LIFESAVING IN PARADISE, by leah kaminsky
Leonid had been Chief Lifesaver and Caretaker at the Garden of Eden for six months the day Adam performed a spectacular dive over the main waterfall and cracked his skull on the rocks hidden in the shallow waters of the pools below.
“Show off,” thought Leonid.
He pointed to the sign that said NO DIVING ALLOWED. Eve scowled and said that it was against policy to write the sign in Russian when the official language was Aramaic. As a new arrival, he should be making more effort to adjust to the local culture. She stormed off behind the orchard, her dripping hair swaying from side to side, revealing her peach-like buttocks.
Leonid would need to wade into the pool to clean up the mess and he knew this meant doing the job alone. The Boss had taken the day off, exhausted after a busy week of multi-tasking. He left strict instructions not to disturb Him, under any circumstances, until after sunset and made Leonid Manager in his absence.
In addition to his work looking after the needs of the Celebrity Couple, Leonid also took care of general maintenance and sanitary matters at the Garden of Eden. It wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy his job - it certainly had its perks and side benefits – but the long shifts led to boredom. In those endless hours of watching, his mind would wander where it ought not. Eve was a good sort; a bit of cellulite around the thighs, but breasts to die for. Of course he kept those thoughts to himself. No one needed to know. The Celebrity Couple were a match made in Heaven.
The Garden of Eden pools were a chain of freshwater swimming holes, connected by small waterfalls and rivulets. Lush vegetation surrounded them – date palms, native oaks, and olive trees. Abundance was the operative word, in stark contrast to the deprivations that Leonid had known in his former life in Russia, where everything seemed grey. When he first arrived here his eyes feasted on the local colours. Parrots that looked like clowns, preening their outrageous feathers, rainbows rippling in the steamy heat above the leafy, green stillness of myrtle trees. Pomegranates split open and dripped blood-red pulp onto the rocks below. He felt like he was in an ancient theme park, without the queues.
A school of tiny fish nibbled eagerly at Leonid’s toes as he trod gingerly down the moss-covered steps and into the warm water. He had asked the Boss to install a handrail as a safety precaution, but was told that funds were short, they were only a start-up, and that he would have to make do until the company went global.
Leonid waded over to where Adam’s body floated face-down on the bank opposite. Nasty. Pieces of scalp flapped around in the water. It was going to be a big job to clean this up, but the little fish were already helping. As Leonid bent over in the water, his flabby belly wobbled. He sensed someone watching him. It was Eve, standing at the edge of the waterfall. Her hair was dry now and shone in the sun. He sucked in his abs. She flicked her long locks back behind her shoulders, baring her breasts for an instant, then turned and ran off into the bushes.
Leonid breathed out and continued cleaning. He felt a little sorry for Adam. A nice kind of guy; simple, the all-brawn, no-brains type, kind of like a hairless ape. Harmless. They’d some fun together. Take last night, after dinner. They were sitting next to each other on a rock, chewing the fat, seeing who could fart the loudest, when they both heard something rustle in the branches of a tree. Adam leapt behind Leonid for protection. He had learnt early on that not all the residents here were friendly. Leonid saw a shadowy outline in the fruit tree that stood at the entrance to the orchard. Among the things he had forgotten to bring with him from Russia were his glasses, so he saw everything through a haze. He could not blame it all on his poor eyesight though, because he had remembered to pack his hipflask and, unbeknownst to the Boss, had been sharing a few swigs of Stolichnaya with Adam on occasion.
Eve sauntered out from behind the tree. She smirked when she saw her mate cowering behind the fat Russian.
“It‘s only me, you idiot,” she said. “I’ve brought us some dessert.”
She held up her right hand, balancing a shiny, red orb on her upturned palm. She smiled at Adam, gesturing for him to take it.
“What is it?” he asked.
“I just picked it. It’s from the old tree here. Try it, darling. It’s delicious.”
She strolled up, smelling of jasmine, and stood between the men. Leonid felt the hairs prickling on the back of his thick neck. His lungs squeezed tight, he cleared his dry throat and coughed. In his mind he was stroking the fine down on her back again, feeling her thighs opening out for him, the petals of her pipochka sucking him into her, tucking him firmly behind her pubic bone. Adam fixed his gaze on the fruit Eve held and then looked at Leonid. Leonid turned his face away and coughed again into his right hand. Her smell still lingered there. He furtively sniffed his fingers and felt himself swelling.
“But it hasn’t been through the Boss’s security check yet, sweetheart,” Adam seemed hesitant.
Eve held the fruit up to her lips, took a bite, and tossed it over to Leonid. He caught it with his left hand, its sticky juice dripping down the inside of his forearm. He put his mouth to where she had bitten and their eyes locked. Suddenly, a guttural yawp came from the other side of the tree. Adam was throwing up his dinner and the vodka. Eve ran over to her mate. Leonid, head aching from too much drink, eyes blurred from myopia and lust, could have sworn he’d seen a branch of the old tree slither off into the long grass.
“At least it was quick,” thought Leonid, as he dragged Adam’s body back through the water, over to the steps and hauled it up onto the bank.
Later that evening, after Leonid had finished cleaning up, the Boss called him into the office, lit up a bush, and offered him a promotion. Of course it came with a salary increase, improved working conditions and relocation expenses.
By leveraging our assets, our processes will gain value-add, Leonid. That way we will ensure continued success in what may well become an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Leonid looked at Him blankly.
FYI Leonid, we have to stick together, you and Me. You know, work together as a team. There are forces out there that would mount a takeover, given half the chance; especially those that have been lying around zero-tasking in the face of our presenteeism. They are simply waiting for the right moment.
‘Why change jobs?’ thought Leonid. He enjoyed his work, liked the neighbourhood. No noise, plenty of room for his dog Gavrik to run around, and the location was convenient, only a ten minute walk from home. He asked the Boss for a written job description, just to be clear about the demands of the new position, and was handed a stone tablet. Its inscription read: Corporate Icon: Father of the Human Race.
Leonid read the line over and over again. He’d never really had a flare for languages. As a new immigrant, firstly he had been too busy looking for robota to even think about learning Aramaic. He had started at the pools not long after he arrived, first on probation. The Boss hoped Leonid would be well-suited for the newly vacant position. But Leonid was worried. Up until now his job did not require much in the way of skill; rather it needed someone to simply watch over the couple and speak only in an emergency. This new offer made him feel a bit awkward; they hadn’t even buried Adam yet.
Leonid asked if he could have a while to think it over. The Boss said sure, take your time, then packed His scrolls and tablets into a duffle bag, saying He was headed off to a writers’ retreat in the mountains to work on a poem that He had been trying to get published in The New Yorker. Besides, He needed a break. Just before He left, the Boss turned to Leonid and urged him again to take the job, telling him he would do just as well as Adam, if not better. Think about it. It would be a career limiting move, Leonid, if you weren’t to accept my offer. No one is indispensible, you know, but I like you. You are a gentleman and a hard worker, with impeccable moral standing. Besides, you’ve read the classics; what more could I ask for in a man? Anyway, I’ll be back in forty days. We’ll discuss it further then. Meanwhile, you’re in charge here.
He disappeared in a theatrical puff of smoke, which pissed Leonid off, because it meant he had to now tidy up a smoldering pile of ashes.
The truth was, Leonid thought, the Boss was becoming a bit of a bore with all of His vanishing acts, pulling rabbits and assorted strange creatures out of His hat, sparks of fire here, torrents of water there. All this was making a damn mess. Perhaps He was having some sort of midlife crisis? Once, when He asked for an opinion about a line in one of His poems, Leonid almost told Him that all those thou’s and shalt not’s sounded a bit cliché. He didn’t seem like the kind who would take well to criticism though.
Leonid thought about moving into the Boss’s office while He was away, but that would mean he wouldn’t get to see Eve as often. She had been a little standoffish since Adam’s death. Every time he tried to approach her, she ran off. In the late afternoon, he managed to corner her near the date palm.
“Eve,” he said gently. “The Boss go away. We only ones here now. He need us to keep company productive.” That was not what he wanted to say; his words came out topsy-turvy, his tongue tripping over grammatical conjugations. Eve cuffed him on the side of the head.
“You’ll have to wait your turn, old man,” she said, not a trace of affection in her voice.
“Eve, it is duty to Boss,” his mouth moved automatically, spitting out slogans as though he was back home in Russia.
“Survival of the fittest,” Eve mused. “I made that line up myself. Do you like it?”
Leonid felt his demons rise.
“How clever you think of this. Did theory come while sunbathing?” He grabbed a handful of her long hair as she turned to walk away. “Don’t think your games work with me, young lady,” he snarled. “I not stupid like your Adam.”
Eve squirmed and twisted around, managing to reach up with her foot and kick Leonid in the balls. As the ache rose up into his stomach, he released his grip and she raced off into the orchard, vanishing in the thick foliage.
Leonid dropped to his knees and groaned. A wave of nausea came over him as he cupped his groin. Why had he come to this land? And why did Adam’s death occur on his watch? Was it his fault the Boss’s plan had gone wrong? And was he up to fathering the entire human race? Oh, why on earth did he leave everything he treasured in life behind; his parents, his dear Galina back home, pickled herring? Has this new infatuation with Eve been just a pathetic folly, an attempt to cure something as incurable as homesickness? The Garden of Eden was surely a step up from the deprivations he had known back in Russia. They'd all warned him that immigration would be a small death.
A thin voice crept out from between the branches of the old tree:
“I see we are not so different from one another, you and I,” it whispered.
Leonid thought he was hearing things. The pain, the vodka, the longing, all intermingled to conspire against him.
“A woman will cure the murderer’s loneliness,” it said.
“What?” Leonid peered into the shadowy veil that dusk had draped over the orchard, trying to make out who was speaking to him. “Who is there?”
He heard something moving away through the grass, then silence.
Eve had been gone for several hours, and Leonid was getting worried. It wasn’t like her to disappear without telling him of her whereabouts. He searched the perimeter of the grounds and just as he was about to give up, he heard voices and laughter up at the Boss’s place. As he came closer, he saw the flickering light of a small fire inside the office. He crouched behind a rock and peered in to see Eve seated on the ground, her back turned towards him. The Boss’s chair stood in the same place, unmoved since He had left. Curled up on the seat was a huge, shiny creature with black eyes and a long tongue that kept flicking in and out. Its tail hung down onto the ground and the tip was flung around Eve’s shoulder. Eve held a half-eaten orbfruit in her hand.
“I should be going,” Eve said. “Leonid will be getting worried.”
“What do you care about that fat, old Russsssian?” the creature hissed. “I can give you everything you’ve ever dessssired.”
“I suppose another little while wouldn’t hurt,” she giggled. “Leonid’s become a bit of a bore lately, you know. He’s a good man really, although he has a bit of trouble getting it up. I’m going to miss Adam in that respect. ”
“Then sssstay here with me.”
The creature slithered slowly down from the chair and appeared to vanish between Eve’s thighs. It looked like Eve was swallowing it into her loins. Her belly was swelling, as though she were suddenly filled with a cancerous growth. A putrid smell filled the air. Leonid uttered a muted protest. Eve turned her head towards him and he saw that her eyes had become tiny slits. The creature was inside her and he had goaded her away from Leonid.
In the grip of weakness, a man will do things that unravel all of his best intentions. Leonid imagined himself leaping out from his hiding place, filled with courage and conviction, grabbing the creature by the tip of its tail and heaving it out from her womb. He would hurl it into the flames, then throw himself upon Eve and dive into her labyrinths, plunging everything he had ever known into her - Bulgakov, Akhmatova, Kandinsky, Mussorgsky - all the anguish and beauty he had collected throughout his life. Instead, he ran back into the orchard, startling the fruit bats in the branches above his head. He ran past the pools where his friend Adam had plunged to his death, out of Eden, and into the unknown. He should have accepted the Boss’s offer of promotion straight away, but now it was too late for regrets.
He passed the outskirts of Eden and headed into the Badlands, the sands which marked the start of the desert. He felt his heart racing madly, his feet carrying him away from his loss. He ran on, over the next dune, then stopped suddenly in his tracks. Before him stood a familiar figure dressed in surgical scrubs, a mask over his nose and mouth. His body was draped over a large telescope and he stared down through its eyepiece up at the sky. The croaking of frogs somewhere on the banks of a distant river harmonized with Leonid’s staccato breaths. What was this person doing here in the heart of nowhere, in the middle of the night?
As if sensing someone watching him, the man looked up and peered out into the surrounding darkness, his cloudy cataracts reflected red in the moon.
Death is coming closer, he whispered, facing towards where Leonid stood transfixed. Then he reached behind his head and started to untie the strings of his mask. As it fell away, Leonid recognized immediately who it was. The Boss’s face was that of an old man, wrinkled and covered with tumours sprouting from skin as rough as bark.
It’s too late, the Boss rasped. It’s simply too late. I should have seen it coming. Instead of working with what I had, I should have tried to think outside the box, brainstorm some new ideas. The other team has won now and I’m telling you Leonid, the outcome will not be Good.
“I go back, Boss. Don’t worry. I fight the bastard for you.”
Thank you Leonid, I appreciate your efforts, but I’ve decided to take a redundancy package. The juice is not worth the squeeze. I just haven’t been able to get the work-life balance thing right, so I’m retiring. And on top of everything, I just received a rejection letter from The New Yorker. I think it’s about time I reinvented myself anyway. Maybe I’ll apply for an MFA in Fiction Writing. I’ve always enjoyed teaching. Thank you for everything, Leonid. And hey, best of luck with your future plans.
The Boss packed up his telescope and disappeared in a flash of fireworks. Leonid stood staring at the ground in front of him for several minutes, then looked up and scanned the horizon. He turned his head from side to side, then spun around to face the direction from which he had come. It was one of those lightning bolt moments the Boss had been so terrific with. It seemed so obvious now. The Garden of Eden, with its glorious vistas and rich, fertile soil, still relatively uninhabited but with huge potential for growth, was just waiting to be developed. A bit of infrastructure here, some condominiums there, a few billboards placed strategically along major freeways; he could see the endless possibilities before his eyes. And in an instant, he knew he could grow the brand and drew up a title on the nearest stone tablet. On the eighth day Leonid had reached the peak of his career by creating himself as a Real Estate Agent. He had even developed his own advertisement: Rustic, original condition, treed aspect, with on-site pool and sea glimpses. Great place for the kids to grow up. Opportunity to create your dream.
And evening passed and morning came and he saw that it was Good.
Leah Kaminsky is an award-winning Australian physician and writer. She has written several books, including a collection of poetry, Stitching Things Together (Interactive Press, 2010). She is the editor of Writer MD, an anthology of prominent, contemporary doctor-writers (Vintage Knopf USA, 2012). She is the Poetry & Fiction Editor of the Medical Journal of Australia and is completing an MFA in Fiction at Vermont College of Fine Arts, USA. (www.leahkaminsky.com)