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A House of Dreams Becomes a House of Ghosts

A photo which floated past on the internet this morning, also made this segment of one of my novels float past.

From “He Lives In The City / He Drives To The Country”

It had been a house of dreams, it was now a house of ghosts.

   Ghosts tranquil and benign peered through the dusty upper windows, stood in wait behind the boarded doors. The dreams of long ago, which had tumbled down the stairs, and frolicked through the rooms, were now memories in the minds of ghosts.     

   The ghosts were themselves memories, destined to further fade with each new birth. But there would be no births in this house, as it slid inexorably toward decay. The lackluster brown shingles would be more smudged, the remaining panes of old glass would break, the floors would warp and collapse, the unkept roof would succumb to the years of harsh weather. 

     Even the `No Trespass’ sign was barely legible. Then where would the ghosts go?

     Blaine left his car and walked toward the house. 

     If he had eyes to see, who would be there to greet him?  Would children’s dreams, fair-haired and boisterous, burst through the front door and surround him in games of tag and laughter?  Would he get caught by their enthusiasm (would he become a child himself), and race behind the trees, burrow into the hay, hide between the bins of potato and turnip, intent not to be `it’. 

     Or would he meet the ghosts, quiet and tentative at the top of the steps, moving slowly with their uncertain smiles. Would they greet him with a wave, invite him into their warm-smelling kitchens, offer him fresh tea, and squares right out of the pan?  Would he sit in the stream of fall sunlight flowing across the well-oiled floor, and talk about childhood?

     Blaine walked part way up the drive before he stopped.

     He knew what lay beyond the boarded windows, and the sagging door upon its rusty hinges. Wallpaper would be water-stained, and curling off the plaster walls. There would be lumps of refuse in the corners of the rooms, with one inevitable rusty bedframe lying on its side. There would be gaps in the ceiling, where beams of sunlight shimmered through motes of dust. There would be holes in the baseboards, where earnest rodents made comfortable homes.

     There would be musty smells offering a hint of long-ago meals, and something gone bad in the pantry. There would be one upper window (at the back) which still had a tattered lace  curtain, half obscuring what had once been totally private. At night he would hear bats.

     It was not this house he had come to see, of course. Of course, not this derelict house, which he knew could never be restored, and which was so beyond help even death slept while visiting. 

Me Dealing With Santa Claus & Me As Santa Claus

Although I am no fan of having the Santa Claus story take such a bite out of Christmas, I’m not against Santa Claus. In fact, we’ve had quite the relationship.

I had two ‘encounters’ with Santa while a child. I can’t place the exact years, but I remember them from the houses I lived in at the time.

The first time – I would have been no older than five – I was going to the outhouse on a dark Christmas Eve. The outhouse was a couple of minutes walk from the house. On my way I heard the bells on Santa’s sleigh. No, don’t try to dissuade me, I know what I heard. I even remember the direction I had to turn to see if I could see anything. I was right quick about doing my business.

The second time would have been a couple of years later. On Christmas Day I saw the marks from Santa’s sleigh runners on the snow beside the house.  Never mind your smiles, I know what I saw.

And, a few years after that, I was with some younger friends who questioned me about the reality of Santa Claus. Now, by then I did not believe that Santa existed. But, I didn’t want to tell the “children” that. Neither did I want to lie. I don’t know how long it took me to think of a way out, but long enough (obviously) for it to remain strong in my memory. My answer was: “Well, there must be a Santa Claus. How could your parents afford all those gifts?”

In the years when I did a fair amount of house-sitting, I did so for one couple where the husband had a perfect resemblance to Santa Claus. Thus, for many a Christmas, he was the hit of local gatherings. And he had a beautiful suit and hat and – of course – a real beard.  

I also know a poet whose first book was about Mrs. Claus. She is also known to dress up the part (even with a Christmas bonnet) and read at Christmas gatherings.

For myself, well, one day, I entered my financial institution around Christmas and got into line. As we snaked forward I came opposite a mother and father with a young child. He looked at me and screamed (literally) “Santa Claus!” Then he burst into tears. I don’t know what troubled him (maybe I was out of uniform).

Finally, a couple of years ago, (and this was not around Christmas, though it was Fall) I was walking in a park. A family approached, two parents and three children. One of the boys (and he looked five or six) dashed ahead and stood in front of me. “Santa Claus,” he said. I thought it was some sort of joke but he turned excitedly to his siblings and said “It’s Santa Claus.” He was quite happy. The father said “Maybe not.” but did not really try to dissuade him. And neither did I.

Franz Kafka Ponders Friday 13th

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.

I do give him a brief recognition of Friday 13th. In reality, the Swiss Girl haunted him (pleasantly) all his life.

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

13 April 1917

I almost wrote down the year as 1913. That was the year I met the Swiss girl. And I remember her joking about Friday the thirteenth, and how we had missed it by just a day. She was superstitious – Christians seem to be. I wonder what precautions she is taking today. It will be three years and seven months since I saw her. Yet some of the things we did could have happened last week. I think that memory must be made of rubber.  You can sometimes pull it toward yourself – and sometimes it snaps away like a shot. Causing as much pain.

Like An Ice Moon Of Jupiter

callistoplus_gal

He is not a man for grand gestures.  

The gift came as a surprise, the kiss a shock. He was embarrassed by the first and aroused by the second. Time, always a constant worry – not the futile minutes, hours, days, the whirlwind passage of months, but the disappearance of the now into the past -had again taken a bite out of his life before he had realized it was gone.

 “I thought you would like it.” she said, a gift somehow made more important because it was not planned, an obvious display of spontaneity. A chance meeting in a store on a Saturday afternoon. “I’m leaving soon, in two weeks I’ll be in France.” Eyes taking in his every reaction, her voice tinged with reproach. “Do you like it?”


And of course he did, but there were too many memories laced with half smiles jamming into his head, not painful in themselves but adding now to finality. The party where he met her, surely that was just last week, at the most a month ago. Surely it did not stretch back to soft Autumn nights.

“Well, here,” she writes something. “It’s for you, you know.”

A look of puzzlement crosses her face as the gift changes hands, the too brief touch of her fingers. he clutches it carefully, looks back to her eyes and imagines he sees a twinge of that nonexistent past. or does she only reflect what is in his own face?


 And then the kiss. So unexpected that he almost jumps back.


The touch of lips and warm breath, the smell of fresh, soft hair against his cheek. His own mouth open in surprise, her farewell brush of lips turned partially into passion. And then she is out the door, onto the street, and he is standing by a counter feeling very old, his heart an icy moon of Jupiter.

Ah, Christiane. Salut.

 

(image) https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/image/9805/callistoplus_gal.jpg

Pondering Winter Beside The Christmas Display

alders-after-storm
For a mid-November day, the storm was all rain and no snow. In addition, it was very cold, so I took shelter in a Mall. I settled into a bench near the ‘Santa Claus / North Pole / Toy Workshop’ display, because that is where the benches had been moved. I have the guess, they were moved so they could be filled by kids and parents when Saint Nick made his appearance.
 
Two other fellows were already there. After the younger man (whilst looking at his phone) made a brief comment about the weather, the other man, older, grizzled and full-bearded, spoke.
This conversation is edited, not verbatim.
 
“Makes me wonder how young folk today get by.”
I look confused – which I am.
“That’s the only jobs there are for them.” He points to the fast food court.
I indicate agreement.
“Hard to get jobs.”
“Yes, it is.”
“We’re stuck here until eight.”
I again look at him quizzically.
“Me and him. The shelter closes eight in the morning, opens again eight at night.”
“Three more hours.”
“I like the little animals.”
“Pardon?”
“Along the entrance.” He points to the Santa display. “They’ve got little animals in the snow.”
“They’re real looking.”
“Yes.” He laughs. “From the old days. I lived in the woods.”
“You did?”
“Cabin with eight brothers and sisters. Had a wood stove.”
“I had a wood stove a number of years.”
“Got real hot.”
“Yes.”
“I used Alders once.”
“In the stove?”
“Yeh – bad idea. They burn like hell. Hot as hell.”
“They can be.”
“I thought the cabin would catch fire.”
“Can be dangerous,” I agreed
“That’s where i started smoking.”
“Where?”
“In the cabin. Been smoking since I was ten.”
“That’s young.”
“My pappy was a bootlegger.”
“Yes?”
“Lots of men came by to get beer.”
“I suppose.”
“They’d smoke and toss their butts. I collected them.”
“To smoke?”
“Thought I was a big man with the other kids. Smoking in front of them.”
“That’s what being young is.”
“Cigarettes got tentacles. I still can’t get rid of them.”
[image] https: /brighttreecare.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/alders-after-storm.jpg

Kafka Ponders Friday 13th And The Love Of A Good Woman

 

106933578_o

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.

Kafka did have occasion to ponder Friday 13th. The date was connected to “The Swiss Girl”, whom he met at a resort.  She was eighteen and he was thirty-four. It is unclear how intimate their relationship became.

Twice, I give him a brief recognition of Friday 13th. In reality, The Swiss Girl haunted him (pleasantly) all his life.

**************************************

13 April 1917

I almost wrote down the year as 1913. That was the year I met the Swiss girl. And I remember her joking about, and how we had missed it by just a day. She was superstitious – Christians seem to be. I wonder what precautions she is taking today. It will be three years and seven months since I saw her. Yet some of the things we did could have happened last week. I think that memory must be made of rubber.  You can sometimes pull it toward yourself – and sometimes it snaps away like a shot. Causing as much pain.

13 July 1917

Friday the 13th again. What better time to think of the Swiss girl, than with F. I don’t know if such memories help sustain me, or if they revel how intolerable the future can sometimes be. I can not imagine the Swiss girl’s face across the table from me, nor her voice singing one of her quiet songs. If I must be trapped, then why can’t I be trapped in the past?

[The Swiss Girl ~ Gerti Wasner] p8.storage.canalblog.com/89/52/207513/106933578_o.gif

Berlin A City After A War

germany_berlin_fuhrerbunker_2

[Site of Hitler’s bunker today]newnormative.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/germany_berlin_fuhrerbunker_2.jpg

I first visited Europe years before the Euro was the accepted coin of the realm. In fact, there were many coins of many realms, and all that money caused a fuss.

I kept a daily diary of this trip, and plan to make it a part of any memoirs I might write. So I’ve hauled it out and will make some blogs from it. But they will be greatly abridged.

********************************************

May 29

Our guide took us to an Observation Tower which overlooked the old section of Berlin (now, of course, in the East), and where the government buildings once stood. I saw a part of the Kaiser’s Palace in the distance (you must remember that these buildings are restored or being restored) plus other buildings from that era.

What was most interesting for me, however, were the structures that were so prominent in Hitler’s Thousand Years – the War Ministry, Gobble’s Propaganda Office, the Air Ministry and, the place where Hitler’s Chancellery stood., from which he unleashed so much destruction, and now no more than a grassy mound in a field. A mound remains because Hitler’s Bunker is still there. It can not be destroyed because it would do too much damage to the surrounding area to blow it up. I wonder how long this symbol of Hitler, this place so close to him, will remain – perhaps a thousand years? [2019 – it is still there]

We left the Wall (though the Wall never left us) and continued on our way. We went to a stone building and stopped before it. We got out of the bus and walked into a pleasant court yard. It was a memorial – a place called Plötzensee. It was here that many of the people in the unsuccessful revolt against Hitler on June 20, 1944, were executed.

How strange it was to be standing in this grisly place of history. It was a stark, bare, small room, like a clean little room you would find in somebody’s cellar. The hooks sticking from the ceiling from which people were hung were very real. Here people died, here members of the Gestapo stood and smirked, hands on hips. I had heard of places like this, and read books, and now I saw what it was like.

Going Up And Down In Montréal

 

fountain-titled-female

(Place Ville Marie)

At one time I shared a whole house with four other people. Two were in the process of becoming lawyers. I noted that most of their stories did not contain much whimsy. The following is a story one of the fellows told us. I, of course, make up the dialogue but, though fiction, it is based on his facts.

*********************

“I don’t mean to stare – I apologise. I’m not in the habit of doing this, but you remind me of someone. That has to sound like a line – the look on your face. But I’m not after ….

“Have you ever been in the train station at Place Ville Marie in Montréal? The escalators that come up by the Queen Elizabeth Hotel.  I had a lot of travel to get to work when I lived in Montréal, and made train and bus connection.

“No, thanks. I don’t want another.

“One morning – a Thursday – as I was going up the escalator, I saw a girl coming down from the street. She had short red hair – that’s the main reason I’ve been staring – and a green skirt with a white blouse. Coming down that escalator, with that wide space between us. She was looking at me the way I was looking at her – interest and excitement and whatever potential that leads to. We stared into each others eyes as we came level, and craned to look back as we passed.

“I guess I’ll have another of the same, after all.

“That was stupid enough. I should have jumped that barrier, or at least gone down after her. But I had a job, and was young, and things like that just don’t happen.

“Next morning, even though I was looking for her, and hoping so much, I couldn’t have been more shocked by a ghost when I saw that red hair. She had that same look – of shock.

“God, to be so unsure of what to do, and stupid to the ways of the world, and even to have that stabbing thought that it can happen again tomorrow. We stared and stared, you could almost feel electricity between us. At the top I waited as long as I dared, hoping she would come up. I had to get my bus, and just jumped it as it was pulling away.

“That was a Friday. I sweated through the weekend, full of grand plans about telling her to wait, or to come up to me, or yelling my phone number. She wasn’t there, of course, on Monday or any other day. I looked the rest of the summer, then it was back to university.

“I mean, to be given one chance like that and waste it. But two. I’ve never forgotten, even now with a wife and kids, I wonder what might have been. It can make my hands shake, seeing someone like you, and with too much drink in me.”

Franz Kafka Asks An Age-Old Question (from Kafka In The Castle)

if-book_thumbnail

 

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

“What if?”

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.

(image)https://pbs.twimg.com/profile_images/1757693365/if-book_thumbnail.jpg

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