Amy Stuber ~ The Garden of Eden

Two philoso­phers walk into a bar. They wear robes, maybe some Grecian tex­tile that’s musty from long-term entomb­ment or maybe some clear­ance sheets from Bed Bath and Beyond.

I’ll have a G & T,” the first philoso­pher says, which is sur­pris­ing because who knew philoso­phers drank any­thing but wine or water out of shal­low cups.

I’m abstain­ing,” the sec­ond philoso­pher says. He’s shoe­less, which isn’t rec­om­mend­ed in a bar. His toe­nails are longer than seems safe or san­i­tary, but not so long as to be record-win­ning. He’s maneu­ver­ing a piece of ice over his tongue, maybe think­ing, ice, ice, what a beau­ti­ful novelty.

The first philoso­pher looks around the room at the oth­ers there. The slumped man, the made-up woman, the two peo­ple in work­wear. None of them look hap­py or good.

Another,” the first philoso­pher says to the bar­tender. “What is it?” he says to the sec­ond philoso­pher who has gone quiet.

Remember Daphne? Ovid’s Daphne?” the sec­ond philoso­pher says, “you know the sto­ry, how she turns into a tree to avoid the pur­suit of Apollo? There’s that paint­ing where her arms are branch­es reach­ing up from her body?”

The back door opens, and a tri­an­gle of light from the street­lamp lands on the wood floor by the bath­rooms. Of course, the philoso­phers are men.

The first philoso­pher had been a wan­der­er. He’d had a wife. Or a child. Or maybe it was the sec­ond philoso­pher who had those things. Anyway, they were not with­out their backstories.

Writers love turn­ing peo­ple, women espe­cial­ly, into things non-human, ghosts or ani­mals or trees,” the first philoso­pher said. “I mean, tell me some­thing about an actu­al human woman!” The first philoso­pher exhales in a way that calls to mind wind on water, walks to the row of pin­ball machines, and puts quar­ters into The Addams Family, his favorite. The game lights up. He snaps along to the song that starts the game and pulls to let the sil­ver ball go flying.

The sec­ond philoso­pher says, “Do you remem­ber Dante’s she wolf and the grey­hound? The wolf is a she, but the grey­hound is just a grey­hound. As is the leop­ard, just a leopard.”

The sec­ond philoso­pher waves his hands around while he talks, and his robes drape over the machine’s glass top, which caus­es the first philoso­pher to lose sight of the sil­ver ball. It goes down between the flip­pers so quick­ly he doesn’t see it going. The first philoso­pher does not need to say it, but there is some­thing about life in that quick-drop­ping sil­ver ball. Going, going, gone.

Yes, I remem­ber the grey­hound,” the first philoso­pher says. “A female ani­mal pun­ished for her desire. All sym­bol, no sub­stance.” He tilts the machine to keep the ball from going down between the flip­pers, but he does it in such a way as to avoid detec­tion by the machine. So gen­tle. “We ask a lot of char­ac­ters,” he says. His face glows in the machine lights. “They have to stand for some­thing. Go on a jour­ney. Be beau­ti­ful­ly, sat­is­fy­ing­ly changed on the oth­er side.” He sighs when the ball tum­bles out of sight again and reach­es his hands into the deep pock­ets of his robe and finds no quarters.

They walk to the bar’s front door and out into the night where the sky is vel­vet or suf­fo­cat­ing, depend­ing on how the world is for you.

Anyway,” the sec­ond philoso­pher says, “Eve’s apple was most like­ly a pome­gran­ate.” He steps over bro­ken glass, then looks for the moon.

They pass the old depart­ment store, the bak­ery, the church with all its ban­ners and walk all the way to the street with the dri­ve-thru where peo­ple wait in a line of cars for burritos.

It’s awk­ward to stand in a car line wear­ing robes. Still, they end up between two Hondas. Through the back win­dow of the car in front of them, the philoso­phers see the pressed-togeth­er bod­ies of boys, men. Through the front win­dow of the car behind them, they see the sharp white smiles of girls, women. All of them, the men and the women, con­vinced that night that the future holds thrills and good fortune.

The philoso­phers sit on someone’s dis­card­ed sofa near a dump­ster and eat bur­ri­tos in an alley behind a frame shop and man­age to not spill sal­sa on their robes. At the back of a house, lights turn on, and a woman stands with a water glass at a win­dow. Maybe she looks famil­iar, like a wife or a sis­ter or a mother.

They walk up the hill to a small lake on the cam­pus where a tow­er some­times plays bells, but in the night the tow­er is silent. The philoso­phers find a good spot to lie back in the cat­tails near the water. They pull their robes tight.

The philoso­phers believe in many things, but they aren’t maybe the expect­ed ones. Chance. Nature. Wind. The moon, not in an ethe­re­al potions-and-spells way, but in a reli­able beau­ty way, in the way of some­thing con­stant that’s a reminder of things else­where and beyond, to remind them: life is short. Life is sad. Life is hard. Life is joy. Life is full­ness and stalling and rush­ing and some­thing and some­thing and everything.

A nes­tled goose does a strange sleep-honk, and the philoso­phers go still, their feet twitch­ing in the cat­tails and grass­es. Probably, they are sleeping.

When the geese alert again, when they guf­faw and flap over water, the sky is washed pink, and the philoso­phers are dream­ing of every­thing: old times and house cats and fire­places and met­al fans and lip­stick and maybe the kind of oblong space­ships that fifty years ago looked like the future.

Someone has climbed to the top of the bell tow­er, and the bells ring out, say­ing to any­one who will lis­ten, Hello, hel­lo, here it is again: morning. 


Amy Stuber is a fic­tion writer liv­ing in Lawrence, Kansas. She edits flash fic­tion for Split Lip Magazine. Her work has been pub­lished in or is forth­com­ing in Flash Fiction America (W.W. Norton, 2023), American Short Fiction, Copper Nickel, Ploughshares, West Branch, New England Review, and else­where. She was the recip­i­ent of the Northwest Review Fiction Prize (2021) and a run­ner up for the Missouri Review Editor’s Prize (2022) and the CRAFT Short Fiction Prize (2022). She’s on Twitter @amy_stuber_ and online at