The Not-So-Sudden Walk after Reading Kafka ~ fiction by Isabelle B.L

I inspect floral enamel coating spoons and forks, hand-painted cherries across white porcelain, slices of slouching golden brioche like giant dominoes. I run my finger across the whetted blade. Yellow, uneven circles tumble on laminate. It’s a choice between reading Kafka or covering beech wood with glossy hortensias, poppies and bluebells. In eighteen minutes and five seconds, alarm clocks will be whacked on their heads. To read or not to read? The choice exists and it rushes to the surface like the boiling milk spilling over stainless steel. I read The Sudden Walk, but I don’t walk.

I bury the collection of shorts in my handbag. My wallet lifts the book like a child stepping on a chair to see what’s on the other side. I shove the book back in shifting the wallet to a side pocket, so it doesn’t become a bother. After the school run, I start reading and stop at departure. Horns honk. I drop the collection of lives between the accelerator and brakes. I park in someone’s driveway and finish the story knocking over an enormous alarm clock. Tumbling alarm clocks are sprawled curbside instead of wheelie bins. The rear-view mirror corrects me. They are bins.

The fridge door lists things to do, pay, complete next to tiny boxes. Funny that. Ten years ago, I searched for completion. When am I going to be complete? The question resurfaces again like the hearty chick pea soup dribbling over silver walls. Five unchecked boxes. One for each member of my family. I imagine a conversation but even in imagination, I take a long time to get to the point. Curt words. That’s what Kafka writes. Curt is an alien. I try curt. To the questions: Why didn’t you do this? Why didn’t you do that? What’s the point of lists? I’d reply, tummy twists, technical troubles, terrible traffic. The truth would be better, but the ones I’m attached to like an arm to a shoulder joint wouldn’t understand that Kafka’s limbs swinging extra freely are the most beautiful words ever written.

I read the story. At half-past one. Half-past two. Half-past three.

At half-past seven, I tuck the children into bed. They prefer Charles Perrault to Franz Kafka—never mind. One day they’ll understand. I’ll send them a copy. Chests rise up and down. Variety fatigues creatures big and small. I’m still standing. Citrus juices flow through vessels. I am the you that strides through the night. I’m reading you, Kafka. I’m listening. See where I am tomorrow morning. Dishes lay stacked in soap suds. I cut the fingers off rubber gloves and blow soap suds across the room. It lands on a wilting pussy willow. I clench my fists. Wilting willows stay. How lovely to die in a halo of rainbow bubbles. My husband’s allsorts day has left him in a sticky ginormous swirly lollipop dream. He smiles and I like to remember him this way.

Moonlight guides me like a temporarily lost newborn turtle. I walk past lazy brioche sick with conjunctivitis. I read Kafka one last time and walk.

Isabelle B.L is a writer and teacher based in France. Her work can be found in the Best Microfiction 2022 anthology, Pure Slush, Flash Fiction Magazine, Bluepepper and elsewhere.