Don’t read if you’ll be offended by me messing with biblical canon with impunity. Dante Alighieri did it, why can’t I?
A WOMAN’S FIRST DAY IN A CONVENT
by Amber Winter Barrow
Nun, zealous, grateful, statue, film, lick, attend, page, recognize, pomegranate
She’d been waiting for nearly an hour.
The paintings and portraits in the entrance to the convent were all the indication that she needed that she was where she should be. She was dark of hair, skin, and eye, a strange beacon in a place that put so much emphasis on purity in the form of light colors. Porcelain angels were clothed in a white so clear they looked like they were covered in fresh sparkling snow, their hair was the color of straw, and the image of their Lord was burdened with eyes so blue they could have been fragments of the sky itself.
She plucked a pomegranate from the bowl of assorted fruits on the table. The thing was red, firm, and in her hand it felt like a hardened heart. A selection of biblical scholars believe that Eve took a pomegranate from the tree of knowledge and not an apple. They would be right.
The symbolism around the fruit is as numerous as its seeds but the truth of the matter is far more sinister. The pomegranate was the literal and figurative representation of knowledge and wrapped up in that was woman’s agency. A pomegranate was not just the beginning of knowledge but the very representation of the feminine.
Was it evil for woman to know who she was? In a patriarchal society, power, agency, and knowledge for the woman, by the woman probably was evil. And that’s why the man who called himself God took woman’s agency away and turned it into a forbidden fruit.
A door behind her opened and a man stepped through. She put the fruit back down in the bowl and turned to face the man. He was dressed in a drab habit and most of his hair had fallen away in his old age. His skin was pale from years of walking the halls of the monastery.
“Friar Lenn,” he said by way of introduction. He did not extend a hand for a shake. Instead he looked her up and down as if examining a reptile that he wanted to squash.
“I was told I would meet with Sister Ruth.”
“She is otherwise occupied at the moment. Follow me, I’ll show you to your quarters.”
The friar didn’t ask her name and she didn’t offer it.
Knowledge is a heavy burden to bear. Ignorance is bliss. This man and everyone in this place would know her name soon enough.
The hallway beyond the main entrance was wide and long. Tall, stained glass windows drew out epic scenes from the Bible on one side and on the other a series of archways built into the wall opened up into a courtyard. A large kitchen garden was being attended by a handful of friars and nuns. At the end of the hall was a statue of Mother Mary herself, her stone gaze downcast with some semblance of sadness and kindness. Her hands placed together as if she were praying. On either side of her were two more stained glass windows butted up against doors. One was Mary Magdalene and the other was John the Apostle. The friar led her into the doorway next to Mary Magdalene and down yet another hall.
She glanced back at the statue of Mother Mary and wished her eyes held more of the kindness and happiness that had been there in her living days.
The new hall wasn’t as bright and colorful as the last instead the walls were lined with doors and small electric lights. Most technology had moved into the realm of LED lights and even plasma filaments, but this monastery was at least twenty years behind.
The friar led her to a door that looked indistinguishable from any of the others.
There was a small pallet with a mat on it. A simple pillow and blanket folded on top. There was an end table with a plain, brown leather bible on top and a little reading lamp next to it. She set down her things on the bed.
“You will attend to Sister Evelyn until you are oriented and given tasks and chores. She will be by shortly. There is an outfit in the closet. Change.” The friar turned and left the room with barely a nod goodbye. She couldn’t tell if the grumpiness was his normal state or because he was probably taken off his normal tasks to retrieve and deliver her to her room.
She took a moment too examine the room closer. There was a painting of Mother Mary on the wall. Again the sad expression on her face. What did the painters think they were capturing by making her look like that?
There was a small closet opposite the bed and she opened it. As the friar had said there was indeed a nun’s habit inside. She took it out and quickly changed. The fabric was rough but well worn. It was probably handed down from nun to nun, so she would not be the first to wear it, but she hoped she would be the last.
There was a knock at the door and it opened. A woman stepped in and stopped in her tracks. The recognition on her face when they locked gazes was apparent.
“Evelyn, I assume? You really need to be more creative with your names Eve.”
“I don’t need to hear that from you. What are you doing here?”
“Exactly what you’re doing.”
“No. You are doing the exact opposite of what I’m doing!”
“Eve, we are both trying to dismantle an institution that has corrupted itself.”
“Be that as it may, Lil, at least I am not going around turning the nunneries into cabalistic epicenters of feminist rage.
“You have to admit that my methods have been more successful.”
“Faster and more explosive but I don’t know about more successful.”
“What are you trying this time?”
Eve rolled her eyes and closed the door behind her. The illusion obscuring her true appearance faded away and the woman who had been created to be Adam’s subservient wife, and unquestioning sex slave after Lilith had rejected those prospects appeared before her once again.
“I’m quietly telling the nuns to follow their dreams.”
“And how’s that working out for you?”
“Some of them honestly believe their dream is to be married to the church.” Eve sat on the end of the bed and sighed heavily. Her hair was a bright blood red, and her skin nearly as pale as bone. The signs that she was created from the blood and bone of another. A smattering of freckles, one for each of the hundreds of children she bore to Adam, crossed her nose and cheeks. Adam and Lilith had been created from the dust and clay of the earth and were both dark featured. Eve hid her pale skin and striking red hair under an illusion that made her look like a plain woman with mouse brown hair.
Lilith, Adam, and Eve were all direction creations of God and therefore perfect in every way and their appearance alone was enough to stop any person in their tracks. Lilith only softened her features a bit. Looking like a supermodel going into a convent usually got more attention then her dark skin so she made it easier.
“If you had let me continue with the free love movement in the 60s all this would probably be a moot point.” Lilith sat on the bed next to her friend.
“You were losing control of it.”
“I had everything under control. You weren’t thinking big picture enough.”
“Big picture? Lil, I have been on the same page with you helping me dismantle the church from the inside but I can’t sit by and let you hurt my children, even if they do it to themselves in misguided hedonism.”
“Even after all this time you still think of them as your children.”
“They don’t know you. You’re a side note in their religious texts, and most of your story has been erased from even the apocrypha.”
“What about you? Some of them are your children too!”
Where Adam had been made from the ridgid rocks and dust of their homeland, Lilith had been created from watery clay. Her adherence to gender was fluid and she could transition between the two as easily as the moon crossed the sky.
At one time, Lilith had walked the earth as a man named Joseph. He had fallen in love with a woman named Mary. They had had a child, and God had punished him for assuming to think he could live a human life, and had changed the narrative around the birth of his son to fit into some prophecy. And then that prophecy had killed their child.
The images of Jesus didn’t even look like the real Jesus. Her real son had been dark of skin and hair as she was. His brown eyes had been bright and intelligent and he had always known more than he should have. Jesus had never had a child of his own, but his brother, born ten years after Jesus had gone on to have many children. She could see it in the faces of some people, reflections of her sons long past, and sometimes even worse, she could see Mary in their eyes. Especially the compassionate ones.
“That’s why I want to free them so badly from this… this dogma of isolation and adherence to a god that no longer exists Their church corrupts, and allows more corruption to rise in the absence of compassion or understanding. They exist saying that they are all children in the eyes of God and yet act as if they are the chosen ones.”
They fell into a mildly uncomfortable silence. This argument wasn’t new. Every couple decades they would cross paths and inevitably have the same argument again. There never seemed to be any middle ground they could reach. Even though they wanted the same thing Lilith thought Eve was too soft and Even thought Lilith was too hard.
“You know,” Lilith said. “We’ve only been going after the small convents and churches, don’t you think it’s time to go bigger?”
“We haven’t messed with anything higher than the Bishops in decades, we ought to try to go after the Pope himself.”
“I did that. Who do you think got Pope Joan into the papal house?”
“I thought that was fiction.”
Eve’s smile was grim. “The Archbishops killed her and replaced her. Like you and me her story was scrubbed out of the history books.”
“Joan was said to have hid her gender and that’s how she got in, we have to get someone in despite her gender.”
Eve shook her head. “These zealous men are hard to work with.”
“So we shouldn’t try? Eve, I’ve never known you to give up! Even after Adam–”
“Leave him out of this.” Her tone was sharp and her expression left no room for argument.
Lilith raised her hands in surrender. “Apologies.”
Adam had abandoned Eve after she had taken Lilith’s side after the death of Jesus. Despite knowing herself and her freedom she had still followed Adam across the earth, indulging his hubris and never taking anything for herself. Until the day after Lilith’s son had been crucified and the heaven and the earth had literally shaken. Lilith had called on the angel Lucifer, her long time friend and companion, and he had helped her storm heaven in her rage. Lucifer had been God’s favorite angel in spite of Lucifer’s love of humanity. In the end, heaven had been broken, God was missing, and the angels still on God’s side out for Lucifer’s blood.
“What did Sister Ruth say to you about your stay here?”
“She didn’t. I was led here by a friar.”
Eve’s eyes widened and she stood. “A friar? Where was Sister Ruth?”
“He claimed she was occupied.”
Eve cussed uncharacteristically and her illusion of being a plain woman reformed. “I’ve been found out again.”
The door opened and the friar and a man in a black outfit stood in the doorfarme.
“You, demoness, I shall exorcise you and this woman! May God have mercy on whatever souls you have left” The man in black said and pushed forwards.
“Stop this, friar! I am no demon!”
“You come into this sacred place and whisper poison into the nun’s ears, who else could you be. Especially knowing that you associate with… that.” The friar pointed at Lilith.
Interesting. Did they know who she was?
“How do you know who she is?” Eve asked.
“We were notified to keep an eye out for her and a red headed witch. We got one of them and you shall both be removed from this world.”
“Adam,” Eve hissed.
“Adam?” Lilith asked.
The exorcist turned the pages of his book quickly reading the words. The poor fools. Lilith and Eve had been created outside the confines of the natural world. Exorcism spells held no power over them regardless of the fact that Lilith and Eve weren’t demons.
The friar realized pretty quickly that nothing was happening and reached into his habit and pulled out an ancient pistol.
Lilith moved quickly and stood in front of Eve raising her voice above that of the frightened exorcist. “I am she that came before Eve, I am she that was cast out of the Garden of Eden for assuming I was equal to Adam. I am she that would not bow, or bend, or break. I was called a demoness, and I was the one who entered the Garden of Eden as a serpent and told Eve to take her freedom back.”
Eve didn’t argue, but Lilith knew the declaration annoyed her. After all these years Lilith knew her like a sister.
The Friar and the exorcist stared at Lilith in horror as she began to change in a dragon. Her form filled the room and broke through the walls. The men screamed in terror as a pair of huge wings arced over them. The dragon licked its lips and snorted at them as if sizing them up for a meal.
Eve didn’t wait for an invitation and dropped the illusion as she climbed on the dragon’s back. The dragon leapt out of the hole in the top of the monastery and flew up into the sky. Eve hugged the dragon’s neck and whispered grateful words into its ear.
“Adam knows what we are doing,” Eve said after they landed in a parking lot behind an outdoor movie theater. The film showing on the screen was a children’s movie about dragons. Appropriate. None of the humans noticed us. We were invisible to their eyes for now.
“So what do you want to do?”
Eve stared at the screen, the light flickering in her eyes. “How keen is Lucifer to come out of hiding?”
Lilith grinned. “You know he’s sweet on you, he’ll come running as soon as you lift your finger.”
Eve nodded and visibly blushed. “Call him. It’s time to go to war again. For my children, and yours.”