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Kafka Warms Himself With His Own Manuscripts

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.”

Is it Putin, Is It Trump, Is It Musk Knock Knock Knocking On The Door?

he first claw was so faint upon the door he barely raised an eye from the page.

It could have been the wind – it sounded almost like the wind.

Wind at other times. and in other places, might blow such a sound – but not this night.

As his thoughts returned to what lay before him, the tiny scrabble, hesitant at floor level, moved slightly to the right, aligning itself more closely to the doorknob.

The noise skittered up the wood, making a metallic sound. His head swivelled toward the door.  The first thought he had was for the paint.

He could sense, by the sound alone, the movement was groping in the dark  It was unsure where it was. He closed the book on his lap, still keeping his place with a finger.

His eyes remained fixed on the door. He thought he saw the light of his lamp glint off something through the keyhole.

The doorknob twitched – a slight movement counterclockwise.  Then a brief turn clockwise. He let the book slide down the side of his chair as he put his hand into a pocket. He felt the key between his fingers. He held it tightly.

There was fumbling with the knob, muffled sounds as if a grip was hard to get. The knob turned once more, and then the pressure on the outside was released. He could hear shuffling against the wood. Then he saw, through the keyhole, light reflecting off a muddy iris.

He stared back through the keyhole, only to see the eye blink and move slowly away. He started to rise from his chair, but was stopped by a thump near the floor, as if a clumsy foot had bumped the wood by mistake.

He realised all the sounds he  heard seemed uncoordinated. The doorknob was once again twisted, but the motion seemed to lack an ability to grasp.

He was wondering whether to turn out the lamp, when a hesitant, hollow knock came upon the door.

~ DE

Is it Putin, Is It Trump, Is It Musk, Knock Knock Knocking On The Door?

The first claw was so faint upon the door he barely raised an eye from the page.

It could have been the wind – it sounded almost like the wind.

Wind at other times. and in other places, might blow such a sound – but not this night.

As his thoughts returned to what lay before him, the tiny scrabble, hesitant at floor level, moved slightly to the right, aligning itself more closely to the doorknob.

The noise skittered up the wood, making a metallic sound. His head swivelled toward the door.  The first thought he had was for the paint.

He could sense, by the sound alone, the movement was groping in the dark  It was unsure where it was. He closed the book on his lap, still keeping his place with a finger.

His eyes remained fixed on the door. He thought he saw the light of his lamp glint off something through the keyhole.

The doorknob twitched – a slight movement counterclockwise.  Then a brief turn clockwise. He let the book slide down the side of his chair as he put his hand into a pocket. He felt the key between his fingers. He held it tightly.

There was fumbling with the knob, muffled sounds as if a grip was hard to get. The knob turned once more, and then the pressure on the outside was released. He could hear shuffling against the wood. Then he saw, through the keyhole, light reflecting off a muddy iris.

He stared back through the keyhole, only to see the eye blink and move slowly away. He started to rise from his chair, but was stopped by a thump near the floor, as if a clumsy foot had bumped the wood by mistake.

He realised all the sounds he  heard seemed uncoordinated. The doorknob was once again twisted, but the motion seemed to lack an ability to grasp.

He was wondering whether to turn out the lamp, when a hesitant, hollow knock came upon the door.

~ Dale Estey

Kafka Changes His Life By Leaving His Old Life Behind

Kafka did not really live in this tiny house on this narrow lane – his sister did.

And she did not really live in this tiny house on this narrow lane – she rented it so she could have a place to meet her lover in secret.

The secret was necessary because her lover was a Christian.

So the house was vacant most of the time.

Enter Kafka. He  started to go there (at the suggestion of his sister) so he could have a place to be alone. Otherwise he would be with his parents, which was not conducive to either his (or his sister’s) desires.

He never stayed the night, but was there most evenings for months. He wrote a whole book of short stories in his book The Country Doctor  while there.

I set a third of my novel about Kafka in this tiny house.
I’ve visited it.
Peered from the windows.
Looked up the stairs.
Ducked in the doorway.
When I was there while the country was still under Communist control, it was a book store.
But – Kafka being Kafkaesque long after death – none of his books were displayed.From Kafka In The Castle

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

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.

Who Gets The Free Booze At The High School Reunion?

When they reach the food tables, there is not the curiosity from others concerning who is who. Most are intent about filling plates and returning to their tables.

Everyone at their table is getting steak except for Betty, who has opted for the salmon. She also opts to carry Allan’s plate as she sends him on to the bar to get another round of drinks. She looks at Ed and Lee.

“Are you two satisfied with tea and coffee?  Those drinks they are going to bring to the table, carried by sadly inexperienced students.”

“That’s fine with us,” says Lee. “And we can always snag some bottled water.”

Plate in hand they return to their table. In their absence a plate of rolls and butter has been deposited in the middle. There is also a bottle of red wine, with a bow and a note attached.

“Well, well,” says Betty, wanting to immediately open the unaddressed envelope. “I’ve never seen the like of this.”

“A modest but decent bottle,” says Alison Alexandra.

“Maybe you have a secret admirer,” says Betty.

“Maybe you do,” says Alison Alexandra.

Betty Dragger is taken by surprise at the idea and snorts. She then sees Big Stakes Gamble approaching, and clears some space for the drinks he is carrying. He is fast at a sip of his beer before he speaks.

“Who got the wine?”

“We don’t know,” says Betty.

“Then someone should open the card.” He picks up the bottle and hands it to Ed.  “And that sounds like a job for an officer of the law.”

Ed is not sure if a joke is being played, and if it is being played on him. He is as curious as not, so he takes the knife beside his plate and slits open the envelope. He reads the card and laughs.

“Well?” asks his wife.

“’For the long service of our respected teacher’.” Ed hands the bottle back to Allan. “’With thanks’.”

There is not a lot of conversation as they eat. Each of them is adequately hungry, and the food is appreciated. Allan offers to open the bottle of wine, but Betty and Alison Alexandra are content to keep with what they’re drinking. They suggest he take it home. When he suggests another round, they are happy to let him get it. Servers come to collect their dishes. They ponder whether to go and get dessert. Betty says ‘in for a penny / in for a pound’, so they, en masse, swoop down on the apple pie and ice cream. Then they are well and truly sated.

It Was Friday 13th Two Years Ago And COVID Was In The Air

In my manuscript, There Was A Time, Oh Pilgrim, When The Stones Were Not So Smooth  I finished a chapter about the ‘elderly Dutchmen party with Alison Alexandra’ on Friday 13th. I took a trip and, on 19th March, began what turned out to be nearly a full year of Pandemic writing.The next chapter of the novel begins “In times of Pandemic, one of Alison Alexandra’s greatest worries is being bored.”

I started planning to write about the Pandemic the day after I heard that China was constructing hospitals solely devoted to COVID patients. I knew then the world was going to be in a lot of trouble. I was proved right.

 This is how that chapter began.

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

In times of Pandemic, one of Alison Alexandra’s greatest worries is being bored. And though she doesn’t want to test the theory, she believes she would rather be ill than bored.

“I’d step lightly there,” says R/Jane-the-Ghost.

“You would?”

“I would,” says R/Jane-the-Ghost. “And I know what I’m talking about. Yes – I do.”

Within the week of Wuhan City in China being shut down, and the building of emergency hospitals to house the sick, Alison Alexandra knew this would inevitably become the fate of the world. It might have intruded a bit more quickly than she has anticipated, but not by much.

Alison Alexandra of course thinks about the Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times”. But she also knows that this is a phrase in English that has no Chinese equivalent. The closest curse in Chinese is “Better to be a dog in peacetime than a human in time of war”.

“I won’t argue with that,” says R/Jane-the-Ghost.

And she doesn’t.

So, it was at the beginning of the Chinese curse that Alison Alexandra sets her plan into motion. It is simple, though dependent on circumstance.

Alison Alexandra arranges to get those with whom she’d like to share the End Times – if End Times they prove to be – to join her at her house and wait out the famine with a feast or two. Or three.

“I don’t think the End Times are supposed to be good times,” says R/Jane-the-Ghost/

“Not to put too fine a point on it,” says Alison Alexandra. “But aren’t you supposed to know?”

“Point taken,” says R/Jane-the-Ghost.

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. 

Alison Alexandra Wonders Whether To Change Her Future As The Past Becomes Distant

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 traveled as often as those sailors and their spyglasses, she has traveled as far as many of them just to keep those leaves flip flip flipping.

So, today she is going to walk to town.

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.

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