Martin works the levers and the chains. Jane skulks down by the snake machine. Sid’s on analytic duty tonight.
Meredith speaks the legend. As she speaks, the chaos takes its form.
So when the snake says to me, “You don’t want to eat that,” I naturally have a few questions.
I hold up the apple. It’s a Granny Smith apple.
I say, “Didn’t we go through this already?”
The snake crawls higher among the green onions. The supermarket irrigation system sprays it down automatically with water.
“Whatever do you mean?” it asks.
“I mean, back in the garden.”
The snake’s tongue flicks out, back in, and out.
“Typical of your generation,” it says. “That is, the younger generation; that is, every generation we have seen since Eve. No; it is not settled. We always have the opportunity to reprise our ancestor’s mistakes. Eat an apple and you cast yourself from Paradise.”
“That’s very unlucky for teachers,” I point out.
“That’s so,” agrees the snake. “When a teacher dies unshriven, they lay buried in Hell under the apples they have eaten in their lives. There in their dark milotic sepulchre Hell-worms find and consume them, crawling in their bones, learning facts regarding zebras, yuccas, xylophones, and eventually even the apples that are their home.”
The serpent scrapes its body up along the radishes.
“But . . . why should this be sinful?” I ask.
I gesture with the apple.
“It’s not genetically engineered. And I’m pretty sure that it’s not grown by Satanists. It’d have a sticker.”
At this point, because I care about winning the implicit argument with the snake, I doublecheck. In fact I am correct: the apple has no sticker indicating Satanic origins.
“It’s just a fruit like any other,” I conclude.
“It’s a Granny Smith apple,” says the snake. “Old as the hills and full of sin. If you eat it you’ll know the difference between good and evil.”
“I’ve eaten apples before.”
“More,” qualifies the snake. “You’ll know the difference between good and evil more. This will doom you to bring forth children in sorrow and in pain.”
“I think I know the difference between good and evil,” I assert.
“Sure,” I say. “Good helps people, and evil hurts people.”
“That’s the kind of thing you’d say,” observes the snake, “not having eaten the apple yet.”
“What will I say afterwards?”
“‘Evil is eating apples.'”
There is a standoff, there in the produce section, for a time.
“Well,” I finally say, “why is it bad to know the difference between good and evil?”
The snake is contemplative.
“It isn’t so much a knowledge,” it says.
“People call it that because it expands their minds in the way that knowledge does. But it’s not a knowledge. It’s more of an outwards-moving thing. It’s claiming part of the world, when you say it’s good or bad. It’s taking matters into your own hands. Do you see? Humans should be seen and not heard, on the moral questions. You just aren’t as good at imposing right and wrong on things as God.”
“I’m really pretty sure I do that already,” I explain. “I mean, it’s just an apple.”
“Are you afraid of doctors?”
“The last person I tried to warn,” the snake says. “She was afraid of doctors. So she ate the apple. Then she said, ‘O ho, so that’s what good and evil is all about.’ And she had a child in pain and sorrow, right here in the supermarket.”
“I don’t believe you,” I say.
The snake hesitates. Its tongue flickers out, back in, out.
“Perhaps I take poetic license,” it says.
“Bloody lying is what it is,” I say.
But I don’t want to eat the apple now. So I put it back on the stack. That’s why I don’t have an Adam’s apple and why I’m free of original sin, I think: because I put it back on the stack and got some bananas instead.
“Thank you for warning me,” I say.
I offer it a banana, but it just looks at me in that way that snakes, when offered a banana, look.
“I shouldn’t warn,” it says.
“I lost my legs, you know, for butting into human affairs. My legs, my arms, even my magnificent ability to squirt blood out of my eyes.”
“It’s just hard,” says the snake. “Having an opinion and keeping it to yourself. You know. It’s hard.”
I grin at it.
I pick it up.
“If you want,” I say, “We could totally bomb the apple orchards, in God’s name.”