The sixth in a new series where we ask authors to revisit the opening sentences of their stories. Here, A.L. Kennedy talks about Adam and Eve.
‘Eating figs is different for girls.’
I do like figs. I like slightly unusual fruit in general – it’s something inherited from my mother who spent a few years in Australia, just before she gave birth to me. She never got over a time rich with guavas, mangoes, custard apples, passion fruit – when everyone had trees laden with good things they couldn’t even give away when they had too much. Everyone had too much. Fruit everywhere. Dishes and preserves and pavlovas celebrating fruit. As a child, in my mind, it became a kind of paradise. And now I make happy trips to Chinatown to buy sweet tamarinds and rambutans, mangosteen.
There were probably figs in Australia, too, although my mother never mentioned them.
They may induce shyness.
I have never seen anyone eat figs in the street and feel I am unsurprised. They induce privacy – possibly because they are so soft, so velvety, so dusty purple that they qualify as anatomy and not food. They can create a pause before consumption.
I came to them quite late, at an age when I was able to notice that their shape and size were reminiscent of something else and that biting into them felt wrong, although also extremely right. And there’s the biblical element, of course – Adam’s figs suddenly becoming a source of unease for him and being covered by fig leaves. And the shape of those leaves themselves a glossy and green reminder of precisely the shapes they were concealing. It’s as if the lovers suited themselves in aprons which advertised what they concealed, over and over. Which is the kind of joke you might make once you had the knowledge of good and evil, but hadn’t yet understood sex – the way it advertises and repeats and looses ambivalent snakes in your previously quiet garden.
From the moment I ate my first fig and enjoyed its kind of masculine tenderness I wanted to write a short story that involved them. Sometimes I wanted to write a hard woman, who did eat them in the street, who devoured them without sympathy. But that didn’t seem quite right. At other times they would cross my mind more vaguely. . . I couldn’t quite find the right person or people to enjoy them. I think I was misunderstanding the figs as something solitary, rather than shared. I think I needed a couple I particularly liked and who deserved them.
One doesn’t want to overdo the Adam and Eve thing, either – that is, again, something special that I only hand out to men and women who are particularly meant in some way and who wouldn’t mind being given a garden of some kind and having responsibilities, along with a terrible future, of course. They lose everything. But before the wilderness Adam and Eve get to share paradise and to have the first pleasure of humanity, an entirely writerly one, the joy of naming reality. Companionship and sex come second. I am assuming that Adam hadn’t finished all the naming when he requested Eve. I like a version of the story where they garden together, make words together, where the casting out doesn’t give an eternal excuse for misogyny. Even in the authorised version Adam doesn’t have a problem with Eve, they still live together in the wilderness and make children. that shows a degree of unity and could be taken to imply love.
The figs – having waited decades – arrived as an early element of the story and quickly developed the first sentence. They were there with the initial idea of threats of injury perpetrated against softness and the part of a woman’s decision to love – any decision to love – which must acknowledge that the object of one’s affection may leave suddenly and irrevocably. She also makes, as true lovers they must both make, a decision to protect each other. The soft figs seemed to help with that. I suppose that writers are always looking for apparently innocent objects that can arrive with additional baggage, hints that mean writing can stay light but have depth. I hope the figs do a good job in that respect. They seem to.
I’m sorry to have finally used them, of course. But I like the people they belong to now.
Image courtesy of Angies