There is a Bible curse just after the fall of Eden that we once read as, “Her desire will be for her husband,” but now translators are questioning the ancient verb el; maybe it doesn’t mean “for” or “toward” after all. Maybe it means “contrary to.” Maybe the verse means, “Her desire will be contrary to her husband’s.” And what, then, was God’s curse? Marital disagreement, or a woman’s desire toward her husband? Which one is actually a curse? And why was that garden snake talking in the first place?
There is a Bible verse that we once read as, “Woman shall be silent,” but now translators are starting to question the word for “shall,” wondering if the Greek sigao is more of a recommendation than a command. Maybe the verse means, “Woman might be silent and that might be all right for an appropriate length of time.” Maybe Paul is merely suggesting how women should behave, under certain circumstances. Maybe Paul didn’t write this. Maybe Paul is actually four men, on a council, a hundred years after Paul’s death. Maybe Paul is a woman. Maybe Paul is actually a talking garden snake who can write and wrote this.
There is a Bible verse that used to read as, “Women are talking snakes.” The Council for Determining Infallibility for the Purpose of Preserving Biblical Unity cut that part when they deemed that women were somewhat necessary for their merriment.
There was a Bible verse that read, “Beware the demagogue,” but the council cut that line because the demagogue had built each of the members his own house with a separate entrance for the women/servants.
There was a Bible verse that read, “Behold the end is near,” and the demagogue ignored it, because it interrupted his merriment of planning the fertility festivals through which he’d come to power. But the one that read: “Your women shall be your slaves,” was celebrated not as a suggestion, but as a command.
Many centuries ago, there was a group of six or seven servant women who could not pay off their debts. With bloodshed, they stole a boat from a cold northern shore and sailed through storm and calm to the warm seas. They found an island, mostly sand, though its western-most peninsula was fertile for onions, celery, carrots, pomegranates, three types of lettuce, tomatoes, two types of beets, corn, wheat, strawberries, kumquats, mangoes, and grapefruits ripe as the island’s natives’ ideal breasts. The island’s natives certainly did not allow the foreign women a portion of their precious peninsula, for the six or seven were not of their god’s chosen people. If they had been, according to the island’s oral doctrine, they would have already been living there.
Facing starvation, the servant women prayed to their respective deities. Those from the prairies hid among the tall grasses and called up hymns of desire and longing while waving the golden blades above their heads. Those from the mountains sang among the island’s boulders, and the coastal women sang to the island’s Eastern shore, for this was their custom: to call grievances among the crashing waves. Their desperate voices resonated in harmonic patterns new to the island’s natives, and though none of them could understand the women’s words, all of the natives, men and women, young and old, recognized salvation in the foreigners’ rising cadences, their arms swinging, their eyes lit up. The servants’ songs aligned with the islanders’ notion of the beautiful, and this was enough to conjure their empathy.
By the time the songs came to their ends, the island’s elders determined that the land was promised to these women after all, through their fervent singing. This must be true, because their island was the only place their god would promise anything to anyone. They were certain that they were the only people to through whom their god would allow his beauty to transpire. From then on, the women were allowed to help plant their garden and to eat from any tree.
What of snakes? The women asked.
The elders answered, What about them?
It should be noted that this island scenario was not a scene Paul would have recognized, because the world of snakes talking is pinprick small compared to the skyscraping waves between the continents and that island, between Rome and that green abundant peninsula named by its natives something that translates to “The Only Place There Ever Was.” Its rows of coconut trees were far from the olive arches where Paul and Barnabas once parted ways.
The servant women procreated with the island’s natives and their children procreated with the island’s natives until, centuries later, after the women were long forgotten among what some would eventually translate as “the civilized world,” this island appeared on an army radar belonging to a new demagogue. The new demagogue sent an airplane to land on the sandy shore. By that time, there was more fervent singing than speaking among the island’s natives, because this small community of survivors, so isolated, so distant from “the civilized world,” had determined that words without music harm more than they heal. Snakes talked, the islanders believed, and talking snakes led to slavery, which might lead to the detriment of “The Only Place.”
Nora Bonner writes and teaches in Atlanta, Georgia, where she is a PhD student in fiction at Georgia State. Her stories have appeared in various journals and anthologies including Shenandoah, North American Review, Bellingham Review, Indiana Review, and Best American Non-Required Reading. She’s originally from Detroit.