Actually, Adam sinned a lot. Until the apple debacle, he hadn’t been caught. But he had not known the implications of his fleshly actions, either. He was simply taking inventory of them: hedging bets with the pigeons, smoking grass with the monkeys, exploring Eve’s body… all in the name of discovery. Had that not, in the final analysis, been his task, to name and to know? He was just another animal. He was new at this. But bliss—maybe it was in not knowing.
Anyway, he couldn’t have asked: On the seventh day, when God slept, He slept for weeks, not to be bothered. What would be simply was. Days in the garden passed in carefree splendor and Adam and Eve went on enjoying themselves. They could hardly be blamed for believing that’s what this life was all about. And anyway, there hadn’t been ill-intent. That had to count for something, he thought. Apparently not. That damned apple. And where was Eve? he wondered.
“Adam,” a sharp voice barked.
“Hm?” he grunted. He had not been listening. It was all too much.
“Tell us a little about yourself, Adam,” Judith said.
Adjusting the stones strung around his neck, he sat up straighter in his metal folding chair. “I’m Adam,” he said to the circle of the first terrace. He looked around expectantly.
Those who could raise their heads stared at him blankly. Stones clanked.
“You know,” he laughed uncomfortably, “the first man.”
“The first man to what?”
“Just the first,” Adam shrugged. “You know: ‘In the Beginning’…yada yada.”
Someone on the other side of the circle laughed.
“Easy, Hume,” Judith said. “We know the story, Adam. But you weren’t literally the first. There were others, in the beginning, as you well know.”
“But you have heard of me,” Adam said.
Judith reached into the bottomless box at her feet and produced another set of stones. “You know the rules.” She tossed them on the linoleum at Adam’s feet. He had five extra sets already—what was a sixth? “Or maybe you don’t,” she laughed. “This is Adam, everyone,” she said to the circle, “the man who named the animals. Hold the applause, please. No autographs until we’re through.”
Adam tried to speak but winced against the added weight of the new stones. “To name is to know,” he said, tinged with the slightest remnant of pride.
“But you don’t know yourself,” Judith informed him. “That’s why you’re here.”
“That’s why we’re all here,” said David Hume. “Because of him. I still don’t believe it.”
The metal chairs quaked.
“That will be all. On to the next terrace with you,” Judith said with venom.
Reluctantly, Hume stood, his head hung. In a fashion, he strode to the door, the grubbier, more frequented one at the far side of the room. The one that unapologetically said DOWN. Hume opened and closed it and was gone. The darkness emanating from the open door, the only blemish in the otherwise white around them, diminished.
The rest of the circle grew grim and quiet. They sat up straighter and returned their attention to Judith, center circle. “We are not here because of Adam,” Judith said. “We are here, each of us, because of ourselves—just as if we hope to ascend, it will be through ourselves.”
“But that’s not the insinuation,” Adam said. “In scripture, I mean. I’m believed to have allowed sin and mortality to enter the world. If that’s not so, why hasn’t it been addressed?” he asked no one in particular, his voice climbing.
“Calm down,” Judith said. “Yes, okay. You’re right. Original Sin doesn’t perforate existence; it is simply the first noted sin. Don’t think of it as a lie,” she said. “But it’s a good lie.”
“It’s a scare tactic.” The man crossed himself and looked up. “Saul of Tarsus,” he told the group. “As long as we’re being honest,” his stones clanked as he stood, “the concept of Original Sin was my idea. To explain the Crucifixion. Someone had to make sense out of Christ’s death—which in fact made no sense. In a way, I’m here because of that lie. But, as Judith says, it’s a good lie.”
“Thanks, Paul.” Judith returned her attention to Adam. “Adjacent planes are spiritually perceptible by the living,” she told them, “as above, so below… Thus, it is of the utmost importance that all decisions be final. Irregular movements draw attention. His judgment is not fluid; it shouldn’t be perceived as such. Now, can we please move on?”
Adam said, “Wait a minute, what?”
“Those in the garden don’t perceive these planes,” Adam said.
Someone cleared their throat, sat up, and said, “Some do.” He stood and regarded the circle. “Durante Alighieri,” the man said by way of introduction. “You can call me Dante. I’m auditing this circle today.”
“Auditing?” someone said incredulously.
“Such is the nature of my Purgatory,” Dante informed them. “As I came to better know myself, I came to know God. I caught glimpses of the divine structure at work—’ above and below,’ as you say. I knew better than to write about it, but I did, anyway. Now, I’m condemned to audit every circle until I get it right.” He laughed humorlessly.
“If we could get back on topic,” Judith said. “You realize we will get through this if it takes an eternity, don’t you?” Returning her attention to Adam she said, “Well, Adam, was it worth it?”
Adam had been asking himself the same question for some time now. When it came down to it, this was the only question. Never mind the ramifications; the question was not whether the risk outweighed the reward. He was thinking about it all wrong. The situation transcended all mankind: be it the first man banished from the Garden, the first man to step foot on the moon, or any man, or any woman, in the infinite regress of people given the opportunity to love another human being as much or more than themselves. “Yes,” he said, finally.
“Adam!” Judith shrieked, quickly crossing herself.
On the other side of the room, the UP door opened slightly. Not taking his eyes from the dancing light on the other side of it, Adam said, “I might have never known my own limits. But now I do. Am I sorry? Yes. Would I do it again? Well, if my example of what not to do helps someone else choose to do the right thing—then yes. It was worth it. Like you said, it isn’t about me.”
Judith stood, retrieved her bottomless box, and approached Adam. She sat it at his feet and removed the six sets of stones from around his neck. “You may go, Adam.”
In disbelief, he stood and made his way to the door of brilliant white light. It opened the rest of the way as he approached, temporarily blinding him and dazzling the rest of the circle. The door promptly closed behind him.
Judith tossed the stones in the box, returned to her seat, and said, “That’s what we call progress, people.”
And they moved on to the next penitent.