seems to make friends more readily than I.”
“Well,” Plato said, “I think we can agree, can we not Aristotle, that true friendship exists between two rational beings?”
“No time for that now,” said the Name. “You two can discuss the definition of friendship on the way down. Ready Plato?”
“Any last words of wisdom?” Plato asked.
“Most profound, Lord.”
“Feel free to use it,” smiled the Name. “And you, Aristotle, if you get a message from somebody named Alexander, make sure you return his call. OK, down you go.”
And down they fluttered, gaining heft and breadth as they fell gently toward earth through the luminous Attic air.
“Philo, I’m sending you to Alexandria by Egypt, as they insist on calling it. The Jews of Palestine are going a little crazy over the small print in the Torah…”
“If I may, haShem,” said Philo respectfully, “It’s your small print,”
“Just so, just so,” said the Name wearily, but quietly flattered by the Hebrew. “You know how I loved writing the narrative bits: Moses, the Egyptians, the whole thing. And while I’m very comfortable with Commandments, law as such doesn’t much interest me, nor am I very good at writing it. Leviticus is a mess, I know, and when the priests tried to fix it by starting over with Deuteronomy, they just made matters worse. But never mind. I have special plans for our friends in Palestine.”
“Alexandria? Did you say Alexandria, Lord?”
“Yes, Philo, Alexandria. The Jews there at least seem to have their heads on straight regarding Torah. No Pharisees there yet, thank…..umm’”
“Thank God,” Philo finished for Him.
“Thank you. So I’m sending you there to help them along. I would go with the Moses as philosopher line as we discussed. And please push the Septuagint, the lovely Greek translation of my Bible. Catches the spirit. I think.”
“Will do, Lord,” said Philo.
“And remember, Allegory! Allegory!” shouted the Name as Philo went tumbling nonchalantly, philosophically, toward the Jewish quarter of the great city on the Egyptian shore of the Mediterranean.
“Your turn, Augustine. I know your temperament so I’ve prepared a particularly handsome body for you, found you an elegant villa in Roman North Africa and a mother that I think you will find interesting. Wait. Where are you going?”
“I’m going to start packing.”
“And what exactly do you have to pack?”
Augustine stopped in his virtual tracks, abashed.
“Sorry. Any advice, Almighty?”
“Yes, Manichaeism is, if you will excuse the vulgarism, patent Iranian bullshit And Pelagius is only half wrong, so go easy there.”
“I doubt it, but off you go. Now Thomas, I’m assuming you don’t care quite so much about the amenities. I have on my drawing board a rather substantial body that I was intending for a late Hapsburg emperor, but I’m giving it to you. And I’ve located a vacant professorship in the Faculty of Theology at the thirteenth century University of Paris. I think you’ll enjoy that; lots of back and forth about Yours Truly.”
“I’m sure I will. Any final admonitions, Prime Mover?”
“Yes, you shameless Aristotelian, beware the Averroists.”
“Lord, you are a card! ‘Beware the Averroists!’” Thomas chortled. “Yes, I’ll certainly make sure to beware the Averroists, whoever they are.”
The Name sighed, shrugged and gave His inquisitive Spirit a gentle nudge. Down Thomas went, slowly materializing as he descended until he landed softly in the Quartier Saint Germain on sandaled feet, portly and tonsured and clad in Dominican black and white. God, it appears, always tells the truth, but not necessarily all of it at the same time.
That evening, Thomas discovered posted on the bulletin board of the Dominican House of Studies in Paris the thesis he would be expected to defend at the next day’s scholastic disputation:
“That God always tells the truth, but not necessarily all of it at the same time.”
Report of this odd new tasking of the Spirits soon came to the attention of Satan, who wasted no time in going to the Lord.
“Holy Name, I hear that you have just dispatched five of your brightest and your best, or at least your noisiest and most annoying, on special missions to your Creation. What of me? Am I too dull, too slow of wit for such work? Listen, Lord, There’s a twentieth century Hollywood studio, Paramount, that I think I could handle.”
“I’m sure you could,” said the Name equably, “with a producer’s credit for ‘Rosemary’s Baby’.”
“You’ve lost me,” said Satan.
“No I haven’t. I have in mind for you a very special and important mission to Creation.”
There was a long and pensive pause on the part of the Almighty. Satan stood silent and waited.
“I have it in mind to use you to put Adam and Eve to the test.”
Satan was taken aback by this unexpected piece of information.
“Adam and Eve, those poor feckless creatures? If you do not mind my saying, they are not My Lord’s best work, pale two-legged wobblies, the Spirits call them. Think how weak they are next to your masterpieces, the noble horse, the mighty gorilla, the sublime lion, the King of Beasts. The dog! The dog! The dog loves to be tested. Give me a dozen yellow tennis balls and I’ll test the dogs for a month. Fetch! Sit! Stay! The works.”
“No, Satan, you’re missing the point. It’s moral choice that I want to test, and that means the humans. The dog obeys out of instinct or the anticipation of a liver bit. ”
“Oh, You think so?” said Satan. “You don’t think that a dog stands and decides before it chooses to sit or that a parrot goes through a complex mental process before it consents to say ‘Bom dia’?”
”They seem to,” said the Lord, “but they’re weighing some imagined form of the pleasure principle, not the morality, the good and evil in the choice. But let us not debate this issue now. Can you do a serpent?”
“Can I do a serpent? What do you want? A puff-adder? A Black Samba? A standard boa? A slinky moccasin? A King Cobra? –I do, as you might imagine, a magnificent King Cobra— Maybe a giant anaconda? I know, a rattler!”.”
“Look, Satan, don’t overact here. Just give me a slithery serpent, large enough to attract attention but not enough to frighten her off.”
“Her?” Satan asked.
“Eve. I’m starting with Eve.”
“I’m not liking this, Lord.”
“That really doesn’t concern Me, Satan. Just get yourself up into the Tree and persuade her to try the fruit.”
“Which tree would that be” Satan wanted to know.
“It really doesn’t matter. The Tree of Life. The Tree of the Knowledge of Everything. You choose and I’ll forbid them to eat its fruit.
“And you will forbid them because….?”
“To test their obedience. To sweeten the temptation, tell them if they eat of its fruit they will enjoy eternal life and be like Me.”
“Except they would weigh 155 pounds, and have to evacuate their bladders every five hours and their bowels every eight. Why not just remove the Tree, whatever you’re calling it, from the garden and leave them in peace?”
“Then they would never have the opportunity of making the moral choice. Satan, do you want me to assign someone else to this task?”
“No, Almighty. I am Your servant.”
Which, being translated from the Satanese, a language in which the Lord was quite expert, would read: Let some other Spirit get this assignment for the ages? Not in an Eternity!
It was mid-afternoon, and as Eve approached the Tree of Life. Satan slowly and, he thought, seductively uncoiled himself onto its lower branches.
“Hi,” he said.
“Don’t be frightened,” he said. “I’m not poisonous.”
“I’m not frightened,” said Eve, peering up into the branches. “We have dominion over the brute animals. It’s just that you look strange.”
“Ah, my skin. I designed it myself: lime-green motley on a maize ground. Do you like it?”
“It’s, I don’t know, unpleasant,” she said.
“You must mean the scales. I’m squamous. But it’s not as bad as it looks. Do you want to touch me?”
“Eeew! No! And what are you doing here, by the way?”
“I live in this tree.”
“No you don’t. I pass here every day and I’ve never seen you up there before.”
“Alright. I’ve been sent by the Lord,” he confessed. This was not going well. “He wanted to remind you that neither you nor Adam are to eat of the fruit of this tree. And where, bye the bye, is Adam at this hour?” Satan asked, settling his motley comfortably on a low hanging branch.
“Off in the woods somewhere, teaching the birds to sing,” she replied.
“And you are at leisure, strolling here in the orchard, inspecting the fruit?'”
“Are you joking? I just finished a three-hour session teaching fish to swim upstream. They cannot talk, you know, but I can read it on their –what’s the word? squamous?– on their squamous faces: Why do we have to learn this? What’s the point of swimming upstream?. But back to the point. The Almighty sent a snake to remind me not to eat these pomegranates?”
“I prefer serpent,” said Satan.
“The Lord could have saved His time and yours, though you seem to have a lot of spare time on your hands. Oops, sorry. I forgot; you don’t have hands,” she chuckled.
Memo to myself, thought Satan. Next time have the Lord send me as an eagle.
“Pomegranates were never my thing,” Eve continued. “I’m a peach girl. And the great thing is that in this garden, I don’t know how they do it, the peaches are always exactly ripe. For a peach fancier this is paradise. And you, Mr. Snake, do you fancy pomegranates?”
“Er, no,” mumbled Satan, who was taken somewhat by surprise. “Actually I’ve never tried one.”
At that point Adam appeared, whistling down the garden path.
“Adam!” hailed Satan, now awash in his own slithering unction. “How did it go with the singing lesson?”
“Who or what is this? Adam demanded of Eve.
“A talking snake. He claims he was sent by the Almighty.”
“I thought we were going to be sent one of those magnificent Messengers with the spectacular feathered wings.”
“The Lord was fresh out of Angels,” Satan snickered, “so He opted for attractively exotic instead of merely magnificent. So how about the birdsong?”
“The birds are virtuosi,“ said Adam. “I have a crow who can do an entirely professional Boris Godunov and a couple of chickadees who can put more bells into Lakmé than Delibes could possibly have imagined. But harmony is alien to them. Put them together and all you get is cawing and chirping.”
“Who is Delibes,” Eve wanted to know, “and how do you know all these things?”
“The Book of Life,” Adam said. “I found it in our library. It’s all about the future, set down by someone called the Recording Angel. You can find out about the Dorian Mode, Léo Delibes and Miles Davis. It’s all heavily redacted, unfortunately, so I can’t tell what is going happen to us. But there’s a whole chapter devoted to the colorful Mr. Snake here.”
“I prefer serpent,” was all the shaken Satan could muster. He had never heard of the Book of Life or a colleague called the Recording Angel.”
“Listen, back to the issue here. Adam, would you care for a pomegranate?” Satan tried.
“No thanks. I eat everything here of course, but I’m really a vegetable guy; Eve is the fruit girl. I found some really delicious kale the other day. Lots of surprises here, but I watch the brute animals. They seem to have the eating thing down. All except the grazers. How do they do it? And what do snakes eat?”
Satan, the pseudomorph, had no idea.
“Worms, I guess,” he tried.
“What!” said Adam. “You really eat another animal? That’s revolting. Does the Almighty know?”
Wrong track thought Satan.
“No, no, of course not,” he backtracked. “I meant vermicelli. You know, the little worm-like pasta.”
“Don’t know it,” Adam said. The Almighty had in fact been saving pasta as a birthday surprise for the pair.
The sun was slowly setting in the garden and Satan’s assigned messenger was barely off the ground.
“Look, I’ve got to slither away soon, and the Almighty will be almightily displeased if I haven’t done His bidding. So Eve, please take a bite of this pomegranate so I can be on my way.”
“I will,” said the mischievous Eve, “if you take a bite first.”
The slithering stopped. Well, Satan thought, He did not forbid it to me, so why not, just to get out of here? And he took a generous bite of the fruit of the Tree.
“Your turn,” to Eve who closed her eyes and took a bite as well.
“Tastes funny,” she said. “Here Adam, try this and see how it tastes to you.”
“We are not supposed to,” Adam said.
“How dangerous can it be? The snake took a bite and he looks OK. Where’s he gone to?”
Satan had slithered off and was now coiled tightly in a remote corner of the garden. He attempted to measure the changes that were slowly taking place in him. At times he felt disoriented and disturbed, and then suddenly there was a kind of adrenaline rush of the spirit, energizing and empowering.
The next morning Adam and Eve awoke to find Michael standing beside them, a flaming sword in his hand and his feathered wings unfolded in what was becoming known as a Full Archangel Display.
“Awake!” Michael commanded.
The two were awake, wide-awake.
“I’m afraid I’m the bearer of bad news, really bad news. You two have transgressed a prescription of the Almighty…”
“What?” Adam interrupted. “You mean the stupid pomegranate thing with the snake?”
“Precisely,” Michael said, “and as the Lord, or one of his surrogates, will say, ‘The wages of sin is death’.
“We know we’re going to die,” Eve said. “What is the big deal?”
“Now,” said Michael, an archangel not accustomed to interruption, attempted to continue. “you will experience the implications of mortality not, as hitherto, in their comfortable and energizing default form, but in their full penitential rigor. Have you ever itched?”
Quite unconsciously Adam has been rubbing his leg for some time. Now he became aware that he was scratching his leg raw.
“What’s this?” he demanded.
It’s called ‘poison ivy,’ Michael explained.
Eve meanwhile had begun slowly scratching her head.
“And that’s called lice, Eve. But allow me to read you a partial list of the new and painful experiences that are the consequences of your sin.”
“Is that what they’re now calling it, biting into a pomegranate, sin?” said Adam, his anger rising. This too was a new sensation.
Michael ignored that and began to read: “Poison ivy, lice, migraine, indigestion, plantar fascia, litigation, losing streaks, French movies, Yoko Ono, flat tires and flatulence, kimchi, winter, incontinence and impotence, sometimes simultaneously; Maury Povich and Jerry Springer, again simultaneously; taxes, tolls, and typos. the Canadian Brass, toothaches and reality TV. There’s more but my feathers are beginning to droop so let’s move on. You will be afflicted with a number of inclinations, each strenuously forbidden by the Lord..”
“But if He forbade them, why did He…?” Adam asked
“The Wages of Sin. Think gluttony, pride and envy, and the one that will most torment you, lust.”
“And what’s that?” asked Eve who had now concealed her genitals behind a large palm leaf.
“Unbridled sexual desire. Sexual desire will be new to you, the powerful urge to copulate with an other, any other.”
“You mean like a horse or a goat?” Adam smiled. “No, wait, how about an attractive chicken?”
”Well, yes,” Michael said. “Almost anything that moves.”
“That’s creepy,” said Eve.
“So you’d think,” said Michael. “And for you, Eve, there’s a particular subtext which He tacked on, I don’t know why, to the Wages of Sin protocol. You will leak blood every month after your fertile period and you will suffer excruciating pain in childbirth.”
“That seems a little excessive,” Adam said and began to scratch his leg again.
“A little excessive, you idiot!” Eve screamed. “You can’t possible imagine what’s been unloaded onto me.”
“Maybe it’s because you ate first,” Adam suggested.
“Bullshit!” Eve hissed. “It’s because I’m just a woman.”