“I wish to state before this assembled multitude;
“Before this packed house;
“Before this captive audience;
“That I have every right
“(As much as each of you)
“To be here and represent my interests,
“And my associations,
“Because I am a member in every day,
“Even as the nights which are too cold
“And the elevators, as they so often do – stop.
“You look askance.
“Indeed, you look at me in That manner
“The corners of your eyes are full of mistakes!
“Which proves to me beyond and above
“To heaven even,
“Even to the very Golden Gates
“Where the various saints
“Hang to the golden bars
“And swing to and fro in the Celestial breezes
“That cause clouds to scud across the sky,
“And there is barely time to think of a reply.”
In my novel, The Fifth Corner Of The Earth (which I class as a contemporary history) five people, decedents of five people through the centuries, must come together to decide whether it is time to end the Earth – the proverbial End Times. But this time, one of those chosen is a woman. And women’s power is described.
She went along the hallway, turned down a longer, narrower corridor, and came to her brother’s room.
She knocked on the door, but when there was no reply, she called again.
“Please, Atropos. Come in.”
She lifted the latch and walked into the darkened room. She went down a few steps, and crossed the stone floor, until she came to the thick wool rug which covered the area beneath the bed. Her brother stretched his hand along the bedclothes.
“It is almost time for you to leave?”
“In the half hour.”
“You’ve been troubled.” He sat higher in the bed. “How are you feeling now?”
“That’s supposed to be my question.” She laughed nervously.
“I feel as I am – closer to death.” Markos pulled at the bedclothes. “We must not pretend anything different.”
“There’s always the chance – ”
“You’re talking to your brother – your younger brother to whom you have taught so much. Of course I know of `chance’.”
Markos started to cough, and doubled over as the sound filled the room.
“You see.” He forced a laugh. “As if on cue.” He held up his hand as she came closer. “They would have to give me new lungs, to do any good now. There is no place for `chance’.”
“Do you want a drink?” She reached for the pitcher of water.
“I want to talk.” As he again sat up, he pointed past the water on the table. “Get it for me, please.”
She stretched and took the black envelope in her hand. As she gave it to Markos, the sun insignia on the back glowed in the dimness of the room.
“Thank you, Atropos.” He lay it on the covers in front of him. “And thank you for the honour of asking my council.”
“Markos, I – ”
“It means a lot to me.” He held up her hand to stop her words. “You still have confidence in the advice I can give.”
“Of course I have – ”
“Ah, my sister.” He spoke slowly. “The dead and near dead have one thing in common. They no longer need to be humoured.” He touched her hand. “I don’t want to be a weight on your mind when you’re away.”
“How can I stop thinking about you?”
“I don’t ask that.” He smiled. “I hope I’m always in your thoughts. That’s how I’ll keep alive.”
“You feel too much, sometimes, Atropos. Is that part of being a woman?”
“I don’t know.” She forced a smile.
“I think it is.” He pushed one of the pillows more firmly beneath him. “I think it’s because you can bring life into existence – you can actually feel a soul develop inside you. Women have a touch of God within them because of that.”
Markos hesitated, his breathing more laboured. He looked at his sister intently, his eyes hot from fever.
“Men will always envy you that power. We envy you the power to create life, and the feelings it must give.” He smiled abruptly. “Our duty done, we really become quite superfluous.”
“You surprise me.” Atropos spoke softly.
“What have I got to lose by letting you know of my primordial envy? My fears and inferiority mean nothing at death’s door.” He looked away. “I no longer dread you will turn them against me, and look upon me with contempt.”
“Markos. I would never have done that.”
“I am like all humans, Atropos. I have doubt of my own worth held within me like an insoluble capsule. Your words can’t dissolve it – even the knowledge of death leaves it untouched.” He stroked his chest. “Death just puts it in perspective.”
“I don’t feel that way.”
“No, you don’t.” His hand stopped moving. “And I suspect the others whom you are soon to meet are spared this most human failing.” He closed his eyes. “I want to make certain you understand. We humans are forced to carry this sense of worthlessness around like a curse. Remember that when you decide about us.”
“But where does it come from?”
“That question … ”
Markos turned his head. He opened his eyes, and looked out at the blue sky framed by the small window. Sunlight would soon be streaming through.
“I am not going to live long enough to answer that question.” He looked back at her. “Come closer.”
“What is it?” She leaned over the bed.”
“Don’t worry about me.” He clasped her hands in a strong grip. “I’m prepared for what it to happen to me – and accept it. Tell me you do the same.”
“I know you are going to die.” She searched for words. “I’m not sure I can accept it.”
“Then believe me, my honest sister, when I say I am content.” Markos stared at her face. “Tell me that my death will not cloud your mind on your journey.”
“I’ll keep you in my mind and heart.” She momentarily lost her breath. “Always. My sadness won’t distract me.”
Markos sighed, and his hands relaxed. He then picked up the envelope which had fallen beside him, and handed it to her.
She took it, then bent and kissed him.
“Good bye, Markos.”
“God guard you, Atropos.”
For some reason, this observation (from – perhaps – an unreliable observer from one of my short stories) has been the most popular post of the last couple of years. Yes – even beating out Kafka. So I’ll give it another turn
“Circles are the answer.
“Just look at any circle and you’ll see what I mean. Of course, no one else is to know about the circles. They must be very stupid if they can’t see something so obvious.
“Yet, you get hints, don’t you – all the time out there. And in your own life – the way things happen so you never get anywhere. Never change.
“The earth, of course, and the sun – well, that’s something you can see. Either way you look at it, the one goes around the other in a big circle that takes in the whole sky. And the earth and the sun and the moon are round – all circles in their own right. So you have circles which are going around in circles, if you get my meaning.
“And if you look further – reach out into the universe as far as you can go – they tell us that everything is going around everything else. Smaller circles and elongated circles which take in such large distances that numbers become forgotten.
“Now, this means that everything, eventually, comes back upon itself. The beginning is really the end. That’s what most people would think – and that’s where they make their mistake.
“You see, things don’t start by beginning – they start by ending. It’s the end which comes first in a circle, so, instead of going back to where it started, it comes back to its end.
“That explains it.”
An excerpt from my novel More Famous Than The Queen. My main character – so famous he is just known by initials – is at the funeral of Princess Diana.
The casket reaches the Sacrarium. ST leaves his thoughts behind to follow the service, listen to the words, and sing along with the hymns.
Although he has no fondness for opera and operatic song, ST finds the soprano’s voice pleasant, and drifts along with the Latin text: “Dies illa, dias irae … Day of wrath, day of calamity and woe.” He finds Elton John’s presentation bizarre yet sincere.
The rest of the service proceeds around him, but he only stands and sits by following the motion and noise of those fore and aft. Perhaps it is his deficient attention span, perhaps it is jet lag (he did not get any rest yesterday), but, much as he did as a child on Sunday, ST slips into a revere.
He wonders where Diana is.
If the whole context of this service is correct, and her Spirit Everlasting is afloat in some other world, does she have the slightest interest in these proceedings? Do you care what is on the plate after you have eaten the meal?
Is it – as he hopes – an all new wonderful adventure?
ST is returned to the present by the familiar words of The Lord’s Prayer. He is actually reciting “Give us this day our daily bread” before he realizes what he is doing.
Stopped in place and time.
He could be a child again (perhaps he is) wondering what `trespasses’ are. He could be the aware young man, wondering why God would have a penchant to lead us into temptation. And he could be as he now is, wondering if this was the only way for a troubled young woman to be delivered from evil.
ST is fully attentive to the final hymn, and The Commendation of the Dead to the Lord.
He suspects it is an all-or-nothing package: that Diana and Jesus and God are present and appreciative to what is happening around him; or that he and everyone else are just singing and praying to the empty rafters. He fears his faith has skidded to the unstable foundation of hope.
The cortege prepares to leave the Abbey. Although the choir sings as the procession slowly moves to the west end of the church, it is really silence which hangs over this vast array of people. Again the casket with its ruptured body wend their way down the aisle, the flower arrangement an almost dull glow in this final, sombre setting.
“Weeping at the grave creates the song.”
Or so the song goes.
Then there is the final minute.
The minute of silence.
Observed by the Nation.
Observed by ST.
Observed -perhaps- as a minute’s pause in the enormous expanse of Eternity by a dead princess.
The Titanic was recently in the news. The first drive to the sunken ship in fourteen years reveals that it is deteriorating at a rapid rate. It is literally falling apart.
Not long ago I visited the dead from the Titanic, buried in graveyards in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I went to the Mount Olivet Cemetery, where nineteen of the dead are buried. Mount Olivet is A Roman Catholic cemetery, and the bodies had identification, or at least clues, that they belonged to that Faith.
Four of the bodies are unidentified. The listing of the others include designations from first (1) to third class (8); waiters (3); pastry chef (1); fireman(1); bass violinist (1).
The violinist, John F. P. Clarke, was one of the ship’s band. The band of the Titanic entered the land of fame and lore for their exploits during the hours of the actual sinking. They played on deck, amid the turmoil of frantic passengers, the lowering of the too few lifeboats, and the outright fear and panic surrounding them, as the Titanic inched closer and closer to its destruction.
I leave him for the last because of what I found at his grave site. Beside his individual burial marker, someone had placed a small red box, that could fit in the palm of your hand.
Inside the box was: “SPECIAL Double Bass Resin FOR Cold Weather” By the Hidersine Co. Ltd – made In England.”
It had not been used.
When I visited Prague to research my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I went to many of the places that were part of Kafka’s life. One such place – the small house where he wrote a whole book of short stories – became a setting for a third of my novel.
However,the building where he was employed, The Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia in Prague, I only saw at a distance across a Square. It was not a happy place for Kafka, though he was very successful at his employ, and rose to an administrative position of importance. It was not really much of a setting for my novel.
That building is now a fancy hotel, and Kafka’s office is a room for rent. It is even designated The Franz Kafka room, and contains mementos. It is where I plan to stay when next I visit. I hope there is not a long list of folk wishing to spend the night there, too. It even includes a restaurant named after his fiancée, Felice.
Following is some information about the hotel, and some photos of the room.
In addition, this is one of the few diary entries I wrote, set in his office building,
16 February 1917
There was a commotion at the office today. It was late morning, and from far below, coming up the stairwell, I could hear a voice bellowing: “Doktor Kafka. Doktor Kafka.” It was a terrible voice, full of blood and darkness.
I got from my desk and went to the door. There were other voices, trying to calm, saying: “He can’t be disturbed.” But the voice was louder, more horrible, close in the corridor. “Doktor Kafka – for the love of God.” My secretary wanted me to stay inside, hoped the man would just move along the corridor until the police were summoned.
But – I was curious; the man had my name, and his voice was … terrified.
I opened the door and stood in front of it. “I’m Kafka,” I said. The man lunged at me, and went to his knees. “Doktor Kafka?” he said. “Yes, I’m Kafka.” He reached out, grabbing for my hand. “Jesus, Jesus, for the love of Jesus – they say that you’ll help me.”
He was a heavy man, and looked as if he had the strength to pull off doors, yet the tears burst from his eyes. “I can get no work. I fell from a bridge, and my back is twisted and in pain.” He slumped against the wall, looking at my eyes. “I have a family, Doktor Kafka. A baby not a year old.” “You were working on this bridge?” I asked. “Yes.” His voice slid down his throat. “I was helping repair the surface.” “Then you deserve your insurance. Why can’t you get it?”
He straightened up, and tried to stand. “I have to fill in papers; the doctor can see no wounds; the foreman said I drank; because my brother is a thief, I am not to be trusted.” I held out my hand, and he slowly stood. “I’m telling you the truth, Doktor Kafka.”
“If that is so,” I said, “you’ll get the money due you.” “I’m so tired,” he said.
I gave instructions to those standing around – no other work was to be done until this man’s case was decided. I took him to my office, where he sat.
He sat – practically without a word – for five hours. I summoned a prominent doctor to look at him. The doctor prodded, and the man screamed. Officials from his village were telephoned. I helped him with the details on the forms. His truth was in his pain. He left our stony building with money in his hand, and his worth restored.
The people who assisted me had smiles on their faces.
A man had needed their help.
(Max Brod + Franz Kafka w/ hat)
I kinda do wonder if Franz is whispering into Brod’s ear (wherever they may have ended up) “I told you to burn them.”
To which Brod would accurately reply, “You knew I wouldn’t. If you wanted it done, you would have done it yourself.”