Something heavy on my center, smooth against my skin, shifting very slightly within itself, stretched and retracted. Occasionally a tap to the side, always in the same spot. I breathed. Instantly the thing was still. I let out the air. Again I inhaled, deeply, and pushed against the heaviness as I filled my chest. The thing began to move. Slowly, stopping and starting, it wound back and forth across my thigh, around my knee, down my leg. It slid over my ankle, passed gently by my heel, with a little touch to my instep along the way. There was a swish. Again, silence and dark. I felt light, unburdened, empty, as if I might float away. Soft things swept my face, my cheek, my ear, wafted across my nose. My hands rose from my sides and brushed them off. There was a tickle in my nose; I gasped, gasped again. A great noise burst from my mouth. My eyelids jerked open. And I saw.
At first there was only blue, limpid and luminous, stretching wide above me. A white, fluffy mass appeared, scudded across the expanse, tumbled into pieces, and melted into the blue. I lifted my arms, spread my fingers. Light came through them; the ends glowed pink. I curled a finger into my palm and felt it scratch the skin. On my arms fine hairs glimmered in the sunlight. Still lying flat, I turned my head to one side. Not far away several forms, tall and dark and topped with green fluff, stretched toward the sky. Scattered around me and floating through the air were weightless bits of pink, turned up around the edges: blossoms falling from trees; it was one of them that had tickled my nose. I caught a petal as it fell and rubbed it against my cheek. It was soft and smelled sweet. I raised my head and looked down. More new sights: two small, white cushions topped with pink, each with a tip that stuck out. A smooth, soft expanse where the weight had been. Below, something fuzzy and gold. Sitting up, I discovered legs, ankles, feet, toes with shiny ends just like the ones on my fingers. A petal rested on my foot; it slid away when I wiggled my toe.
That first day, of course, I did not know it was the sky I saw, the wind that moved my hair, an apple tree that shed pink petals on my toe. Cloud, face, blossom: all were unknown. I had no knowledge, no words. Each time I turned my head and found, before my eyes, something I had not seen, the world expanded.
Bending my knees, I took my feet in my hands. The soles were tender and a little wrinkled. I lifted my hands and found my mouth, nose, eyes, and above, a tremendous load of stuff, soft and very long. I pulled my fingers through it and stretched my arms as far as I could reach, drew the stream over my face, and saw the world through a fall of gold. When I blew, my breath sent it ballooning in front of me. The sight, the feel of it, astonished me, and I laughed.
There was a rustle in the leaves, and I heard a sound like the one I had made when my hair billowed on my breath. I stood and saw, in the shade of the tree, a mound of coils sheathed in brilliant colors, moving and shifting constantly, topped with a feathered head. Two emerald eyes looked out at me from a brown face. The creature's mouth was open and its head shook. When it realized I had seen it, it stopped and flicked a green tongue over its lips.
"Well, little one," it said. "I don't mean to laugh at youbut it's amusing to see you wake from the silence and start to explore the world." It set its head to the ground and moved toward me, straightening its body one coil at a time. In the sun it wound itself again into a circle and raised itself high, bringing its head level with mine. I reached out my hand and ran my fingers down its back, overwhelmed by its beauty. The creature stretched under my caress. Then it shook its head. "And you know how to laugh. And sneeze. That is a gift not given to gods."
"Gods," I said. "What are gods?"
"Never mind. It's not important now. Much more important to know yourself." It inclined its head to the left and smiled. "You," it said softly, "are Eve." It drew out the e: Eeeeve, with a little puff at the end. The name sounded beautiful and worthy.
"Eeeeve," I said.
"Yes," it replied. "I've been watching over you. I'm glad you're awake."
"Oh, it was you that was sitting on my . . . " I put my hand on the place where I had felt its weight.
"Yes. I hope you don't mind. I was listening for your heart to begin its beat. You were so soft and comfortable in the sun, I grew quite sleepy."
"But you're too . . ." I spread my arms wide.
"Big to fit on my stomach."
The creature smiled. "Oh, I made myself smaller," it said. "I wouldn't want to squash youespecially not when you've just come to life."
"And who," I asked, "are you?"
The creature uncoiled itself and drew its body toward the sky so that it was nearly standing on its tail. "I," it said, "am the Serpent. God has given you to me to raise. He has placed you in my care. I am your mentor, guide, and teacher. For you are new to the world. You know nothing." The Serpent smiled as if it were paying me a compliment. "You are mine to form and to teach. That, for instance, is your foot." It slid over gracefully and licked the end of my foot. I looked at my feet, and then at my body, and cupped my hands under the cushions with pink tips. "Those are your breasts," the Serpent said.
"Breasts," I repeated.
"Below is your stomach."
"Stomach," I said.
"Legs. And these," it said, "are your toes. And toenails. Repeat after me.
"Toes, toenails, legs, stomach, breasts."
"Ah," said the Serpent. "A quick learner. Good. But we won't rush. We have lots of time. You must be hungry."
"Hungry?" I asked.
"Yes. A funny feeling in your stomach. It means you need to eat."
"Eat?" I asked.
The Serpent sighed. "Come, I'll show you."
Excerpted from "The Garden" by Elsie V. Aidinoff. Copyright © 2004 by Elsie V. Aidinoff. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.