By Rane Hall
When she was an infant, I had hovered over Eve, indulging the fancy that I could see in her untroubled brow and delicate features the raw material of philosophy. I was a literature major and since college I had taken to thinking of the biblical character of Eve in feminist terms – not as an allegory of fleshly weakness, but as the literary equivalent of our first Homo sapiens.
In my Bible as Literature class in college, our professor projected Masaccio’s famous Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden. In it, our first parents express their overruling despair at their fatal miscalculation. Exiting the architecture of Eden, Adam drops his face into his hands, symbolically gesturing not only to the sweat of his brow (by which he will yield a living in this sublunar world), but also to the burden of his thought. Eve, in contrast, uses her hands to cover her breasts and pubis. Her punishment will be to submit to her husband and to bear their children in pain.
In the Expulsion Masaccio lays bare a powerfully reductive and determinant statement about gender in the West: the locus of female identity is somatic; masculinity is intellectual. But, as I looked at the Masaccio projected on the oversized screen of our classroom auditorium and listened to the professor’s exegesis, a psychic subtext was emerging in my mind as a question: Was Masaccio’s vision an accurate reflection of what I was reading in Genesis?
When I was seventeen, I persuaded the new young humanities teacher at my high school to accompany me to our campus museum, which was promoting a Yoko Ono exhibition, titled The Bronze Age. The young teacher had a broad grin, tousled hair, and the habit of wearing romantic, blousy shirts of the sort you’d imagine Percy Shelley wearing in a Florentine café. Before we’d crossed the threshold into the galleries, there was already the sturdy seed of attraction, the heyday in the blood, the magnetic force of the forbidden.
The piece at the center of the gallery was a single green apple, placed atop a tall rectangular pedestal. It was titled, Apple. I eyed it carefully. And, when I saw that the security guard was distracted, and that the apple was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the fruit was to be desired to make one wise, I took of the apple and ate; and I also gave some to the man and he ate.
“The eyes of the shopkeeper, other tourists, and of the decapitated alligators fastened on us as the baby’s face began to burn. “No. I want something else.”
Nineteen years later, we begat and named our second daughter Eve. Since then, I’ve wondered many times about the magical perversity of that decision and of Eve’s disobedience.
Eve was a focused baby. She wanted things and she knew how to get them. And even when she didn’t know exactly what she wanted, the simple fact of her wanting was always clear as water: She would say, “I want something else.”
When she was three, Eve had a melt-down at a souvenir shop in Sanibel called She Sells Sea Shells. We had promised our daughters a visit to the shop before the end of our vacation. We said: “You may each have one thing from this shop; it can’t be over $15, but other than that, choose what you like.”
This, yes. That, no. Oh Eve, in evil hour.
Inside She Sells Sea Shells were deep boxes brimming with flawless versions of the same shells we and a gaggle of old ladies competed ruthlessly for at daybreak on the beaches of the peninsula. There were shell-themed mobiles and mother of pearl wind chimes; macabre lamps made from the unlucky bodies of sea urchins and puffer fish; Mod Podged accent mirrors framed in shells; macramé plant hangers inwoven with cowries; sea themed charm bracelets, and gold and silver earrings shaped like tiny sand dollars. She Sells Sea Shells proffered an embarrassment of nautical riches of every sort, for every budget. At a place like this, you’d be hard pressed to say that shell encrusted tchotchkes just aren’t my thing.
At some point, though, Eve must have found the choices both over and under inclusive of her desires. She wanted and wanted fiercely, but not of the Sea Shells that She Sold. Not the apple murex covered jewelry box. Not the frogs or rabbit figurines crafted from painted scallop shells and pipe cleaners. Not the plastic floating bath toys in the shapes of alligators or rubber ducks. Not the plush baby rattles shaped like smiling cartoon starfish. We handed her things in sing song encouragement; she pushed them away in monotone. “No.”
The eyes of the shopkeeper, other tourists, and of the decapitated alligators fastened on us as the baby’s face began to burn. “No. I want something else.”
“I want something else.”
It was a cyclical chant, almost hypnotic in the formality of its pain. “I want something else.” “I want something else.”
The shopkeeper peered over her glasses. The taxidermy alligator faces grimaced with judgment. Boxes of shellacked sea urchins, baby seahorses, and dried clown fish offered their dispiriting chorus. “For this, we had to die?”
“I want something else.” “For this, we had to die?”
On the drive back to our rented bungalow, we exhausted our parental tool kit of bribes, threats, and distractions. Eve’s crying was so passionate, and prolonged, and unnerving that we finally just pulled over the rental car, adjusted the A.C., rolled up the windows, and waited outside, watching the child rage. Our heads rocked in subconscious unison to the toddler’s lament: “I want something else.” “I want something else.” “I want something else.”
Thirty minutes later, exhausted by her infantile premonition of the vanity of human wishes, Eve literally passed out.
When I dared the young teacher to eat a Granny Smith at the Yoko Ono exhibition, I thought I had two things in balance: contemplation and action. On the one hand, I instantly apprehended Ono’s thesis on the level of thought. At the same time, I accepted the essential dare of the artwork and was shifting—as only a seventeen year old can—into action.
“She wants us to eat it.”
“I don’t know.”
“What don’t you know?”
“I don’t feel right—eating it. Destroying the piece.”
“Destroying? We wouldn’t be destroying it. We’d be completing it. Why would she float an apple out here if not to recapitulate original sin? I think we have no choice. I want to do it!”
“But, what if that isn’t what she’s saying? What if this is a tribute to the Beatles? The Beatles’ label was a green apple exactly like this Granny Smith. Apple records. What if this is a tribute to John?”
“Well, it might be about both things. Either way, I say we confirm our humanity as fallen beings who deceive each other, and mess up, and have sex. That’s what she and John did. I say we eat this!”
“I don’t know.”
“Oh my god! This is the original question. Do you want to scramble back to Eden like scared children or affirm our existence as Homo sapiens? I say we fall. We choose death! I’m going for it.”
We placed the half eaten apple back under its spotlight on the pedestal and ran for it. And, predictable things followed: sex, deception, fear, shame, more sex. A daughter named Eve.
It doesn’t change the things that happened, but it is also true that a balding white museum guard perfect in the knowledge that a bin of bitten Granny Smiths had to be taken out of the galleries at the end of every day of The Bronze Age later reduced the boldest moves of my adolescent mating dance to a shoulder shrug: “Got a bin full of them half-eaten apples out back.”
Rane Hall is a current degree candidate at The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.