✧ Winner of the 2020 World's Best Short-Short Story Contest ✧
Selected by Robert Olen Butler
Instructions for Lovers
Eve lay beneath the Winesaps in an oval patch of shadow, studying the acrobatics of finches overhead. Adam stared at her, this unknowable wife who was once a small piece of bone inside him. He dug his thumbnail into his chest, tracing the cauterized edges of the wound. There you are, said Eve, turning her face to him. Adam smiled. He ran his fingers through his hair, and a flock of starlings alighted on a tree branch. He wrapped his unsullied body around hers. Their limbs tangled. Eve wondered if this was what it had been like before God had slipped out the rib, simple as removing a matchstick from its book. She asked Adam to tell her again the story. Which? asked he. You know, said she. What she meant was, the one about how he was dust and she was bone, and how these two things alone proved enough for the promise of a people. So, Adam told her. Of how he had named every creature in the garden and still found that it was not enough. It was good, but it was not enough. Really, it was no paradise. He began to resent the hallowed world that was entirely his own. He begged his father, pointing to the waves and the clouds and the constellations, so thick they could scarcely be counted. Why do they have each other? he asked. Why them, and not me? God, who knew something of loneliness himself, understood. God’s eyes were asteroids. His voice was deliverance. Every one of his fingers took the shape of a different tool: his thumb, a key; his pointer, a scalpel; his third finger, a paintbrush; his fourth, a hammer; his pinky, a wrench. That night, as Adam slept, God pressed the blade of the scalpel to his son’s abdomen, paring back the silken flaps of skin. Inside, he found the neat, ticking gears. He stroked the bottommost rib. Eve began to cry when Adam got to this part. Don’t stop, she said, plying his lip with her fingers, as if to coax out the words. Shh, he said. Eve’s eyes, droopy with exhaustion, slewed over the fields of lavender and valerian and all the other sights of the new world, of which she and Adam had not yet tired.
I’m sad that I missed the beginning, she said. What she meant was that it wasn’t fair, how Adam had named every creature in their garden—antelope and lemurs and hummingbirds and grouse—and had left not one for her. Not a single unnamed critter. He was part of the creation, but she was just another made thing. Adam used a firm hand to cradle Eve’s head to his chest. Neither knew then that trust was the beginning of shame. Oh, it wasn’t anything special, he said. Beneath Eve’s ear echoed the steady boom of Adam’s heart. In the stillness, she listened. This was the sound of her heart, too.
LAUREN GREEN is currently a fellow at the Michener Center for Writers in Austin, Texas. Her work has been featured in American Short Fiction, Glimmer Train, Conjunctions, and elsewhere.