Franz Kafka had his famous conflict with his father. He wrote a book about it. His sister had the same problems – perhaps worse because she was a “girl”. In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the missing entries of his actual diaries. On this day, I show an imagined encounter that depicts the reason for Ottla’s actual departure from the family.
15 April 1917
I’ve just come from the train station. Seeing Ottla off to Zurau. She didn’t take much with her – I had little to carry. Very little help to give. She had not planned to go for another couple of weeks, but father took her to task at today’s dinner. He was vile even by his standards. I like to think he was really trying to stop her. You can stop someone by destroying them. Perhaps that is always his strategy.
She didn’t get to finish her meal – although, I suppose, throwing it across the table is one way of finishing it. A plate of soup which splattered against his chest, turning the shirt dark.
“There you see it.” He bellowed as he stood up from the table. “Yes, yes. There it is.” His voice growled, and spittle was on his lips. The rest of us were immobile. Even mother did not bustle forward to try to clean the mess, or make her usual noises to calm him down. His face flushed red, and his hands trembled in front of him, but for once he made no reference to his heart, or the other ailments he claims. Ottla did not look in his direction, but glanced at her sisters. and then at me.
I had the greatest desire to continue eating my soup. I wished some words of reason could come out of my mouth; that things could be made right, and we would go on to the next course of this ghastly meal. I wished these things all the while I looked up to father – and smiled.
“There! There!” This time he did step back from the table. “There is the Herr Son. At last the true villain bares his teeth. The old cur teaching the bitch her new tricks. This educated misfit who knows nothing of children and families. Who never even knew how to be a proper child.”
I am sure the only reason father did not throw his food at me was because he did not think of it.
“The Herr Doktor who does not have a wife – who can not please a woman enough to make her stay. This has turned my family against me. I should rip him apart like a fish.” He made tearing motions with his hands. “The head just so – snapping it back to carry out the spine.” And then he smiled at me – a mocking grin. “If there is a spine in this particular minnow.”
He made motions as if to wipe his fingers on his shirt, and looked down with genuine surprise when they brushed against the dampness of the soup. Mother was standing by this time, and father looked at her with his mouth open. His hands fell to his side, and he finally looked at Ottla.
“You disgrace your parents. The whores of Russia act better than you.”
“Then it is a shame I can’t get to Russia.”
Ottla stood carefully, though she shoved her chair back with enough deliberation to hit the wall.
“I would truly be rid of you.”
She looked right at him, her face without expression.
“But I can go to Zurau. That I can do this evening. I’ll not have to stay another night under this roof. Within the reach of your contamination.”
She walked from the room without looking back.
“You’ll think differently, after a few days on the farm. When your hands are blistered, and your body aching. Then you will be glad to return here, to the comforts of your home.”
I rose to follow Ottla, to be with her, and to help if I could.
“If you leave this table to go to her, then you are no son of mine.”
I looked father in the face as I passed, and smiled again.
“How I pray you could accomplish that.”