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s gardens go, Count de Moola's was a classic, for it embraced every known species of flora and fauna on earth. Travelers from far and near came to witness this wondrous creation, and were invariably convinced that the Garden of Eden still existed. Though his immense fortune kept the garden well stocked, the Count felt indebted to Signor and Signora Pandora, who labored to maintain its splendor.

The ancient couple had been with his family for as long as he could remember, always smiling and bowing respectfully in the presence of their masters. Each day, they emerged from their modest hut near the estate's eastern wall, chatting happily. Generally, it was assumed that they were eager to attend to their duties.

One morning, however, as Count de Moola strolled through his grounds, he was surprised to hear Signora Pandora's tremulous voice raised in annoyance. He paused behind a persimmon tree to listen.

"Just look how hard we work," she complained, "slaving from dawn till dusk, all because of that stupid Adam and Eve. If those two idiots hadn't been so curious, why, we'd still be living in Paradise! Instead; here we are, spreading manure on pansies and trimming goat's beards!"

"You are right, my dear." her husband agreed with a frown. Impatiently he tossed an overripe pomegranate at the monkey he had been feeding. "If we had been there instead of Adam and Eve, everyone would still be in Paradise!"

Count de Moola smiled to himself for having thought of the perfect way to stem their discontent. As he stepped forward, the two old people nearly fainted from embarrassment. They recovered quickly, however, when they heard their master's proposal.

"How would you both like to live in my palazzo?" he offered. "You would eat to your heart's content every day, have servants to attend to your every need, and be free to enjoy my garden at your leisure!

"Oh, Master, that would be wonderful," the Pandoras gushed in unison, "like Paradise itself!"

"Well, if you say so;" the Count shrugged modestly. Then, raising a cautionary hand, he said, "but there is one little thing you must remember. Just as the original Paradise had one forbidden tree; so will my table have one special dish that you may not touch. I trust that you will not mind?"

"Of course not, Master!" Signor Pandora responded. "I just can't imagine why Eve needed that forbidden fruit when she had so many other wonderful fruits to choose from! Besides, if my wife and I who are used to a modest life, are given enough to live well, an extra dish on your table would not matter to us in the least!"

The Count nodded approvingly. "Good. I see that we understand each other perfectly. You will come to my palazzo tomorrow and begin your new life. Again, remember not to open the dish in the center of my table. If you do," he raised his eyebrows ominously, "you must return to your old ways. The old couple exchanged wary glances, then bowed respectfully.

When the Pandoras arrived at the palazzo, they were shown to a magnificent apartment, supplied with a beautiful new wardrobe and every comfort they could imagine. Just before dinner, Count deMoola privately instructed a servant to place a terra cotta tureen containing a tiny live bird at the center of the table. Then, when he served dinner to the old couple, the servant was to watch them throughout the meal. If the cover of the dish was lifted, and the bird flew out; he was expected to immediately inform his master.

The Pandoras licked their lips and praised the luscious dinner. Then, as she speared a juicy meatball, Signora Pandora suddenly noticed the dish at the center of the table. "Look," she said, poking her husband. " there is the dish we may not touch." Signor Pandora covered his eyes. "Don't even look at it!" he mumbled,between bites of pasta. His wife waved her arm dismissively,"Pfui! Who needs it anyway?" she muttered, reaching for a chunk of garlic bread.

As the evening wore on, their eating orgy soon lost its novelty. Despite having sampled nearly every dish on the table, Signora Pandora craved even more exciting taste sensations. Hiccuping behind her hand, the old woman reached for the forbidden terra cotta tureen. Winking mischievously at her husband she said, "I'm just dying to try this one, aren't you?" Signor Pandora folded his arms across his chest and shook his head stubbornly. "Absolutely not!" he burped loudly.

His wife glared at him in silence for a few minutes and tried again. "How about just picking up the corner of the cover, dear? Surely that can't be the same as opening the dish, can it? Hmmm?" Again her husband refused to cooperate. "Don't even think about it!" he bellowed. Eventually, the wily Signora Pandora convinced him that no one would be harmed by an innocent glimpse of the forbidden dish's contents. "Besides," she wiggled excitedly, "how would Count de Moola even know?"

"Oh, all right," the old man sighed, " I guess a little peek can't hurt." And that was all the encouragement Signora Pandora needed. Cautiously, she lifted the cover just a crack. The dish seemed to be empty!? Mystified, she raised the cover a bit more. With a shrill peep, the little bird flew out!

The old couple snickered and replaced the cover on the dish. Then, as though nothing had happened, they reached for another bowl and scooped out two generous portions of pink and green spumoni. But the servant had quietly slipped out of the room to inform his master of the bird's release.

Immediately, Count de Moola confronted his guests with their treachery. The red-faced old couple bowed their heads in shame. As they slouched towards the door, the Count commanded them never to bad-mouth Adam and Eve again.

Out in the courtyard, the Pandoras reclaimed their old gardening tools. Suddenly, they heard the rumble of thunder and hurried towards their modest hut. Following a snake-like path through elaborate topiary, they barely avoided the bolt of lightning which had pierced the strange violet and yellow sky. "Oh, well," they sighed in unison as the first drops of rain hit them, "Here we go again!"

1994 Ilene Winn-Lederer