Metamorphosis and other.., p.3
Metamorphosis and Other Stories, p.3
And so it will be, save that it will be oneself standing there, then and thereafter, with a body and a veritable head, and therefore a brow to smite with the flat of one’s hand.
It is possible that there are a few people who feel sorry for me, but if they do, I can’t feel it. My small business fills me with worries that cause me pain behind my brow and my temples, but without giving me any prospect of satisfaction, because my business is so small.
I am forced to take decisions hours in advance, to keep the storekeeper’s memory alert, to warn of likely mistakes, and to gamble in the current season on the fashions of the next, and not among people like myself either, but among obscure populations in the countryside.
My money is in the hands of strangers; I have no knowledge of their circumstances; I am unable to sense the calamity that may strike them at any moment, much less avert it! Perhaps they have grown extravagant, and are throwing parties in beer gardens, parties briefly attended by others, themselves on their way to America.
When the business closes on a weekday evening, and I suddenly see myself confronted by hours in which I shall not be able to work to meet its unsleeping demands, then the excitement I projected far ahead of me in the morning falls back upon me like an ebbing tide, and doesn’t stop there, but takes me with it, to where I know not.
And yet I am unable to harness my mood to any purpose — all I can do is go home, because my face and hands are dirty and sweaty, my suit is stained and dusty, my business hat is on my head, and my boots are scraped by the tin-tacks from crates. I seem to coast home, cracking the knuckles of both hands and patting the heads of children I pass in the street.
But the distance is too short. Straightaway I find myself in my house, open the lift door and step in.
I see that now all of a sudden I am alone. Other people, who are required to climb stairs, get a little more exhausted, are forced to wait with panting lungs for someone to open the apartment door, which is grounds for irritation and impatience, then they walk into their hallway, where they hang their hat, and not until they have passed several other glass doors along the corridor do they come to their room, where they are properly alone.
Whereas with me, the moment I am in the lift I am alone, and prop my hands on my knees to look in the narrow mirror. As the lift starts to move, I say:
‘Be quiet, go away, go back to the shadows of trees, behind the curtains, into the arcade!’
I talk through gritted teeth, while, on the other side of the frosted glass, the banisters slip by like plunging waterfalls.
‘Fly away; may your wings, which I have never seen, carry you into the village in the valley, or to Paris, if that’s where you want to be.
‘But enjoy the view out of the window, when processions emerge from three streets at once, do not make way for one another, and intermingle, and their last thinning ranks allow the square slowly to become itself again. Wave your handkerchiefs, be shocked, be moved, praise the beautiful lady driving past.
‘Cross the wooden bridge over the stream, nod to the bathing children, and be astounded by the cheers of the thousand sailors on the distant battleship.
‘Follow the meek-looking individual, and once you have pushed him into a gateway, rob him, and then, each with your hands in your pockets, watch him slowly turning into the alley on the left.
‘The scattered police gallop up on their horses, rein in their animals and force you back. Let them — the empty streets will make them unhappy, I promise you. Already, you see them riding away in pairs, taking the corners slowly, flying across the open squares.’
Then it’s time for me to get out, to leave the lift behind me, to ring the doorbell. The maid comes to the door, and I wish her a good evening.
Looking out Distractedly
What shall we do in the spring days that are now rapidly approaching? This morning the sky was grey, but if you go over to the window now, you’ll be surprised, and rest your cheek against the window lock.
Down on the street you’ll see the light of the now setting sun on the face of the girl walking along and turning to look over her shoulder, and then you’ll see the shadow of the man rapidly coming up behind her.
Then the man has overtaken her, and the girl’s face is quite dazzling.
The Way Home
Like the cogency of the air after a thunderstorm! My qualities appear before me and overwhelm me, though I may not put up much of a fight against them.
I march along, and I set the pace for this side of the street, this street, this part of town. I am rightly responsible for all the knocking on doors, for all the rapping on tables, for the toasts proposed, for the couples in bed, on the planking outside new buildings, pressed against the walls in dark alleyways, or on the sofas of brothels.
I weigh up my past against my future, but find both of them excellent, am unable to give one or other the advantage, and am compelled to reprove providence for its injustice in so favouring me.
Only when I step into my room do I feel a little contemplative, but it wasn’t climbing the stairs that gave me anything to think about. It doesn’t help much that I throw open the window, and that there’s music still playing in one of the gardens.
The Men Running Past
If we happen to be walking along a street at night, and a man, visible already from afar – because the street inclines gently uphill in front of us, and there’s a full moon – comes running towards us, then we will not grab hold of him, even if he’s feeble and ragged, even if someone is running after him, yelling, but rather we will let him run on unmolested.
For it is night, and it is not our fault that the street in front of us in the moonlit night is on an incline and, moreover, it is possible that the two men have devised their chase for their own amusement, perhaps they are both in pursuit of a third man, perhaps the first of them is being unjustly pursued, perhaps the second means to kill him and we would become accessory to his murder, perhaps the two of them don’t know the first thing about one another and each one is just running home to bed on his own account, perhaps they are two somnambulists, perhaps the first of them is carrying a weapon.
And finally, may we not be tired, and have we not had a lot of wine to drink? We are relieved not to see the second man.
I am standing on the platform of the electrical tram, feeling wholly uncertain of my position in the world, in the city, in my family. I would be unable to offer even the most approximate statement of my justified expectations with regard to each or any of the above. I am not even able to justify my standing there on the platform, holding on to a strap, being carried by this conveyance, that people step aside from the conveyance, or walk quietly along, or stop and look at the shop windows. – True, no one is expecting such a statement of me, but that’s neither here nor there.
The tram approaches a stop, a girl stands by the steps, ready to get off. She is so distinct to me, it’s as though I had run my hands all over her. She is dressed in black, the pleats of her skirt are almost motionless, her blouse is short and has a collar of fine lace, her left hand is pressed against the side of the tram, the umbrella in her right is planted on the next-to-top step. Her complexion is dark, her nose clumsily moulded from the sides, with a broad, roundish tip. She has quantities of chestnut hair, and a few stray wisps of it are blown across her right temple. Her small ear is pressed tight against the side of her head, but, standing as close to her as I am, I am still able to see the whole back of her right ear, and the shadow where it joins her skull.
I asked myself at the time: how is it that she is not astonished at herself, that she keeps her mouth closed, and expresses nothing of any wonderment?
Often, when I see dresses with many pleats and frills and flounces, draped beautifully over beautiful bodies, then I think to myself that they will not long be preserved in such a condition, but will acquire creases that it will be impossible to iron out, dust in their details so thick it can no longer be removed, and that no woman would wish to make such a sorry exhibition of herself as to put on the same precious dress every morning, and take it off at night.
And I see girls who are certainly beautiful, displaying variously attractive little muscles and bones and taut skin and masses of fine hair, and yet daily appearing in that same masquerade, always laying the same face in the hollow of the same hands, and having it reflected back to them in the mirror.
Only sometimes in the evening, when they come home late from a party, it looks worn to them in the mirror, puffy, dusty, already seen by everyone, almost not wearable any more.
When I meet a pretty girl and ask her: ‘Please, come with me!’ and she passes me in silence, then what she means is this:
‘You’re not a duke with a name to conjure with, no powerfully built American Indian with square-shouldered physique, with calm impassive gaze, with skin laved by the air of the prairies and the rivers that irrigate them, you have never been to the great lakes, or sailed on them, wherever they are to be found. So, tell me, why should a pretty girl like me go with you?’
‘You forget that no automobile is carrying you swaying through the streets in powerful thrusts; I don’t seem to see a retinue of gentlemen pressed into livery attending you, murmuring blessings as they follow you in a pedantic semi-circle; your breasts are stowed away tidily enough in your corset, but your hips and thighs make up for their parsimony; you are wearing a taffeta dress with plissé pleats of the sort that delighted us last autumn, and – garbed in this menace as you are — still you don’t scruple to throw us a smile from time to time.’
‘Yes, we are both quite right, and, lest we become irrefutably persuaded of the fact, why don’t we now each go to our separate homes.’
For the Consideration of Amateur Jockeys
Nothing, on reflection, is sufficient to tempt one to come first in a race.
The renown of being hailed as the best rider in the country is too strong at the moment the band strikes up for there not to be some regret on the following morning.
The envy of our competitors, cunning and fairly influential persons, is certain to hurt us in that narrow gap that we must ride through after that plain that lay empty before us, with the exception of a few vanquished horsemen, who minutely approached the edge of the horizon.
Many of our friends hasten to collect their winnings, and only shout their congratulations to us over their shoulders from the booths of various remote turf accountants; our best friends, meanwhile, haven’t staked anything on us at all, since they feared their probable losing would compel them to be sore at us, but now that our horse has come in first and they didn’t win anything, they avert their eyes from us and look at the stands as we pass.
Our defeated rivals behind us, upright in the saddle, try to see past the misfortune that has befallen them and the injustice that has wantonly been dealt them; they look newly determined, as for the beginning of a fresh race, an earnest one following this child’s play.
To many of the ladies, the victor will look ridiculous, all puffed up and yet not quite knowing how to go about the endless round of shaking hands, greeting, bowing and waving to distant admirers, while the defeated jockeys keep their mouths shut, and gently pat the necks of their generally whinnying horses.
And to cap it all, the heavens turn grey, and it starts to rain.
The Window on to the Street
Whoever lives in solitude and yet would nevertheless find some form of contact, whoever in view of the changing hours, the weather, the circumstances of his job and so forth, seeks some arm or other to cling on to – such a man will not be able to get by for very long without a window on to the street. And even if he isn’t looking for anything in particular, and is just tired, letting his eyes drift between the public and the sky as he steps up to his window, head back, apathetically, even then the horses will take him away with them in their retinue of waggons and clatter, off in the end to some human participation.
Desire to be a Red Indian
If only one were a Red Indian, always prepared, launched into the air on one’s galloping horse, a brief tremor over the trembling ground, till one let go one’s spurs for there were no spurs, and threw away one’s reins, for there were no reins, and could barely make out the land in front of one opening out as smoothly mown heathland, with horse’s head and horse’s neck already nowhere to be seen.
For we are as tree-trunks in the snow. Apparently they are merely resting on the surface of the snow, and a little push would be enough to knock them over. No, that’s not the case, for they are firmly attached to the ground. But see, even that is only seemingly the case.
When it had already become unbearable — late one November afternoon — and I was running around on the little piece of carpet in my room as on a race-track, alarmed by the sight of the lit-up street outside, then turning and giving myself a new objective in the depths of the mirror at the back of the room, and yelling — merely to hear a yell that nothing answers, and that nothing therefore robs of its force, so that it rises without any counterweight and is unable to stop, even if it ends – a door opened in the wall, oh so hastily, because haste was indicated, and even the carriage-horses outside on the street were like wild war-horses in battle, rearing up and exposing their throats.
A small ghost of a boy emerged out of the gloomy corridor, where the lights weren’t yet on, and stopped on tiptoe, on a barely swaying floorboard. Seemingly dazzled by the twilit room, he tried to bury his face in his hands, but then unexpectedly calmed himself with a look out of the window, at the level of whose cross-bars the hazy glow of the street lamp encountered profound darkness. With his right elbow he braced himself against the wall in front of the open door, and allowed the draught to pass over his ankles, his throat and his temples.
I looked at him a while, then I said, ‘Good evening!’ and took my jacket off the fireguard, because I didn’t want to stand in front of him half-dressed. For a time I let my mouth hang open, so that my excitement might take the opportunity and leave. I had a bad taste in my mouth, my eyelashes were trembling in my face; in brief, I needed nothing less than this admittedly expected visit.
The boy was still standing in the same place by the wall, his right hand pressed against the wall, and, red-cheeked, was absolutely fascinated by the coarse texture of the whitewashed wall, on which he was rubbing his fingertips. I said: ‘Is it me you want to see? Are you sure you haven’t made a mistake? It’s terribly easy to make a mistake in such a big building as this one. My name is such-and-such, and I live on the third floor. Am I the party you want to see?’
‘Ssh, ssh!’ said the boy over his shoulder, ‘everything’s as it should be.’
‘Then come inside, I’d like to shut the door.’
‘I’ve just shut it myself. Don’t trouble yourself. And calm down.’
‘Don’t talk to me about trouble. There are a good many people living off this corridor, and all of them of course are acquaintances of mine; most of them are just now coming home from work; if they hear someone talking in one of the rooms, they assume they have every right to march in and see what’s going on. That’s just the way it is. These people are finished with work for the day; the question is who do they submit to now, and what do they do with the provisional ownership of their evening! Anyway, you know all about that, I’m sure. And now let me shut the door.’
‘What’s the matter with you? What’s got into you? I don’t care if everyone in the building piles in. And to repeat: I have shut the door; do you think you’re the only person around here who can shut a door? I even turned the key in the lock.’
‘All right. That’s all I ask. There was no need to lock it. And now why don’t you make yourself at home, seeing as you’re here. You’re my guest. Trust me. Make yourself comfortable, and don’t worry about anything. I won’t make you stay here, and I won’t make you leave either. Do I really need to say that? Do you know me as little as that?’
‘No. There was no need for you to say that. More, you shouldn’t have said it at all. I’m a boy; why all the fuss?’
‘It’s not so much. A boy, of course you are. But you’re not so small as all that. In fact, you’re fairly grown up. If you were a girl, it wouldn’t be proper for you to be locked up with me in my room.’
‘We don’t need to worry ourselves about that. I just meant to say: the fact that I know you as well as I do does little to protect me, it merely takes from me the effort of having to lie to myself. And yet you persist in complimenting me. Stop it, I ask you to stop it. Further, I don’t know you always and right away, for instance in this darkness. It would be much better if you turned on a light. On second thoughts, don’t. Still, I won’t forget that you have threatened me.’
‘What’s that? I threaten you? Please. I’m so glad you’re here at last. I say “at last” because it’s already late. It’s inexplicable to me why you came so late. It is just about possible that I was confused by my joy at seeing you, and that you construed my speech in such a way. I will admit as often as you like that I did talk to you in such a way; yes, all right, I made all sorts of threats against you. — Just no argument, please! — But how could you believe it? How could you offend me so? Why are you so set on spoiling the brief duration of your visit? A stranger would be more accommodating than you.’
Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes