The Gardener’s Wife—a play in free verse
by Charlotte Mandel
CAST OF CHARACTERS: EVE, ADAM, LILITH, CAIN, ABEL.
PLACE: The house that ADAM builds; the garden he designs and plants.
CURTAIN: A scrim depicting clear noonday sky, white clouds floating on blue. Morning calls of songbirds, rustling leaves. The pastoral medley gradually gives way to the whining drone of a handheld chainsaw. (Directions signify stage left and stage right.) As light comes up, we see through the scrim. Stage area is divided in two: At right, the house, interior exposed, white airy, abstract open framework. At left, the outdoors—a naturalistic garden, but gashed by raw stumps of slender trees—pin oak, maple, scrub pine. Beyond, untouched woods, a green hill, a rock cliff. It is an afternoon in early spring. The furnishings and landscape features are minimal, suggested rather than actual. Scenes should be able to shift like states of mind. Scrim rises.
EVE sits at a white table she uses as a desk; her fingers rest on the keys of a small portable typewriter. Dressed in a comfortable pastel-colored shift dress, she will look to be anywhere from 20 to 50 as the play shifts in time. Her body is strong, physically sensual without self-consciousness. Wide casement windows are open to her view, imaginary to the audience. She seems to stiffen and vibrate with each re-start of the chainsaw.
The sound stops. ADAM appears at the far end of the garden. EVE begins to type speaking aloud without looking at him, his movements enacting her words. ADAM moves to the center of the garden; he turns himself around as on the pinwheel of a watch, degree by degree, measuring the landscape with his eyes, until he has turned full circle.
(simultaneously typing/speaking )
As though you were the axis of the universe,
you stood in the center of our garden and turned
full circle, measuring the landscape.
(kneels and begins to hammer a stake into the ground)
Satisfied, you knelt, and hammered a stake into the ground.
The edge of the pond will begin here.
Amputate, uproot and dig. So ends
my window world. (Throws up her hands) These keys
die without the woodpecker tapping rhythm!
(Looks towards her husband) Adam, didn’t I have
equal right to the grove?
(She gets up and goes out to the patio speaking directly towards him)
Didn’t I? Didn’t I have a right to those trees?
(speaking to himself as much as to his wife)
No flowers—this is to be a meditation garden—
rocks, water, fish.
(to anyone who will listen)
You know how birds get into disputes—those trills
and chucks of the tongue have to do
with nesting privilege, pride of place. Adam!
(he does not look up)
Did you see the oriole this morning (points down at a stump)—
on the stump of its nesting tree, scolding and pecking
imaginary rivals out of habit. The cardinals stood
like figures to decorate a flower pot—
scarlet cock, washed-out pink hen.
The rock border will reflect onto gold and red carp.
They will appear to be swimming through mountains.
Gazing at goldfish elicits mindfulness towards
the truth of ambiguity—
The oriole’s wings were yellow and black. (Sniffing, blinking)
The house is full of smoke—you’ve choked up the fireplace
with fresh-cut pine—resins are oozing and dripping onto the grate.
My eyes are burning.
—to see orange and gold flames underwater.
(looking directly at her husband)
You are all that I see.
(pause—he pays attention to her now)
Eve, sometimes I have trouble finding you.
You see me as a fixture of this house—
like the door frame, kitchen wainscoting,
bench fitted into the bay window.
I built every part of this house with my own hands.
And I made it to your measure.
(He takes a few steps towards her, opens his arms and outlines her form with his hands, not quite touching)
I am always seeing you for the first time.
(Light fades to dark, bird songs are heard, light of morning rises as they continue to stand facing one another. They are young, in a sunfilled garden.)
Are you my creator?
If your name is Eve, I think you may be perfect.
Are you testing me?
No, I want to taste you.
(As he moves to kiss her, she puts her hand between their mouths.)
Wait—there is a taste—I know words for this—
tongue, teeth, lips—I am a cup filled with words—(touching him)
barrier bone—pillow breast—
(He stops her words quickly to kiss her. Slowly they taste the surprise of each other’s lips.)
Salt . . . sweet . . .
Sweat—your sweat is cool, then the heat of your skin—
how hard fits to soft—Oh—I think we may both be perfect.
(They fully embrace, young, ardent, hands and lips eager)
This shady oval of grass was our first bed.
The orchard blossoms were falling in their first season.
The same fragrance of grapes almost about to sour on the vine.
I patted a snake, loved its copper and green in the sun,
head lifted, its little forked tongue moving in and out,
tuned to every vibration of my thighs.
(Stage darkens, then flashes of lightning reveal them downstage running across left to right. BLACKOUT)
(Daylight, laughing together after making love.)
Not expelled—we escaped. You
never wanted to be anybody’s hireling.
It was a world without sting or venom, or ambiguity.
His garden was a pose, like pictures in a mail order catalog.
Our function was to complete a pattern of conceptual art.
We pleased him like colorful birds hatched inside an aviary —
open to the blue sky but heads wary under a dome
of invisible wire. Creator tossed us into play
like pieces on a board game.
Adam, you and I were the only pegs on that board
worth the risk of free will.
Like pepper dashed into the season. Creator’s own hubris.
Why stipple our tongues with alphabet if only to spell
words of congratulation?
The letters we spit back spelled HUMAN!
“Banishment—exile”—paper words singed by his own lightning.
Fire ate a road to freedom. We ran with outstretched arms—
(They gesture acting out their words)
revolving like blades of windmills —
stealing power from the air!
(They race off, triumphant, to right. Light darkens, then brightens. LILITH enters downstage, left, looking all about her. She checks out the varieties of plantings ADAM has set.)
Ah ha—his garden is a scale model of the other one.
That man never had an original thought in his head.
(Cataloging) Hibiscus, Pumpkin facing south, to
the west Blackberry, Lilac Chase—my favorite late bloomer,
food for bees when Thyme turns to seed.
(ADAM is seen in the distance, working a far corner of the field.)
Adam, is that you?
EVE (pregnant, near term, comes through the house, stands at the doorway. Her arms reach out with possibility at the sight of another woman in the world, then, in terror, wrap around her belly as though to protect her unborn child.)
What are you—sometimes I dream—are you real?
Touch me — my name is Lilith. Didn’t either
of your creators ever speak of me?
The one before me? Discarded for being imperfect?
My dear, we are both perfect-ly over-intelligent.
They tried to confine me within a wall of brambles,
you know, like Sleeping Beauty? (EVE shakes her head) —
a story, Eve, that you will write.
I do like to write stories, but—
But I hoisted myself over the wall. I’m a born acrobat.
In Adam’s story, you give birth to demons!
Our children will be cousins, Eve, you’ll see—
demonic is child of human.
(She outlines Lilith’s form with her hands, not quite touching.)
Your form is like mine. You were first.
I am a first draft. You’re a revised version, Eve—
more adaptable to wifehood. Nor is Adam
the first draft of a man. Before Adam, Creator
attempted a man with wings and boringly sweet
disposition. That angel couldn’t—or wouldn’t stay grounded —
Useless for digging in gardens. Creator uses him
like a trained pigeon, to carry messages.
Do you want to come into the house?
Do you want me to call Adam?
Yes, I’ll come into your house. No, don’t call him—
I’d only be invisible. Your husband (sings, ironically)
“only has eyes for you.” There’s an example of Creator’s
own hubris—to implant monogamous ideal
into a free-willed sexual being.
(Changing tone from ironic to serious, she looks directly into EVE’s eyes)
Yet, for you and Adam, I think it works.
You were the first wife—are you my mother?
(Laughs) We’re born of the same ingredients,
dear Eve—of earth and salt water. Creator squashed
and patted us out of the same body of mud.
In this story, Adam keeps his rib.
(EVE looks distressed. LILITH, sensitive to her distress, caresses her face)
I think we are both perfect.
(EVE’s arms are wrapped around her belly as though trying to contain it.)
Yes — ?
There is something inside—here—(hands on her pregnancy)
It swells, grows, stretches until I ache—
It feels as though this living thing is a substance—
boiling and seething—my belly’s become a cauldron—
as if all the angers of Creator are on fire inside me—here.
No, not all Creator’s anger—his supply is infinite—
the more we scoop out, the more we add to the pot.
I did not put this being into my belly of my own free will.
You were part of the garden—a fertile part.
Do you love Adam of your own free will?
You are the mother of what comes to life inside you.
(falls to her knees) Oh, it kicked me again. Lilith,
tell me how much more must it hurt?
I’ve seen animals—
they lick off black blood and purple slime.
(Out in the field, ADAM swings a heavy pick onto a boulder with a loud clang.)
(Holding EVE, rocking)
I am your midwife, your healer, we are
the two women of the world. Come,
let’s take you back into the house.
(Helps EVE enter the house. EVE’s labor begins. As LILITH guides her through the birthing, ADAM continues to labor in the field. The clanging of his pick on the rock accompanies the rhythms of EVE’s panting and stifled cries, the steady beat of LILITH’s voice chanting instructions.)
Ah now, pain is your river.
Ah now, pain is the raft.
Ah now, little one, float—float —
Ah now, push—
(“Ah-ah-ah-” a newborn’s cry slices through all other sounds. LILITH crosses her arms to hold the infant tightly to her chest for a moment before she gives it over to EVE. LILITH washes the baby as EVE admires in wonder. The baby cries and cries.)
It is a male, isn’t it? (laughing) Look,
it has a tiny erection! (To her infant, gazing
into the newborn’s face)
Don’t make so much noise, tiny thing,
please tell me why you’re wailing so.
Hunger—sign of an active future. Open
your blouse, Eve—
see—your nipple is leaking—let your baby’s
lips and tongue taste you.
(EVE nurses the infant. LILITH watches.)
Forever so, the classic pose.
(Speaking to the infant, absorbed in watching)
How utterly, totally helpless you are.
What is it like to be so helpless?
I never had to suffer through a childhood.
(To LILITH) Will it be painful to grow into a man?
What do I have to do?
He will do it all—he inherits himself.
(At that moment, ADAM, weary from his day’s work in the field, approaches the house. LILITH senses his approach and stands up to leave.)
No—(looks up imploring)—stay with me.
You’ll see me again, dear sibling—I’ll be around a long time — like you.
(Bends and kisses EVE on the mouth, then slips away through a back door of the house, not the direction from which she came.)
(astonished and excited) Eve—let me see!
(Uncovers the infant and shows him its naked little body.)
Look, Adam, I, too, have created a man.
His name is CAIN.