by Agathe Burrier
Lili glanced around as she helped herself to a biscuit. It wasn’t any good – rancid, and old – but she hadn’t come to him for his cooking. The air was quivering hard all around her, hot and heavy against her skin. She couldn’t make out much of her surroundings.
“I heard that you’re done writing”, she said, and watched him turn around to look at her curiously.
“I suppose I am”, he agreed pensively, making his way back to her. “It feels strange, to finally be able to say such a thing.”
They both looked at the Book. From the outside, it was plain and unassuming, seemingly harmless. It could have fooled her – it would have, in the past. But she had grown since then.
“I heard”, she said again, “that you’re going to give it to him.”
“You hear a lot of things, my dear. May I ask who told you all of this?”
Your son, Lili thought, somehow your son always knows what you’re up to before anyone else does.
“It doesn’t matter”, she said instead. “I came to know if it was true.”
He smiled, sat, and leaned back in his chair, his eyes never leaving her.
“It is. Why else would I have written all of it down?”
Over them, the sun was blazing as hard as ever. The desert was no place to have a cup of tea with your greatest enemy, but Lili hadn’t had much of a choice. She looked around them, only to find burning sand dunes and shimmering reflections dancing in the air. They were all alone in the world. And he seemed to be having a lot of fun.
She looked at the Book again.
“This is going to do a lot more harm than good. Aren’t you supposed to be the good guy?”
“The good guy”, he repeated as if the word was new to him. “Where could you possibly have gotten this notion, my dear?”
She looked at him. He seemed sincere, genuinely curious, utterly dumbfounded at the idea that he should bow to some sort of moral standard. She felt, deep in her bones, the furious and overwhelming urge to slap him. I hate you, she wanted to say. But she knew better.
He tilted his head when it became obvious that she wouldn’t answer, and smiled slowly, as if just understanding her point.
“I am neither good nor bad, my dear. Never have been, never could be. I am above these criteria; I am the framework by which these criteria can be judged. Do you still not get it, after all this time? We have had this conversation already.”
She pictured herself ripping his head off of his body, pictured the blood and the scream and the flicker of fear in his eye just before he died. I hate you, she didn’t say, I hate you I hate you I hate you. And one day, one day I’ll kill you.
What would happen then, should she succeed, should he die? Would it be worth it? Would she live long enough to feel the victory and the relief pumping through her veins?
“We never talked about this”, she countered. “The Book changes everything.”
“Of course it does! Do you take me for a fool? Do you think that I – that we – cannot see what you’re doing? You claim to be above moral quandaries, and yet here you are, writing mankind an entire manual on how to be good by following your principles. Rewriting history, so that they follow your rules without ever knowing better.”
“Better”, he echoed, seeming angry for the first time. “Better, you say.”
“I do. And I stand by it.”
“What good did it do you, my dear, to disobey my rules? Have you fared any better for refusing to listen to me? You are a miserable creature, alone, desperate for the life she threw away. Do not dare come to me and say that this – your anger, your hurting, your hate – was the better option. You were wrong, my dear. You were bad.”
“Enough is enough”, Lili hissed, choking on the debilitating urge to rip his throat out with her bare hands. “I am not your dear.”
“Lilith”, he spat out, fully offended now. “Look at yourself. I did not make you so. I made you happy and good – and here you are, wretched and bad. You are the very reason why I needed to write that book. You are the very proof that mankind is better off following my rules.”
“No”, she said, feeling sad and small all of a sudden, “I am the very proof that you would rather make your creations miserable than have them escape the script you wanted them to follow.”
There was a long silence after that, as he shook his head and avoided her gaze, and bit into one of his old, overcooked biscuits and grimaced at the taste. The hot air was weighing on her shoulders, the dry sand burning her feet. Illogically, Lili thought about Eden.
The garden had been, without question, the most beautiful place she had ever lived in. It was green and warm, alive beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Closing her eyes in this burning hot desert, Lili could still recall the cool breeze in her hair, carrying scents of the sea and the millions of flowers it had passed by just to come salute her.
She had climbed the highest trees just to see the ground become small under her, just to face the sun with the wind rushing in her face and the birds chirping their delight all around her. She had run with tigers and lions until her thighs were on fire, and then she had run and run still, feeling their savage power flowing from them to her, feeling it burn her chest and empty her mind. She had laughed, laughed until her stomach cramped and she was rolling around trying to stop and catch her breath, at Adam making funny faces to the monkeys jumping up and down their branches…
Lili came back to reality with a sour taste in her mouth. He still wasn’t looking at her.
“How much of me is there?”, she asked. “In your Book.”
“A lot at first”, he answered after a beat, seeming calm and pensive again. “And then less and less, as I edited it. You weren’t the story I wanted to tell humanity.”
That stung her, for some infuriating reason. She ignored it.
“You cut me out”, she realized flatly. He didn’t flinch as she grounded her teeth, didn’t seem to notice the way her lips curled up ever so slightly, like an animal ready to attack. She took one breath, then a second. “What about your other sons? Lucifer, Azazel… all of them. Did they make the cut?”
He sighed, took another bite at his biscuit, grimaced again, put it down.
“I kept the serpent”, he answered at last, caressing the Book with the back of a finger. “I had to, to narrate Adam and Eve’s fall from Eden. I decided against including the others, for the same reason I did you.”
“Because we were too dangerous to your narrative?”
“Because you were of no interest to my narrative”, he corrected gently, and there it was again, the stung right in the middle of her chest.
Do your sons know that? she almost asked, but she refrained herself at the last second. Luci did, at the very least. He always knew, and never cared. He had smiled, that fine morning in Hell, when he had told her that the Book was finally done. He had smiled that distinct Lucifer smile, one part amusement, two parts defiance, and zero part regret.
She bit into her biscuit, chewed it slowly as he watched her – with patience, with sympathy, and something else, something so aggravating that she wanted to spit in his face.
“I must admit, my dear,” he said at last, “I do not quite understand the reason for your presence here.”
“I told you. I heard you were done writing. I heard you were going to give your Book to him.”
That you were offering an ultimatum, as you always do. That you grew tired of people not obeying you, of people disrespecting you. That you found a faithful servant willing to obey your every order, as once you’d hoped to find in me and Adam. I heard that you were going to give humanity your version of the story and then punish all those who dared call your script into question.
“I am. It is past time I did.” His voice grew soft as her face hardened. “He has a name, you know, my dear.”
She scoffed. “So do I.”
“He has a name, you know, Lilith.”
She felt the anger rise in her throat again, smelling suspiciously like bile and stale biscuit, and a formidable wave of disdain and jealousy and old resentments clogged her mind for a brief second. “I do not know it,” she growled, “nor do I care enough to learn it. This is not about him.”
“Who is it about then, child? You?”
Yes, she almost said, yes, maybe it is. Would that be so wrong?
“I am not your child anymore”, she said instead. “Or had you forgotten?”
That made him angry again, as it never failed to do. She savored, deep within herself, the flicker of annoyance and sadness that crossed his face before he schooled his features again.
“You could be. It is never too late, Lilith – to come back, to be forgiven. You were my first daughter. I made you out from clay in mine own image, right next to Adam, in the very first few days of the world. I will always love you.”
“You will always want me to bow down to your rules”, she corrected, feeling rage and sadness swell up in equal parts inside her. “You will always want me to submit. To you. To Adam…”
“Adam is long dead”, he reminded her gently, as if she did not know, as if she hadn’t danced and cried and laughed for three days straight when she first heard. “He lived a long and happy life, and sinned greatly, yet he never turned his back on me as you did.”
“You never asked him to bow to me and call me his master.”
“I did not ask it of you, my child. I forbade you, however, to run away from your husband and to abandon your duties to him and to me.”
She had to laugh. A little, incredulous laugh at first, but then she tried to stop and found that she couldn’t. Her laugh turned into a roar, bigger and bigger, and still she couldn’t believe him.
Lili had fled Eden, and the dominating sneer on Adam’s face, and had been punished for it every day of every year since then. She had cried rivers of blood tears and thought long and hard about ending her life. And then something strange had happened…
“I found freedom far away from you”, she said once she was done laughing. “I found freedom and power in Hell, along with all of your fallen sons. They were angels and I was human, and together we became demons, something entirely out of your control. Do you have any idea what that was like? Do you have any idea how many long and happy lives I would have sacrificed for a second of that feeling?”
She felt his rage, detonating around them like a barely restrained explosion, felt the air tremble around her in a promise of annihilation. Time stopped moving. She smiled at the unmoving sand dunes that stretched on forever in front of her.
“I am not yours to control anymore. I never really was. It took me so long to figure that out… I will not let you do it to them as well. I will burn your Book before they get the chance to read it.”
“You insolent, naïve, sinful child. Who do you think you are, my dear? Who do you think you ever were? I do not fear any of you. I pity you, and your misguided ways. You will never be saved.”
I have been already, she thought. I saved myself, and you weren’t there to witness it. She thought about that stranger of a man somewhere in Egypt, rising his head to the sky and asking for guidance. Luci had known his name, but she hadn’t cared enough to remember it. She thought about burning bushes and clay tablets carrying the word of God, and about all the other paths left untold.
“I don’t require saving”, she said at last, and for the first time ever, was able to truly ignore his scoff and obvious disapproval. “I don’t require anything from you. I will go around the world and whisper in every ear that I can find about the pleasures of transgression. I will undo your work brick by brick. Here is my salvation.”
“Take a look at yourself, Lilith. Sad and bitter, eaten alive by your longing for the life you denied yourself, cruelly wanting to deny it to all others as a punishment for your own unhappiness. Dare tell me that this was the better choice.”
She looked at the Book from which she had been cut and thought about herself, of all the stories she had lived through and all the lessons she had been taught. She thought about fallen angels cutting off their wings, burning like stars as they dived down.
“Maybe it was”, she smiled in the shimmering heat of the desert. “Maybe I’ll write a book just like yours, to make mankind the judge of our disagreement.”
Maybe I’ll kill you one day, she added in the silence of her mind. You, and your stupid Book.
She never did, of course. She never could.