Kafka recorded the beginning of the First World War in his diary this way:
August 2, 1914: Germany has declared war on Russia. Went swimming in the afternoon.
That was it.
But, regardless of his lack of enthusiasm, Kafka believed in the duties of the citizen. He tried to join the army to fight. In fact, he tried to join a number of times. He was always refused because the government deemed his civil/government job was too important for him to relinquish.
But, near the end of the war, when Kafka was so sick he had lengthy periods of leave from his job to recuperate, the army came calling. Kafka had to appear before authorities with medical proof of his illness.
In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I ‘fill in’ one of his diary entries describing such a situation.
07 February 1918
I find I must go to Prague at the end of next week. Such knowledge is proof that one should not open one’s mail. The Military yet again wishes to snare me, and I must once again prove that my hide is not worth the effort.
There were time (very rare) when my father would despair. Not his usual anger at the general incompetence and perfidy of the world around him, but a resignation to the belief that things would never get any better.
“If they want to drag me down,” he would say, “Then I may as well join them. I’ll go out into the street and let myself be swept away by the mob. I’ll become part of their common, grubby life, and let them wipe their boots on me.”
That is much as I feel right now. Let the army take me, dress me in their uniform, point me toward the Americans, and have some cowboy shoot me. Going into battle could be no worse than going into Prague.
The sea plays a big part for Alison Alexandra in my manuscript There Was A Time, Oh Pilgrim, When The Stones Were Not So Smooth. This is at the beginning of a night that is going to last a long time.
There seems to be a touch of mist coming over the ocean as Alison Alexandra looks from the windows of her prow of a ship house on the top of her cliff. Well, she calls it her cliff and no one – yet – has said ‘nay’. But then, she thinks of it as her ocean, so what is someone going to do with that?
She turns the lights out in her prow of a ship room and settles into her comfortable winged chair. The sun is in its last minute of setting and Alison Alexandra concentrates on the positions of the ships settling in for the night. There are always ships that have no space for a berth until the next day. One or two always seem to have to wait until the day after that.
The vagaries of shipping and commerce, and the whims of an erratic sea, can only be predicted with moderate success. The tides and the winds and the atmospheric pressures high and low make merry over and under the endless horizons. They whirl and they twirl and they scud and skip with gay abandon. ‘Catch them and predict them?’ – well, Alison Alexandra knows better than that.
As it is, her sea eye – well-honed after these many years of coastal watching – is certain the touch of mist that kisses the top of the waves in a most flirtatious manner is deciding whether or not to settle in for the night and become mistress to sea and ships and those swabbies who – oh, so quickly – will be told that the watch must be doubled.
No matter that they are within sight of shore and already have their imaginations stirred by what will be offered at fine establishments such as The Tugboat Wharf And Seafood Lounge with its All You Can Eat Beef Buffet and waitresses who are never going to give them the attention they crave but will still be a damn good source to stroke the imagination and then they can hit the streets and hope to find some pliable bodies with whom to hit the sheets if only by the hour.
Unicorns are mentioned eight times in the Holy Bible. So – there they were. The list is below.
Therefore, when I have Druids, and their affiliated unicorns, go to Jerusalem in my novel A Lost Gospel, to make sure Jesus gets crucified, I feel I was on solid ground. And when one of my druids, Ogma, has the following experience, I believe it possesses a symmetry of Biblical proportions.
Unicorns are mentioned in the following places of The Bible:
God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.
From A Lost Gospel
“Are you lost?”
Ogma was taken by surprise, but he did not turn toward the speaker. He had no desire to start a conversation, he just wanted to be left to himself.
“Yet you are a traveller to these parts.”
Ogma knew only too well the interest local people had for strangers in their midst. It was an interest which could easily turn into suspicion. He was alone, and he did not want to have trouble in this unknown land.
“I had business in Jerusalem.” Ogma shrugged. “The desire came upon me to feel earth under my feet, not paving stones.”
“And you find yourself here.”
“I turned from the main road at a whim.”
“What did you in Jerusalem?”
“I do not intrude thus in your life.” Ogma kept a steady gaze across the field, though he could not keep irritation from his voice.
“Yet you do intrude – for here you are.”
“If I’m on your land, I apologise. I thought it was a common road. There is no barrier in place to warn me otherwise.”
Ogma wondered if it was time to leave the way he had come, or to stay and talk. Despite the words spoken, the other man’s voice displayed no anger, or annoyance.
“Do you find no peace in Jerusalem?”
“I’ve had a troubled time in your grand city.”
Ogma suddenly realised he had things he wanted to say, which he could not discuss with the other druids. He finally turned to the man, wondering if he should explain further.
“By the gods of death!” Ogma stood back in fear. “This is not possible.”
“There are no boundaries to what is possible.”
“I saw them hang you up.”
“You saw flesh. And blood.”
“Then what do I see now?”
“More than a man of sorrows.”
“Glarus was right.” Ogma began to move further away, but stopped himself. “I’m not to fear you, or the change you bring.”
“Truth deserves acceptance, not fear.”
“Do you know of my burden?”
The other man raised his arm and pointed. Ogma turned to follow the outstretched hand. He saw the two unicorns standing close together among the trees.
“Have they brought me here?”
“They have led you to a place you sought yourself.”
“You know of Glarus.” Ogma stopped abruptly, and his voice lowered. “The gods I understand believe in trade. Take me instead of her.”
“You care so much?”
“I know the worth of things.” Ogma stared directly at the other man. “It is better to have her alive than me.”
“No man knows his own worth.” Yeshua touched the small man, then held him close. “My father’s love does not barter.” He released Ogma with a smile. “Return to Jerusalem. You travel with companions.”
“The beasts accompany me?”
“Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.”
(image)Unicorn Tapestries at the Cloisters – New York, New York https://assets.atlasobscura.com/media/W1siZiIsInVwbG9hZHMvcGxhY2VfaW1hZ2VzL2VmYjZmYmVkZjk1MzNhMDgyZV9GOTNBMjc5My5qcGciXSxbInAiLCJ0aHVtYiIsIngzOTA-Il0sWyJwIiwiY29udmVydCIsIi1xdWFsaXR5IDgxIC1hdXRvLW9yaWVudCJdXQ/F93A2793.jpg
Martin Schomgauer (1450-1491) Woman With A Wreath Of Oak Leaves
Alison Alexandra sometimes thinks of turning over a new leaf.
Sometimes at the most traditional of times, like at New Year or her birthday or under a full moon or when the tide is at its highest.
But then she remembers that well into her pre-teen years she thought the expression to turn over a new leaf meant reaching into the branches of a tree and flipping her wrist (somewhat like Amanda does when cutting cards) and when she found out the flip flip flipping concerned paper pages she was so bored she never did it. No, not once.
And anyway, why would she overturn anything in some sort of orderly fashion when she pell-mell turns things over at the very time they seem that they need to be overturned and not a minute or an hour or a full moon or one leaf later.
That now is indeed now is, indeed, now. And, as she daily finds out from her windows or cliffs overlooking the ocean; tide and time await no Alison Alexandra. So she will not wait for them.
Alison Alexandra has often thought – and she also often thinks – that she could happily turn over all her leaves just from her prow-of-a-ship room jutting into the sea or the cliffs that, as yet, do not erode under her feet as she walks them looking out to sea. But that would be unwise and probably as stagnant as a rotting fish that sometimes lodges itself at the base of her cliff and, though she has not travelled as often as those sailors and their spyglasses, she has travelled as far as many of them just to keep those leaves flip flip flipping.
So, today she is going to walk to town.