I met him on a bright day of hot sun and shivering shadows. We had been exploring, Adam and I, in the valley orchards where Lord had expressly forbidden us to go. It was my idea. As long as we were back in time for his evening visit, I reasoned that Lord would never find out. After all, who would tell? He only allowed one breeding pair per species in the Garden, we were the only species who could talk. We set out, as was our habit, as soon as we woke, and reached the new orchard before the sun was even past the hills. It was surrounded by a wall made of mud, so we climbed the wall with much stubbing of fingers and scraping of naked skin. When we finally reached the top, we were disappointed to find trees just like all the others, laden with familiar fruit. But then we saw him – the gardener. He was tall and upright and tangled in some kind of covering. We had never seen clothes before. So strange! So new! We froze still, staring until he unwrapped himself in the heat of the day, like a snake shedding its skin, and then we stayed there, staring, until he put his skin back on, winding the cloth deftly around his body and fastening it at the waist. When at last he looked directly at us, we leapt down from the wall and ran all the way back. I think I heard laughter.
The Snake was one of many gardeners but the only one who spoke to me.
I was a child, and also not a child. It was a strange, in-between time; restless like spring, like wind on the water, like the itch of ants crawling on your skin. I was finicky and jumpy one minute and full of despair the next. Nothing familiar could satisfy me. Adam, my age and until recently my height, was suddenly despicable; a dull and irritating child following me around like a baby bird too fat for its stunted wings. I was desperate for something new. The Snake was new. Also forbidden. In other words, irresistible.
The first day I went to the orchard alone I felt strange. We didn’t feel fear, Adam and I, because there was nothing to be afraid of in the Garden, but if I had felt it, I’d have said it was like fear. A fluttering, sickly feeling, cured only by running. I ran towards, not away. The Snake looked at me running and then he looked at me standing and then, still looking, he slowly and deliberately put out his hand and touched me with a rough, warm, finger.
The second time I ran again, not because of fear but because my skin was already flushed for no reason. The Snake was hidden for a moment amongst the trees he was tending. I had never felt loss before, even for a second. It made me draw in my breath. He, coming out of the trees, heard my breath and saw my flushed skin and smiled.
The third time, he offered me an apple. ‘Take it’, he said; ‘I dare you’. He was looking straight into my eyes and I was looking straight into his. They were brown and shining like a deep waterhole in the cool shade of a forest.
That evening, when Lord pulled his coracle up on the beach, only Adam went to meet him. I was dreaming in my favourite tree, plucking leaves to fashion myself a second skin like his. The Snake had filled my mind so completely that his name spilled out every time I opened my mouth, and as Adam was the only person to talk to, I spilled it all out to him. I had brought him an apple as a gift, so I could talk about it some more. I am not proud, but that is how it was.
Lord found me, of course. One look at my dreamy face and my languid limbs and he knew. I was no longer any use to him – not I and therefore not Adam either. I won’t repeat the things he said because he will never speak to us again. And we will never go back to the Garden. But I still have my love. He is growing me an apple tree.