Kafka’s House: Number 22
In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in Franz Kafka’s missing diary entries. Every day chosen is a day where he either left no record, or destroyed the pages.
On this night, he meets the woman who was the girlfriend of Kafka’s neighbour on The Alchemist’s Lane, who had killed himself. Kafka found the body. He also found a note addressed to her, which he kindly burned.
25 July 1917
I had not been here long – the newspaper only partially read – when I thought I heard a noise at the door. A woman was framed in the open doorway, her hand still hesitant upon the wood. I rose from my chair, and she stepped back into the lane.
“Yes?” I asked.
“You knew him?” she asked in turn.
She was a slender woman, sallow complexion, and younger in age than Ottla. I walked toward the door, for it seemed apparent she was not about to enter.
“You were his neighbour – the Herr Doktor?”
She did not retreat any further, and I was now standing in the doorway.
“Oh,” I said. “You mean … ” But I had to stop, for I could not remember his name. I finally had to point to the house next door.
“Yes,” she said. “He killed himself.”
“Yes.” I had to agree.
“Did he …” she began, and I could sense her difficulty in having this discussion. “Did he say anything about me. I’m Julie.”
“We can go in, if you like. I do have a key.” I am an expert at stalling for time. “No one has moved in.”
She looked at me in disbelief, her face seeming to age as various expressions moved across it.
“No – that isn’t …” she began, staring at the other door. “I was never here. We didn’t have that type of friendship. But I have not been able to remove him from my mind. If he ever spoke of me, I care to know about it.”
My hope was that she would never ask about an envelope addressed to her.
“So you don’t wish to go in?”
“No. That means nothing to me.” She took a step closer. “Just if he talked.”
“You were his girlfriend?”
“He thought me so – though I told him differently, and offered no encouragement. But perhaps he drank too much to pay attention.”
“You were with another man?”
“He told you that? So – he did speak of me.”
“What else did he say?”
There are times to tell the truth; times to expand the truth for clarification; and times to compress.
“He said that he saw you together with a man. And that he missed you.”
“Did he say anything the night he killed … the night he died?”
I didn’t pause, because I had stalled just so I could answer this question.
“He asked me if I was going to be in my house over the evening.” Here I did pause, as if in thought. “And he said he didn’t like the other people on the lane.”
“Pleasantries – good evening, etc. He said he liked our talks.”
“He talked a lot?”
“No, not really.”
“Was there a note?”
“You should ask the police about that.” I was very calm. “They searched his house.”
“Yes, perhaps I will. He said nothing further?”
“We did not really have conversations.” I shrugged my shoulders. “He was always drunk.”
“Even that night?”
“Oh yes. The night he hanged himself – most certainly.”
“And you were the one who found…”
“Yes, Miss. And, I contacted the police.”
“He was … was dead when you found him?”
“Yes.” I looked directly into her eyes. “He did a very effective job.”
She was quiet for a moment, staring at his door. She looked along the Lane, then finally at me.
“You have been most kind, Herr Doktor. I’m sorry to have troubled you.” She did not wait for a response, and was turning away when I spoke.
“If I may ask, Miss. This happened three months ago.”
“To the night,” she said.
“Three months. Why have you waited until now?”
“It does not seem long.” She was conscious of others on the Lane looking in our direction. “His attention – though I never asked for it – was so total and persistent, that I have felt it deserved my interest.” She shook her head slightly. “But not any more. I wish to put an end to it.” She unexpectedly stepped toward me. “That’s all right, isn’t it, Herr Doktor?”
The question was so intense that I touched her shoulder.
“Yes. Without any doubt – yes. You’ve spent enough time on a ghost within a memory.”
I smiled, and she walked away, quickly down the Lane. Death’s hand released its grip.