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Words by Phoebe Reeves-Murray
Image by Harrison Keeler
The air in the trailer reeked of toilets and fermenting diapers. Grime itched her scalp. Holding the nursing baby in one arm, Eve grabbed a nit comb with her other hand and dragged it through her hair. Tearing her gaze away from the pre-GED test on the cracked screen, she held the comb in front of her eyes, staring through the bent teeth, past the wriggling lice until they went out of focus, suddenly searching for the line of the brilliant green, no longer even the width of a hair, on the horizon.
She looked down at the suckling baby, but a tablet screen blocked the little one’s face as one of her toddler brothers propped it against Eve’s breast so they could both stare into the screen and giggled, “Instagram!” to the baby who stopped sucking and wapped at the tablet’s camera icon.
“Hey…” Eve protested to the older sibling, but she couldn’t see his face either and blanked on his name. After the birth of the baby, women have the capacity to reach the highest possible peak of oxytocin. Eve tried cooing to the infant, and sought once more to meet her eyes, but the critical, sensitive period, that initial precious hour had been disrupted so many times by Adam, by yet another child, by Father, by a computer, by a tablet, by a smartphone, such that she’d stopped being able to make that pupil to pupil connection.
Absently shoving at the GED textbooks and college catalogues piled around her bare feet and tuning out the babble of the multitude of electronic devices and children on an endless set of Internet choices, Eve stared out the tiny, sliding window of the trailer, but the sliver of green garden had vanished. Her eyes moved back to her laptop, and she sighed and closed the research screens, the pre-test screens, until she reached the desktop image, a clipart stock photo of a sylvan glade.
It wasn’t the one in her head, the one she remembered. Remembered when it was just her and Ruthie, her beautiful baby who had been her. Like Eve had been Adam. Eve could so clearly see Ruthie crawling up her breast, eyes wide open gazing at Eve even as she climbed the breast and nursed. They stared at each other unable to look away, gorging on love, lying on that softer than skin green grass, and the warm, pink and purple and white “cheese” vernix covered baby leaned her head against Eve’s heart, and her heart taught the baby’s heart to pound, and her lungs taught the baby’s lungs to breathe the clear air that reached all the way up into the blue, blue sky, and Eve had stared through the lacy green branches overhead into that sky and thought I love everything!
Adam had gone away, but she had the baby and the green. He came back, and when he did, she had to make it all right with him because the baby had come between them now. The bower began to turn from green to brown, but that was ok because brown was earth and earth was what the green came from and Eve still loved everything.
But Adam had felt competitive with the baby so she had to comfort him, which meant more sex, which meant more babies, which meant more sex, then more babies, and soon the ground wasn’t brown, but tan, then finally bleached white. More Adam, more children, even more colors than just green—now the apple came in many colors: silver, grey, black, and to accessorize, teal, grape, cherry, lemon yellow, orange-orange—could there be more than everything? Did she still love everything?
Maybe that could be her essay prompt for the GED exam. She would ask Father.
Around her, older children were cooking while a cluster of babies, toddlers, and tweens grouped around a giant flatscreen, watching a show called Revelations that played at 50 on the volume scale when Eve picked up the remote to check. All of the children had blogs, Instagram, Vine, YouTube accounts, while Eve thought it was great that she’d managed to figure out how to get on MySpace and FaceBook. But they’d stopped using those long ago. Finally, the only way she could keep track of what they looked like and liked to look at was through their accounts since they always faced into a screen, making it near impossible to see their faces. She cast a quick eye out the window to the yard full of children, making notes aloud to herself to stay focused on her work. Stay on topic, Eve, stay on task, don’t be a dreamer and maybe you’ll go viral, was what Father had told her. Or what The Right Hand had told her that Father had said. Adam had a job at the Mint and she was to take care of all the children and finish high school.
“Let’s start with something I’m good at: history—apple, you can have an apple, Tenichi, it’s good for you—‘The term ‘prehistory’ refers to a time before the invention of writing’—No, Akio, take the goldfish out of your mouth right now, that’s not going on Vine—‘which primary source would help’—yes, Rosa, that’s a beautiful poop, now put it in the toilet and no, uh, uh, Deyvan that’s not appropriate for her status account—‘social scientists learn about human beings’—Alyosha, thank you for the IM, I love you, too—‘in prehistoric times’—Kids, please be quiet…I’m trying to think... ‘Tropical rain forests have fragile environments that need protection. Removing one species of plant or animal destroys the lives of others.’ History—it’s all my fault—I can’t do this—”
A business knock at the door.
Eve paused, then continued typing.
This time, the knock dented the already crumpled aluminum trailer door.
None of the kids turned around, but the din was deafening. “MAMA! SOMEONE’S AT THE DOOR!!”
“Honeys, inside voices, please.” Eve got up, stumbling over clothes, empty soup cans and other food packaging. “We have a visitor.” She tripped over a number of power cords before she reached the now open door and started. “Oh, it’s you.”
The children muted their devices and switched to earbuds and screenglasses.
Eve opened the door and stepped outside onto the tiny porch in front of the visitor.
The Right Hand held up a finger and grimaced at Eve, as he talked to someone unseen. “Yes, I already told you, The Father wants her for that hour, the children’s hour, twenty-four hundred sharp tonight. I’m getting it set up even as we speak…yes…yes…” The Right Hand was dressed in a suit that reflected the images of everything around it. Eve stared at her messy hair and red, sweaty face. Beyond her children and more children, their faces blocked by handheld electronic screens.
“Eeeeeve…” The Right Hand waved a clipboard bearing the logo Revelations! in front of her face as if she were under a spell. A thinner than hair shining circle floated around his head, now visible now disappearing, and iridescent wraparound sunglasses hid his eyes. “Listen, I have to call you back.” Clearly irritated, he flung his hand up through the floating circle which dissipated and vanished. “Ms. Paradise. We meet again. You look different with clothes on.”
Eve looked up from her bedraggled reflection in The Right Hand’s suit and frowned. “Only my Father can talk to me like that.”
The Right Hand removed the sunglasses, revealing eyes of a multi-colored hue that splintered and spun into shifting designs like a kaleidescope. “Think of the children and behave yourself, Eve.” His eyes looked nowhere at nothing.
Eve glanced at the children, but even the baby in her arms was entranced with her own reflection in The Right Hand’s suit. Won’t anyone ever look at me? “Call me Mrs. Paradise. Please.”
The Right Hand waved his arms back and forth as if swimming or flying. The breeze was a delicious relief in the stink and the heat. “Your Father sent me because he would like to pay you—”
“Pay me? What? For what?” Eve shivered, her skin suddenly clammy. Another test. She should have known. Will I ever know? Will I ever get it right?
The Right Hand waited, picking his words carefully. “A visit, Mrs. Paradise. He’s coming over tonight to see you, Ad—Mr. Paradise, and the children.”
“Tonight?” Eve wished she’d at least finished combing through her hair. She couldn’t tell if the constant trickle of movement rippling in the suit’s reflection was sweat or bugs.
The Right Hand stared, seemingly indifferent. “Yes. Is there a problem?”
“Uh…uh…no. Absolutely not. Have I done anything wrong? I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong since…I thought I was doing everything right…now.” She reached behind her in a futile reflex action to close the door so The Right Hand couldn’t see inside.
The children at play with their devices scrolled across The Right Hand’s mirrored garment. “Then you have nothing to worry about. Mrs. Paradise.” His head stretched past Eve in an unnatural way and looked inside and outside at all her children.
Eve stared right at the changing patterns that were The Right Hand’s eyes and for a moment, she swore that she saw herself with Ruthie lying in the garden bower again, and her own eyes filled with tears. “I heard you mention the children’s hour—I want you to know I shared all my thoughts with Ruthie while she was in utero—I watched what I ate—I wore her everywhere and nursed her until she was three—”
The patterns of The Right Hand’s eyes now were only blots and jagged edges. “What about the rest of them?” His voice, was toneless.
“I tried to do the same for all of them, but…”
Eve wiped her eyes and running nose on the back of her hand and then rubbed her hand down the now sleeping baby’s dirty diaper. “I got…tired.”
Eve felt anger even though she knew it was wrong. “What do you mean?”
The Right Hand turned away and glided off the broken porch. “I don’t mean anything. I follow orders. Don’t make any special arrangements. He’ll see you just as you are. I’ll tell Him you’ll expect Him at twenty four hundred.”
The Right Hand had already drifted away, the barely there silver circle above his head glittering as he returned to continue Revelations scheduling.
Back inside, Eve rushed around in a panic. The children paused their screens and waited, silent. Eve finally set the table for lunch. Adam entered, wearing a security guard’s uniform and sat down. The children greet him excitedly. He responded monotone, monosyllabic. Their voices hushed to silence and finally, they resumed their screens and returned to their accounts.
Eve stood up, banging into the rickety formica table and sending Adam’s American chop suey onto the floor. “Adam! Father’s coming over tonight and the Show’s on us! He sent His Right Hand, the one who chased us out before! The Right Hand said Father just wanted to see us and the kids, but I heard The Right Hand scheduling a show for Father—‘the children’s hour’ and The Right Hand asked me these questions about the kids and how I’d raised them—I just know He’s doing this to make me an example on His show!”
Adam leaned over and scooped the remains of his lunch carefully back into the bowl and began eating it again. “Sweetheart, calm down, don’t freak. I’m sure it’s apples—I mean, oranges to last time.”
Eve stared at him, gripping the table and gritting her teeth. “Adam! We’re His show—we’re never going to stop being His show!”
Adam reached for the generic brand bottle of antacid and shook a couple of the fruit colored capsules into his mouth. “What exactly did The Right Hand say?”
“It wasn’t any particular remark, it was…” Eve remembered the reflections in The Right Hand’s suit. “It was the looks, like each of our children were being appraised—”
Adam burped, grimaced, and rubbed his stomach. “Well, geez, honey, I’m working tonight, why didn’t you just tell The Right Hand to tell Father no?”
“What am I supposed to say?” Eve knocked over the salt as she threw up her hands, then seeing what she’d done, reached down, grabbed a pinch, and threw it over her right shoulder. “‘Thanks for creating me, now go away and leave me alone!’ I can’t tell Father no. I have to let Him come over. Is it the way the kids look? Oh, what if that’s it?”
Adam sighed, lowered his head, and clasped his hands together. “My lunch break’s almost over. Could we talk about something else?”
“You think that’s it then? Their looks?” Eve grabbed another lice comb from the kitchen counter, dipped it in some olive oil, and began combing through the hair of the child nearest her.
“Eve…” Adam pushed back his chair and groaned.
Eve continued dragging the comb through the child’s hair. Her strokes became too forceful, and the little boy whimpered. She tried to disconnect her thoughts from her actions and took a few deep breaths. “This morning, the kids were asking me why I don’t work.”
Adam frowned and took a deep breath of his own. “Well…it would help pick us back up from the Fall—”
She picked up the little boy and kissed the top of his greasy head, but he’d already grabbed his smart phone and was playing a game. “They need their mom to be home with them when they’re young—we didn’t have a mom around, and look what happened to us!”
Adam waved his hands apologetically. “I just meant…”
“What? What did you ‘just mean’?"
His tone became very careful, almost exactly like The Right Hand’s had earlier. “That, maybe…instead of going for a GED, you could do a job online, like while the kids are sleeping.”
“I don’t know, whichever job you’re interested in—”
Eve pointed every which way. “No, while which one is sleeping?
Adam narrowed his eyes. “All of them.”
Eve scoffed. “You think they all sleep at the same time?”
Adam stood up and put his work jacket back on. “Uh…okay, I said the wrong thing. Again.”
Eve started to put away the remains of lunch and added to the pile of dishes in the sink. “Never mind. When you stop by the market tonight, could you please get the organic fruit.”
“But we can’t afford it—”
Eve shook her head and looked right at him. “We have to. I’ve been reading what the pesticides on strawberries alone do to their neurological and mental development.”
Adam made an angry sound and huffed out the door saying, “We wouldn’t have to worry about any of this if I hadn’t let you talk me out of the garden.”
Eve ran down the broken porch steps after him. “Please, Adam. We’ve got to look up—” She tripped and fell on her face.
Adam turned and knelt to pick her up. Her lip was bleeding and she’d cut her cheek. He wiped the dirt from her face. “Hands clasped, on our knees, fully clothed, right?”
A tear trickled down her face and he gently kissed her cut lip, then kissed her more. “No, Adam, not that—”
He stopped kissing her and got up. “It wasn’t ‘that.’ It isn’t always ‘that,’ you know…”
“Sure it isn’t.” She looked around at all the kids as far as they could see. “Once there were two rabbits…now there are millions of them…remember when you first told me that story?”
“I remember you loved that story and you laughed so hard you couldn’t stop…crying. Do you remember?” He looked all around, too, but she knew he wasn’t looking at the kids, probably didn’t see any of the kids, or didn’t want to. She knew what he was seeing. Or remembering. When I was him.
“Hey.” She hugged and kissed him. “I always love you.”
Adam hugged and kissed her back, but didn’t say anything. She knew he wanted her to say I’m you, but today she just couldn’t. She wanted him to tell her something, but she didn’t know what, and she knew he definitely wouldn’t know what to tell her that would make her feel…whole again. So she tried to do that for herself. “I remember when I took Ruthie and Esau out to feed the ravens that time, and she pointed to the ridge on top of the slice of bread and says, ‘Look, Mama! Numbers! It looks like numbers!’ I just stared, missing it. So she starts tracing the ridge like a three, then Esau laughs and does the same, and I finally get that the edge of the bread looks just like a three. So, I must be doing something right that she can think about things like that.”
Adam looked at her and motioned to his smartphone. “What else do you do with them all day?”
“I’m not here, remember?” He paused. “Looked like they were all on the Net to me.”
Eve struggled to contextualize her answer. “Play, snacks, painting, crafts, science projects, I read to them, we practice writing letters, I’m teaching them how to garden.” But she couldn’t remember how long that had actually been. Or whether maybe they were still doing some of those things at school, and she had read about them through the school’s e-newsletter.
She took his hand as he started to leave for work once more. “I want them to love being alive. Like we once did.”
“Why do you let them watch TV?”
“They do chores every day. Every one of them. I mean, everything’s electronic now—especially the apple, you know? What am I supposed to do? Make it hands-on when only I can relate to what that was like? I only let them watch Revelations because it’s Father’s show, and Father’s show is what’s happening in the world. I want them to be prepared.”
“I’m going to be late.”
She hung on his hand, relieved that his clothes didn’t show her her own face. “Wait, Adam! Can you please do us a huge favor? Please! I have to do things right this time—maybe we can get out of here, or at least the children can…”
“Uh…what do you want me to do?”
“We want the kids to look as good as possible—could you please ask the LifeLines to come home—just for tonight? Please? Anthony, Joan, Barbara, Nicholas, Lazarus—all of them strike just the right impression with Father, and we’ve looked after them so carefully—it’s just for the show…”
Adam closed his eyes and shook his head wearily. “Eve, you know what happened last time I went along with one of your plans—”
“Just this one more time…please…”
“Okay. You know, I loved that Esau got it about the numbers. Maybe there’s hope for him, for us yet.” He walked away down the driveway into the afternoon sun.
Eve smiled as she thought of when he told her the story about the rabbits. When she got back inside, she saw the piles of crusted dishes, the GED books, smelled the ripe diapers.
The children whispered, one eye on their screens, one eye looking back at her through their reverse screen cameras on their devices.
She went out to a tumbled down storage shed and brought back box after box that the kids’ electronics had come in originally. When she ran out of those boxes, she found Goodwill donation boxes and brought those inside. She texted all the kids that it was urgent. They’d never gotten a group text before—they didn’t even know their mother could text. Frightened, they all crowded in.
“Lilith, Gus, Cainy, Habogi…Mommy needs you to be even gooder than you already are. We’re going to play a game of hide-and-seek, and I’m going to need you to hide and stay hidden until I tell you to come out—it’s to keep you safe, Yakul, I love you all more than anything and anyone and I don’t want anything to happen to you—yes, Atl, if you do, Mommy’ll get you a present—okay, you, too, Juan…” And she motioned for them all to get into the boxes and closed the tops.
As they started to climb into the containers, she found herself motioning for some of the kids who weren’t full of lice, who were clean, who were smiling, and seemed alert and…well, beautiful, to help her drag the boxes into ascending rows. When they were done, she motioned for them to take a bath and put on the nicest clothes they would find and stand on the rows of boxes. They hung back, wanting to know why, but not saying anything. Not a sound came from the boxes, except that Eve could feel the panicked breathing in each box. She forced her heart to beat as it always had, slow and steady and she felt the pounding of the hearts in the boxes follow suit. She was, after all, their mother.
You are me, she texted to the ones in the boxes.
We are you, they texted back.
She spoke to the few who she was posing on top of the boxes. “My little sweetpeas, Father’s coming here very soon. Not a peep out of anyone unless spoken to, and we’re going to just have people come out in small groups to keep it calm, okay?” She took them off the boxes, covered the boxes in a shimmery, filmy cloth, and re-posed the children back on the boxes.
Adam returned with their oldest children, The Lifelines, who were so beautiful it hurt to look at them. “Eve—”
But Eve was lost, looking at their beauty—how had they managed and here she was, still trying to graduate high school? When she saw Ruthie, Eve lost it completely.
Ruthie hugged her, looked at Adam, who looked at Eve. “What are we doing, Mom?” Then she noticed a faint glow coming from the boxes. She raised her eyebrows at her mother.
Eve texted for everyone in the boxes to turn off their electronics, and in a moment, the glows dimmed and went out.
“Why are we here, Mama?” Ruthie gestured to the boxes and then to the other Lifelines who stood waiting, looking concerned at their mother. Adam looked at the floor.
Eve looked at the boxes, then at her beautiful adult children and said, “I have to pass this time, Ruthie, then maybe I can get everyone a beautiful life, instead of…this one.”
Ruthie looked at her mother and her eyes were sad. “We’ll do this for you, Mom because we were you.” She motioned to the others and they all finished arranging themselves on the rows of boxes.
“Is everyone okay with my taking a photo—not for Instagram or anything like that, but for me?” Eve waited for a response, but there was nothing.
Finally Ruthie said, “They can’t respond because they don’t want to disobey you by turning on their phones because you told them not to.”
Eve started. Of course, she’d forgotten. She went ahead and took the photo, not thinking about the fact that much of the photo was boxes under the feet of the beautiful children.
Adam set the table and tried to make himself presentable. Eve shoved some dishes out of the sink and tried to rinse herself off with the spray attachment when there was a knock at the door.
Wiping herself off with a dish towel, Eve opened the door. Spot lighting shone into the trailer. The Right Hand entered whispering commands to the unseen production crew.
Father followed, carrying an atomic clock which he placed nonchalantly on the edge of the nearest shelf. “Hello Eve, I trust you didn’t do anything out of the ordinary because I was coming.”
Eve lowered her head, trying not to look at the clock’s numbers flicking by next to Ruthie’s covered foot. “Father, what have we done for…to deserve this visit?”
“Adam, it is good to see you working hard.”
Adam knelt on one knee. “Thank You, Father, as always, for our quality of life.”
Eve brought out a printout of her GED pre-test scores. “Father, I’m setting an example for the children by making something of myself with education.”
Father ignored the printout and turned his attention back to the clock. “But you are not sacrificing this key time with them simply for a degree, are you, daughter?”
“Oh no, Father, only in the evenings after they’re asleep, and I’m doing all my schooling on-line!” Eve had to hold her hand over her eyes to shield them against the glare of the Revelations stage lighting.
“And Adam, how is the Mint treating you?” Father lifted Adam up from the cramped kitchen floor.
“Excellent hours and benefits, Father, for a guard.” Adam pressed Father’s hand to his forehead.
Father patted him on the head and looked again at his clock which seemed to have moved on the shelf. “And where are your lovely children? I would like to see them.”
“They are right here.” Eve pulled away the gauze cloth so fast that she nearly knocked the atomic clock over. She grabbed for it and as she did, inadvertently kicked the bottom row of boxes. There was a group gasp, but Father and The Right Hand didn’t seem to have noticed.
On the shelf stood Ruthie and the rest of the Lifelines, all of Eve’s best, brightest, and most beautiful adult children. In one voice, they answered, “Hello, Father. We are grateful for Your visit and Your benefaction.”
“What beautiful children! You truly are your parent’s Lifelines! Now, children, I would like to bless your lives as you have blessed Mine.” He went down the line, touching the heads and hearts of all the children who stood there. “You shall be a TV mogul, you a president, a dictator, Godfather, you a lawyer, a doctor, religious leader, Madam, you an IPO, you a trader, scientist, a police chief, a mayor, you a city council member, utilities commissioner, queen, you a student, head of a fast food corporation, a rock star, you a super model, a father, you a mother…”
Eve, watching as Father went down the line, whispered, “Adam, look at what He’s doing for the children, for us!”
Adam looked troubled. “Yeah, but it’s on the Show—”
Eve shook her hear, her eyes bright. “But He loves them, just like He loves us—”
There came the sound of an OS update from one of the boxes, followed by a reboot noise and a glow. Then a shush.
Father stopped. “What was that?”
The Right Hand faced Eve, and in his fractal eyes, once again saw the green bower and the birth of her first baby. Beautiful Ruthie.
Eve and Ruthie stared at one another for a long time before Eve finally turned to Adam. “Adam, unbox the others…”
Adam helped the Lifelines down off the shelves and rapped on the end of each row of computer packing and Goodwill donation boxes. Child after child climbed or fell out of box after box.
But Eve had already turned to Father. “Father, You are so generous! Please, these are our children as well.”
Father waved to The Right Hand who began shooting film of the boxes of children, kids crawling out covered in crumbles of Styrofoam, plastic wrapping, dust, and dirt, all turning on their devices as they did.
The little boy who had given the new baby an Instagram account that afternoon spoke for all. “Hello Father, please forgive us for interrupting the Visit.”
Father shook his head. “You are the Visit, my children, you are the Show.”
Eve noticed how Father’s head faced away from her just as the children’s always did, looking into His own screen as He called up each child’s account. He tapped the profile of each child and as he did, spoke their gift. “You shall be a talk show guest, a voter, you a soldier, you’ll be in witness protection, you’ll be a prisoner, a patient, a religious follower, a john, you an entrepreneur, a clerk, you an experiment, a snitch, a homeless person, a parolee, you a senior citizen, a drag queen, a teacher, a prostitute, you a welfare mother, a drug addict, you a deadbeat father…”
Eve finally found her voice, batting Father’s device out of His hand. “Father! Father! How can you discriminate against these children just because they aren’t as beautiful as my others! All of them are my children—and your grandchildren. They should all get wonderful stations in life.”
Father turned and faced Eve. In His eyes, Eve saw only her own reflection, the grey in her hair, and behind that, the atomic clock with its grey and black digits flicking past. “Eve, you don’t understand. The whole world will be made up of your children in the years to come, of course. Your children are watching us right now. If everyone was a rock star, who would pay money to go to concerts and buy music? If everyone was a lawyer, there’d be no one left to defend.
“And if I made everyone a president, who would pick up the recycling—or in the end, the garbage?”
Father held up an old monitor box and flipped it upside down. A baby tumbled out, unable to have gotten out earlier because of becoming jammed in the Styrofoam packaging. “I can see that even you have started to teach them that lesson.”
Father picked up the atomic clock, and followed by The Right Hand and the crew, walked out the trailer door.
The toddler who fell out of the box, stumbled over to Eve and held up his little tablet. “I sorry, Mama. I sorry I did bad with my phone.” He hugged her leg, his lip trembling.
Eve looked down at the top of his head. Every child’s eye was now on her, but she didn’t see them because her gaze had now turned to face out the door into the dark after Father.
#Unreal #ShortStory #Religion #Creation #Biblical #Satire #Past #Present #Metaphors #Imagery
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