I love Anna Kavan’s cold, burning prose and the intensity of her focus. Every line in this story is loaded with allegorical intent. The field of the title ‘always’ confronts the unnamed narrator on her travels. The grass is a luminous green and grows at a supernatural rate. On one sighting, she sees that the grass is cut by chained humans who resemble ‘struggling flies caught in a spider’s web’. A passing stranger explains that this form of employment – not a punishment, as the narrator imagined – is highly prized and that the workers’ ‘spasms and convulsions’ are ‘mainly just mimicry, a traditional miming of the sufferings endured by earlier generations of workers before the introduction of the present system’. Despite her horror, the narrator concludes by understanding why the grass needs to be cut: ‘That poison-green had to be fought, fought; cut back, cut down; daily, hourly, at any cost’. It is possible to read so much into the field – climate change, some kind of prophetic comment on capitalist realism, an externalisation of the paranoia that drives her narrator from place to place.
First published in A Bright Green Field and Other Stories, Peter Owen Publishers, 1979. Collected in Machines in the Head, Peter Owen Publishers, 2019