The red clay wall around the garden stretched taller than the tallest tree. Eve climbed that tallest tree, a great cedar, until she reached the last fragrant branch that would bear her weight easily and then dared a higher branch still. It creaked beneath her as she looked, but all she saw was the red wall above her.
The red wall had but one door of white stone and that gate was thick with ivy. So thick that the door could not be opened. The ivy climbed the wall, but only half way. When Eve tried to climb the wall, she fell with such a heavy thud to earth such that it knocked the air from her lungs and she lay gasping up at the birds.
The birds flew in and out of the garden, but they could only tell her that outside was outside the garden.
Eve made a game of sitting by the door in the shadow of the red wall and guessing with the deer or the wolves or the rabbits or the lions as to what was on the other side.
Adam thought that game was silly. He preferred running games or games where he rolled a hoop of bent branches over the grass with a stick.
God didn't come through the door. God was either in the garden, and it was easy to tell when that happened, or God was not in the garden. The garden was large, but it was not that large.
The garden was full of trees. Cedar trees and plum trees. Cypress and oaks. Adam and Eve, they'd named them all. But still, there was a center to the garden and in that center there was a tree from which Eve must not eat. The serpent looped himself darkly in the branches and said, "I personally haven't done it, but as I understand it, to eat of this fruit is to have the knowledge of God. It is to know."
Eve wrapped her arms around her legs in the shadow of the red wall. "I shouldn't even touch the tree." She climbed up in its branches. She kicked her feet and lay on a white branch. The limbs were thick with smooth blue fruit with soft skin. She touched one. A bead of yellow juice dripped from the plump bottom of the fruit. Eve not slowly licked her finger. It tasted like tomorrow.
She ate the fruit and she knew. Adam ate it too because it was fair. They ate it and they knew. God was in the garden.
They went out through the gate stripped of its ivy and out into the world with all its ills.
Lila brewed willow bark in water and made a tea of it. She gave the dark liquid to her daughter, Idna, to ease the flush of fever in her cheeks. Idna looked at the tea in the white clay cup with over bright eyes. "How do you know it's good?"
"Because my mother told me, as I am telling you. Now drink your willow tea." Lila pressed the cup into the girl's hands.
Idna traced her fingers over the faint designs of waves on the side of the white clay cup. "How did she know?"
Lila sighed. "Her mother told her, as I am telling you." She waited for the question as inevitable as the sun in the sky.
Like the dawn, the question came. "But how did she know?"
"Because her mother's, mother's, mother's, mother's, mother's, mother brewed it in water and hoped it would bring something good, which it did. Now drink your willow tea." Lila raised her eyebrows.
Idna drank her willow tea and made a face for it was bitter. "She probably died because it tasted so bad." She drank it all and fell asleep holding the cup.
Hephaestus made the woman from yellow clay. He gave her the gift of beauty, because all things from his battered hands were beautiful. He gave her tools too. For to his mind, everyone needed tools.
Athena gave the woman cleverness and curiosity and the skill to use those tools. Athena was old to the use of tools.
Hermes gave the woman a clever tongue in her clever head and words with which to speak. He was particularly proud of the word perspicacious. Although, the play within the word gambol also caught his fancy.
Artemis gave the woman a robe of white and the grace to make those robes dance. She'd have given her a virgin's gift too, but that was not her father's reason for causing her to be made. Zeus was very angry over Prometheus' theft and wanted to punish humanity for the gift that had not been given them.
Hera gave the woman a heart that longed and beat blood in her chest. Aphrodite too. They worked upon the red heart and blood together until they were perfect.
Hestia gave the woman a garland of ivy shaped like a crown, but no fire. Prometheus had already stolen fire. She glanced at her brother as she did this, but the crown did not displease him.
Ares gave the woman a tilt to her eyebrows and eyes that could see to the horizon. He spent some time on the other rhythm that might make her blood beat fast. The beat of a drum on the march.
Poseidon gave the woman a sail the color of the sea and a ship with an arching prow to sail beneath it. He have her the skill to guide that ship through the lapping waves and to read the stars above.
Demeter gave the woman two pithos jars of the earth. They were empty when she gave them to her. One was of red clay and it was all over painted with blue waves and serpents on those waves. The other was of white clay and it was all over painted with coiling black lines that were serpents upon the land.
Hades gave the woman a fruit full of seeds to hold back her hunger. That was always Hades' gift. That and the other gift that came as a result of Hephaestus' gift of life.
Apollo gave the woman a name, Pandora, which meant, "She who gives gifts up." It also meant "All gifted," for all the gods had given their gifts.
Zeus filled the jars. He said, "One jar is full of all the ills of the world and one jar is filled with all that is good. You must never open either of them." He set Pandora on her ship and she sailed across the lapping sea.
She came to where kind Epimetheus waved a rake at the birds hovering over his brother chained to a wave kissed rock.
She said, "I am Pandora." She looked at him from the corner of her eye. He was pleasing. "The gods made me to be your wife." Pandora held her jars in both arms. They were her dowry. She stared out at the horizon. Her heart beat very quickly to meet her husband.
Prometheus from his rock called out, "Brother, do not accept the gifts of the gods."
Epimetheus did not listen. He accepted Pandora into his house. He gave her a rake of her own. She sometimes went with Epimetheus into the fields to pick up the food that grew in plenty.
She sometimes sat with Prometheus on his rock. She spoke with Prometheus about the sky in it's blueness. She spoke with him about the waves that kissed his rocks. They had many pleasant conversations as she beat the birds that sought to eat his liver with her rake and cut at the chain that held down his right hand with the file of Hephaestus.
Prometheus said, "You must never open either jar."
Epimetheus had no opinion on the subject.
Pandora looked to the far horizon. She hit a bird hard enough to kill it with her rake. That bird would be dinner. She said, "I think I have divined what to do."
Prometheus called out as she left him to go to the house with the bird. "It's all hubris." He glared at the birds on the rocks. He waved the rake with his freed right hand at the birds.
When she came back, she said, "Hubris too was the gift of the gods." She came back with both jars. She threw them on the far side of the rocks and listened to them both shatter as they fell into the sea.
She thought they made a pretty sound.
Prometheus said, "That was not wise."
Pandora said, "Neither was stealing fire," and went to cook dinner.
Falling Woman dropped a kernel of maize in the black earth of the field that she had made by burning back the jungle. She poked another hole with her digging stick.
She only used the largest kernels from last year's crop as she had done the year before. As she had done the year before that. She did as her mother had done before her and her mother had done before that. She and her family ate only the smallest kernels, but it was enough. Each year, the smallest grew larger. That was what she worked toward.
When the field was planted, she pulled water from the cenote that went down into the underground river that flowed through the earth to Xibalba, the underworld. She could hear the roar of a waterfall, but she knew the sound was deceiving. The waterfall was only as high as her knee. She knew this because of the time that she had climbed down into the cenote to pull water from the river in the year that the rain did not fall.
Today there was plenty of water. She poured the water from her jar onto the black earth rich with ashes and hoped for the best from the seeds that she had planted.
Xquic was pregnant. She'd been picking gourds in a tree with the skull of Hun-Hunahpu in it. The skull of Hun-Hunahpu had said, "Stretch out your hand," and she cursed herself that she'd done it for he'd spat in her hand, vile skull of an idiot, and it was done. She had had the pleasure of throwing the skull of Hun-Hunahpu out of the tree though.
She put the skull of Hun-Hunahpu in her pack, because her sons should know their father, fool of a man to have his head cut off and stuck in a tree. She bore the burden of it because she was a fool of a woman to reach out her hand when a skull asked it.
She walked the long road to the house of the skull's wife, Xbaquiyalo. Xquic was pregnant with twins. She stopped often on the way, because her back ached and her feet had blisters beneath her swollen ankles.
She came to the river of blood and the stone giant that guarded the way said, "You cannot pass."
Xquic said, "That is fine. I will have my children here and you can help raise them. It is my guess that they will be trickster gods and a great pleasure every day."
The stone giant lifted her across the river of blood and she went on her way.
She came to a the crossroads of the red, black, white and yellow ways. The red road said, "I am the way of the serpent." She sighed for that was the way she had just come. The yellow road said, "I am the way of the seed." Xquic did not need more seeds. The white road said, "I am the way of the flint." It was a good road, fair and open, but it was not the way she needed to go. The black road said, "I am the way of the rainstorm," and it was raining in that direction. That is the way she went.
Still, it was slow going. She crossed torrential rivers. She came to a great thicket of Cassaba trees full of thorns that said, "You cannot pass." She took out a cigar of fine tobacco and sat beneath a great leaf as she lit it. She said, "That is fine. I will have my children here and they will play among your thorns. It is my guess that they will be trickster gods and a great pleasure every day." As she said this, the tip of the cigar glowed red and she traced a shape in smoke in the air. The Cassaba trees pulled back their thorns from the black road and she put out the cigar.
By the time she made it to Xbaquiyalo's house, she was very pregnant with her twins.
Xbaquiyalo said, "I can't feed you. How do I even know that those are Hun-Hunahpu's children? For it is not very likely that a skull put even one child in your belly. No, you must provide the food." She handed Xquic a digging stick.
Xquic sighed. She went to a mound with two ears of maize. She said to the mound, "If the gods want me to give birth to these twins in my belly then they had better help with feeding them." She planted the maize in the ground. She sat on a log because her feet hurt. She waited. The mound was first green with blades and then stalks and then covered in maize with round kernels of red and blue and yellow and white. Xquic crossed her arms and waited. Black ants swarmed over the mound and they cut down the stalks. They ate the leaves until all that was left was a great pile of maize.
Xquic pushed herself to her feet and went back to the house of Xbaquiyalo followed by the ants and the ears of maize.
Xbaquiyalo glared at the maize on the backs of the ants and said, "Now there are ants in my house."
Xquic lay down in the middle of the floor. "And now there will be babies with trickster's eyes."
She had her boys there on the floor while Xbaquiyalo glared at her and said, "You can't do that here."
Xquic had her children in the middle of the floor, both of them. She named her first son, Hunahpu, because he looked he was blowing on a blow gun. She handed little Hunahpu to Xbaquiyalo and said, "Here. Tell me if he looks like his father." She had her second son and named him Xbalanque, because he looked like a jaguar sun to her. She looked at both her sons and they looked at her. She smiled at them and tired as she was, she put the maize in the empty jars that lined Xbaquiyalo's walls.
She had them count the kernels as she did so to keep them busy.
Zhang Sui was a Hakka. She lived in Jiangxi province. Her husband, Li Laidi, was also a Hakka. He was a soldier in the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. Her father-in-law and her mother-in-law had been Hakka. As had been Sui's mother and her father.
The raw fields had been churned up by the horses of the Ever Victorious Army and the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. She made rice broth in the old iron pot her mother had given her on her marriage. It was more broth than rice, but there were wild onions in it.
Her husband walked home the third time the armies came by. After she had welcomed him back to their home, he tapped the box that he had brought with him and said, "Let us go to Hong Kong." She gave him a long look. She answered by packing the old iron pot.
In her heart, she lit a candle for hope. She kept it carefully fed with her steps.
She put on the clothes of a man for the journey and kept them on when they arrived in Hong Kong. Laidi purchased two tickets to cross the sea. She did not ask him where he had gotten the money. Sui gave him a long look and purchased heavily padded robes.
It was dark in the hold of the ship. She spent much of the journey with her head over the old iron pot as the waves tossed the ship up and down. She and her husband shared it as they crossed the sea. The candle in her heart may have guttered, but it did not go out.
The ship put them ashore on an island in the harbor of a faraway land that was to be their home. She slept in the bottom bunk and her husband slept in the top bunk as the people decided whether or not to let them stay. She wore her heavily padded men's robes and made broth from cattails and fish from the bay. Laidi joked, "You look like a very fat man in all those clothes." She gave him a long look. He went to catch fish from the bay.
After some months, they were given papers. She still wore the robes of a fat man. Her papers were in the name of a man. They did not easily allow women into this faraway country from where they had come. She guessed they must be afraid of Hakka women here. The Hakka were used to such fears. She took her papers and kissed the ground of the far harbor in the city of Oaks.
The friend of a cousin of a man knew of work mining coal in the hills. But Sui said, "We should stay in the city and find work here." As they climbed the steps to their new home, Sui looked around the room. She said, "Our child wants to come now."
Laidi said, "What? Now?" She gave him a long look. He went to find someone to help. She held the candle in her heart until he came back and long after and into the morning.
They gave their daughter the milk name Xiao for she was very little. But they had such large hope for Xiao in their new home.
Back in the days when there were ten suns in the sky, Chang'e served as a lady in the court of the Dijun, the God of the Eastern Heaven. She tended to the mulberry tree of his wife, Xihe. She kept clean the jade pool of his wife, Changxi. She tended to the jade vases of King Dijun.
But those ten suns, who were the sons of King Dijun, they set to burning the world. The King Dijun sent Houyi, Chang'e's husband to go reason with them. As a result of the way he reasoned with them, Houyi was banished to live on the earth. He perhaps should not have used arrows for his reasoning. But if King Dijun wanted a different resolution, he should not have sent a god of archers.
Chang'e went with him. He was her husband. She followed him from the Heavenly Kingdom of the East.
They lived as mortals there on the earth, but they were given a great estate by Emperor Yao, who was happy they had saved the world. In his kingdom, Chang'e was beautiful for she was from the Heavenly Kingdom of the East. She had no tasks. There were no things for her hands to do. She was beautiful.
Chang'e looked up at the sky and she missed her old home. She missed the every blooming mulberry tree. She missed the serenity of the pool. She missed the vases full of stars.
Houyi saw that she was sorrowful. He went to the Queen Mother of the West, who gave him an elixir in a small vial for both of them to take. The liquid inside would make them immortal again and let them return to the Heavenly Kingdom of the East. Houyi came home and he said to Chang'e, "Don't drink this elixir," and he put it under their pillow.
He went off to perform some errands for Emperor Yao. He went away for some months and Chang'e took the vial out from under their pillow when she changed the linens. She looked a it and she said, "There are not many reasons a mortal should not drink from a vial."
She was alone in the palace that the Emperor had given them. She was alone for many months. It was dark on the earth with only one sun. The Heavenly Kingdom of the East had been made of light. The wind was cold from the mountains. It reminded her of the wind ruffling the surface of a pool that reflected the sky. She looked out the window and said, "I should not drink this elixir." She looked out the window at the stars. She drank what was in the vial and she floated out the window.
Houyi came home as she was floating away. He shot an arrow with a rope attached and he missed her. She was already too high.
She floated all the way to the moon, where she caught herself on a Cassia tree. She caught herself there. She made a place for herself on the moon. She kept busy pouring rain from a jar onto the earth when it was needed. But she missed her husband. She missed Houyi, who she had followed to the earth.
Houyi put some thought to it and became a sunbird. He flew to the sun, where he built a palace. Now it may seem that this was not quite what was needed, but that is not so.
Each month, when the moon grows dim, it is because Houyi has fired an arrow into the sky and Chang'e has jumped to catch it. She follows the cord that he attaches to the arrow and joins her husband in his palace on the sun.
She has her duties on the moon, which she must keep bright. She has her jars of water to pour on the earth. But for a few days a month, the dim shape of the moon means that Houyi and Chang'e meet once again.
If it rains on that day, then pity Houyi, who waits for his wife, who has become caught up in her duties. If it rains too much, pity the earth, for she has poured too much in her haste to be away.
El stepped out of the airlock and for a moment, she floated in space. She had a tether that connected her to the Prometheus, but in that moment she floated in zero gravity.
She was out there to fix a wire on the station's solar array. That's why in that moment El was outside the fragile skin of her ship.
Below her feet, far below, the Earth appeared fragile and blue like an intricate carving.
There was a storm system gathering in a great white circle over the Gulf of Mexico. Somewhere far below, islands were weathering a storm. In Europe, the land masses were picked out in cascades of lights. Africa's upper curve pricked out in a line. She wanted very badly to reach out and hold the Earth just then, which was silly. For a moment, she held out her hands anyway and imagined all her hopes drifting out in great white bubbles to touch each light. Those hidden islands in their storm. She gave herself a moment.
She went to fix a wire on an array meant to capture the fire of the sun.