Somewhere east of Eden, after the Fall
"And He rejected them?"
"Yes, everything. My finest apples. My best wheat. I put everything on the altar. I held nothing back. So why did he reject them?"
“I don't know, my brother. I don't know."
Abel held the gently crying body of his brother. Behind them were the two altars: Abel's, with the blood and lifeless body of his first-born lamb of the season; Cain's, with the crops of his fields and orchards.
Cain's body trembled and Abel held him even tighter, looking across the fields but seeing nothing.
Why, he asked himself, why would Yahweh accept only blood? Why was animal death alone acceptable? He had sacrificed the lamb because that was all he had to offer. Why was the act alone not enough? Why wasn't an honest sacrifice of anything not enough? Why did it have to be one particular thing, one that his brother didn't even have to offer?
The two brothers were very close, as twins typically are. Yet physically they were not at all similar; one could hardly believe they came from the same womb. Abel was blond and fair skinned; Cain was dark hued in hair and skin.
It was Cain who followed his father, Adam, into the fields, where briers and thorns cut their feet and lanced their legs. It was Cain who learned how to plow and plant and cultivate. He learned the secrets of the orchard and how to protect young crops from heat of sun and dryness of drought. It was he who watched the crops shrivel and die in August and freeze in unexpected cold. It was he who saw the granary depleted first of food then of seed and who wondered how to feed the family not only this year but next. He felt strongly the injustice of his father's being driven out of Eden, the bitterness of ever suffering for one single lapse.
He knew the stories of Eden by heart and had even defied his father by returning there, traveling the plains and deserts for weeks by himself, then climbing a hill and seeing the Garden for the first, and last, time, spread out before him, a vast expanse of fertile green, separated by stone walls from the brown of the desert around it. He saw the eastern gate with its cherubim and the flaming sword turning in every direction to protect the Tree of Life.
And Cain saw the Tree of Life in the middle of the Garden, beside a lake of azure blue water. And he longed to taste the fruit hanging from its branches and to rest beside the still waters. Yet he knew he could not reach it, he could not touch it, and he cursed Yahweh for being stern and unyielding and he cried for his own weakness. Then Cain returned home and never told what he saw or what he felt.
Gradually the crying stopped and Cain lay motionless, asleep in his brother's arms. Abel gently laid him on the grass and knew what he had to do. He went to his sheep fold and entered the gate.
Abel had learned to care for the sheep and goats from his mother. She had a way with animals, gently patient. They didn't fear her. They came to her to be scratched and they ate from her hand.
Abel learned how to care for them, to watch them for signs of illness, to pick herbs and make potions to heal them. He followed the animals as they grazed from field to field. He watched from the hillside for the fanged animals that would kill his flocks.
Sometimes he sat with his staff beside him on the ground, singing songs his mother sang, sad songs as a rule, of better days and happier times. But sometimes she sang a happy song in spite of everything and she looked so young and happy that Abel realized just how much he loved her.
She also sang with the spindle in her hand as she spun the sheep's fleece into thread, then put the thread on the loom and wove it into cloth.
Abel loved to spin and weave better than anything else. He loved to watch the threads grow into inch after inch of cloth. And he loved the feeling that he had created something important, something useful, because then he felt useful, too. As his brother helped keep the family fed, so he helped keep the family clothed.
Abel entered the paddock where the young lambs were still being nursed by their mothers. He took the biggest lamb in his arms. It cried for its mother and its mother cried too.
"I'm sorry," was all he could say.
Holding the lamb in his arms, he walked back to Cain, who was still sleeping on the ground. Abel knelt beside him and touched the nose of the lamb to Cain's face. Cain started in surprise and looked at the lamb and his brother questioningly.
"Here," said Abel. "I want you to have it."
"Why?" asked Cain.
"If Yahweh must have blood, then he will accept this lamb from you."
"No!" cried Cain, standing up and looking down on his brother. "Don't you understand? It has to come from my labor. It cannot be a gift. He'd just reject it again, just reject me again."
"Try it anyway," urged Abel. He got up as well and walked toward Cain, holding the lamb before him.
Cain backed away from his advancing brother, yet not taking his eyes from the lamb. He backed into something and put his hands behind him to steady his balance. Feeling something wet, he looked at his hands. They were red with blood from Abel's sacrifice. Abel continued walking towards him with the new lamb. Cain was trapped.
"No!" he cried, as his brother reached him. "No!" and pushed Abel with both hands. Abel stumbled back over a rock, dropping the lamb which bleated for its mother and ran away. Abel lost his balance and fell backward, his hands clutching the air as his head hit a rock. Cain watched in horror as his brother's body convulsed once, twice; his mouth opened to say something. He looked at Cain and raised a hand towards him, then it fell back. Abel's mouth remained open, as did his eyes.
Cain fell to his knees and held his brother in his arms. "Abel, Abel, speak to me!"
As he watched, a film slipped over Abel's eyes as though a cloud had passed overhead. A sigh rushed from his body, and Abel was dead.
"No!" cried Cain. "No! No!"
He shook Abel's lifeless body. "Don't die! Don't die!"
Blood poured from the back of Abel's head onto the grass like a stained carpet. Cain looked at the spreading blood in disbelief, then he heard his father's voice.
"Murderer! Jealous murderer!"
He turned around. Adam stood a few feet away. But towering behind him was the very being of Yahweh. And as Yahweh's lips moved, so Adam spoke.
"You've killed your brother. You and yours will be forever cursed."
"Father, I didn't . . .. "
"Shut up and listen to me. Leave this place. Never, ever, come here again."
"But I live here."
"No more. You are no more son of mine."
"But they'll kill me out there."
"None shall judge you except me. This mark [and Cain felt a burning on his forehead as though he'd been touched with a hot iron poker] will let them know what you did.
"But I didn't . . ."
"Silence! Now leave here!"
"But . . ."
“Go! Go!" And Adam picked up stones and started throwing them at Cain, who was hit once, twice, then ran and didn't stop running for a long time.