Evan Lavender-Smith


after Kafka

I heard the motors of the cars rumble in the late afternoon as they ascended the hill and I lifted my head above a bush on the side of the road just in time to see the heads of hair race by. I dove back into my bush when I heard the motor of the next car rumbling at the bottom. At last the line of parked cars stretched halfway down the hill; they stopped directly in front of me. How loud the rumbling of their engines was! Sparkling shoes tapped the ground near my nose and exhaust tickled my throat. Guests flew from cardoors, locked arms and danced up the hill to the party.

Cars skittered frantically to find parking. I searched for gaps in the bush and then lay on my stomach and watched a yellow flower-patterned dress very carefully. Later I watched a nurse pushing an old man in a wheelchair: he puffed on his pipe and the nurse swatted his smoke away with her hands. When they were halfway up the hill the nurse was whisked away by a throng of guests and the old general rolled backward to the bottom. His smoke curled upward toward the sky and I emerged from my bush and lay on my back watching the smoke rise into the light pink sky and then later into the purple sky until it was finally captured by smoke rising from chimneys toward a black and wintry sky with stars, and I smelled supper from the window of my mother’s kitchen across the yard.

Steam rose from a pot of soup and fogged the kitchen window. I lowered a spoon into my bowl. When I raised the spoon to my mouth it was empty—I had spilled it. Weak and tired from watching cars park all afternoon, one looks down into a bowl of soup and wishes to float away in it. I held the empty spoon to my lips pretending to sip. Someone flew the window up and shouted my name.

“How are you not outside! Finish that soup!”

The window flew down. Wood popped and hissed in the hearth. I dropped my spoon and stood from the table and pulled my scarf down from the coat-tree.

As soon as I stepped outdoors my neck jerked and my scarf streamed across the yard in children’s hands. I was carried by a crowd and deposited into a bush by the side of the road. We were lined up and down the hill. All the children of the neighborhood curled tightly together in the bushes.

“Watch for the¬ thorns!”

“I see them!”

“There’s no room!”

“Watch that you don’t cut—”

“Oh my face!”

Bodies leaped into my bush from all sides. Sets of eyes in bushes across the road peered back into ours. “To the right!” someone called from the left, “To the left!” someone called from the right, and we all rolled up the hill toward the party cutting our faces on the thorns.

We rolled to bushes at the top of the hill and we leaped into a wide bush near a wooden fence. I lay on my back under my bush feeling the cuts on my nose and cheeks. When a call was given one leaped as if one’s bush had caught fire. Upon entering another, one remained still until called again, then leaped on. I leaped from bush to bush cutting my face on every branch. Finally I landed in a large bush and burrowed in deeply.

A voice called out: “How are you burrowed into that bush so deeply? Come out of there at once! Forward is the call!”

I leaped on. When the next call sounded we all leaped forward toward bushes along a wooden fence. I lay on my back with my legs handing out in the cold. Stars marched across the sky and blue chimney smoke slithered between them. I closed my eyes and dreamed of riding high above, looking down at the party from a great height. A body fell into my bush upon me.

“Dreaming in there, are you? Why do we even bother with you? To the party!”

I stumbled away. At last we reached a hole upon the wooden fence which was no larger than my head. When the call was given to leap through the hole I lay on the ground motionless, pretending to be dead. I pressed my body into the ground as bodies rolled over mine toward the hole until I was the only one left outside, then I crawled to the hole and raised my head just high enough to look inside. I saw guests pour from the doors into the night and fires atop wooden poles cast dancing shadows on guests’ faces. I saw their breath rise above their heads and mingle to create a single hovering breath above the party. Children moved swiftly under guests’ legs and reached to pick food from trays. My shoes had filled with sand. Walking back down the hill I met the old general rolling himself back up. He stopped to puff from his pipe and I stood blocking his path; his wheels banged against my shins. “You again! Get out of my way! I’ll run you down if you like!”

I walked to the next road over and the sound of the general’s shouts grew fainter. At last I was free of his calls just as calls from another road emerged: “To the party!” a voice called, and I watched children whose eyes I did not recognize leap into bushes alongside roads I did not know. After a night of rolling uphill and leaping from bush to bush toward a party one longs for a flat and unvegetated place.

The sky began to lighten and the stars to disappear.

Evan Lavender-Smith is a graduate of the M.F.A. program in creative writing at New Mexico State University. His recent work appears in Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, and Land-Grant College Review. Evan is an editor at Noemi Press.

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