What sights indeed are these, that cause the racing clocks to pant their minutes in counterpoint to a life still learning the difference between wretchedness and love?
The swing goes up and the swing goes down, and then goes up again. If you are on that race, with childish yells, and up-down-mess-it-around feelings in the pit of your stomach, they haven’t lowered that coffin lid yet.
No, not yet.
What sights indeed are these, that make a heart argue the worth of dying, and ring the bells across the hill when there is no hand upon the rope?
There are happy tunes on the breeze and, yes, even the unicorn lifts its head with twitching ears and mouth agape.
And even (so it has been recorded, in long-ago books) our Lord Jesus God would pause in His ministrations at the wonder of it all.
What sights indeed are these, that ease the night’s passage and sow the fields full of restful dawn?
A race against the end is run by all of us; when the kitten kicks and purrs through her ball of string, or when the ancient’s cane tap-taps across the room. Eyes, whether young; or dim; or blind; can still open in amazement, and still marvel at the ever-changing newness.
Marvel and rejoice.
What sights indeed are these, that turn all tunes into rhapsodies of joy, and make the moon do gypsy dances through the night sky?
A sky of stars that shower and shake and stream across the galaxies to cram unto the ends of the distant universe. Grains of sand upon the shore would take sensitive fingers, and a lifetime of counting, yet still could never fill this distant space where even numbers stand in awe.
Zeros with mouths agape.
In Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the ‘missing’ diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. There are some estimates that Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote.
08 June 1917
A Gypsy confronted me today, and I was in the mood for a bit of sport. Her age was difficult to tell – certainly a decade older than me. In her swirl of shawls and dangling jewellery, heavy make-up on her face, she could almost have been in disguise. She peered at me with an intense sigh, attempting – I am sure – to penetrate my own disguise.
“You are a Jew,” she said.
“And you a Gypsy,” I replied.
She seemed pleased with my response, for her professional smile became real.
“You state the obvious,” she said. “As becomes a Doktor of Laws,”
I replied. “But to your eyes, do you not state the obvious?”
“Are you going to banter with a poor old Gypsy woman, instead of barter? That would make you suspiciously like one of us.” She said this with a growl in her throat.
“The Gypsy and the Jew,” I said, feeling the challenge which I so miss. “Perhaps an opera – but I think it’s been done to death.”
“They will try to do us all unto death,” she said harshly, and turned away.
I had the fear she was going to leave me without another word, but what she did was to spit fulsomely onto the street.
“They can’t kill us all,” I said, but I knew she heard the doubt in my voice.
She slowly faced me again.
“So. Even a Doktor of Laws can have hope. That is refreshing – but foolish.” She took my hand and felt my palm roughly with her thumb, although all the while her eyes never left my face. “You are going to travel.”
“Travel is a vague word. One can go on many types of voyage.”
“And reach many destinations,” she added, still holding my hand. “If you take away my vagueness, you take away my trade.”
“Then let me pay you for your services right now.”
This transaction would make her loose my hand, which is what I wanted most of all. She had frightened me, for her eyes and face were full of truth. I know the truth. I know it when it presents itself, stark and unobscured. I search out truth endlessly, yet still can flee at its approach. As in her eyes. But she gripped me more fiercely, and pulled my hand up.
“The coin, Herr Doktor.” Her voice was now soft. “The coin can wait.”
She at last lowered her eyes and looked closely at my palm. She rubbed the lines and whorls of my skin. She touched her finger to her lips, and spread the moisture along my hand.
“Your lifeline, Herr Doktor,” she took a quick look in my eyes, “of Laws. You deceive with the youth upon your face. Is that not so?”
“If your eyes stop at the mask, then no, the years have not etched themselves deeply.”
“Not on your face, Herr Doktor of Laws.” Her grip was intense. “But on your palm…” She hissed. “You will soon embark upon that final voyage.”
She released my hand, rubbed her fingers across her sleeve.
“But you will not go in haste. There will be many stops along the way.”
Suddenly her face was full of the most beautiful smile, and her laughter was genuine.
“I see you do not complain of vagueness now.” She held out her hand. “The coin, Herr Doktor of Laws. This time I have truly earned it.”
I dug deeply into my pocket, and feared that I may have overpaid her. But, perhaps, that is not possible.
~ Good Day to you, Mr. President.
~ Take it easy, soldier.
~ You know – at ease.
~ Yes, Sir.
~ What can I get you?
~ I’m not allowed to drink on duty, Sir.
~ I’m your Commander-in-Chief. I can allow it.
~ You’d have to order me, Sir.
~ Would that work?
~ I don’t know, Sir. That’s above my pay grade.
~ Not above mine.
~ No, Sir.
~ I have billions.
~ Yes, Sir.
~ Billions and billions and billions.
~ Yes, Sir.
~ I could pay you to drink.
~ I couldn’t take pay, Sir.
~ It would be a bribe?
~ No other word for it, Sir.
~ So – what do you think of the cross-dressers?
~ Pardon me, Sir?
~ You know – cross-dressers in the military.
~ We’re all cross-dressers in the military, Sir.
~We take off our civvies and put on a uniform. Sir.
~ Then that isn’t it.
~ No, Sir.
~ Gotcha. It’s the transgenders.You know them?
~ In truth, I don’t, Sir. Those uniforms keep things private.
~ But you must wonder about them.
~ Not for a second, Sir.
~ You don’t care what’s between their legs?
~ No, Sir.
~ That doesn’t sound natural.
~ Sir, as long as they carry a gun and got my back – I don’t care what’s between their legs.
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.
11 June 1918
That was a game I used to play with my sisters when we were little: What if we were children of the Emperor? What if we dug a hole in the ground all the way to China? What if we had our own house? What if we lived by the ocean? What if we went to church (those mysterious churches)? What if we lived on the moon, would we be able to yell down our greetings? Ottla had the least interest in the game, yet she made up the best questions.
I find today that when I `what if’, I don’t think so much of the future, but wonder about those things I might have done in my past, which I ignored or refused.
Felice, of course, with two engagements never fulfilled.
Other work – I’m a good enough lawyer, I could get other work.
Prague – this ornate tomb – to have lived a life elsewhere. Berlin, Palestine, Amerika. Zurau.
What if I had fled with the Swiss girl? Her youth, her zest – I might have learned to sing.
What if I were less exact – less austere?
What I might have written.
What I might have lived.
What if I had asked far fewer questions – and taken more time to better understand the answers.
Some day she will not wake – she prays for this every night as she lays waiting for sleep.
To-night is not bad, there will be no need to use a pill. In fact, she is very good about the pills. Dr. Morgan has told her – almost encouraged her, she feels – to use a pill a night, and not fight for sleep as she sometimes does. But she can not bring herself to believe that that is right – she is certain Ned would never have agreed to it.
Ned was never one to take the easy way out. Not, she would hasten to add, that he was some sort of doomsayer, or a fanatic of any sort. But he did believe it was up to each person to solve their own problems. Where he may have expected too much was believing that all problems had a solution, He would keep at something with a relentless persistence.
She would sometimes stand near him as he was trying to replace some tiny piece of a machine, or climb yet again on the shed roof with some tar, and she would say, “Leave it be, Ned. Let it alone.” But he would just pause, settle back on his heels and perhaps light a cigarette, and say that he may as well be putting in the time on this as on anything else.
And back he would go at it. As far as she knew, he never gave up on anything until it was done. He was not the type to gloat, or even show much sense of satisfaction, and she had been married to him for years before she recognised his small mannerisms that meant he was pleased.
She turns over, being careful not to lay an arm on his side of the bed. Or let a foot stray over the line she has refused to cross for eight years. Ever since she reached out one morning and touched cold flesh.
No, she will not need a pill tonight. Her work has tired her enough to bring on sleep. It is, of course, the memories weaving through her mind that she would really like to stop with the pills.
Those memories she can barely stand, and without which she could not live.
(Image drawn by Franz Kafka)
In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in his lost diaries. Here, as the learned Doktor of Laws, he has been asked to speak to the citizens of the small village where he is living with his sister for a few months. He speaks the truth, and avoids the truth.
15 January 1918
This war. They wanted my opinions about this endless war. These earnest, honest men, awaiting the words from the Herr Doktor of Prague.
I agreed only to answer questions – that way I could not be accused of fermenting treason. Even in these troubled times, the law allows a man to answer questions. Assuming that the law prevails.
The law was present in the form of the policeman, attending this questionable gathering while still in uniform. He doffed his hat as he shook my hand. I would rather have him in our midst, than lurking in the hall. We have nothing to fear from him.
“Will the empire last?” This was first from their lips. And they must have needed to hear the words, for even the Emperor must know that all is lost. The Old Order, having fallen into the hands of dull and witless men, must succumb. The complacency of the age must be purged – but that has not yet happened. That awaits the next generation – and the destruction will be furious. But I do not tell them this.
I am skilful in what I do not tell them, for the truth is beyond their power to persuade or control. (Their next questions would have been more difficult had I not curbed the truth further still.) “What will happen to Zurau? What will happen to us?” And they have every right to worry. To suspect. When a society crumbles, it is those at the bottom who get crushed. But I told them that Amerika seemed a just power – not bent on retribution.
I did not tell them that a victor can do as he wants.
And I told them that we live in a secondary part of a secondary empire – the powers of destruction will be concentrated on Vienna and Berlin. I did not tell them that during the death of a snake, the spasms of the tail can be lethal.
And I told them something which could really be of help. I told them, in this coming year, to grow more food: fatten more beasts: prepare, preserve and put away. Fill their cellars and barns to bursting with food and fuel. Buy some things now, which they can use for barter later if the currency becomes worthless. Look after their families and lands. Look after each other.
16 January 1918
I did not tell them that war is the end result of injustice and arrogance, and that it is oftentimes necessary. I did not tell them that when the natural balance is upset by human action, the cost of righting it must be made in human payment. I did not tell them that a country where neighbour is cruel to neighbour is a country mean for war.
17 January 1918
I did not tell them how the Jews will always suffer in time of war. How we will be searched out, then driven as far as the east is from the west, and then be persecuted. How there will never be safety for us. Yea, even unto the land of Israel.
Can I use the word eons when talking of Star Trek? Considering the time travel that often enveloped them, why – yes, I can.
So, eons ago, I wrote a script for Star Trek, The Next Generation. Memory says (and I’ve been told my memory is not up to light speed), this was the only television series that asked for, and actively used, scripts from writers outside their own stable. They used one script per season from these submissions. So I submitted.
I had a response from Lolita Fatjo. It gave me some quiet thrill to see her name among the STTNG credits at the end of each show. I believe she was classed under “Pre production”. I also thought she had a real nifty name. I note she currently still has dealings with Star Trek, helping to facilitate Star Trek Fan conferences and arranging appearances by some of the Star Trek stars.
I did not have an abundance of communication with Ms. Fatjo (I liked to think of her as Lolita). I think I got a package of information about the type of thing they wanted for a script.
Memory says there was a desire to have a main plot line concentrating on just two or three of the main characters. There was to be one additional sub plot. There were arcs to accommodate the commercials. I believe they hoped for some humour. And timing, of course, all was timed to the exact minute.
I followed directions and wrote a script and put it into the format and sent it off. I had two further dealings with Lolita.
One told me they had received the script.
The other – so deliciously close to the end of the season – was to tell me they would not be using it.
The script was called The Minstrel.
In it, an alien had a musical instrument (I think a horn, but it might have been strings) that would play tunes attuned to whoever he was talking to. It had other properties, but I think I’ll keep them tucked away. You never know – there is a new show. Anyway, the Minstrel would interact (per act) with the Star Trek characters. Revelations were forthcoming. Not too many special effects (which was something else Lolita requested).
I received no cheques nor writing credits from this foray into television land. But not all was lost.
I was writing my script in tandem with a friend who was writing her own script. News of our endeavours made the local writing circuit, and we were interviewed on regional radio.
From that we were asked to speak to a couple of writing classes and even invited to an alternate world fan club to give a reading.
We boldly went.