The next few weeks are spent feverishly filling pages and plowing through our stash of comestibles, carefully honing the diction of our thoughts and dictums of our desires
Soon I lose track of the days. Time glosses by in its self-effacing way. More days pass. We are living in an abbreviated state of unbanished grace. In fact I’ve never seen K so vibrant, hardworking, and alive.
But as he jettisons his angst to grow lighter, become more friendly and frivolous – ten pounds of angst for every ounce of happiness - it increasingly becomes my burden to bear. Although I feel that I’ve improved substantially as a writer since our initial acquaintance – the acumen of my prose elevated to an admirable degree - physically I find myself deteriorating drastically. The increased denomination of my intellect seems to come at the steep cost of my corporeal decline.
But, hey, what does it matter if the writing goes well? These after all are the winged days when the writing is at its uninterrupted best. Sure, my parents make the unscheduled appearance now and again, but I must say they are incredibly respectful of K. Quite the opposite of how they treated me.
With me it was always a question of:
- Why are you still doodling?
- Writing should only be a hobby at this stage of your life! Not a vocation.
- Go do something productive, more remunerative.
- Have you no self-respect to be indulging in such antics at your age?
With K, however, they exercise a much greater restraint and decorum that starts with a light melodic tap on the door.
“May we come in?” my mom inquires, almost shyly.
“I’m busy creating,” K responds impatiently. “What do you want?”
“Forgive me, I understand. I really do.”
“Yes son,” my father colludes from behind the closed door, “we perfectly understand.”
“But I was wondering if maybe you could help us with some looping later on. When you’re taking a much deserved break from your arduous creative endeavors.”
“Why?” K seethes defensively. “Was my performance off?”
“Oh no, not you, never you. We just need to clean up some of the sound that Arthur here fucked up.”
“I’m sorry son, it won’t happen again.”
“You bet it won’t. I swear I’d fire his ass if I weren’t married to him.”
“What?”“You heard me!” K barks from behind the door. “Give the old man a good zetz. Teach him a lesson.”
“Yes Audrey, hit me. God knows I deserve it.”
“Louder. I want to hear it without having to strain.”
This time it sounds like she were swatting a fly against the door with a large encyclopedia.
“Ok, I’ll be down later when the writing stops, but not before.”
I can’t believe it - the worse he treats them, the more they grovel at his feet. He hasn’t even bothered to get up and answer the door.
“If you want, maybe we can bring you up some sliced fruit and yogurt. Would you like that, dear?” mother asks.
“Or falafel and pita leftovers.” My dad tries to ingratiate himself. “Audrey found this great new place that bakes the falafel instead of frying it. They’ve got these great specials called Falafel Fridays… but because they like your mother so much they are willing to extend it to any of the week just for-”
“Just leave it outside the door and go.” He dismisses them summarily. “And don’t knock again.”
On the rare occasion, when the parents are out at the doctors or another funeral, Kafka and I partake in our evening constitution to prevent possible clots and pooling of blood in our legs. Otherwise we’re working, always working, that’s how devoted we are!
But is there, you may ask, a slight edge of competitiveness to all this fraternal penmanship? I mean how can there not be when two writers are scribbling in such close proximity in the same room. But then again I am going against the venerable master, and even the handicap of using his precious ink is no match for the enormous discrepancy in talent. So imagine my surprise when, one unremarkable night, Kafka put his writing implement down to make the following request:
“Listen, I’ve had a lot of time to sort matters through and think about things and, well, when we’re done with all this I want you to help me re-write some of my stories.”
“I want you to make them more user-friendly, but still dark - like Hans Christian Anderson, or that syphilitic Maupassant guy. But not O’Harry, certainly not that haggard sentimental O’Harry who was nothing more than a second rate Maupassant, who himself was a watered down Flaubert.”
“You asking me to dumb them down?”
“I need a larger demographic,” he says earnestly. “Right now I’m in that camp of writers people talk about all the time but hardly read. Not a bad place for self-esteem, but it can get lonely after a while.”
“Wait a minute. I thought you wanted it all burned, demolished?”
“I do. The old work, it’s too fucking grim. What does the world need that for? Depressing enough place as it is.” He starts scrounging about for something without mentioning what. “When I gaze back I can see that every century outshines the previous one with its quota for horror. Or maybe it’s just that we have more access to it now.” He rummages through a few shelves. “We have any of those Turkish apricots left?”
“You just ate an hour ago.”
“I’m growing. Spiritually I’m growing.”
I manage to dig up a dried apricot from the back of one of my drawers and hand it to him.
“Here. This should hold you off.”
“So what do you say?”
“About helping rehabilitate my image.”
“I’d love to, but I’m not sure I’m up to the task.”
“That’s precisely why I’m asking you.”
He nibbles at the apricot to make it last longer. Zeno’s paradox staving off perpetual hunger.
“You helped Heidegger and Eichman. Why not me?”
“That was Hannah.”
“You as Hannah.”
“Let me think about it.”
“What do you need to think about? So far you’ve lived a life plotted without purpose, protracted to no point. Now I’m here to give you a goal. You can chronicle my existence. I’m ready to offer you the privilege to sacrifice the remaining years of your life to correct all the misconceptions about my death.”
The apricot is pretty much gone from what I can see but he keeps nibbling.
“So you gonna help me invent the new Kafka or what?”
“Look, even if I wanted to I’m not sure I’m the right person. Besides, if I write them, they’ll be my stories, my works. Not yours.”
“Does that matter? Plato and Socrates, Boswell and Johnson, where do we draw the line really? And for whose sake? Who knows who said what and who invented which. We are dismantling walls here. That’s what’s important!”
Has he been reading my thoughts as well as my journal?
Kafka goes to the bathroom and washes the apricot down
with some water. I can hear him gurgle.
“You’ve spent too much time in awe of me!” he shouts from the bathroom.
It’s true that at least in his work, if not in person, K has been a tutelary presence for me. And the idea of writing in his diluted voice, albeit with his approval, proves somewhat forbidding. Not only is his mantle too big, it’s the wrong color.
“If you weren’t so influenced by my work you’d see how pathetic I really am.”
He re-enters the room and picks up my journal with wet hands.
“Now that last story you wrote – The Deliberation – that was pretty good.”
“You liked it?” I say.
The smallest crumb of praise is enough to win me over. I’d probably have befriended Eichman if he’d approved my efforts - that’s how desperate and needy I am.
“But don’t make the mistake I did. Always running away from proper closure because it was too easy and predictable that way.”
“Don’t you think it’s too dark?”
“On the contrary. But, like I said, it all depends how you finish it.”
This is definitely the dawn of a new K, so different from the peevish mindfucker who always subscribed to the misleading notion of death by encouragement with his pithy little remarks when looking over a friend’s work:
- You should be so happy! So lucky!
- Good for you, you did it!
- Or as he often said to his not-so-accomplished Bohemian colleagues: You are so talented; me, I’m just lucky.
K as the walking personification of passive aggressive. Never commenting once about the work itself if he could help it, but rather about all the conditions surrounding it.
- The typesetter did a great job with that last piece of yours.
- I love the cover. It’s so… bold and confident.
- Those are some great blurbs you got on the back. Really good stuff. Congrats! So where should we go eat?
Addressing anything and everything except the work at hand. But this time he seems truly genuine, sincere.
“It’ll be great. You’ll see. I’ll help you improve your stories and you, in turn, will help me make mine more palatable and generic…”
He again waves my story about.
“Like this one.” He reads the title aloud this time, drawing out each and every syllable. “The De-lib-er-a-tion.” Then repeats it faster, as one word, conveying more strength and finality - “The Deliberation.”
He nods approvingly and smiles.
“I think you’ve got something there.”
Then proceeds to isolate the most salient elements that excited him about my story and expounds on the living metaphor at its core.
“I especially like how it deals with this Everyman - E for short - who gets called for Jury Duty and how it upsets the entire regiment of his life. Each day that he shleps in the selection process is capriciously postponed or inexplicably deferred, as is his life, creating this self-perpetuating limbo from which there is no escape.
“Eventually E - sobriquet for Everyman - takes initiative and shows up at the municipal court unannounced. They make him pass through all kinds of metal detectors, lie detectors, and only allow him to enter once he’s been stripped down to his underwear.
“Beyond humiliating, it is perfectly symbolic. I wish I’d thought of it myself. Anyway, after days of sitting in a pool of disgruntled jury applicants, he is summoned to see the selection lawyers from both sides. They never tell him what the case is about – and we the audience never find out - but he is repeatedly examined and cross-examined about his own life to check his suitability vis-à-vis this mysterious case. Judgment and selection. Two very Jewish themes. With a good pinch of primal guilt to boot.”
“You don’t think it’s too… derivative?”
“Hey, it’s better than what I came up with. More contemporary. My Trial was very heavy-handed. This is all about process as we know it. Much lighter. Could be a comedy if you let it breathe more.”
“Sure. And you know how people love to laugh.”
I smile stupidly. “Yes I do. Hahaha.”
“In my book the notion of a trial connoted consequence. With yours it’s all preamble without the heavy foreboding footsteps. That’s what put the idea in my head to ask your help in the first place.”
“You don’t know what it means for me to hear you say all this.”
“But you’ve got to give it a tangible ending. Don’t cop out. If the case is dismissed and the jury is adjourned, his life should still be visibly affected, changed, somehow transformed… you know what I mean?”
“I think so, yes.”
“Write the ending you want to see and, like I said, maybe I can put my name on it.”
“Ok, give me a few minutes to think.”
“That’s what we like to hear!”
Kafka perches above my shoulder; a vulture ready to lunge at the newly suckled orphan left behind by Salma on the steppes of Sierra Leone.
“You mind…?” I say.
He takes a step back.
“Sorry, tiger, didn’t know you cared. Arhhh.”
After a few minutes I scribble something hastily, impulsively, and hand it back to him. He smiles as he reads, murmuring brightly.
“Hey, I’ve got an idea. Let’s really put this to the test. Let’s post it as part of my missing oeuvre and see how the Kafka Project responds.”
“But is it good enough…?”
“Good enough for what? To pass as my writing…? I wouldn’t worry about that. The ink is real and I can do a little polish if we need it…”
“But I just made that up.”
“Someone has to.” He copies over my pages in his own hand, then scans and uploads them on his Facebook. “Besides, how would they know it was just made up unless they have the real manuscript in front of them in their possession?”
He signs the last page with his gothic K - “Oops almost forgot!” - and scans it as well.
“But no worries. With me helping you, this is certainly good enough to be a viable facsimile for what they’re expecting. That is assuming they’re still looking for it - which they must be or they wouldn’t be so desperate and persistent.”
He looks up.
“What was in the real notebooks… was it your story to Felice?”
“The one at Tiergarten?”
“Please! The Conference is this weekend. You’ve waited this long. Surely you can wait a little bit longer to find out.”
“And what are we supposed to do till then.”
“Keep writing. See how they respond.”
I shake the inkwell and peer inside it.
“I think we’re running out of ink.”
“Don’t worry about that now.”
He calls my attention to the computer.
The response from the Project comes back much quicker than anticipated, as if they were keeping an electronic vigil for just this occasion. But it’s not about the story. No. It’s a link to a Youtube posting of me as Hannah Arendt recreating the scene with Adolf Eichman posted by my cineaste parents.
The clip is called: Kafka’s Kangaroo Court.
Attached to it is a livid message from the embittered Professor Heschel.
You think you are funny…? We won’t let you get away with this travesty. Because that’s what this mockery is – it’s an unmitigated travesty.
Beneath it run a few other comments. For the most part they are incredibly positive and encouraging. Amusing, inventive, audacious - are just some of the more salient modifiers. But the Project is not in the least amused.
“This is unfortunate!” K shakes his head.
“Why…? You see the rest of the comments? They love the acting!”
“Great. Maybe I’ll run away and go join the Yiddish theater. Take a look at the last one, will you? That’s the one you should look at. The only one that really counts.”
All the way on the bottom the Bankers have left a psychotically enthusiastic message offering to finance a full-length feature based on my parent’s little clip.
“Yeah, so what’s wrong with a little recognition for one’s work?”
“It’s not that.”
“Just because your father never read your books doesn’t mean the rest of the world is similarly apathetic you know.”
“You don’t get it do you?” he says.“What? What am I supposed to get?”
“Now it’s only a matter of time before the Bankers realize it’s your parents film.”
“And next time the Kafka Project meets with the Bankers regarding funding they’ll tell them about my Parents who, in turn, will tell them about us.”
“You mean my parents.”
“You said my parents,” I repeat.
“Yes. You did that earlier, too.”
“I don’t remember.”
“But they’re really my parents.”
“No matter how I feel about them,” I say, “they’re still my parents.”
“Yes, of course.” K tightly corrects himself. “I meant your parents. But sometimes I feel so close to you, it feels like they’re my parents too.”
“You really know how to work it, don’t you?”
“Forget it,” I say. “Just forget it.”
K shrugs and takes a step towards me where he loiters in my presence.
“Either way,” he says, “there’s a clear syllogistic intent here that’s not yet made manifest. But once it is… once the Project meets with the Bankers who in turn figure out it’s my - excuse me, your parents - we’re basically fucked.”
“What do you suggest we do?”
“The Conference is this weekend.”
“But what if—“
“We just have to wait till then and hope for the best.” K drops into his default mode of indifference. “Nothing else we can do.”
A long silence takes over the room. When he finally talks it’s as if he were presenting a case to himself.
“I just wish they treated me the way they did old Eichman, then all this could be avoided.”
“Eichman was hung!”
“Yes. And shortly after his execution Eichman's body was cremated in a specially designed oven that was blazing so hot that no one dared go near it. They even had to build special tracks and a stretcher to deal with it. The next morning, on June 1, his incontrovertible ashes were scattered at sea over the Mediterranean, in international waters, to make sure that there could be no future memorial and that no nation would serve as his final resting place. That’s what they should have done with my work when I died. Exactly what they did to Eichman’s body. Then there’d be no sequel now. And no one to claim it.”
“But then we wouldn’t have met.”
“I could live with that.”
“Because you’d still be dead.”
“There are worse things.”
No emotion registers across his face when he mentions all this; allowing me to believe that revoking our friendship means as little to him as returning an overdue library book.
“You still haven’t told me what we’re supposed to do now?”
“You think I know? Just because I’m dead doesn’t mean I know everything. Isn’t that obvious by now?”
“We could keep writing.”
“I’m tired of writing.”
“How about reading?”
“Same thing but in reverse. No. There comes a point in one’s life when what you take away from the books you read diminishes drastically, almost exponentially. The writing is even worse. Nothing seems to relate to you anymore. Nothing is yours, if you know what I mean. Not even yourself. Especially yourself.”
Kafka gets up and puts on his coat.
“Where are you going?”
“I need some air.”
“Mind if I join you?”
He shrugs – If you want… As you wish… I don’t care – all in one dropping motion of his shoulders and heads to the door. I pocket the nearly empty inkwell in case we come across an open stationery store or vendor that specializes in rare inks, and follow him out.