A parallel universe. The phrase tastes like a bitter citrus fruit in my mouth. The only clear thought I can fathom. It seems disconnected from any previous chain of thought. Incoherent. It flutters around my hollow brain reminding me of a lonely bird trapped in its cage. My mind is foggy, my limbs ache and as I look down all I can manage to make out is a weak mirage of a body: porcelain skin, soft curves, and round breasts. This is me but it isn’t me. Akin to my disconnected thoughts, my body is also a separate entity that is indifferent to who I am. Birdsong. In the distance. Startlingly bright blue skies and a green expanse that goes on for what appears to be forever. Do these eyes deceive me? You see, I am not me. I am not this body I inhabit. I don’t know how long I have been lying here…naked. It feels as though I have been cast out of the heavens onto this strange bed of greenery. I should be cold, but I am not. I should be afraid, but I am not. Come to think of it, I should be embarrassed but I am not. Maybe even a little ashamed of my nakedness but I am not. I don’t know how or even when I got here but something about it is uncannily familiar. It almost feels like a continual sensation of deja vu, yet I know I have never been here before. This world is not my own. The difference is tangible. The palpability of a world of opposites.
My head feels like a dead weight full of insubstantial images of a past and a life that is somehow mine. I stumble to my feet in a daze of headrush and confusion. As ‘my’ eyes begin to come into focus I realise that the unending expanse does, in fact, have an end. I can even see the undeniable signs of civilisation. Row upon row of houses break the ethereal greenness. I would have thought that the sight of human life would kickstart me into action and compel me to conceal myself as I hazily recall doing so many times before; a dreamlike, fuzzy image of a girl wrapping a towel around herself in embarrassment enters my mind. Is the girl me? Why does the simple act of covering one’s nakedness in shame permeate every crevice of my mind so viscerally? An act so symbolic of ancestral burden and shame. Almost as though the mere concealment of the female body will undo the centuries of unwanted indignity it has brought upon all its inhabitants. I stride barefoot along the dense shrubbery and the feeling of my feet trampling the moist grass grounds me. I feel more at one with nature than I have ever felt before, well, at least from what I can remember. For once I do not feel watched or judged or as though I need to be concerned by my appearance at all. The comforting waft of pleasant cooking smells enters my nose and I realise just how hungry I actually am. When was the last time I ate? That is something I could not tell you. As I approach the first row of houses, I begin to hear the low hubbub of families preparing for dinner. The blue skies have transformed into a beautiful orangey-pink sunset within mere minutes and the rich, warm hue of the sky takes my breath away. I have never seen a sunset like this before. Or have I?
Upon closer inspection I notice there is a gate that leads to this village of odd fairytale-like houses; I feel as though it is teasing me, daring me to enter. Everything looks medieval and archaic yet oddly modern too. Functional. Plastered to the gate is a sign that reads, ‘Tree of Knowledge Estate’ and something about the name jolts me back into a tangle of disparate, nonsensical memories. A little girl sat in the front pew of a large, intimidating building amongst other children. A formidable looking man in a funny looking robe flipping excitedly through a big black book. He is bestowing his zealous wisdom onto their young, eager ears and paraphrasing the book’s most salient parts to ensure their full understanding. He is proselytizing. I shiver and return to the present moment. The gate creaks open with minimal effort and I traverse the winding path up to the nearest house. Smoke dances elegantly upwards out of its chimney and soon becomes consumed by the different shades of pink and orange in the sky. The last vestiges of light from the day’s sun bounces off the house’s terracotta bricks giving the illusion that something magical is occurring. A miracle.
Before I even get the chance to knock on the front door, a man emerges from his back garden with a sleeping baby strapped tightly to his chest. He looks exhausted and weather-beaten. Young and old at the same time. There are a lot of things about his appearance that strikes me as unusual, but I cannot quite work out why. He struggles with a huge bag of freshly washed clothes that he has just taken off the line and the heady clean cotton smell evaporates from every fibre of their material making me feel a little nauseous. We catch one another’s gaze, and he does not even seem to register my nakedness. All social etiquette evades me, and I am planted to the ground unable to move or speak. Thankfully, he breaks the strange silence and asks me if I am lost. I feel out of place. But not because of my nakedness. It feels as though I am in a trance, but I manage to nod my head ever so slightly and he motions towards his front door. “Would you like to come in and call someone?” Why am I not afraid to enter a stranger’s home? News headlines from a bygone era momentarily enter my mind of women being lured into all sorts of traps concocted by predatory men. Even the ‘nice’ ones can be bad. However, this memory is more like muffled background noise; it is not enough to prevent me from following him through the door.
I brazenly slam the door behind me and take in my surroundings. I am standing inside a low ceilinged, dimly lit hallway and the cream coloured walls are littered with photographs of a family and babies. Lots of baby pictures. This is evidently a family home. From the outset it is nauseatingly traditional, however, the closer I look the more I realise this is unlike any home I have ever been in. Most of the photos are of men and babies with a few exceptions. One photo in particular catches my eye: the man whose house it is carries a new-born in his arms and is standing next to an expressionless woman. She is utterly detached from the man and baby. Indifferent. I can tell that this is no trick of the camera; something about her whole demeanour screams of alienation from her family. It’s almost as though she is not really there at all. I scan the wall to find her again, but she is nowhere else to be seen. I continue into the more airy and spacious living room and almost trip up on a creepy looking doll. It is a boy doll with chipped, badly painted nails and red lipstick smeared around its plastic lips. I presume this is the doing of a mischievous child.
The man hands me his landline and I stare at it dumbly. Before I can even stop myself, I blurt out the question, “Where is your wife?” His face contorts into an expression of at first confusion and then, as the reality of my question sinks in, sadness. “She left with the rest of them”, he responds cryptically. I do not understand. Who are the rest of them? He snaps out of his sad reverie and continues, “The other women…they all left for Magdalen Island to leave us men to take care of their kids!” Sadness shifts to anger and I notice he is glancing up at a poster that reads: ‘MALE SUFFRAGE: The Magdalen Intervention of 1988’. He mutters something bitterly under his breath about how his father and the other men of the village tried to storm the island when he was a child but to no avail. It is becoming more and more evident just how different this world is to the one I barely remember. A world where the women abandon the men and live on a female separatist island? A world where women are not maternal? A world where men are subservient to women and their arbitrary whims? A world where it is safe for me to wander around naked? A world where boy dolls and not girl dolls are vandalised with makeup and nail varnish? A matriarchy.
It suddenly all makes sense. The photos in the hallway. The exhaustion on his face. The multitasking. The effeminised doll. A parallel universe where femininity is flaunted around like a badge of honour and not something to be mocked. It is a lot to take in. I have been trapped in the strict parameters of labels and binaries and patriarchy for too long. The women in this world have the upper hand, they set the terms and they depend on men for nothing but their labour. I realise now that the Edenic garden I woke up in is symbolic of the prelapsarian bliss Eve once knew in my world. The kind of bliss that the women here benefit from every day of their lives. They are unshackled from domesticity and misogyny. Their naked bodies do not define them. They are afforded time for introspection and flourishing without the cries of infants in their ears and a never-ending list of pending chores. Above all, they are free.
I spot something colourful out of the corner of my eyes and what I see astounds me. A grotesquely beautiful tapestry hangs dominantly on the other side of the room and takes up the entire wall. It depicts a familiar scene that engenders a flood of memories within me, yet it is also completely unlike the scene I know so well. A serpent is entwined around Adam’s lifeless body and the remnants of a piece of rotten fruit sits knowingly in his limp hand. Some way off Eve sits smirking under a blossoming tree and watches the serpent snake around Adam with the same detachment of the woman in the family photo. In this world, Adam was tempted. And in this world, it is the men who must bear the burden of Adam’s fall.
Graphic courtesy of Natalie Rogers