A number of years after God had driven the man and the woman from the garden of Paradise--years as humans count them, that is--the archangel Gabriel came to the angel Aziel there in the place of the Blessed. Aziel was one of the principalities, an angel of the middle rank whose special duty it is to discharge God's errands on Earth."Aziel," Gabriel said, shimmering with the glory of his nearness to God, "you must go to Earth. The Transcendent One has work for you there. " Aziel bowed low, filled to overflowing with the keen pleasure of obedience. "When He drove the man and woman from the Garden," Gabriel continued, "they were stripped of all pleasure. " "They never feel good at all, then?" Aziel asked. "Oh, they feel satisfaction, and contentment, and sometimes even happiness. And of course they feel love--they'd wither without it. But they have no physical pleasure. The time has come to give pleasure back to them, for their souls were made to know it and be refreshed by it. " Aziel was surprised. "You mean they can return to the Garden?" "No," Gabriel, "that can never be. But they've lived long enough without any pleasure at all, and by now they should have learned how to keep things in their proper places. You are to take this flask of wine with you--it is Pleasure itself. Go to them and decide how pleasure should be distributed through their lives. Then offer them this drink. One swallow is the right amount for each kind of pleasure. Go now, sister, and live always in the Light. " So Aziel crossed the sunless gulf between the worlds and was soon walking up the path that led to the crude hut of sod and driftwood where the woman and man lived with their children. When they saw a stranger coming they ran out to greet her, excited to have a visitor. They gave her sweet water to drink, and a comfortable place to sit, and inquired politely about her journey. Then they asked her to share their evening meal and to stay with them a while, and gave her the softest furs to sleep on and the place nearest the fire. As the days passed, Aziel went about her task. As she watched them and learned about their lives, she made her decisions. When she saw the woman running to keep one of the children from falling into the creek, she offered her a swallow of wine afterwards. That's why we find pleasure in loving and caring for children. When she watched the man carefully preparing food for his family, she offered a swallow of wine to flavor the stew, and so we all find pleasure in eating. After the children ran giggling down a grassy hill with their parents laughing behind them, she refreshed them all from her flask; that's why we find pleasure in the exercise of our bodies. When she saw them asleep, looking helpless and small, she woke them and gave them wine--and now we all feel pleasure in sleeping and in dreaming. "You've been so good to me," she would tell them, "and this wine is all I have to repay you with. "So she'd give them each another swallow and some new pleasure would slowly grow in them. Soon their lives were full of the pleasures we know today--all but one. The longer she stayed in their hut, the more Aziel's heart went out to them. The Separation from the Garden and the long years of work and sorrow and uncertainty had changed them deeply. They no longer desired to rule over things, but had grown humble, loving each other and kind and patient with their children. It seemed the pain had cleansed them somehow. Their lives were hard and they were often exhausted or anxious, and sometimes they would bicker with each other or sit glumly apart without speaking. But along with their weakness she could see their desire to overcome weakness--and they often did overcome it. Aziel had never witnessed such things before. What moved her most, though, was the way they treated her. They always shared with her the best of what they had, and were kind to her, and shared their thoughts and feelings--and for no reason at all, it seemed, except to do it. Aziel knew the time for her departure was drawing near, and she decided to give them a final gift: one more form of pleasure, but this time with two swallows of wine, so the pleasure would be doubled. She couldn't decide, though, what particular pleasure to grant. There seemed to be nothing left. One morning they all sat together eating fried bread and drinking skunkberry tea. Aziel hadn't slept well; she'd been wakened in the night by soft grunting sounds. As she sat there with them, accepted as one of the family, she knew this must be her last day and that she had to decide what to give. Why didn't I think of it before? she suddenly asked herself. So when the children went down to the creek with the water buckets, she turned to the man and the woman. "I could never thank you enough for your kindness to me, " she said. "But now it's time I continue my journey. " The woman and the man looked quickly at each other and then back at Aziel. She could see the pain in their eyes. "If you must go, then you must," the man said. "But you're always welcome at our fire, day or night. We hope you'll come back to us--you're part of our family now. " "God's blessing on you and on your journey," the woman said. "Here, I'll wrap some food and fill the water jug for you. " "Wait, " Aziel said, touching her arm. "Before I go I want to give you a gift. It's the least I can do. But I'm not sure what to give you, so I want to ask you about it. Tell me--what do you want most?" The man smiled quietly, then reached over and took the woman's hand. He looked at her and she smiled back at him. Then she turned to Aziel. "We want to be close to each other," she said. "So close," the man added, "that nothing can come between us. " The woman nodded. Suddenly Aziel realized what had woken her in the night. That's it! she exulted to herself. I'll give them pleasure in the making of children. That will be a proper gift--and it will bring more love to the children too. Out loud she said, "Then let's drink this wine in honor of your love--and as a parting gift from me. " So she went to pour two swallowsful into their drinking bowl. But as she tipped the wine flask she poured too fast, and the wine rushed out, filling the deep wooden bowl almost to the brim. The woman and man immediately took it up and drank from it in turn--they'd grown fond of her drink. In the twinkling of an eye the bowl was empty, without even a drop in the bottom. For a moment Aziel was troubled. But then she felt the deep mysterious warmth that always burned somewhere down in her being. Oh well, she said to herself, accidents will happen. And everything is in the hands of the One. So she tucked the flask away and prepared to leave. Soon she was waving back at them from the trail among the pines and chokecherry bushes. The man and woman stood sorrowful at the door of their hut, grieving at the loss of a friend--and not even imagining what lay in store for them. For Adam and Eve, as you know, did have other children. And that is why, to this very day, women and men find such deep pleasure in love-making, and never grow tired of it.
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You might imagine that you notice a theme in some of this year’s story selection. Nothing could be further from the . . . OK, OK, you caught me. This one struck my fancy and seemed to fit well with some of the other tales. What do you think? Tell me on our BBS. GM.