Priya Sharma lives and works on the Wirral, UK. She has had short stories accepted by a variety of magazines including Albedo One, On Spec, Fantasy magazine, Dark Tales, Not One of Us and Zahir. She has a vast array of rejections for her novels. You can find out more about her and her writing at www.priyasharmafiction.co.uk
You can read the first part of Priya’s story for free below. If you would like to read more please order the first issue of Alt Hist.
The Bitterness of Apples
by Priya Sharma
Her: I always knew when Adam was dreaming of Eden. His breathing changed, his eyes flickered beneath their lids. His face transformed to pleasure, then to pain. He’d murmur to himself and turn about as though on a bed of nails. I knew he was in Eden and I envied his restless sleep because I never dreamt of it at all.
Him: Eve is all I ever wanted for myself. All the things I could have had and my heart fell upon her. She stood before me and I never realised perfection until she smiled.
I love her more than any other could. I love her best.
Adam was revealed to me in fragments, with each bite of the apple. Not just Adam but Eden too. The colours made my eyes ache, the light pulsing as though it had a beat. Birdsong reverberated on my eardrums. The breeze and sun slipped over my bare skin.
I’d spent so long being blind. I’d never seen the line along Adam’s thighs as they tensed. The way his throat moved as he laughed. The run of his ribs. The ridiculous piece of flesh that looked stuck on.
When I put my mouth on his, my breasts against his chest, my arms about his shoulders, that strange piece of flesh between his legs reinvented itself. Somehow it didn’t seem so ridiculous anymore.
The apple was sour by the way.
We apportion blame. It doesn’t matter. However we try and divide it up between us, the outcome is still the same and if we are despised, it’s because we are despicable.
When Adam held me it seemed that we were made of each other after all. Was it really so wrong?
Afterwards, Adam fed me figs, not apples, split open to reveal their private parts. As we dozed in the tree’s shade it shed leaves to cover us and keep us warm.
Eve has finally stopped raging. Now all she wants is to make everything right. For everyone to have of a piece of the Eden that is lost to them. That we lost. To glimpse the grandeur. I’ve been watching her. I’ve seen her stop people on the street. A couple arguing. A trickster mid-hustle. An angry mother. She admonishes them gently as if to say, My children, how can you be so unkind to one another?
It wasn’t always so with her.
God didn’t roar as he cast us out of Eden. His voice was as calm and cutting as a glacier. Then silence. We were alone, incarcerated in the empty world.
That damned snake.
Every woman reminds me of Eve. I’ve loved a fragment of her smile on another woman’s face, the curve of her eyelashes. The contour of a knee or fingernail. The abandonment of joy and sorrow and the surrender of herself. Her DNA arranged and rearranged until she was lost. Her exquisite genes diluted but she was there, somewhere, if only I’d known how to find her.
Eve, where were you all those years?
The apple didn’t prepare me for everything. We had to work out some things for ourselves. I thought my belly was swollen from some malady. I grew tired and sickened for all manner of things. Adam lay beside me, crying. He was afraid. I love you, Eve, he’d say, as though that alone could save me. I love you, as though that could be enough.
There was blood and slickness down my legs and the pain began. I screamed and screamed. The place where I had sinned was tearing me apart. I was coming undone. Then there was another voice screaming in the vastness. A tiny being, as afraid and naked as we’d once been. We called him Cain.
The next time was easier. It was another son, Abel. Then the daughters. They made me sad. I knew what they had coming.
Adam and I carried our love between us like a corpse. There was sweetness. Kindness. There was patience but the loss of paradise was too much for our love to bear. Grief is corrosive, as are guilt, shame and a liberal dose of blame.
Adam blamed me in silence. It was in the way he snapped at me and stalked about the house. He made love to me in anger. How could he not blame me when I blamed myself?
So we doled out our children. We separated ourselves. We formed two tribes. Of course, we didn’t know we were at war, any more than we’d first known we were in love. Love and hate. The sparring of the hearth and the intimacy of battle. Our children were two armies of lovers and enemies.
I lost sight of Eve. I wandered in the world, lost my purpose and myself. Aching drove me to extremes. I tried to get God’s attention. I sinned until sinning became a habit, as mundane as whistling. This drove me to a course of self-improvement, purgatives and self denial, of purity and religious mania. I sought God in the tongues of prophets and stone temples whose steps stretched to heaven.
He didn’t answer. He wasn’t there. I was dead to Him. Dead to Eden. Dead to Eve.
I sent out scouts in search of Eden. I had no idea how far from the garden we’d fallen. My mourning ceased to be a bargaining with a deaf God but a rage that seethed and boiled. I wanted to go home. He had no right to keep me out. I set my men upon Adam’s tribe, convinced he was keeping Eden from me. Cain, our first son, had joined me at the division of our progeny. He returned with his brother, Abel.
Abel was hung upon the rack and questioned, under my supervision. Pokers, irons and fire were used, as were flails and twisting hooks. I hardened myself against his cries. He had nothing worth the knowing. The only thing satisfied was my cruelty. I would have Eden back. I would find it and it would be mine alone. It was a madness that consumed me.
Skinless, limbless, eyeless Abel was carried out to die in the fields by Cain, whom I never saw again. I ordered more of my children brought to the inquisition chamber. It was a factory of pain.
Call me Lilith. I deserve it. My only consolation is that when I think of that time, I still weep.
The tribes bred and spread until the earth was covered. Everything gets mixed up eventually.
I spent an eternity wandering. I covered my face with ash and staggered along dry, cracked river beds. Through fields of parched earth. There was no point to life. The apple was rotten to the core. The tree of wisdom dead. Everything was forfeit. I’d outlived the children I hadn’t murdered.
I found an abandoned hovel in the hills. I lay on the dirt floor and watched the moon through the crack in the roof and waited to die.