In the half-second gap between the making of the heavens and the making of the earth, we woke.
Cold. Confused. Clad in long, red robes that hid our feet.
We looked at each other, looked at the space we were in. How silver and black.
He was the first thing we knew. I craned my neck and tried to look for Him.
“You won’t find Him up there,” said Michael, beside me. “He’s in a place of no place.”
Were we not the same? I blinked and tried to remember the feeling of blinking. I blinked again.
We had names. We knew those as well.
There were four of us. We walked in a single file line as He cast out the water from His un-place. When it was finished we headed down to look at it.
I dipped a hand inside, feeling no temperature but instead regarding the movement. It licked me.
How heavy our red looked against that bluish gray. All colors I was learning. I kept a list of them.
Red. Silver. Black. Blue. Gray.
And then gold, when the light sprayed down.
There was screaming. That I remember. We raised our hands and tried to grab it, but it passed through our fingers. There was temperature, then. Warmth. Something we had never felt before. It wrapped us up, bled into our eyes, sunk deep down into our mouths. We could feel nothing else. It was endless.
The screaming, I realized, was mine.
Gold, I came to know. Gold and yellow and orange.
“And white,” Gabriel told me gently, once. “That’s the base of it all, I believe.”
“White?” I echoed. I had never seen such a thing.
But he reached out and grabbed my arm, pulled my hand in front of my eyes. The paleness nearly blinded me.
“It’s your color,” he said. “All yours.”
The darkness frightened us, drove us to pull our cloaks over our heads and hide. When we heard Him tell us to look at it for what it was, we obeyed, knowing no other option.
“There’s nothing inside it,” we whispered to each other, shaking. “Nothing to be known. Nothing to be found.”
But when the rotation began, the light came back, and we sighed sighs of desperate relief.
I watched the colors merge again, trying to see the white.
There were shapes made in the emptiness, and we danced among them, clasping our hands together to create rings around the planets, spirals for the galaxies.
What is beyond this? I wondered to myself. Are we the only ones?
We had little interest in the separation of the waters. It was the slow, rumbling crawl of land that drove us to come back down again.
“Look at it go,” I breathed in wonder, trying to match with my steps the formation of the rocks.
Brown was the new color. I shoved my hands into the dirt and smelled it, so wet and ready.
Something was missing. It felt empty.
“It wants something inside of it,” was what Raphael said. “It can’t exist just to exist. It needs a purpose.”
I rolled it between my fingers. Thinking.
“What is our purpose?” I asked him, feeling vacant myself.
“To listen,” he responded plainly. “To act.”
Well, then, I thought, I will act. I stood and spread my arms across all the soil in the world. When I pressed my cheek against it, it was mine. Just for a moment.
The green, then. The grasses. The fruits.
We drank juice until our mouths stung.
The dirt rejoiced in its usefulness.
I thought that was all. I thought it would be over then. I thought there was nothing left to make.
There was the sun. The moon. The stars.
Closer and closer every moment.
Life. How strange it was, how lovely. How deeply I tried to understand it, watching the flimsy stalks of flowers wilt as the air moved.
Every white petal I saw, I kept for myself. Lined along my arms and my legs and held deep inside me.
So horribly wild.
Their stench filled every crack we had ever known. Their lungs gasped, sputtered. They pawed at the ground. Tore up the plants. Emptied bits of themselves from each opening lain across their skin.
Pink. So much pink. Red when their shells opened. I watched their outer layers, took a closer look within to see all the moving parts, the quivering bits and pieces all melted together to create one monstrous thing.
“Why?” was the first thing I asked, neither rejecting nor accepting them. “Why are they here?”
“Because He wants them to be,” said Gabriel.
The animals lived through night and day, night and day. When they slept I crept inside their skin to know what it meant to have a body.
But it was too hot. Too weighty for me to hold.
I always let go too soon.
When man was made, I learned to do something new. To cry.
I broke the line for a moment, and for that, I was sorry. But I found I could not move in the way I wanted to. Something was wrong. Something was coming out of me. I screamed again, but not in any way I had ever heard before. It rose from me so ugly and wavering, the howl of an animal.
I couldn’t stop it.
Pain, it was called.
The other three crowded me. “What’s happening?” they demanded. I wished I could have answered.
We could all feel it. I knew we could. The love being rained down from the sky, every bit of affection He had wrapping itself around the man’s frail, naked body.
He emerged from the earth, shouting. He was a mammal without fur. A creature that, when it opened its eyes, looked at the animals and named them.
“But they have names,” I tried to shout at him, my face becoming acquainted with the sensation of tears. “I already gave them names of my own!”
He did not hear me.
Why did He love him? Why did He love him? Why did He love him? Why did He love him? Why did He love him? Why did He love him? Why did He love him? Why did He love him? Why did He love him? Why did He love him? Why did He love him? Why did He love him? Why did He love him? Why did He love him? Why did He love him?
What did he ever do to deserve it?
She was next. I learned the word she.
When I first saw her, I thought her some facsimile of him. A smaller, weaker version with too many soft spots.
She was quieter. She looked at things and tried to understand them.
I wanted to laugh at the two of them, their brains, their nudity. “Look how stupid you are,” I wanted to say. “You’re an animal and you don’t even know it.”
But I knew the other three would be angry with me. So I said nothing.
There was an untouchable tree.
Why make the tree, I wondered, if they can’t even touch it?
Why make the light if you’re going to take it away every time the earth turns?
Man and woman needed to fuck but were afraid of fucking because He told them to be afraid of it.
“Shameful,” Michael remarked. “Such a disgusting act.”
“What’s disgusting about it?” I asked. “The wanting?”
“You always ask so many questions,” Raphael mused. “Always so terribly proud of your ignorance.”
So I said nothing more.
It was Gabriel who came to me when the day turned to night, when we pretended we were no longer horrified by the absence of things.
“You ache,” he told me softly, as though I did not know.
“Why are we here?” I asked him, only partly ashamed of putting forth another question.
He sat beside me. Our red robes mingled in the wind, one solid body.
“Because He wants us to be here,” he replied.
“What about what we want?”
“What do we want, exactly?”
I looked at the sea and took a tentative step across it. It rippled underneath my feet.
“I want him to love me the most,” is what I said.
He was watching me. If my color was white, his color was gold.
“I’m so sad,” I said. “I can’t remember if I’ve ever felt anything else.”
We both knew that He was listening.
Sometimes I liked to watch her, how purposefully she moved, scaling the trunks of trees or wrestling playfully with her beasts. She called them all by the names man had given, and I could never understand why she never chose her own.
Her skin was dark. Her palms were light.
She smiled often.
She and man were built to run, their long legs made for nothing else but leaving.
Leaving for where? There was no place but this.
A place of no place, I thought.
Sometimes it rained.
“You’re naked,” I wanted to tell her, no longer to laugh at her expense. “Please, look at yourself.”
When He told her to thank Him, she thanked Him. She thanked Him every day.
We walked in our line. We watched as the sky turned from black to violet to red to orange to blue. All colors that I knew.
We knew what He would tell us before we heard Him speak.
Finally, our purpose—
To watch over man endlessly, to shield him from harm.
Man, the thing that bared its teeth to show its stupid, apish delight.
The favorite child.
The very first thing I said to woman was, “Hello.”
Her eyes were very wide. I recognized the fear. Perhaps she did not.
“Please do not touch the tree,” she told me.
But I was already touching it. I was sitting on its branches.
“Nothing’s happening,” I said. “Look, here I am, right inside its canopy, and nothing has hurt me.”
She was uncertain. Not fully convinced. “He tells us not to touch it.”
I watched her brows dip, her muscles tense.
She had never heard a question before.
“Why does He tell you not to touch it?” I tried again.
“Because He wills it,” she told me, voice just barely shaking. “We do what He tells us.”
“Why is it here if it isn’t meant to be touched?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why does it grow fruit if it isn’t meant to be touched?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why are you hungry for its apples if it isn’t meant to be touched?”
“I don’t know.”
I thought she might cry.
“Would you like to try one?” I asked her.
“He doesn’t want me to.”
“I’m not asking Him.”
I liked the way her hair grew long and full. I liked the way she exhaled when she stepped forward.
The apple was yellow on the inside.
Not long after the only place was split into the many places we now know, I woke.
Bleeding. Sprawled. So naked I wished, for a second, to stop existing altogether.
There was a sky. The sky was gray.
The ground beneath me was stone, nothing more.
I remember how I tried to stand but could not, all my bones that were not bones broken. I remember how I could see my own blood drip from my face onto my hands. I remember how I screamed louder than I have ever screamed, louder than the day I learned to cry, louder than the voice of every animal combined, louder than man could ever dream. I remember how I wept. I remember how I still wanted Him to love me.
“Please,” I was shrieking. “I love you, I love you, I love you.”
There was no answer.
He knew I was lying.
There are only three now, walking in their red robes.
I have been told they have wings.
He took my name from me and gave me a new one, no greater than the treatment of any of the animals that walk the earth. Lion, that one. Elephant, that one. Human, this one.
Sometimes I can see footprints dotting the sky above me.
There is water here. It is filled with salt.
I can hear voices.
How quickly it all changes. How quickly time passes before my very eyes.
My skin runs red, an endless fountain of blood oozing out to hide the white.