Eve in the Belly of the Whale
by Ljubo Popovich
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
Drifting lights blinked in the sky. A stilt-legged bird lifted its head out of the water. Inside the whale, water ceaselessly moves and, just the same, inside our bodies there is another ocean. Even the beasts within each child live and die in an endless cycle.
Each time her body froze and thawed, she felt the fibers within her strengthen. Over time, the material would be replaced, renewed but, like the whale, she wouldn’t die, only the tiny peoples and animals inside her.
The colossal eye followed them through the dim landscape speckled with white coral. Caverns in the translucent sky created coal-black patches, and mountain-sized stalactites hung down and glistened.
The long slender hairs of the whale’s baleen were subtly reflected in the surface of a lake in the distance. Between them, fresh wind whistled softly. The glow of the moon flowed in through the abbreviated gap.
The door is always open, Eve thought, but beyond the mouth is a vast unknowable void. Certain death, even for her, awaited beyond the whale’s mouth. She could not even imagine a place so big, so empty.
A large owl made a sound in a hollow tree. All owls have one voice, she thought, or that owl has been following me for a long time.
The cold tundra was spread out before them. In the tops of antique trees, luminescent fruit gleamed. For days, the valley stretched on. Each child carried his own fish until dinner, and a host of curious animals followed in their wake.
Finally, they walked across the river to the settlement on the other side. They passed an ancient tomb guarded by a statue made of bones.
The children gasped when they saw the steam rising off the lake, and pale, true sunlight filtering down through the hole in the sky. A tireless flock of gulls circled beneath the blowhole.
Eve saw a moored boat with old men and women fishing through the cracks in the dry beach.
Beautiful white fruits and luscious dark vegetables were heaped in wagons. Other children played with a leather ball in the sunlight.
There’s a lot of food here,” Ana said.
“And kids,” David said.
“We can stay here forever,” another one said.
“Wait here,” Eve said. “I’ll talk to them first.”
An old women moseyed out to meet Eve. The brief flood of sunlight abated as the children gazed in wonder.
“This is like the village I came from,” the oldest boy said.
“Where?” Ana asked.
“On the other side of the abyss.”
“Do you think they’ll let us stay?” David asked.
“Until the food runs out.”
* * *
The whale breathes and the flowers bloom.
The small houses leaned against each other. The whale’s tongue lay on the other side of the lake. Occasionally, it stirred and shook the whole town, making fruit fall from the trees and columns of sparks issue from the bonfire.
The crops were unpredictable, and swarms of insects descended upon the town when it rained, but the fish were big, and the trees stretched as far as the eye could see.
The villagers were in a constant state of deprivation, but Eve and the children were used to hardship.
Munching on peanuts and warm corn husks, the children slept for the first day. On the second day, Eve told them to start work, gathering the edible moss that grew in the shadows of trees.
Eve built a home on the edge of the lake, constantly splashed by waves. The elders warned her that when winter came, many of them would leave. On the other side of the tongue was a bigger settlement, and there were heaps of bones buried in the forest from all the people who had starved in the past. Eve nodded; there were more days of starvation in her memory than of satiation.
Every evening the townsfolk gathered to hear her stories. As the days went by, she taught them how to line the crops in ruts, how to conserve land and irrigate water, and how to fertilize.
The children helped and learned as they went along.
When winter came, not so many left as the year before.
* * *
As the years went by, several books accumulated in her home, as itinerant traders passed through, though she’d already read them long ago.
In the yard was a large tree and a yellow bird in a wicker cage. Eve told a story about the bird, which she found in a nearby cave, calling in a tongue foreign to other birds. She said it also was an immortal and a rare animal from ancient times, a constant nomad... an archetype.
The lean children became lean men and women and, in time, they developed healthy breasts and beards. Every day, a few of them dove in the lake, collecting the artifacts on the sandy bottom. There were sunken ruins that could be seen during the brightest part of the day, crumbling specters of ages past.
The midday sun through the blowhole was magnificent, and many of them ran outside to tan their skin for those brief moments every day.
A row of old cities ran along the crest of the whale’s spine, disappearing into the distant darkness. And when the sky closed for the shimmering night, they gathered and whispered, and the old men staggered out of their huts, bony canes tapping the soil like birds pecking the ground.
* * *
The whale yawns, and colossal clouds engulf the swimming stars.
The fire never stopped burning. Saplings sprung up overnight, and when the tongue turned over, the dry plain beneath it was fertile.
Eve had many children in the years that followed, but her body was still supple and strong. Her eyes were like fireflies that never dimmed.
One day, she was in a boat cleaning a fish when she saw one of her daughters walk under the dock. Eve rowed slowly from the center of the lake and watched as the young woman named Helen removed her clothing and had a miscarriage, then lay down next to the water moving her hands over her shaken body. Eve picked her up and carried her inside.
Helen’s husband returned from the forest with a load of wood and found his wife in bed. Eve sat a while and told a story.
After eating dinner, Helen felt better but her husband made her lie down. To distract them, he told tales about the forest. Some of them were folktales, but some were true. Eve was compiling them for a big book to give them a semblance of immortality.
“The trees encroach upon my work,” her son-in-law said. “They never stay in the same place, but they stay away from our village, as if they know we’re here. The men dig below the most colossal trees, looking for the tombs of ancient people. We believe our ancestors made great cavities in the whale, like cities beneath the surface.”
“There are many different kinds of people in the whale,” Eve said. “Even ones we cannot see. The whale produces no end of wonders.”
“Yesterday, Daniel found a massive bone, as big as a man. It’s hard to believe a creature so large could exist.”
“The whale exists, and it is our world,” Eve said, “so the creature you describe was not so strange. It was just a smaller world than the whale and a bigger world than a man. And there are even greater animals than the whale, but thinking about them does not serve our purposes.”
“The wind gives the forest a voice,” the man continued, holding his wife’s hand, “and the trees hear us when we speak. I believe the trees are all one animal. But, like Eve says, there are many things which it is not our lot to understand.” Helen smiled.
* * *
On the day Eve had set aside to begin a new journey, the entire village gathered. In the time she’d spent there, the settlement had grown many times as large. The elders designated ten of the youngest children to accompany her. But before she could depart, her daughter Helen stepped forward. Once her hair had been golden. Now it was the color of moonlight.
“Mother, why do you have to go?” she asked.
Eve smiled patiently. “There’s little more for me to do here.”
“We all love you, and it’ll be many days before you come to another settlement. The wasteland is dangerous, and there are no other towns as rich as ours.”
“Do you believe that everything inside the whale exists for a reason, even if we don’t understand its purpose?” Eve asked.
“Of course. The whale lives only because of the life within it.”
“The whale and I are immortal. I don’t pretend to fully understand my purpose. But immortality must be a force within Nature against which change is gauged. I only know that since I am immortal, I must serve the whale.”
The whole town came forward to wish her luck and to bid their precious children farewell.
Helen mopped the tears from her face as she watched the small group walk along the path leading around the huge, pimpled landscape of the tongue in the distance and the high waterfalls rushing off every side. Above the slowly proceeding pilgrims, the eternal spiral of birds made a staircase toward the whale’s giant nostril.
Turning her awestruck eyes, Helen glanced to the thriving town in which she lived and saw the beautiful fruit from the seed that Eve had planted.
Copyright © 2017 by Ljubo Popovich