Richard Krause, Raising Cain

The sweetness of Cain was so connected with the earth that he loved the sheer pleasure of overturning the soil, working it between his fingers as he broke the smaller clods with his thumb. The earth was cleansing, the way it seeped through the filter of his skin as nutriment almost. The furrows he made were like in a woman. His Mother Earth. The seeds he dropped in one by one, the plants he lovingly tended until the first green shoots, shiny and fresh, burst forth, absorbed him with infinite delight. So rich and sumptuous was the bounty of nature. The bright berries, the shiny apple, the succulent fig, the swelling pumpkin, the deep purple grape was all a riot of color. The drooping bean and many tendrilled cucumber, the long zucchini and incomparable eggplant, the private potato and the hidden white tunics of the onion all held their secrets that he unearthed. They were planted, raised, and picked with such loving care, that the world was good.

Cain even in time took advantage of his own sweetness with duly planted brakes, tall stalks that would one day be turned into refined sugar, as if man had found his bliss renewed by morning sunshine and the afternoon rains.

When his brother was born it was such a joy to have another tiller, another child of the generous earth. But Abel was to become a man of many parts, powerful and moody. The domestic plants weren’t enough. The grape didn’t make him blush, the glaucous clouds on the newly minted fruit only affected him when it was fermented, when the juices turned to rich syrups or intoxicating liquors, for his blood was thicker and more demanding than Cain’s. The taste of apples didn’t predispose him towards life and its bounty, neither did the sweet interior of the fig, or the berries that were too small for his fingers, and the mighty pumpkin inspired no fairy tales. He overlooked even the sharp radish, the dull bean, the suggestive pendulousness of the eggplant, or the tomato calling for brightly colored attention, turning from inexperienced green to bright red overnight.

No, Abel was not a flower child. Cain alone appreciated the blooms as much as the actual fruit, the pink apple blossoms, the delicate pear, the yellow cucumber, the remarkable lavender pink of the sweet pea. What a delight of florescence!

Abel herded with his staff and had no sympathy for a parallel tendril curling into a double helix. Abel loved challenges well beyond the rooted vegetable, challenges whose screams sought the open air. He relished his place in the order of things, powerfully treading the earth. Naturally hierarchical, he moved from the lowly worms that he pulled from clods to more complex forms of life.

Abel played with ants, put together the red and the black, started fights, then whole wars. He pulled the left appendages off grasshoppers to watch them crawl in a circle, or calculated their length of life in the baking sun. Butterflies he’d reduce, the more striking, royal, the better, not the cabbage moth so much as the Viceroy, the Monarch, even the pale lime Luna Moth; he’d bring out the caterpillar in them pulling off every appendage down to the wriggling torso.

Cats, he cut their whiskers off to watch their disorientation, and fish he fooled by removing their fins until they lost all mobility. Birds he blinded with hot pokers and then kept them around for their song. He finally was drawn to sheep. Maybe it was their hot breath. I’d like to say it was the cuteness of the lambs, their soft wooliness, but he thoughtlessly sheered them, then slaughtered them with pleasure for the meat.

The first time he cut the neck and the warm blood spurted out a rain of tiny droplets smearing his arms and legs, Abel’s senses quickened and he knew he had found his vocation. He panted over his labors like never before.

Not even his fights with Cain brought such pleasure. The bloody noses, the cuts above the eye, the vision reducing blows, the split lips inspired Abel, but nothing gave him pleasure like the entrails of sheep and the stickiness of their blood on his hands. Abel’s taste for blood was unslacked that one day he even tried to lick the drops from under his brother’s nostrils.

Their Father’s love for Cain was steady, had that uneventfulness that reduces love to the humdrum, cyclical expectations of the seasons and the crops produced. It had a shallow rhythm, despite deep roots in the soil, but it never achieved the same blessing. Perhaps it was controlled by the future culpability, the history destined to be made.

The true love was reserved for Abel.

It came to a head one autumn when the sons made their offerings to their Father. Cain once again brought a rich cornucopia of fruits and vegetables, the proud harvest of all he had planted. The burnished skins of grape, the berries, apples, tomatoes, figs, plums and pomegranate bulging inside their taut skins didn’t arouse the Father like Abel.

The Father’s voice thundered as from the heavens approval for Abel who instead carried his sheep on his back; like Atlas he balanced the old man’s universe. The salty blood of the newly slain animals covered his son with a stickiness that renewed the blood tie to his Father’s love. Cain’s fruits and vegetables seemed watery by comparison; they had no beating heart, no circulatory connection with the old man.

There was something about the visionless eyes of the sheep that sharpened the Father’s eyesight. The animal hoisted on the shoulders of his son and dropped before his Father infused the old man with renewed youth. He looked on astonished at how easily his son could cut the throats of animals. Perhaps he sensed the protection Abel offered. Sweet pea tendrils would never grow around anyone’s neck while sleeping, but a rampaging ram could butt a man high up into the air. In fact Abel introduced eating the complex organs, developed a taste for the grainy liver, the stubborn kidney, the rubbery heart with its chewy chambers, the curved necks with the tender flesh between the vertebrae, and the scrumptious sirloins which imparted a potency to the old man’s declining vigor.

No wonder he selected Abel’s animals over the peaceful produce of Cain. Even the brains Father and son ate imagining a triumph over the sheep’s friskiness, gamboling in the evening pasture, or the benefits of added vision from sucking on a salty eyeball, inspiring a contentedness that came from the sheep grazing in the dewy grass and the shepherd watching.

All this was laid at the Father’s feet as he surveyed Cain’s colorful crop that hadn’t sacrificed one live animal.

The rush of power from Abel’s offering, the bleeding aftermath at his feet, energized the old man. This was life circulating through him dismissing the heap of vegetables. The excitement of their pushing through the ground, their colorful erectness in the sunlight, could not hold a candle to the evening slayings, the wheezing throats slit, the bleating beforehand, the baa cut off in mid-utterance, so different from beans being snapped, or zucchini cut. How could that compete with the outside air rushing in the windpipe to preempt the animal’s breathing with the corrosive effects of oxygen? The animals lay there, testament to man’s future. What could a son do if a father was pleased by that?

Cain was devastated when his Father ignored his produce, showed so little regard for his hard work, but bestowed his blessing on his brother Abel.

Days after Abel taunted Cain over his Father’s choice as he worked the land, bent over his hoe. He called his brother a loser for sweating in the hot fields, working his fingers to the bone, while he lay dozing all afternoon under the shaded trees tending his flocks.

“The whole world is mine,” he said. “The future’s mine!” he taunted, bending down mock bleating into Cain’s ear, “Father loves me, not your dirty vegetables and dull fruit!”

At that Cain rose up with his hoe and struck Abel with the accumulated grip of all the thankless years spent tilling the soil, trying to win his Father’s approval. His brother didn’t have time to resist. The blow was so decisive that his legs crumpled beneath him like empty husks of corn and there he lay.

Cain left off work and it wasn’t until the evening meal that his Father asked, “Cain, where is thy brother, Abel?”

Cain, normally sweet, upright and open, his father’s favorite until the birth of his dynamic shepherd brother, said he didn’t know.

Cain left after the meal and went to the field and saw his brother lying cold on
the dewy earth. He lifted him up in his arms under a bright round moon and brought the body back to the house.

His father saw him carrying Abel just as his brother had carried the offerings of so many sheep and goats. Like the animals Abel had killed, he too became a dead weight. Cain set his brother down before his Father. The blood was caked dry at his ears and mouth.

The Father wept and buried his son.

Afterwards Cain worked the land, but as was forecast the land yielded little and he was forced to flee and wander the earth a marked man. His attentiveness to the soil lost heart, the desire he infused the ground with and its loving reciprocation was gone. Nothing would grow for him. Cain left home doomed to earn his living tending flocks, inspiring a bloodline of shepherds and butchers who slaughtered a variety of animals for food, clothing, and the approval of their fathers.

Richard Krause’s collection of fiction, Studies in Insignificance, was published by Livingston Press, and his epigram collection, Optical Biases, was published by EyeCorner Press in Denmark. Another collection of his stories, The Horror of the Ordinary, has been accepted by Unsolicited Press for publication in March.  Since 2017 his fiction has appeared in Hackwriters Magazine, ink&coda,Cold Creek Review, Subtle Fiction, EXPOUND, the Scarlet Leaf Review, and Flash Fiction Magazine. He has an upcoming story in the spring issue of Red Savina Review. He teaches at Somerset Community College in Kentucky.

 

 

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