The Kudzu Garden

by Amelia Lanier


The red Mini Cooper with no muffler was ten minutes late. Aj and I sat in her car in theparking lot right outside of the new gas station off of Exit 13. On the stereo was a pop album thatwas just new enough to still draw our attention but old enough that it was background music, ourlips shaping the lyrics with familiarity. We had called Birdy, our dealer, an hour earlier askingfor a fourth of green. His scratchy voice was distant and we could hear a mass of people in thebackground.

“What??” He had shouted over the music, somebody was yelling about minimum wageand George W. Bush.

 “A fourth!” I repeated for the third time.

Birdy was always late, so we weren’t surprised as the shadow of the car grew longer. Aj came back from her second pee break and she said that the man behind the counter was startingto get suspicious.

Birdy and I had a thing when we first met, but it didn’t work out. We had even gone so far as to hook up but when I woke up in the morning with a hangover I decided I’d rather not see him for a while. I told him it was a personal thing, that I needed to focus on school. He just laughed and said ‘me too.’ He had dropped out of high school six months ago.

 When it came to dealing, Birdy was as bad as they could come. He made poor decisions that got him in unnecessary trouble that could have been easily avoided. Once he tried to sellweed at school during lunch. He had used plastic bags instead of jars to carry the weed and itsmelled from a mile away. A teacher walked up from behind him just as he pulled it out of hispocket.

 

 Despite it all Birdy had confidence. He had an easy smile and knew how to handle girls. He wasn’t bad looking either, so Aj and I put up with him. Besides, it was better than mixing with the higher-ups. A couple of weeks ago Birdy had taken us to the college for a deal. A few of Birdy’s friends met him outside and invited us up to their apartment. They were college kids,maybe two or three years older than us. They were all short, around Aj’s height, and wore baggy shirts that hung down below their waists. From the grins on their faces I figured that we’d bebetter off without the deal. Maybe I could call some last minute recourses that I hadn’t used in a
while. I said as much to Aj but she just grinned at me and hopped out of the driver’s seat,slamming the door behind her. I sat for a moment, thinking about all of the things that I foundimportant in life. I thought about college and the police. I shook my head like so many timesbefore and got out of the car, following them up the stairs. Aj accepted a cigarette from one of the guys and she smiled at him. I knew that smile, it meant we’d be there until she got someone’s number or better. I groaned and wondered why I cared so much about her safety. I chalked itdown to the fact that I guess she would do the same for me, though a feeling of doubt had begunto grow over the past few months.Inside the apartment it was dark and smelled like someone had decided to take year-old compost and fill the walls with it instead of insulation. The furnishings were surprisingly nice.There was an older black guy in one of the chairs in the living room and he held a massive joint.The smoke trailed past his face and up into a cloud floating above his head. He smiled at me and I blushed. His style was immaculate. He wore a vintage brown leather jacket, blue corduroys with pointed maroon shoes. I felt a little underdressed in my hoodie, Hollister jeans, and Chacos. Nothing about my appearance suggested anything besides the fact that I was undoubtedly a white girl. Pick any girl from the campus blocks away and we would be identical. Disguised by normalcy, I felt safe.

The boys sat down on a row of grey couches next to the black man with the joint. He passed it around and I took a long hit, the weed filling my head and I relaxed a little. I pulled Ajonto a couch opposite the boys. Their grins remained plastered on their faces. One got up afterthe second round of hits and pulled a stool to up to the kitchen sink. He reached up above the cabinets, his small body straining. They weren’t even trying to hide the two pounds of weed nestled between a box of Captain Crunch and pancake mix. He handed us our fourth and wehanded him the money. We sat for a while, the guys trying to make small talk. Aj responded withenthusiasm, flipping her long blonde hair behind her shoulders so that her chest was exposed. Istayed silent, watching the black man smoke joint after joint, his face unchanging. On the seatnext to him sat an Ak-47. The gun harnessed my attention. I traced my eyes up and down its

curves. It was like seeing someone naked by accident, you know you shouldn’t stare but youreyes are drawn despite your conscience. I’d never seen a gun that big before and wondered for a moment if it was actually loaded.

One of the boys pulled out a bottle of coconut rum and began to pass it around along withthe joints. I felt as though I had plastic wrap around my face, each hit adding a layer. When therum reached me I held it for a moment, contemplating the clear liquid before handing it back.

“We have to go, we’re meeting someone at five.” The lie felt clever at the moment. The boys just nodded, their faces moving up and down slowly, features blurring together. Theyseemed to be one person, one small white boy, with one large, baggy shirt. The Ak stared at me,propped up like it was a person instead of a piece of plastic. Aj pouted as I dragged her to herfeet and took two more hits before I managed to get her door, the weed in the pocket of my hoodie. We were slowly making our way down the first flight of stairs when the black man cameout of the apartment and handed us two joints. Before going back inside he turned and said,

“drive safe.”

 An hour late, the red Mini Cooper with no muffler roared into the gas station, announcing its arrival to everyone for miles. So much for being incognito. Birdy got out with the usualrelaxed grin on his face, his hair combed back neatly. He got into our car and handed us thefourth. It was easily a few nugs short, but I didn’t say anything. I was getting tired of taking his crap though. I exchanged a glance with Aj and her face said that she was tired too. Her eyebrowswere bunched together and her blue eyes were alert, ready. I shook my head.

“It’s good stuff I promise,” Birdy said, his grin unfaltering. Aj rolled her eyes and shrugged. We handed him our meager salaries from shit jobs. He got out and waved. As hepulled away his muffler growled and I could see skid marks on the new pavement.

“We have to find someone else Aj. We’ll really be broke if we keep buying from him.This is the third time he’s shorted us and it’s getting worse.” Aj nodded and pulled out rolling papers.

“I know somebody who could help us out,” she said, her long fingers deftly pulling the buds apart. Little bits of green stuck to her fingers and collected under her nails. I could smell the weed from here, the strong odor was clean and sharp. It did smell like good stuff and for amoment I partially forgave Birdy. The feeling disappeared as soon as I thought about how manyhours I had spent babysitting to make the money.

I never really understood how much smoking had become a part of my life until I realized how often I saw Birdy and how much money I handed to him on a regular basis. There was something in the consistency of the act. I liked the casual feeling of the high and it was something to look forward to during the day. Without fail we always found ourselves in unpredictable circumstances, which kept things interesting. It broke the routine of school to work to home and for the most part it kept us sane.

The Kudzu Garden was on the east side of town. It had a long set of stairs that ran down through the kudzu and in some places the vines were so thick it made a tunnel where the light from the sun was broken apart and scattered along the concrete steps. It was a safe place to smoke as long as you stuck to the top of the stairs. Aj and I had our spot, three steps from the top exactly. There were bottles strewn through the undergrowth. The tinted glass projected amber and green light on the undersides of the kudzu leaves.

Down in the Garden itself people did harder stuff that was better to stay away from.Sometimes we would hear somebody yelling about hearing the spirits or wondering if the kudzu leaves had eyes. Sometimes there would be a few people sitting in our spot when we got there, but they were generally pretty nice. We’d share our stuff and sometimes they would tell us their stories. Once a girl with a septum piercing and a tattoo of a luna moth had taught us how to make o’s. Another time a guy had a few beers left over from a party and asked Aj for her number. We all had one thing in common: we were bored.

When we got to the Garden the only person around was a boy who looked about our agewith filthy sandy blonde hair and torn clothes.  He was sitting a few stairs down and it lookedlike he had been there a while. We sat a few stairs up from him and rolled two joints while wetalked aimlessly about boys and school. The sun drifted lower over the garden. It was latesummer and the kudzu leaves were already starting to change. The late sun dyed the top layer ofleaves a rich brown like old parchment paper. Underneath the leaves were still a bright green,twinning downwards above our heads. The musty odor of rich earth and cold concrete drifted around us. I had smoked about half a joint and I could feel the hazy weight entering my brain,tumbling through the corners of my mind. Between my feet the stairs fell downwards, theirridges blurring and sharpening as my focus moved in and out. A kudzu leaf landed on the stepbelow me and I stared at it, transfixed for what seemed like hours. When I finally looked away, it felt as though my head had been stuck in the same place for days and the bones in my neckcreaked in protest.

The boy shifted, his holy white shirt moving over his skin like a fishing net, differentplaces of his back becoming exposed before disappearing again. His filthy blonde hair glinted inthe sunlight and a few ragged pieces stuck out. His stained jacket was a dull red that looked likeit had been recovered from deep underground.

Aj leaned over, her long hair trailing across my arm and whispered, “should we talk tohim?” I stared at the boy for a few more moments, her words slowly running through my mind.

“I don’t see why not.” I stood up. Holding on to the railing that ran down the length of the stairs to keep the world from falling over.

“Hey, do you smoke?” I asked, gingerly sitting down next to him. He looked up,surprised and then smiled slightly. He had beautiful green eyes. They matched the deep color of the leaves above and I stared for a moment too long. He blushed and looked away. I was too out of it to feel embarrassed.

“Sure— thanks” he took the joint I offered and pressed it to his lips, taking a heavy hit.

“What’s your name?” I asked, watching the smoke wind upwards from his mouth, trickling into the trees above and twirling fingertips, rubbing thighs. The smoke sat upon the intertwined vines like cats on ledges, licking themselves and yawning.

 

 “Sam,” he answered, suppressing a cough. Aj smiled at him politely, trying not to giggle. Her eyes were so red they were barely visible. I decided not to contemplate what my eyes lookedlike, but there was little doubt that they were the farthest thing from mysterious. “Where are you from?” I was the worst at making conversation but for some reason I
wanted to know why his hair was dirty and why his clothes were torn.

 

“Springfield. It’s about two hours away. I left home, I don’t like my Dad.” he answered shortly. I nodded and offered another hit. He took it and smiled. The expression was grateful not prying. He seemed like someone that didn’t need much from other people. He wasn’t trying to get our numbers or use us just to get a buzz. There was something about the way his expression was genuine and his words honest and without glamor. In a way this made him even more attractive. I caught myself staring at his eyes again. We talked for a while and he began to relax. Aj got bored like she always did when guys weren’t interested in getting her number.

 

“Where are you headed?” I asked after a long stretch of silence.

 “I don’t know. I’ve been staying out here for a while, but I have some friends who train hop and I think I’ll join up with them. You heard of train hopping?” I shook my head and put thejoint to my lips. “Well, you can go anywhere that way,” he continued, “all you have to do is godown to the tracks and get on a train as it’s leaving. You just have to watch out for the police andthe crazies that live on the trains, though. Those kids are in huge gangs- it’s crazy. It’s an entire system that nobody really knows about. Some kids grow up that way, just wandering around the
country endlessly. I think it’s beautiful.” He paused and stared down into the tangle of kudzu. The vines were roped together over the stairs and some wrapped around the railings in thick bands. Each shoot looked like a little hand, opened and waiting to be clasped. “I want to go to New Orleans. I’m planning on going next week, once I have everything together. I need to do some things first…” 

 He trailed off and I nodded, letting the silence grow. The stairs we were sitting on seemed to move ever so slightly, but enough for me to offer Sam the rest of the joint. Birdy had meant what he had said about this strand, it was good.

Another leaf twirled downwards, landing on my knee. I balanced it between two fingers close to my face and tracing the individual veins with my eyes. The lines divided the leaf into tiny sections, with patches that alternated with light and dark green. The little squares pushed their way into my brain. I held the leaf up to the sun, mesmerized by how the dark green patches changed to a deep yellow that reminded me of the color of city lights reflected in low hanging clouds at night. The veins of the leaf connected together like railroad lines. They were like the tracks on the side of a mountain that I used to balance on when I was a kid.

In the back of my mind, I pictured Sam sitting in the open door of a train car and summerair pouring in and around his body. The train is running at high speed through endless fields ofcorn, the wind making his torn clothing billow and his filthy hair appear weightless, falling in
and out of his eyes. He’s been alone in the train car for days just rocking back and forth with themotion, consumed in thought. He’s not running from anything and not going anywhere on purpose.

The breeze pushed the strands of kudzu vines like damp bedsheets on a line. The interspersed sunlight poked its breath through the leaves. The minutes passed where Aj, Sam,and I sat and watched the sun dip below the foundations of the city. The air grew cool and the kudzu turned a light grey. The shadows dripped down and made the tunnels over the stairs appear infinite.

“I should probably get going. Thanks for the hit man,” he said, standing up slowly. We nodded and watched as he descended into the Garden. Vines pulled loose as he passedunderneath them. He brushed them with his fingertips. They drifted downward and interlaced inhis wake, hiding him from view.

Aj was driving down the highway, the road disappearing beneath the tires. I tried to keep up with it, but it was like trying to watch the same blade on a ceiling fan. For a while Aj had been chattering softly about a new boy she had met. On our way home we usually talked about senseless things and laugh to keep each other awake. Now were immersed in complete silence.The street lamps flew past, alternating shadow and yellow light across my face.

Aj and I had plans all laid out for us. We would graduate high school and go to college,become mothers and obedient wives. The structure scared me more than I was willing to admit.My future felt like someone that I avoided in the hallways, that I had known well in the past but was no longer friends with.

I looked out the window and up at the full moon that had risen. The tops of the trees seemed to be reaching up into the night with anxious fingers and little stars dotted the horizon like nails clippings in a bathroom sink. My lids drifted somewhere between open and closed, the world flashing in and out of sight. The hum of the car and the soft voices on the radio mulled together into one monotonous trickle in my conciseness, whispering me to sleep.

Author Guide: Amelia Lanier is a Senior at Interlochen Arts Academy. She is a Creative Writing Major and 2015-2016 is her first year at Interlochen. She grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains on the North Carolina and Tennessee border. She has won a Gold Medal, five Silver Keys, and two honorable mentions in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Her favorite genre of writing is realistic fiction and her stories focus heavily on the natural elements. She enjoys walks with her dog on breaks as well as books by Charles Frazier. You will usually find her doing strange things like eating tree bark or climbing up the sides of mountains, as well as generally avoiding the human race.