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Kafka Leaves A Home He Never Owned

In my Kafka In The Castle I fill in all the diary entries that Kafka leaves bare (or destroyed),. For about a year, he used the tiny house his sister rented up in the Prague Castle on The Golden Lane. She rented it solely to have trysts with her lover. Kafka never actually stayed the night, but he went there often, and wrote a whole book of short stories while he was there. But, on this late summer night, I imagine how he left it for the last time

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

30 August 1917

I’ll just leave the newspapers. They will no doubt be appreciated as fuel for the next winter. My manuscripts though – regardless of the temptation – I’ll take. The pile on the table, looming behind the lamp, I’ll take tonight. The rest tomorrow. Max has offered to carry things – no doubt thinking that what he carries, I can not burn – and has arranged to be here shortly.

What I most want to take away with me, I can’t. The comfort. The view of the Stag Moat. The Castle walls. The world held suspended beyond the massive gates. The silence. Perhaps peace – which can be many things – can also be nothing more than silence. And here is Max at my open door. His worried smile precedes him into my peaceful room.

31 August 1917

The last night of the month. My last night in this tiny house. My last trek along the Alchemist’s Lane as someone who belongs. And soon, my last walk down the Castle steps. Which Max so dutifully counted. And after Max conveys me to the specialist, I imagine I’ll embark on the last part of my life. The power of the Alchemist’s Lane is far from spent, if one truly sees what I have turned into. There could have been no substance so base as myself to put beneath the test of smoking acid. Burning with precision into my lungs.

Since Max helped last night, there is not much for me to carry away. I might indeed be taking as little as I brought that first day. Technically, I must leave by mid-night, and I plan to walk out the door at that precise minute, turning the key in the lock at the last strokes of the cathedral bell. Of course, I don’t have to do this – no one will appear to check on me. But, I enjoy technicalities. I skirt through life on both the vaguest, and the most precise, of technicalities. After all, I am a well-trained lawyer. Like a weasel well-versed in the ways of the earth.

But sadly, this burrow must be vacated. And by its exposed front entrance, for I never had the luxury of a back escape route. But then – is that what is now being offered me? Opened for me? Not the Alchemist’s Lane, which will lead me to the city. Between the walls, through the courtyards, down the steps, and beyond the many gates. But the Tuberculous Lane, which may meander in many directions, stop at many doors, but finally – eventually – lead to the deep decent into a darkened pit. The only thing of me remaining above to be my name, carved in stone. The Herr Doktor. Not an unexpected fate. But not a fate I wish to happen too soon.

Not, at any rate, as soon as my fate to walk out that door, my few parcels and papers in hand. A lingering look upon the table, the lamp, the stove. I think I will say good bye. I think I may even say thank-you. And then, I will take a great deal of time to find my key. It will be in the last pocket I search. And I’ll close the door slowly. With care. And the key in the lock will make a noise I shall never forget.

The Cat Lady And The Seal

Well, she was dressed like a cat though, I realise as I write the sentence, how really does a cat dress?

Really, the only dress-up cat that comes to mind was a cat called Tuxedo, who was – I assume – so named because of his attire of black and white fur – right down (or up) to his bow tie. And, I remember him because he ran in every civic election for years, and always garnered 500 -700 votes. He lived a few blocks from me and always had his lawn signs out. Yeah, he probably had a human manager – but still.

But I digress.

The cat lady, it is true, had an exceedingly colourful set of clothes, with a frilly shirt and what looked like a square dance dress. I didn’t note if there were dancing shoes. I was down on the harbour, sitting on my favourite bench, looking out to sea. Summer is picking up and there were many, many other folk walking and taking in the view. So, it wasn’t really her garb that meowed “cat”, but the fact the had her face painted up as a cat, with accented eyes and tufts of fur and a set of cat ears. It’s summer, and there are lots of entertainments on the harbour, and it is possible she was part of some CATS revue that was giving entertainment for the masses. (or that could just be me, trying to make sense of it all).

However, she broke the tranquil evening by starting to yell.

“WHAT’S THAT?

“WHAT’S THAT?

“OVER THERE!

“IN THE WATER

“IS IT A SEAL!?!”

She was becoming so excited and agitated that I finally yelled back:

“YES, IT’S A SEAL”

“I’VE NEVER SEEN A SEAL. EVER IN MY WHOLE LIFE. ARE YOU SURE?’

“YES!”

Yes, I was sure. I had already been watching the animal, and it was putting on a good display. Not many seals venture so far into the harbour, and when they do they are usually above the water less than a minute before they dive to come up somewhere else. This seal was swimming tranquilly along, in nearly a straight line, for longer than a minute at a time. Perhaps basking in the sun. Or watching the people, so he would have tall tale to tell to his friends.

“A REAL SEAL?”

“YES.”

“I NEVER SAW ONE BEFORE.”

And with that she walked away, the sight, apparently, not being as earth-shattering as her voice.

After A God Awful Crash, The Lemonade Stopped Flowing

Two or three days ago, I heard incessant chanting coming from children two houses down the hill.

Other than it was obvious repetition, I could not figure out that the words were. It took a day and a half for me to decipher the sing-song serenade:: “Get your ice cold lemonade here!” And they beefed up ‘here’ – they said ‘her-are”. Maybe that is what confused me.

This morning, for the first time, I actually saw some folk buying their lemonade. One fellow even crossed the street for it.

But then, in the early afternoon, a God-Awful crash came through my open window. The chanting stopped in mid sentence. And I experienced what I had actually never experienced before.

Dead silence.

It was so silent, it made an impression. There seemed to be neither bird nor wind in the trees nor cars passing. The silence stretched for long seconds. And then, a yell of anguish.

“What happened?

“How did that happen?”

“What happened?”

And I did not know what happened (nor do I) but my guess is that whatever glass bowl or container. (which I assume was reasonably large). ended up on the sidewalk. In many pieces, and awash in lemonade.

Within two minutes, two mothers were out there with brooms and rags. One of them went out into the street and yelled “No, it didn’t reach here.”

For about ten minutes there was sweeping and mopping and children picking up pieces and putting them (I assume) into some garbage container.

The mothers returned to their houses.

There has been no chanting since.

My Father’s War Encounter During The Summer Solstice

I don’t post this every first day of summer (tempting though it is), but I find it neat to have such a connection to the Celts, about whom I have written three novels

During World War Two, my father had the unique experience of guarding Stonehenge. Not by himself, of course, there were other members of the Canadian Army with him.

The vast plains around Stonehenge were utilised by the military in both world wars. During the First War, the area was a training ground for troops from various countries. There were many encampments for recruits, with both basic training and preparations to train for the trench warfare awaiting on the continent. There were thousands and thousands of men, and huge amounts of supplies.

During the Second War, the area was used as staging ground for the D-Day invasion. There was great security, and as much secrecy as possible. Soldiers were in place to guard the perimeter.

So, my father found himself not only guarding Stonehenge, but doing so on Midsummer Morn, when the sun rose over the monument. He was a learned man – a school teacher – and versed in the history of the place. He knew of the Celts and the Druids and some of the mythology. He knew this was sacred ground and that Midsummer Morn was especially important. He might have paused and tried to look into the past, and see more in the morning mist than was actually there. I do not know.

He did, however, when their shift was over and they got to eat, tell the other soldiers of the history of the place. He mentioned that, during such celebrations by the Celts, the Druids might have a virgin killed to appease the gods. The other soldiers were shocked.


“What a waste,” said one

Kafka And His Hot Summer Night Of The Dead

franz-kafka-house-golden-lane-prague

Kafka’s House: Number 22

 

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in Franz Kafka’s missing diary entries. Every day chosen is a day where he either left no record, or destroyed the pages.

On this night, he meets the woman who was the girlfriend of Kafka’s neighbour on The Alchemist’s Lane, who had killed himself. Kafka found the body. He also found a note addressed to her, which he kindly burned.

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

25 July 1917

I had not been here long – the newspaper only partially read – when I thought I heard a noise at the door. A woman was framed in the open doorway, her hand still hesitant upon the wood. I rose from my chair, and she stepped back into the lane.

“Yes?” I asked.

“You knew him?” she asked in turn.

She was a slender woman, sallow complexion, and younger in age than Ottla. I walked toward the door, for it seemed apparent she was not about to enter.

“You were his neighbour – the Herr Doktor?”

She did not retreat any further, and I was now standing in the doorway.

“Oh,” I said. “You mean … ” But I had to stop, for I could not remember his name. I finally had to point to the house next door.

“Yes,” she said. “He killed himself.”

“Yes.” I had to agree.

“Did he …” she began, and I could sense her difficulty in having this discussion. “Did he say anything about me. I’m Julie.”

“We can go in, if you like. I do have a key.” I am an expert at stalling for time. “No one has moved in.”

She looked at me in disbelief, her face seeming to age as various expressions moved across it.

“No – that isn’t …” she began, staring at the other door. “I was never here. We didn’t have that type of friendship. But I have not been able to remove him from my mind. If he ever spoke of me, I care to know about it.”

My hope was that she would never ask about an envelope addressed to her.

“So you don’t wish to go in?”

“No. That means nothing to me.” She took a step closer. “Just if he talked.”

“You were his girlfriend?”

“He thought me so – though I told him differently, and offered no encouragement. But perhaps he drank too much to pay attention.”

“You were with another man?”

“He told you that? So – he did speak of me.”

“Yes.”

“What else did he say?”

There are times to tell the truth; times to expand the truth for clarification; and times to compress.

“He said that he saw you together with a man. And that he missed you.”

“Did he say anything the night he killed … the night he died?”

I didn’t pause, because I had stalled just so I could answer this question.

“He asked me if I was going to be in my house over the evening.” Here I did pause, as if in thought. “And he said he didn’t like the other people on the lane.”

“Nothing else?”

“Pleasantries – good evening, etc. He said he liked our talks.”

“He talked a lot?”

“No, not really.”

“Was there a note?”

“You should ask the police about that.” I was very calm. “They searched his house.”

“Yes, perhaps I will. He said nothing further?”

“We did not really have conversations.” I shrugged my shoulders. “He was always drunk.”

“Even that night?”

“Oh yes. The night he hanged himself – most certainly.”

“And you were the one who found…”

“Yes, Miss. And, I contacted the police.”

“He was … was dead when you found him?”

“Yes.” I looked directly into her eyes. “He did a very effective job.”

She was quiet for a moment, staring at his door. She looked along the Lane, then finally at me.

“You have been most kind, Herr Doktor. I’m sorry to have troubled you.” She did not wait for a response, and was turning away when I spoke.

“If I may ask, Miss. This happened three months ago.”

“To the night,” she said.

“Three months. Why have you waited until now?”

“It does not seem long.”  She was conscious of others on the Lane looking in our direction. “His attention – though I never asked for it – was so total and persistent, that I have felt it deserved my interest.”  She shook her head slightly. “But not any more. I wish to put an end to it.” She unexpectedly stepped toward me. “That’s all right, isn’t it, Herr Doktor?”

The question was so intense that I touched her shoulder.

“Yes. Without any doubt – yes. You’ve spent enough time on a ghost within a memory.”

I smiled, and she walked away, quickly down the Lane. Death’s hand released its grip.

 

She Had God In Her Feet And Angels In Her Summer Hair

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I visit wharves and gaze out to sea.

It is a pleasure that took hold some ten years ago. I don’t know why, for I certainly had experience with oceans and coast long before that. For some things it seems its time just comes.

I prefer small working ports, gritty and smelling of fish and lobster and ocean. The scurry and comings and goings (though I also like them in the evening when most work is done). I walk the docking between the boats and peer from the end of the wharf. I ponder distant shores or endless sea and screaming gulls with sometimes seals and whales and archaic Blue Herons.

Last night, when I thought the wharf was my own, a man, woman, toddler and dog arrived. They seemed to do much as I was doing, though they knew the owner of one of the fishing boats. The man was gruffly talkative, the dog was rambunctious, the woman apologized for the toddler’s dirty face and the little girl didn’t quite know what to make of me. Friendly and chatty but she wouldn’t take my hand as I offered to walk her up a gangplank.

I left them on the docking between the moored boats and started to walk on the wharf itself.  The fishing boats and the docking were parallel to the wharf.  I was half way along when I heard a shout. I heard the dog. I looked over and this is where life becomes art becomes life. It was a Kodak moment. It was a Motorola moment. It was a ‘freeze frame/real time/fast forward’ moment. It was a composition/edited moment. It was all these things which came to my visual mind. All this and the knowledge that there was no way I could get there if I was needed.

The little girl was going for the gold. She had God in her feet and Angels in her streaming hair as she raced between the moored boats. Her dirty face was wide with excitement and it is probably the happiest she has been in her life. The man was restraining the dog and the woman was in athletic pursuit. They raced between the boats and the mooring lines and the tools of the fishing trade. The dock swayed in the movement of the waves.  I could not believe the swiftness of the child. The woman finally took what seemed to me a runner’s stance and eventually grabbed the exuberant child. I heard, over the water, admonishments of what could happen if she had “gone under a boat.” All – of course – true.

But the dog understood.

The Summer Solstice Could Be Bad For Virgins

Thousands Gather To Celebrate Summer Solstice At Stonehenge
I have an odd connection to the Summer Solstice, and it is via Stonehenge. My father guarded the structure, and did so on Midsummer Day.

During the Second World War, it was feared that Germany would invade England. Many of the Canadian soldiers stationed in England were spread in a wide circle around London. An outright invasion would be a do-or-die situation, and Canadian soldiers had it been known to them – without direct orders – that no prisoners were to be taken.

One of the areas put under guard was Stonehenge. Though less so now, at that time Stonehenge was surrounded by vast planes. It was feared the Germans might use these open areas for paratroopers, and also gliders full of troops. Thus the area was defended.

My father was part of this protection, and it so happened that he stood guard duty near Stonehenge itself on Midsummer Day, and watched the sun rise over the monument.

He was aware of the significance of both time and place, as many of his comrades might not be.

Indeed, when he informed them that the Celts, at one time, sacrificed virgins on altars at Stonehenge, they expressed – in more earthy soldier language than I am going to use – “What a waste.”

(Image)https://timedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/summer-solstice.jpeg

Summer Heat And Lost Love In Montréal

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A story told to me which I have (it must be admitted) embellished.

“I don’t mean to stare – I apologize. 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 Montreal? The escalators that come up by the Queen Elizabeth Hotel.  I had a lot of travel to get to work when I lived in Montreal, 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. I 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.”

When Beavers Fall In Summer Love – Stand Aside

beavers

Some summers ago, I was walking along a river, and heard the strangest noise. It was one of those noises which, when I found out what It was, sounded exactly as it should.

A beaver was chewing at a branch on the bank of the river. First there were small rolling noises as the branch went through its hands, and then the ‘gnaw gnaw gnaw’, and then the turning noise and the cycles were repeated.

This went on fifteen minutes or so, then the beaver and I both heard noises in the water. We both saw another beaver approaching.

The beaver-at-gnaw quickly went in her direction (though I can only guess which sex was which).

They swam toward each other, then rubbed faces. The approaching beaver made small bawling noises like a young calf. They rubbed bodies and seemed to sniff each other, then they swam in different directions.

This performance – the swimming away, the languid circling, the approaches – went on for twenty minutes. A couple of times the ‘gnawing’ beaver clambered over the over beaver’s back, but this lasted just a few seconds. The beaver which had approached rubbed noses once again, and made the bawling sounds one more time.

I never appreciated how large beavers are until one of them came up on the bank. The water was clear enough to see their feet and tail move underwater (I wonder if the portion out of the water might have the 1/10 proportion of an iceberg).

The sun was setting and they became difficult to see. However they decided to part anyway. One began to go down river toward the harbour, and one headed to the other shore.

I was left to ponder what they might have in plan after a good night’s sleep.

(image)4.bp.blogspot.com/-08yw2sDiLAQ/URpBmKAAdDI/AAAAAAAAAM8/A8vw56FM22A/s1600/beavers.JPG

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