Adam & Eve - By Sena Jeter Naslund



A NUDE COUPLE is standing in the shade of a small, leafy tree. The quality of the filtered light on their bare skin attracts me, and I stand with them to enjoy the dappled shade. Through pinholes formed where leaves cross, the sunlight creates globules of brightness on the grass. My bare toes nudge inside one of those softly defined orbs, but then I remember to look up.

From the sky, at the rate of 32.2 feet per second per second, a grand piano is hurtling down like a huge black bird of prey over our upturned faces. In that moment is a beginning and an end, alpha and omega, Genesis and Revelation.

Because we always ask, like any logical child, “Yes, but what came before the beginning and after the end?” I start with the year 2017, three years before I fell into Adam’s world and lived with him in the shade of an apple tree.

The instant before the piano fell, from a block away, I saw only a curiosity in the Amsterdam sky: a grand piano, aloft. To the beat of my rapidly moving feet, the words of the White Rabbit—“I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date”—played through my mind from Alice in Wonderland. My date was with my beloved husband, Thom Bergmann, an astrophysicist of international reputation. My name was and is Lucy Bergmann, and I was scheduled to join him and his colleagues for lunch. An imaginative, playful group for all their dedication to science, they’d named themselves collectively ELF—Extraterrestrial Life Focus. Using spectroscopy, they analyzed light from distant reaches of the universe to determine if the spectra had been emitted by biomolecules. My husband and his colleagues were searching for the atomic structure of amino acids, essential to life as we know it on Earth.

Not that I had anything to contribute to their scientific inquiry; I merely represented the curiosity of an ordinary, somewhat bright human being. Nonetheless, I knew something that none of them knew. I knew something that my husband had confided to me that morning in our hotel room. Because I had faith in my husband and believed what he told me, I knew a secret to which no person in the history of humankind had been privy. In an effort to contain my extraordinary excitement, I forced myself to watch the ascent of the piano as I hurried past the tall seventeenth-century Dutch houses on Prince Street toward the Blue Tulip Café.

That fine day in Amsterdam, in the spring of 2017, I thought it strange that the body of the delicate, expensive instrument was not dressed in a quilted case tailored to fit its unique shape. Darkly gleaming above the trees, the grand piano’s ebony-colored sides flashed back the fresh late-morning sunlight, but the three pedals hanging under the keyboard had been fitted with socks of green felt. To protect the piano cabinet from the abrasive cables of the sling at points of contact, plump red cushions had been placed between the twisted wire and the polished wood. Someone who lived on the top floor must have been in a great hurry to have a piano delivered.

My husband had been talking about buying just such a handsome grand. Like many people gifted in mathematics, Thom was also a fine musician.

As I walked down Prince Street, I speculated that the piano was being lifted up the outside of the narrow Dutch house because the interior stairs twirled their way up too tightly to accommodate the passage of so massive an instrument. Almost three centuries earlier, the clever Dutch had anticipated the installation problem posed by furniture too grand for their interior stairs yet essential to their egos as testaments of bourgeois magnificence. During the construction of these multistoried, substantial homes, their builders usually had a hook permanently implanted outside at the apex of the ornate, arched facade of each house. By means of a pulley attached to the hook, large and heavy furnishings could be raised by laborious degrees outside the building to even the highest level.

At the top of this particular Dutch house was a high, large window, subdivided into many small panes, and it had been flung wide from its side hinges, like an open arm, to welcome the huge piano. I tried to see if the glass of the mullioned window was wavy at the bottom of each pane, but my eyesight was not acute enough to detect such an irregularity in glass at that height