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Alchemist Lane

Kafka Lights His World On Fire

libo-quemandose1

 

My novel. Kafka In The Castle, fills in Kafka’s missing diary entries. This is how I imagine Kafka’s best friend, Max Brod, reacts to one of the many times Kafka burned his own manuscripts.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

19 April 1917

Max was horrified when I told him about last night.

“You burned your stories? Are you crazy?”

“I wrote them, so I must be.”

He smiled at that. Max’s anger can be easily deflected, for it is never deep. Max is a very good man, and cares for me more than I do myself.

“And the novel? The Amerika novel?”

I told him that many chapters of that must have been burned. Probably right from the start – they were no doubt the first things I grabbed from the chair.  “Anything else?”

“There were a couple of plays. I remember pages of dialogue.”

Max’s voice became hollow. He might no longer be angry, but neither was he happy. “I didn’t know you had written any plays. You have secrets even from me.”

“I keep secrets from myself. Don’t be offended.”

“What else?”

I could picture him writing down an inventory.

“Some diary entries – those were deliberate.”

“And was that the end of your pyromaniac obsession?”

“Of my own work – yes.”

He looked at me questioningly – he didn’t need another secret.

“There were a couple of bundles of letters from Felice. Neatly tied with string. They burned slowly. I have not had such warmth from her for a long time.”

 

[image] https://quelibroleer.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/libo-quemandose1.jpg

Kafka And His Hot Summer Night Of The Dead

franz-kafka-house-golden-lane-prague

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.”

“Yes.”

“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.”

“Nothing else?”

“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.

 

Kafka Settles Into December from “Kafka In The Castle”

Franz-Kafka-em-Praga-1922

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the missing entries of his actual diaries.  There are many days to fill, as he either did not write during these days, or he destroyed the record.

In these entries, the chill of winter begins to settle over the chill of his life.

10 December 1916

My father is so suspicious, he rarely suspects what is really going on around him. He has no idea that Ottla has rented this house, or that I come here like a thief in the night. He would think that it is another plot against him. And, he is right about the plots – but he’ll never realize they are done solely for defensive purposes. Which is a shame, for he fully appreciates self-preservation.

Of course, even I do not fully know Ottla’s reasons for renting this tiny house. I suspect a young man is involved, but I will keep my queries to myself. It is not the place to bring Felice – but is nice enough to set out on new adventures. I’ve had adventures in less suitable surroundings. The shop girls. The hotels with their chilly rooms.

12 December 1916

Max wants me to publish more. He may even wish upon me the horror of his own proliferation. His novels, and stories, and all his comments and reviews about the “arts”. I do not tell him this, for I think he would be greatly offended, but much of the time my opinions do not even interest me.

 

14 December 1916

Overheard a woman talking to Max today – complained of being lonely. But what it sounded like to me was that she was only tired. She had children at home, family in the neighbourhood, and friends (obviously) whom she could talk to. Yet, she chooses to feel lonely. Yes, her husband is in the war, but a partial loss does not make one lonely. Perhaps alone – but that is entirely different. Being lonely is waking from a nightmare, and realizing there is no one to wake you.

Finding The Right Hole To Live In

prague-ruelle-or-1

[Kafka’s Alchemist Lane “Burrow” with open door]

A burrow offers security and comfort.  Kafka found both in his sister’s tiny house on the Golden Lane.

The Golden Lane is a narrow, dead-end yet massively historic lane, hugging an interior wall of the huge Prague Castle. Centuries ago the small buildings along the lane housed workers of the Castle, including some resident alchemists. Thus the name.

Ottla – Kafka’s sister – had rented it so she could spend time with her lover, and not be bothered by parents and comments. Her lover was not only a Christian, but he was soon going to leave to fight in World War I. Time was precious. However, she rarely had opportunities to use it other than the weekends, so she offered Franz the use of the tiny house for most of the time. And use it he did, though he never stayed the night.

Through fall, winter and spring Kafka wrote a whole book of short stories there. For a single block of time, it was one of his most creative periods.

When I visited, under the Communist rule of the time, it had been converted to a book store. Of course (which he would have appreciated) there were no books by Kafka for sale. Today he is displayed in the windows.

It was only when I went thorough the small rooms, and looked out the window into The Stag Moat, that I realized how important the house would become in Kafka In The Castle, my novel about Kafka. It was cozy – even with the space cramped by tourists. It had been little altered. I could easily imagine Kafka looking through the same glass and walking through the same doorways. No doubt stooping because he was tall. Research met reality.

One of the last stories Kafka wrote, during his final year in Berlin, was called The Burrow. A version exists and is published, though a longer version is supposed to be among his ‘missing’ papers. In it a tiny animal keeps incessantly burrowing to keep away from an enemy. A vague noise convinces the animal to burrow deeper.

Yes – that’s Kafka.

DE

(image)https://www.avantgarde-prague.com/media/gallery/original/prague-ruelle-or-1.jpg

One Hundred Years Ago Kafka Returns To Prague

 

In my manuscript, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in his missing diary entries. One hundred years ago, to the day, he re-visited (in real life) the small house where he had been happy and productive.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~zlata-ulitzka

01 November 1917

The claws of Prague make fierce sounds when they tear into your flesh.

 

02 November 1917

I walked to Alchemist Lane this afternoon. It is not really a part of Prague – high and removed by its ninety-eight steps. A cold, clear day – much like the day a year ago when I accompanied Ottla on her mad little quest to see it. But not (as I had thought) for the first time. In fact, she had already rented it – something I’ve only learned these past few weeks. She had wished my approval, but she didn’t need my approval. I am glad of that.

It was strange entering the courtyards, and passing beneath the spires of the cathedral. But stranger still was to stand at the mouth of the Lane itself, and look along its length. I could have been away for years, or returning to resume yesterday’s thoughts. I felt both. It was if I were at the station, but not knowing if I were arriving on one train, or departing upon another.

The narrow lane was deserted, so I walked along its length slowly. There were new curtains on the windows of my little house. When I returned, I did pause before my old door, and glanced between the curtains to see that all of my furniture had been removed. Much as their owner.

(image)https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/03/14/ea/f9/zlata-ulitzka.jpg

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