Writing, Motherhood and Humor

Naked in the Garden of the Serpent

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Order Naked in the Garden of the Serpent here.

Naked in the Garden of the Serpent is mythology with a sense of humor. It’s Christopher Moore and Tom Robbins, but from a female point-of-view.
Everyone knows about Eve and how she was tempted to eat the forbidden fruit, but no one knows about Bart the Serpent and just why he tempted her in the first place.

Everyone knows about Adam and how he named all the animals, but everyone forgot his first wife Lilith ever existed.

And absolutely nobody knows what happened to the forbidden fruit and what would happen if it were found.

But that is just what Harold Grey, an otherwise average attorney, must do if he is to find true love and save the planet.

A humorous, philosophical romp, Naked in the Garden of the Serpent tells the story of the fall in a way never told before, temptation, betrayal and all.

 

Excerpt:

Fiona Vien had gotten everything she wanted, which is how true misery always starts – at the finish line.

After three grueling years in law school, she landed a job in one of Chicago’s most prestigious law firms, Angle and Grey.

Harry thought Fiona was perfect the second she walked into the door. A size four with tortoise shell glasses and long almost black hair pulled into a bun, Fiona wasn’t most men’s vision of beauty, but Grey felt differently, and he begged Angle to hire her.

“Have you seen her eyes? Those puppy eyes? Have you seen her in that little pin striped skirt? Those pointy patent leather heels? I can’t stand it, Daniel, I can’t stand it. She wore navy instead of black to her interview.” Harry was desperate. He had never gotten over his seventh grade love, Martha Manchester, his next door neighbor with long black hair, skinny legs and awkward glasses. Harry was turning 39 in just a few short months, and he wanted badly to be married and done with his childhood obsession. Fiona Vien could have been Martha’s doppelganger. Except she didn’t wear pink Converse high tops with black fishnet stockings, or at least, she didn’t wear them to the interview.

Daniel put his feet up on his desk, took a bite out of his polished red apple and sighed out of boredom. “She’s just another law mill school know nothing. Why should I care about your fantasy of working alongside Vien?”

Daniel and Harry had been together for what seemed like millennia. Since that fateful day in chemistry class when Daniel took Harry under his wing, the two of them went nowhere without each other. Tall and gangly with curly hair that poked out like the snakes of Medusa, Grey’s only luck in life had been meeting Daniel Angle. His organizational skills were still embarrassing. His ability to woo women was still non-existent. He never figured out how to cook, so he ate soup cold out of the can. His dorm room was such a mess, that he tried to fall asleep in the library to avoid the chaos he created, and his condo would have been just as bad if it weren’t for the maid Angle hired.

But Harry was still a genius at numbers, at philosophy, at equations, at anything on paper. Paper was Harry’s one and only gift, and that made him an almost perfect attorney. Obviously, he could not meet clients, judges or juries. He never appeared in a courtroom. That was Angle’s job. With his strong jaw line, straight white teeth, dazzling green eyes and quick wit, he charmed every judge and jury. He just needed Harry to do all the writing, the research and give him his cue cards. Daniel knew nothing about law, but he had the looks of Adonis and a silver tongue. Women fell for him without his even trying.

Harry, on the other hand, was still a virgin. If you didn’t count that one drunk, half-attempt with that volleyball player his sophomore year of college, that is. And Harry didn’t count it. She was wearing a sports bra during his failed seduction on her olive green velour couch, and the last thing he remembered was passing out from too many bloody Marys.

“If I can’t have Fiona, I’ll quit.” Harry said, crossing his arms. “You’re nothing without me.”

“Quit? Give up that lovely condo I picked out for you and paid for? And the maid service and personal chef? Where will you go? You’ll have to live in an alley.” Daniel stared out his wall of windows at the skyline and continued chomping on his apple.

“I hate those Red Delicious apples. They’re bitter and coated in wax.”

“Harry, we aren’t talking about apples. We’re talking about a girl from a middling law school. What makes her so special?”

“I want Fiona. This is the only thing I ever asked for. I’ll go back to eating cold Dinty Moor Beef Stew. I don’t care. She’s everything.”

Daniel sighed again. Harry never did ask for much. But he was so much work. Just to keep him clean and fed took several thousands of dollars a year, and he had to pay someone to wake him up everyday and bring him into the office, lest Harry get lost or sidetracked on the bus or el. “Alright, Harry, but I’m not giving her a window office, you know.”

“I don’t care. Put her in one of the middle offices where the clerks and paralegals work.”

“I’ll call her tomorrow. But don’t do anything stupid. We don’t want a harassment suit on our hands. You can talk to her, but about work only. No funny business. Unless she makes the first move, of course.”

Harry was thankful, but he knew better than to show it or Daniel would know he could have refused to grant his wish. Let Daniel think that he would have quit without Fiona.

Harry went back to his own office, with smaller windows, but windows nonetheless. You were nothing without windows. You could work your whole life and get nothing but a cubicle, or worse, work out in the open space. That’s how life’s whole hierarchy was: open space, cubicle, office with no window, office with small window, office with nothing but windows that are incapable of opening, then retirement and riding in open spaces on cruise ships.

You started out being able to see everything around you, with everyone seeing everything you did, and by the end you were closed into a space where you could see everything through your windows and no one could see you. The key was to keep everything and everyone else out, but at the same time, be able to see everything and everyone. Perfect control. Until you were old – then you paid somebody to control the cruise ship for you.

Fiona wouldn’t have a window, but he figured she’d be so elated to have a job that she wouldn’t complain. Attorneys were as plentiful ants, all struggling to eat from a couple tiny crumbs left from some old lady’s day-old scone. In other words, there were no jobs.

It had just occurred to Harry: what if Fiona had a boyfriend? Or a fiancée? Pretty girls like her always had some man around. He would need to find a way to seduce her, get her on his side. There had to be a way. Harry would figure it out. He would learn everything he could about Fiona Vien. As an attorney, he had access to any information he wanted on Fiona, but he figured he would keep it simple and ethical and just start the old-fashioned way: Google.

Unfortunately, Harry was right. There was a man. Fiona had gotten everything she thought she wanted, and besides her job at one of Chicago’s most prestigious law firms, a law firm that took up four floors of a 50-story glass building, she was marrying the perfect man. Ben Norman was a 32 year-old architect who designed glass buildings just like the one she would spend potentially the rest of her life in.

“One day, you’ll make partner, Fiona,” Ben said, encouraging her after she had gotten the call from Angle.

Her mother had introduced her to Ben, who was the son of one of her “clients.” Her mother’s entire job involved painting plastic to look like real plants, so offices just like hers could have fake plants that looked so real the cleaning staff would accidentally water them. Her mother’s three-story home looked like a greenhouse, filled with green plastic. “You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find a realistic fake plant. It’s almost as hard as finding a good man!” Her mother liked to say. It was like her own Zen koan, except it didn’t confuse you or bring you to a higher spiritual plane: it only served to depress. Her mother had been married five times so far, and the last one stole half her savings as well as quite a few of her best plastic plants to boot. Her mother was continually trying to turn plastic men into men that seemed real. She had much better luck with the plants.

Fiona had never known her own father, one of potentially four men her mother had met on some hippie revival retreat she went on in the 1980s. “I was in my experimental phase,” her mother liked to say. “Sometimes you have to spend a lot of time figuring out what you don’t want to figure out what you do want.”

God, Fiona hated her mother’s aphorisms. They had a grain of truth buried in all the rotting garbage, but Fiona didn’t have the latex gloves or the stomach to try to siphon through the mess to find it.

Despite her mother’s insanity, Fiona had a happy life, and at 26, she was about to get everything she wanted. If she had made a checklist of objectives, then there would be checks next to every one of them. She’d either be done, or it would be time to make a whole new list. That was her only problem right now: did she need to make a new list? What would she do with herself now that she’d gotten everything? She had at least another fifty years to live, maybe more, and she had no idea what to live for.

Besides the job at Angle and Grey, and her impending marriage to Ben Norman, Fiona was about to move into a beautiful condominium with a lake view. Ben was buying it for them with the money he had saved while living with his parents. She always hated that he lived at home, but everything he said made sense. “Why should I get my own place, when I can put away money for us? Besides, if I want to get away, I can just stay with you.”

Fiona knew that she should be elated to move into the new condo. It had granite countertops, which apparently were something everyone in America knew about and felt extremely excited and fortunate to own.

“Do you know what that means?” her mother asked over the phone, the day Fiona told her about the condo Ben had picked.

“That they’re hard to break?” Fiona said.

“It means you never have to use a cutting board again. You can cut right on the countertop.”

“I don’t know if that’s true, Mom, and even if it is, I mean, so what?”

“Do you know how many cutting boards I’ve gone through? And they’re the perfect breeding ground for salmonella if you don’t clean them properly.”

“Okay, well, Mom, there’s more to the condo than that.”

And there was. The condo was brimming with windows, although none of them could be opened since they’d be living on the 24th floor. The flooring was hardwood, and all the appliances were new, including a stainless steel commercial quality refrigerator that Ben bought from one of his clients at half price. What she was going to put into it, Fiona didn’t know. Most of the time she ate salad or a protein shake. She gave up food to buy books when she began law school, and now she gave up food to pay back her massive student loan debt. Fiona figured out that if she had just worked as a paralegal for fifteen years, instead of taking three years off of work to finish law school, she would have actually been fifteen thousand dollars ahead considering all the loan debt she’d end up paying back. Plus, some of the law firms paid their paralegals to finish law school, so at the end of the fifteen years, she’d have had her law degree anyway. In other words, it was going to take her fifteen years from the time she started law school just to break even with the paralegals. Besides, paralegals have more fun: they have none of the responsibility and great benefits. Though the ones who got ahead were usually sleeping with one of the partners. Still. Her starting salary at Angle and Grey was only fifty-five thousand dollars a year, and it involved working in one of the offices typically set aside for the paralegals: a ten by ten room without a window. There was, however, a bulletin board that she could decorate as she saw fit.

But she never had to worry about anything anymore. Ben had their whole lives plotted out like the blueprints of one of the buildings he’d designed. If you combined a full set of Britannica encyclopedias with an AAA road map and Erehwon camping supplies gadgets, you’d have Ben. He only wanted Fiona to work until she was thirty-three, saving every penny, then having two kids, one right after the other. They could even use fertility drugs to try to have kids and save on expenses, as he suggested. “All the day cares have this two-for-one stuff. Colleges too. Twins are the economic way to have children, Fiona. And think: they’ll never be lonely.” This was important because, once both of them were in first grade, she’d have to start all over at another firm, and that meant, she’d undoubtedly be off the partner track. And that meant she’d have to work twice as hard to prove herself all over again. “By that time,” Ben liked to say, “the world will be a more equal place. Maybe it won’t be so hard anymore for career women.”

Fiona wished she had a twin. She had always supported the feminist movement, but it seemed to her that her right to do anything she wanted had become an obligation to be everything someone else wanted her to be. Maybe two Fionas would add up to one proper woman. She wished she had something to take away the sense of dread that was lying on top of her like a heavy wool blanket, snuffing out all the air and light. She didn’t know if she was cut out to be an attorney, a wife, a mother, a daughter or even a woman. When and why did she decide to become an attorney? That was confusing. She enjoyed writing, and she wanted to help the world. But all she’d end up doing as an attorney was play complicated word games, trying to throw the opponent off track. It wasn’t about justice. Hell, it wasn’t even about facts. It was about how to make everything so confusing and expensive that the other side would just concede more and more to your side.

And she didn’t want to move into the perfect condo. She knew that she should have wanted the perfect condo – it was beautiful, like a museum. But it was hermetically sealed. She’d be living in a box all day at work, then another at night, albeit with windows. Fiona liked the apartment she shared with a roommate in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, just a mile from the beach.

Fiona’s old roommate, Suzanne, her sorority sister, had moved out six months ago, and she found Fiona a new roommate online: Pixie Dust. Pixie and Dust were probably not her birth names. Pixie worked as a bachelor party stripper, but Fiona was desperate for a roommate who could pay the bills, and Pixie’s income seemed sustainable. In fact, she seemed to make more money than Fiona. However, when she wasn’t stripping, she was tanning into an odd shade of orange-yellow, getting herself waxed, bleaching her hair its odd whitish color, doing her nails, working out, or otherwise trying to shape her body into something marketable.

Fiona never considered Pixie to be exactly pretty. She had big blue eyes, though, and Fiona could tell that if she gained a few pounds and stopped re-coloring her skin and hair, she might almost look like a person. But she was the perfect roommate: she was never home when Fiona was home – the weekends and evenings. And she left very little mess behind. “To keep this body, you have to eat like a bird,” Pixie would say. She was like a pixie too – she was always folded up in an awkward position on the edge of a chair or on the sofa arm, or she was in a yoga pose. She was like a bony bird that had lost its wings. No matter, only on rare occasions did Fiona even see Pixie.

This week, however, Fiona and Pixie were planning to spend a day in the city together.

“I know this great place to have a vegetarian lunch,” Pixie had said at three in the morning when Fiona had been up getting herself a glass of water. She ran into her in the kitchen where Pixie was drinking a merlot and still wearing her full regalia: a pair of black lace thong panties, a pair of red heart pasties and black thigh highs with red patent leather heels. “Why don’t we go there to celebrate your new job? I’ll take you out as a going away gift.”

Fiona wasn’t into vegetarian food, but she figured it was the least she could do for leaving Pixie right in the middle of their lease. Apparently one of the other girls from Pixie’s company was going to be moving into their place next month.

Pixie was only twenty-three, so there was hope for her, or that’s what Fiona thought. Maybe she’ll find a decent guy or decide to go back to school and get a graduate degree. Maybe she’d try to talk to her at their lunch over vegetables and beans. The one time she tried to talk Pixie into doing something meaningful with her life did not go anywhere.

“Why?” Pixie asked. “Does anyone do anything meaningful with their lives? Most people spend forty or more years working at a job they hate making just enough money to get by. Or I guess I could be like other girls my age and marry some putz. I don’t see the difference. My job kind of sucks just like any other job, only I make a ton of money. It isn’t meaningful, and the men are losers, but at least at the end of the day, I know what I got. Other women think they’re married to some great guy who later turns out to be a loser or a bore, or just takes them for granted. I get worshipped and paid a ton of money by losers, and then I go home, alone.”

“But Pixie,” Fiona said, “what will you do in ten or twelve years when they don’t want you anymore?”

“I don’t know. Go do something else. What do the fat house frau’s do? What does anyone else do? Go to school, get in debt and work at Starbucks? Marry some rich, older, balding guy? Why the hell even bother?” Pixie then took out one of her pre-made peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwiches on Saltine crackers and chewed away, staring out their window into their neighbor’s backyard. “Oh yes,” Pixie said, a mouthful of peanut butter, “I could always work for a non-for-profit and wither away slowly on the same rice and soy meals I work to send to starving children in another country. I always love how liberals are dying of hunger right along with those they serve. No thank you!”

Fiona just sighed. Pixie had a point. But Fiona wasn’t sure it mattered. By the looks of her, she was withering away right now.

“Anyway, Pixie, I just think there’s got to be some gifts you’ve got that you aren’t using.”

“I’m pretty sure I’ve exhausted all of them this past week. I suppose I could become an artist like I wanted to as a girl, but who pays anybody to create art? Have you seen what passes for art and literature these days? I just saw a clever little book called Blank. Guess what was in the pages?”

“Not much, I assume,” Fiona said. Pixie nodded her head.

Fiona figured there was no changing Pixie, but she thought maybe if she gave her a business card and told her to call when her current life got to be too much, Fiona could find a job for her as a clerk or a secretary. That is, if she dyed her white hair back to its original color, whatever that was.

But that was in a week. One more week. This was it. One last month of living as a single girl. One more week before she’d begin her tenure in a windowless office, working her way up the ranks. One more month until she’d move into the condo with Ben and out of her vintage apartment. No more built-in bookshelves or sloped flooring that her wheeled desk chair would slide down when she was entranced in a possible argument. No more helping Mrs. Leibowitz with her garden, her groceries or her snow shoveling. No more cat because Ben was allergic. Pixie had offered to keep Sasha, the white Siberian, but who would sleep at Fiona’s feet at night? Ben wasn’t the cuddling type. He was too busy planning their future.

He loved her, of course. He loved her the way men loved their cars and their i-phones. He’d do virtually any task for her.