Part Three - Questions
The Fathers - In Heaven
"We did it!"
The three sat at a small boulevard table, its white marble top held up by spiraling wire legs. The chairs, with small round seats and smaller, round backs, were also supported by wire legs.
They raised their glasses high, looked each other in the eye, triumphantly, then clinked the glasses together over the table. Small drops of wine fell to the marble and beaded on its surface.
The three looked surprisingly dissimilar. Yahweh in his white robe, sandalled feet and full, white beard cascading like water down onto his chest. Adam, barefooted, with a loincloth, frizzled, graying hair, a blacker, wilder beard and sun-darkened skin. Nicholas in his breeches, knee stockings, embroidered waistcoat, linen shirt, collar-less coat, buckled shoes and clean shaven.
Each took a sip, then another, then all three glasses were placed on the table. The three looked at each other, then away, across the white cloudiness of Heaven.
Yahweh broke the silence first.
"If we've won, how come I'm not happier?"
Adam and Nicholas looked at him, peeved for bringing up the sensitive subject, then they looked at each other.
"Nice day, eh Adam?"
"Why, yes, Nicholas, very nice indeed. Of course, they're always nice up here. Every day's a holiday."
"And nice down there, too, I suppose?" asked Nicholas, looking at Yahweh.
"They are reaping what they’ve sown." he replied testily.
Adam began tapping the marble with an index finger.
"Must you?" asked Nicholas.
Adam stopped, looked at him petulantly, then stared away again.
Yahweh began tapping a foot.
"Please!" cried Adam and Nicholas together.
"Sorry," replied Yahweh sheepishly. "I forgot."
Each looked away again. A long pause.
"Nice day," said Nicholas.
Disgruntled, Yahweh and Adam both glared at him.
"All right, all right," replied Nicholas. "Let's admit it. We're in the doghouse even it it's a heavenly one. Everything went according to plan. So what went wrong? Why is no one speaking to us?"
"More to the point," said Adam, "Why are our wives not speaking to us?"
"Women," spat Yahweh.
"Well, you made them!" said Nicholas.
"That doesn't mean I understand them," replied Yahweh. "Besides," he added in a lower tone of voice, "I never wanted to say this, but no one made Gaia. She was just there."
"You never told us that," said Adam.
"I just said it," snapped Yahweh. "She was already there. So what are you going to do? You can't ignore her. She came with the territory. And now she blames me for mucking everything up. I told her I went right by the Book which, I reminded her, I wrote. She just looked at me in disgust."
"Tell me about it," said Nicholas. "Erdmuth cursed me on her death- bed. Our son was already dead. Still, Benigna had children so there were others to follow after us. But I can't forget Christian and I can't forget Erdmuth. She said I killed them both. Well, I lived with them and I watched them die. And part of me went with them."
"Let me tell you my story," said Adam. "Eve acts like I'm a lump of clay, and a dumb lump at that. 'They're your kids,' she says. 'We all came from you.' Don't blame me, I reply. Talk to the big boy."
Nicholas and Adam both stare at Yahweh.
"Another drink?" he asked quickly, raising his glass. Under their withering stares the glass slowly descended, hitting the table with a clink.
"All right, all right," he said. "Something went wrong. I admit it. Something is wrong. But what can be done about it? How could we snatch defeat from the jaws of triumph?"
"Who knows?" asked Nicholas and Adam together.
"On the other hand," admitted Yahweh, "Gaia thinks I don't feel for Satan, that I don't love him, that I punished him coldly, cruelly, without remorse, without love or care."
The other two looked at him.
"How could I tell her," he said, "How could I tell her that, even now, even here, I hear his screams, his cries, and how they tear me apart? Gentlemen, I cannot rest, yet I acted correctly, properly . . ."
"Here, here!" agreed Adam and Nicholas.
"But his punishment is a wound that just won't heal. I loved him . . . I love him . . . so much. I gave him every opportunity. I wanted him to follow me, to take over from me, to lead with Jesus.”
"Here, here!" agreed Adam and Nicholas.
"But nothing I said or did made any difference. 'I want it all and I want it now!' That was his response. 'Not yet and not all,' I replied. 'You must prove yourself. Act responsibly.' 'No!' he shouted. 'I'll destroy you first!'
"And what could I do?" asked Yahweh. "Could I let him destroy all we'd created? No, I told myself, that is not right. So I punished him. He didn't learn so I punished him again. And it just went on and on as though it'd never end. Whatever I offered, he rejected and wanted more. He was not like Jesus, complacent, accepting. He always questioned me, like an adversary, testing me, his father!
"No, I'd had enough. It could not be allowed to continue. The very foundations were cracking. I gave him a final choice. There would not be another. And once again he flew into battle, to destroy the Holy City. I could not allow that to happen. So he is where he is. But I am also there with him, in that burning lake I created, and we burn together. And I have no answer for why it happened or for what could have been and isn't. Everything was done the way it had to be done and yet, here we are. Half of me in pain, half of me at peace. Gentlemen," he said, "Tell me what to do."
The three of them looked at each other.
"Kids," said Adam, and their lips smiled but not their eyes.
The Mothers - By the World Tree
The great oak towered into the night sky, its branches blocking out the stars in a vast circle overhead, leaving a fringe of speckled light like the lacy border of a skirt. The tree's gnarled roots were only half buried into the soil, rising up like the humped ridges of a snake. The roots drank from a nearby stream, a small river actually, that eventually worked its way across the plain to the Garden.
The three mothers, Gaia, Eve and Erdmuth, sat at the base of the tree, each looking across the plain in different directions.
"Isn't it pointless, when you come right down to it?" asked Gaia.
Eve and Erdmuth said nothing.
"This act of creation, of giving birth to something that never existed before? Of creating something from nothing, or from so little you wonder how it could ever become something meaningful at all?
"You bring it forth in pain and agony, and you hold it up in the light, its arms and legs moving slowly, ungainly, and it takes its first gasping, halting breath of life. You dry it off, then hold it in your arms and kiss its forehead, then press it to your breast and feed it from your own body. You love it. You can't help but love it. And you take care of it, protect it, watch it grow and stretch and push until finally it pushes you away, until finally you are no longer needed. It's like a seed that you hope falls into fertile soil so that its roots can sink deep into the earth and its limbs climb high into the sky, refreshed by night rains and nourished by sunshine. And you hope you've done enough. You doubt you've done enough. There must be something more you could do to protect it, to keep it safe and whole. But all you can do is watch it leave, and part of you goes with it to protect it, to shelter it, but you know it's never enough. So all you can do is wait and see, wait and see."
The wind rustled through the leaves of the tree, each shaking and trembling for a moment as though an animal were passing through them and then was gone.
Then Eve spoke into the stillness.
"I had two sons: one dark as night, one light as day. But they loved each other and, oh, I loved them both so much. Then came that day, one was dead and one had fled. And I never saw either of them again.
"If I could just go back to that morning. If only I had known. And not even to change anything but just to help me remember better. I would have held them more closely when I woke them. I would have remembered their smiles, their eyes, their fresh, young bodies. I would have remembered them better than I do now. I could have laid up stones for my future altar with each act of that morning: the rising and dressing, the eating and working. Each would be a separate rock, contained, distinct, but together they would give me something tangible, something to hold onto . . .
"Afterwards, I pressed their linens to my face. I breathed their scent into me. But it was fleeting and it fled. And I was left so alone. There were actually three deaths that day - two for my sons and then me.
"For years I wanted to ask passersby, 'Have you heard of Cain, my lost son? Have you seen him with his forehead burned with the stamp of guilt? Is he well? Does he think of me? Does he remember me?' But I never asked. I hoped someone would speak, but I never asked.
"In time I even forgave Adam, or I think I did. At least I thought about it," and a fleeting smile crossed her lips.
"I was not the only one to suffer. Even he, in all his stubbornness, came to wonder if he and Yahweh had been correct in their judgment. Even he questioned it and the sentence of exile. But you know, my darlings," she said, "Remorse doesn't mean a thing. It cannot change. It cannot return. It simply eats at your insides like a worm burrowing through your body. And the pain and the ravaging never stop.
"So all I could do was just look on. I couldn't help him. I couldn't put out my hand to his shoulder and say, 'It's all right; I understand.' I did understand, but it was never all right."
She stopped talking and looked across the river. The stars had turned in their transit around the tree as though a great sharpened spike had impaled the very fabric of night, forcing it to circle around the wound in its heart.
"Like you, I had children. A few survived those early years when you're afraid to see that love buried in the soil, but you can't help yourself and you love and love and love and when they die, the love remains like a stream blocked by stones. It wants to flow but can't. It just builds and builds while the stone dam rises higher and higher. Your love needs to nourish something. It must fertilize some flower but the plants have wilted and there is no more seed.
"But, I say, at least there was my son and my daughters, for they reached maturity to glow like candles in the night. We were so happy, for a time. The spirit flowed like morning rain. It was the nourishing blood of heaven bathing us in its warmth while cleansing our souls.
"But one day the rain stopped and my son, my glowing son, was taken from me. There seems to have been a contest between his father and me and I lost. I lost Christian. And then my heart broke. All I had lived for, all I had hoped for, was gone. And so it was time for me to be gone as well. All we had built, all we had planned, the creation of a new order by fulfilling the old one, it all lost its power. Its magic was gone. The light went out from the eyes, glazed over by a dulling shadow, and so I closed their lids and laid down to die."
After a moment, Eve and Erdmuth looked at Gaia expectantly.
"You know my story," she said. "Both my sons live, for gods cannot die. That is our particular curse and never doubt that it is a curse. For we cannot forget. We cannot escape. We must look clearly and without flinching, without denial. For us there is no place to hide, at least not for long. And so I always see my sons in the brightness of day. And the worst part is that I am helpless . . . I can do nothing. I cannot heal, comfort or confront. For even gods have their limitations. We never told you that," she said, smiling to the other women. "When confronted by the vastness of this, this all-creating spirit, this incarnate force that erupts so blindly, so ceaselessly, we can only stand as though struck speechless. We cannot act. We can barely think. For we are part of that vast unfolding of time and space and can only wait to play our part."
Gaia stopped speaking. There was no other sound. Then she looked at the other two, "We are a work, aren't we?"
They smiled at each other. Gaia held out her arms and Eve and Erdmuth went to her, each leaning against a shoulder, arms around each other in a binding chain that could not be broken.
"Let us mourn our children," said Gaia. "The ones that are gone and the ones still here, for even they are lost and don't even know it."
A dark form flew towards them from across the plain. The sound of its wings came to the women as a rhythmic, soft flapping, slow yet steady, in their pushing up and down, up and down.
The form came closer and landed on a branch of the tree high above them. "Whoooo? Whoooo?" asked the owl.
Gaia started singing a wordless tune, a melody that repeated itself over and over. Eve picked it up, then Erdmuth joined her and soon all three were singing the phrases in an ancient mode, a musical scale neither bright major nor dark minor but that combined elements of both into a melancholy mixture of bitter roots and scented blossoms, of sour apples and sweet oranges all at once.
The sound of the singing rose up through the tree to where the owl was sitting. Its large, open eyes blinked once, twice, then it opened its wings and flew away, across the plain, towards the rising of the crescent moon.