In the days and weeks that followed, Eve began to eat only of the golden apples that grew in her yard. They tasted like raspberries or blueberries or squash or mushrooms or whatever else she most wanted to eat when she bit into them. More than this, they made her feel full of good health and well-being - and it was not true only for herself. Villagers began to gather at her home each day to collect the miraculous fruit, in fact, for it made the old begin to grow young again and wounds - even old ones - begin to heal. Some who bore grievous marks had been fully healed by the time another kind of fruitfulness began to show in the swelling of Eve’s belly.
And now she felt compelled to tell the others about her encounter with the golden-haired youth. She showed them the lantern he’d left her, which several of the young people from the village began to study and would eventually emulate. Likewise, she explained that the tree was not the mystery they had previously assumed it to be, but that it was a product of the wonderful apple seed Genaios had given her. And, after that, Eve couldn’t deny that Genaios had left further gifts in the form of the three jars. Indeed, she brought them outside and carefully placed them in the branches of the apple tree as a sort of shrine to her absent love.
But this wasn’t enough. The people wanted to know what the jars contained. They imagined that the jars must contain something even better than the marvelous apple seed, and they insisted that Eve open them. Eve reluctantly agreed to open only one of the jars, though the bird inside her had gone strangely quiet at the prospect. She reached into the branches of the tree of golden apples and broke the seal of the nearest vessel. It fell to the earth and broke into dozens of tiny fragments.
A woman standing nearby began to wail and hold her elbows and knees, which had swollen up dramatically. A man began to cough and couldn’t stop until his hands were full of bloody phlegm. The air about them, which had until then still stayed fairly warm at night, blew harshly and frostily until they were forced to huddle together for warmth. Many suffered now from hunger that even a golden apple could only satiate for a few hours and thirst which must be slaked to keep it from causing terrible discomfort.
Eve retired to her house in misery. She bore her child alone that winter - for winter, too, had now come to the world with bitter might - and she suffered greatly to bring the boy into her life. But the boy also showed her the hope that had been hidden when she unstopped the seal of the jar. For her anguish had brought her a boy with hair as glowing-blonde and eyes as scintillatingly green as his father’s. And she called him Elpidios.
As the boy grew, he revealed hope to his mother in many new ways. When she had grown bored of the house and trees and woods and village and everything else, he would show her how they affected him with wonder and make her feel them once again. When she grieved for her lost Genaios or when one of the villagers died - for the certainty of death had now come into the world as well - the boy reminded her that there was still reason to care, reason to love.
Eve, and the villagers too, began to understand the nature of the hope contained in the jar they’d dared to open. It was the hope brought by appreciation in the presence of contrast. Before the jar had been broken, they had never been so full of love or curiosity or joy or wonder. The fact that the sun would set and be lost for the night made its appearance each day the more miraculous. There was nothing like hunger and thirst to make the people delight in food and drink as never before. Even the horrible gift of death had its place as a cause for hope, as the villagers began to build temples both to honor the gods for their current life and to act as gateways to the world beyond - a world which they’d never bothered to consider much before. There was hope for those beyond the healing of even a golden apple. And always leading the hopes of the others were Elpidios and the other children - a generation of girls and boys more full of hope than any other before even as they were the first generation who would come to understand death as inevitable rather than merely possible.
And then, when Elpidios was nearly his father’s age, another despair came to the world. News of people fighting other people - if such a thing could be believed! - came to the village from the coast. Elpidios complained and pleaded with his mother until she tearfully consented to let him go to the fight. Her only hope after he left his home was in imagining him turn by the yard and walk past the apple tree and embrace her when he finally returned.
But Elpidios never returned. Only his battered and bloodstained shield made it home from the wars. His friends, the soldiers of his company, visited her and tried to comfort her with tales of his honor and bravery. But Eve could not bear to hear such stories; she fled to her bedroom and would not exit until the house was empty, despite her great hunger and thirst.
Finally, fearing for Eve, the soldiers and villagers left her alone. When she heard the last of them depart, she crept from her bedroom and into the yard. She went to the tree, her bird fluttering madly in her stomach, and took down another jar. She dashed it to the ground, praying for her son.
A dark wind flew up from the second jar, making Eve’s lantern gutter and filling her ears with sinister voices. They told her of the true nature of hope - that it, too, is the weapon of despair. They told her that, even as hope is the thing that makes people appreciate what is good, it always becomes the thing that leaves them feeling wretched when they’ve relied upon it. Without hope, pain hurts only once; with hope, it can hurt over and over until it fills someone’s life with despair.
But, even before the fragments struck the ground, Eve had ceased to care.
The life Eve led now was, in a strange way, much like the life she’d lived before she’d ever met Genaios or bore Elpidios. The difference was that, whereas she’d never thought to despair before, she never dared to hope now.
When the sun rose, Eve only said to herself, “It will set again and leave us in darkness.”
When the fruit ripened (for seasons had now come to world), she explained, “They only come to make us despair when they die again.”
When a child was born, Eve would laugh a bitter laugh and remark, “Another for the grave. The baby’s time will come all too soon.”
Eve didn’t eat golden apples any more. She grew withered and old, but she would still not taste the fruit. The villagers followed her example, and the yard around the apple tree became a tangled mess until it was fully reclaimed by the forest and Eve could barely remember where it had stood.
Finally came the day when Eve could no longer see a reason to live anymore. Genaios and Elpidios were gone, along with all hope of their return. She had brought terrible evil into the world. She had been responsible for the death of her own son.
Eve found herself walking through the woods, scratching at her wrists with her long, unkempt nails until her blood fell into the snow (for it was, once again, winter). Then, looking up, she beheld the branches of the long-lost apple tree.
Eve’s hands, curious for the first time in decades, reached toward the branches. She plucked an apple and looked at it. The fruit had been hanging on the branch too long; it was overripe and slightly bruised. Her bird, which she’d thought lost years before, essayed a tentative wingbeat. She gasped.
And then she beheld, and remembered, the final jar. Perhaps the other jars had contained bad things, but perhaps she hadn’t properly stopped to consider. Could the hope Genaios had spoken of, all those years before, be something contained in all three jars? Could it be that she still hadn’t freed it?
Eve broke the final jar on the ground before her feet. A foul-smelling cloud erupted outward, filling her lungs with poison. The apple fell to the snow as she sank to her knees.
So this is all, this bitterness? Eve thought. Fine, then. Let death come. To me, to all. I don’t care. There is no such thing as hope - lost, found, or otherwise. Hope is truly just a spiteful illusion at best.
Wood enclosed her. A coffin? she wondered at first.
But could a casket smell like the freshness of the deep woods, like tree sap in spring?
She pushed against the wood. Her bird was elated. As the wood splintered, letting in the light of the sun, the bird seemed to fly out of her throat entirely. She was now connected to something that flew free across the open landscape. It carried her heart in all weather.
An old man approached her.
“Finally,” he said feebly. “I’ve been waiting many a year for this tree to bear fruit.”
She looked around her. The tree she’d just stepped from, and which was already re-sealing itself, was one that bore golden apples. Beautiful, flawless, shining fruit. She reached up and took one of the healthful orbs, handing it to the old man.
The signs of age began to fall from his wrinkled skin and twisted limbs as soon as he bit into the apple. His hair shifted from gray to blond-gray to shining platinum locks. The cataracts over his eyes melted away to reveal a gaze as green as the trees around them.
“Sorry, I’ve never heard of him. But you seem familiar. Are you—“
“I’m called— E— I—“
“It’s alright. I’m sure it will come to you. I’m called Baldr.” Holding tightly to hope - sharp-edged though it might be, shadow and lantern that it was - Eve collapsed into the arms of her love with a sigh.