A short story by Will Kaufman
He named this place the Apple Grove of Hope for Love, because it was in this apple grove, as a youth, that he came upon a horse, a dappled grey, and befriended it. In that time the people of our land lived far apart, and often wandered. How else to find love than on a horse?
This hill the hero named Horse-Thrown Hill, because he could not ride over it without his horse throwing him. Sixteen times in the course of the hero’s many travels he was thrown. Sixteen times as he crossed our land, looking for his love. Perhaps he should have named it Stubborn Hero Hill, for he could have ridden around it. It is not a very large hill. But he always thought, maybe this time. He would be thrown still had his horse not died.
I have never owned a horse, though I have seen several. Wild horses, even. A small herd, chestnut and white in a stretch of grassy valley too far from the city to be worth developing, and too narrow to farm. Its name on the map is Narrow Valley. I witnessed the wild horses of Narrow Valley grazing by the freeway, the E-244. Such are the names given now.
Professor Padarak drove me down that road, in her rusted Lada, to interview a retired truck driver whose father had a reputation as a great storyteller. We brought tape recorders and notebooks and maps, and meant to recover old stories and old names. Professor Padarak and Aydas the Research Assistant, seeing in each landmark that presented itself outside the streaked windows of the Lada a space for an old name to be scrived.
The truck driver told us the stories his father told him, of the great hero who gave many names to the places in our land, and other stories, too. He spoke a patois of the old dialect and the new—though not like the kind taught in classrooms—and trucker-words. In English he knew “distance” and he knew “horse” from “horsepower.” Then he offered us the use of a cot next to his iron stove.
I considered the shack’s concrete floor. “I’ll sleep in the car,” I said.
“Don’t be daft,” said Professor Padarak. “You’ll freeze.”
And this is the Best Tree for Sitting Under, with its twisted roots that make beds and chairs, and its dense leaves that shelter and shade. The hero sat here many times on his travels, stopping even if he was not tired, just because it is so good a place to sit. While he sat he thought about finding his love, about finding a woman with whom he could name a place Home, and how they would have many children, and he would ask her to name each one, then he would name a place for each one. This was a sad thought, too, because he would not need his horse any longer, having found love, but he loved his horse. He had spent so long with his horse, and needed his horse, and his horse held all his hopes in the thunderous chambers of her heart. Would his hopes still be thunderous once he found love?
He could have named the tree Where Happy Thoughts Become Sad Thoughts, or Where Joy and Sadness Forget Why They Are Different, but that was not necessary. Sit for long enough and all things come and go, so being a place one could sit for a long time was a much better recommendation for the tree than any such nonsense.
So why didn’t the hero sit and wait for his love, if all things would come and go? When he thought that, he knew he had sat too long, and he leapt onto his horse, and after leaping one such day he meant to tell his horse how, even though she was a means to love, he loved her for herself, but he could not speak to the horse for he did not know the horse’s name.
So he said aloud that he would find someone to name his horse, and hoped his horse heard him, and understood.
And the University library was a kind and warm place, gentle in spite of the efforts of its builders to harden it with linoleum and fluorescent tubes and steel shelves. We surrounded ourselves with reference books and set about making all the truck driver’s words English words so we could publish in English…
(EXCERPT) Continue reading this story on Beacon.
Will Kaufman’s work has previously appeared in The Collagist, PANK, Unstuck, Lightspeed Magazine, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and a number of other journals. He received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Utah in 2010.
Image courtesy of Patrick Tomasso via unsplash
This story will appear in the anthology 20 Tall Tales: Weird and Wonderful Stories. Go here to pre-order the ebook.
Also published on Medium.