It’s incredibly late and cold by the time we get home. My parents should be asleep, but I discern some unsavory sounds issuing from their room. It can only be one of two things, and I prefer to imagine it being the latter, which is also the least likely, considering that my mother can kick the shit out of my father. So it must be the first scenario, which I prefer not to explicate. At all events, I urge K to be quiet as possible to avoid calling their attention.
“Believe me, you don’t want my mother making a surprise appearance. You think you can complain, wait till you get her started.”
As we stealthily enter my room I am reminded of poor old Pip, in Dicken’s Great Expectations, who must sequester his fugitive Father for some interminable period of time in his room. But K doesn’t take kindly to charity - that’s what you get from so much self-loathing – and right away he begins to turn over cushions and fling open drawers.
“What are you doing?”
“No I don’t. I asked you to be quiet.”
“Ok. So where did you hide it?”
“Don’t play dumb with me.”
“But I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Your stash of porn, man. Where is it?”
He looks under my sweaters. Rummages in all my drawers.
“Come on, been almost a century. I need to make sure it still works. I need to open some valves here, release some pressure.”
He’s ferreting in all my boxes.
“Sorry, nope. No pornography there.”
“Am I hot or cold? Throw me a bone here.”
Now looking behind the mirror.
“Frigid,” I reply. “Although not a bad idea,” I confess, already recalling the one time I was in London waiting for a delayed flight, when I accidentally found some porn stashed behind the hotel mirror. Did the randy maid leave it there on purpose? And what was the reflexive nature of this munificent gesture? Was I supposed to jerk off in front of the mirror and discover something new about myself? Or could it perhaps be a two-way mirror with a smoky audience sitting at some secret remove? Needless to say that regardless of the unanswered questions, I fervently consummated the act I was anonymously enlisted to perform and missed my flight in doing so.
Meanwhile, back in the room, Kafka is still upsetting furniture and books in his quest for viable pornography. Although he, too, is now fondly reminiscing about an experience from his youth, busy displacing any further associations or remembrances I may have with his own more salient ones.
“In my younger and more vulnerable days in Prague” - I hear him mumbling, getting louder - “I used to get a hard-on just fondling the key that was used to lock up my porn. Ah, those were the days!” He empties a final hopeful drawer, which again yields nothing of interest. “But now… NOW I’m just FUCKIN desperate! And you’re NOT helping one bit.”
“Well, I’m sorry but you won’t find anything the way you’re looking.”
“Fuck you. KAFKA SAYS FUCK YOU!”
He lapses into third person to deflect focus from himself in this unattractive moment - or perhaps simply to lend the invective a little more gravitas and authority. Perhaps a little of each.
“You want me to help you, you will have to apologize. Both you… And Kafka,” I say.
He scours the place with a keen wild desperation. “I don’t need you. I don’t need anyone.” Then stops to catch his breath. Moping. Defeated. Small voice.
“Ok, Kafka is sorry.”
“What about you?”
“I’m sorry too. We’re both sorry. Ok…? Look, it’s my dad’s fault.”
“You can’t always be blaming him.”
“You’re right, but this time he deserves it. I swear he must’ve made a copy of the key when I was away that one time to visit Felice in Berlin. I mean all the photos and magazines were stacked differently when I came back, but I couldn’t really be sure. So you can see why this would drive me crazy. Please. Help me out here.”
“You shared pornography with your father?”
“I might have, I said. Unwittingly. I’m not really sure.”
Straining arduously, he lifts my mattress. Another pointless exercise.
“So where do you hide it, come on? And don’t tell me you don’t have any. Everyone has some kind of pornography, even if it‘s just an underlined copy of the Bible with so-and-so begetting so-and-so.”
“I never said I didn’t.”
“So where is it? Where’s my so-and-so?”
“Virtual…? My whole life was virtual. Only my fantasies were real. You know how hard it was to create one world and live in another without becoming entirely incidental.”
“You want me to feel sorry for you now?”
“I’m just saying that even with my prowess of imagination, I was unable to sustain my needs. Sure I’d jerk off to the shopkeeper across the way for days on end, but that’s only because I could see her through the window. Moreover, she knew I was looking, she did – the little coquette - stopping now and then to bend over and pick up things that were indecorously just out of her reach. But your sad window offers nothing. Just like your room.”
“It’s much better in the day.”
“I’m sure it is, but I can’t wait that long.” He absently adjusts the package between his legs. “You asked me to apologize and I did. Now you tell me where it is or I’ll scream.”
“Go ahead. But if my mom comes in, you’ll regret it more than I do.”
In response I think of the commandant in Lina Wurtmeller’s Seven Beauties - one of my father’s favorite films – but know he won’t get the reference. Instead I cross to my desk and tap the side of my computer.
“This is what I mean by virtual.”
He slowly saunters over. Considering the computer before him.
“A sapling from the tree of knowledge.” I peck a key to arouse it from its electronic sleep. “A portal to paradise.” The screen brightens almost instantly.
“You mind?” he asks.
Then sits down at the keyboard.
“Go on, Google anything you want?”
I show him how to navigate the search engine so he can unlock Pandora’s bottomless box and ask all his peremptory questions.
“You can even google yourself if you want. Everyone does it, but some do it a lot more than others.”
A man of true conviction, K goes first and foremost to the porn.
He types Anal. Midget. Tranny. No wonder we were kicked out of paradise.
“Don’t you dare give me that look,” he says, fully absorbed by the screen. “Everything we do in life is a poor substitute for this.”
The pages that come up do not disappoint.
“If you’re not dead, you should be fucking. And if you can’t be fucking, you’re just killing time and making everyone around you miserable. Animals all know that. They live to fuck, die, and hunt. But the hunting is just so they’ll have more energy to fuck.”
A wide selection of pornographic windows pop up rapidly in an infinite regression of seduction, each more tantalizing than the one before.
“Wow… there’s some great shit here. Great shit!”
He googles shaved anorexic girls posing nude and beloved dogs fucking lost desolate souls. He is definitely into his animals, as well as some other nasty shit that, aside from being questionably legal, makes me exceedingly uncomfortable.
“Maybe you can check that out when I’m not here.”
“Don’t get self-righteous with me, Bub. I didn’t steal anything. I’m just a spectator here.” He closes and opens the various windows like he were dealing cards at a casino. “You want to throw the first stone, you give me back the inkwell.” Some windows are moved to the foreground, others to the back, I can barley keep up with him or the undisclosed logic of his shuffled desire. “Speaking of which, where is that inkwell anyway?”
“You know what I’m talking about boychik. Show me what started the whole metzimas in the first place.”
I produce the small finely wrought glass vial from inside my pocket and hand it to him. He moves it near the computer for better inspection, turning it this way and that in the stained light of the pixilated porn emanating from the screen behind it.
“This was my bar mitzvah present. From my crazy uncle Rudolf, the one who killed himself.”
Then hands it back.
“Here. Keep it. Now I give it to you. Talk about redemption - I turn the theft into a present. And absolve you from the convenience of your pre-assigned guilt. Go on. You should be happy for once. Relieved.”
“Thanks. I’ll make sure to use it to write you a thank-you note later.”
“Don’t bother. Just go down and visit with the folks. Or make a sandwich. I don’t care what you do so long as you quit my sight for a few minutes,” he says dragging a box of Kleenex closer to the computer. “Ten, fifteen minutes at least. Gotta make sure the plumbing’s not clogged.”
I leave the room and hear him lock the door immediately behind me.
Summarily expelled, my choices are slim. To hear Kafka getting reacquainted with his carnal self behind my closed door; or go down the hall where earlier on I’d overheard my father servicing himself inside the quagmire of my mother’s overly dilated sex. Either option is paralyzing and harrowing in its own distinct way. But as I pass my parent’s bedroom I detect a harsh whisper escape from the beneath their door that entirely disarms me and puts a pause on all further deliberation.
“He’s your son,” mother accuses.
“I never wanted him.”
“Too late for that now.”
“Have you ever tried to look him straight in the eye?”
“Not if I can help it,” father answers.
“It’s like there’s someone inside him, trying to look out. Very creepy. Unsettling.”
“I’ve already talked to him, dear.”
“How did he take it?”
“Like always. Mild surprise followed by inevitable resignation.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m just not sure how much longer I can stand it.”
“He certainly is an odd one.”
“You ask how’s the weather and he cringes. The most clichéd intimacy embarrasses him to no end. It’s not normal, I tell you. Not normal at all.”
“It’ll all be over soon. I promise.”
“I’m glad you put that ad in the paper. How much do you think we can get?”
“With or without utilities?”
“His room is furnished. That’s a plus.”
“Yes it is.”
“Because if I have to see him squirming one more day I might develop post partum all over again.”
“But honey, that’s impossible. You weren’t really…”
I strain to hear the end of his sentence, which seems to intone a gentle reprimand, when the DVD recorder just happens to slip out of Pause and into Play to bury my father’s words with an avalanche of foreign dialogue that makes no sense without the subtitles. I try to isolate the language by the pitch and cadence and conclude it’s not French or Japanese or Chinese or German or Spanish. That much I know. Perhaps Italian. Or even Portuguese. It’s difficult to decide which without the accompanying image. But that doesn’t stop me from waiting outside their door, listening further, hoping to recover a scrap or two more of dialogue once the movie ends and the canned cacophony subsides. But the more I wait, the less likely it seems to happen any time soon.
So I head into the kitchen and commence eating a variety of foods that do nothing except make me hungrier.
I’m on a raging binge. Something has stirred a terrific appetite inside me; my barren emotional state as hollow and insatiable as my hunger. After a box of cereal, I make a seriously layered sandwich, consuming several handfuls of cashews in between; it might as well be my last meal. But that’s how they all feel of late. The food inflates me without filling me up in the least.
Then I hear footsteps. My nervous and birdlike father enters the kitchen, mother in tow. He is preparing to indulge in a post-coital snack, while mother putters about preparing her tea.
I struggle to meet their gaze with genuine affability this time, but fail miserably. Maybe they’re right, maybe I do have a problem.
“What are you doing up?” asks my father.
“I got hungry,” I say.
“Like your old man.” He grabs the sandwich I’d just carefully prepared. “But your old man has a reason for being hungry.”
He takes a huge bite, then nudges my mom and winks knowingly.
“Mmm… this is dee -lish. Now what are you so hungry about, son?”
“The usual existential stuff.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“Were you watching a movie in there?” I ask.
“Were you spying?”
“No, I was…”
“Just skulking about,” my mother spits out.
“No. I just couldn’t tell what language it was and I…”
“It’s not the language but the story. The images!”
“By the way,” my mom unsheathes her disgust with incredible ferocity. “What were you doing recommending us that Passolini film? Is that your idea of a sick joke?” she scolds.
“That film was entirely inappropriate,” my father concurs, as he grinds the food violently with his teeth.
“So is that what you were watching?” I smile. “I thought I heard Italian.”
“Look how excited he gets, Arthur?” Then slashing at me. “Making us watch that depravity. Don’t you care about your ailing mother?” She refers to herself in third person innuendo to enhance the guilt and turn it into a categorical fact. “The woman who raised and cared for you as a child?”
Yeah, right, you’re not black, I think. Or even remotely tanned. And just because you pay for something doesn’t mean it’s yours.
“He’s doing it again, Arthur, look at him, his eyes, how shifty he gets.”
Softly, gently, I’ve started humming a lullaby to soothe myself; unsure of the words, I hum the melody for comfort.
“Son, your mother is talking to you.”
I hum louder, recollecting the homeless woman at the encampment and the wet nurse from my vague past. The sadness it summons is overwhelming. If only Salma would offer me her tit things would be so much better.
“Make him stop, Arthur, make the little shit stop.”
Just then a large noise shifts upstairs – all heads tilt to the ceiling - and I know Kafka must’ve just finished his brief excursion into pleasure. Well at least someone knows how to have a good time.
“Son…? Are you…?”
I find a new corner to look at.
“He’s got some girl up there, doesn’t he?”
“Better than boys, Audrey.”
“You can’t just bring strangers into our house. He can’t do that. Not without our permission.”
“Is it that waitress? Is that it?”
“She’ll be gone by morning.” I am happy to lie.
“I told you he was a sneaky one,” my mother whispers pointedly to my dad.
“Look, I’m happy you’re getting some, but your mother and I don’t want that kind of carrying on in our house. We don’t run a brothel here…”
“No we don’t.”
“…although the way your mom’s been carrying on tonight you wouldn’t know.” He smacks her behind. “Isn’t your mom tasty?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Just like the tart she is.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t like your tone, son. Not one bit.”
“I think he called me a whore, Arthur. My own flesh and blood.”
“Remember what we talked about son?”
“Yes, I do. In fact, I think I’ll go eat in my room.”
I grab a fresh slice of bread, streak some butter on it.
“Look at him,” my mom snorts. “Just look at him.”
“You should be nicer to your parents. We have the doctors tomorrow morning…”
“What else is new?”
“And a funeral in the afternoon.”
“You always have funerals in the afternoon.”
“At our age it’s unavoidable.”
“Do you at least know them this time?”
“Does it matter?”
“At least it’s not us,” adds mother. “Imagine if it was us.”
“Now aren’t you gonna kiss your parents goodnight?”
Already a million miles away, my lips brush their cheeks like Judas after swishing a gallon of mouthwash.
“Tomorrow!” My father says through his teeth. “Forget next week. I want you outta here by tomorrow!”
I drag myself back down the hall, bloated but without substance, stupefied with self-hate and disgust. It’s strange the way the food crowds me from inside without really defining the inner lining or contours of my body. Even more peculiar is the subtle overlooked metamorphoses taking place within the walls of my body; food that was once cow-shaped, or chicken-shaped, or something-shaped, has now been thoroughly masticated, swallowed, and is lounging there in my stomach on the way to becoming me-shaped before being ultimately evacuated and transformed into shapeless shit that gives me terrible heartburn along the way. My constipated parents (I know because they incessantly talk about it) however resist all change, at all costs, and the food they eat takes forever to see fecal daylight. But that’s their burden and fear. The organizing principle of their sorry life which refuses to admit the new and different unless it’s pre-packaged in safe seductive celluloid form. And even then it must conform to the special status quo of the their questionable moral code.
The door is unlocked when I return to my room, and the computer is back on sleep. K is on my bed, staring at the ceiling with one of my expensive cigarettes dangling unlit in his mouth, as if to say: If you’re not going to smoke them, might as well be me not smoking them. On his lap is a notebook in which he scribbles feverishly - possessed.
I announce myself with a touch of bottled resentment: “Knock, knock.”
Without looking up or answering, he continues to write. I repeat louder, more edge this time:
“One sec. Can’t you see I’m in the middle of a thought? You must know how precious and rare it is to have an original thought.”
When he does look up, it’s with the patient beatific glow of someone who’s been sated after too many years of wanting. I’m fluent with the expectant, wanting part; it’s the sated part I’m unfamiliar with. Why do I all of a sudden feel like such an interloper in my own room?
“My God!” He closes the notebook. Pockets his pen. “Those Amateur porn sites are fuckin amazing. Really takes fantasy to a new place, you know. Makes you feel like the whole world is one big orgy at your fingertips.”
“Hate to burst your bubble, but most of those so-called amateurs are much more experienced than they let on.”
“You mean… they’re not anal virgins?”
“Sorry to disappoint, but you’ve got to either be pretty naïve or stupid to believe everything you see on those sites.”
“What about this Betty girl.”
“My God… the things she was doing. I’m telling you it was-”
“I don’t want to hear about it.”
“Do you know her?”
“In a peripheral way, yes.”
“From this internet?”
“She has a winged tattoo, you know, on either side of her buttocks. So it’d be like fucking an angel.”
“I said I don’t want to hear about it!”
My piercing heartburn is about to cleave me in half.
“I tell you, it’s amazing anyone gets any work done with all that shit around.”
“Yes it is.”
“Hey! I think I got a blister on my hand. Wanna see?”
He offers me his outstretched palm.
“I think you should get off my bed. That’s what I think.”
“Someone needs to lighten up here. You’re like a bulimic fasting on Yom Kippur.”
He gets up from the bed and crosses to the computer.
There’s a bounce in his step, and I want to ask him if he doesn’t feel even a slight tincture of guilt for the pleasure he just gifted himself; the fantasy being so at odds with the reality that later you can’t help but feel like you’ve just been lying in some significant way. So I do, I ask him directly: “Don’t you feel a little guilty,” I ask, “after you…you know… do it?”
He smiles before answering, somewhat bemused.
“I did when I was alive. I felt guilty about everything. And I mean everything. From idly admiring my penis, to reading a love poem by Rilke. My pleasures were all taxed with guilt. Masturbation, in particular, since you ask, was incredibly complicated for me. Somehow I thought it would detract from my work. Reverse my luck. But not now. Now I rrrevel in it.”
On an intellectual level I sympathize with the new Kafka’s views, they make perfect sense. But on a more visceral, personal level, I relate more to the stoic old Kafka with his unsettling body/image problems
“…you have to understand that releasing pent up sexual energy is a good thing.” Now that he’s started, the reborn Kafka can’t stop expounding his theory. In no time at all he starts to border on the sickly sanctimonious - his disquisition becoming an inquisition - and I have a hard time listening. “Masturbation helps clear the cobwebs of lust from your brain. I mean if you can’t commit to a fantasy, how can you commit to life? And let me tell you, that was some fantasy!” He hits the keyboard and the screen yawns back to life. “Here. Check this out.”
“Thanks, but that’s not why I asked. Unlike your Dad, I have no interest in sharing your porn.”
“That’s not what I wanted to show you, you know.”
He sounds hurt and insulted.
“Really? Because it’s all you talk about.”
“And you think that’s bad?”
“Tedious, for one thing.”
“Not for me. For me everything else pales by comparison.”
“But you can’t just live your life to satisfy your own desires.”
“Says who? For me every atom and molecule is eroticized. The objective already subjective.”
“But that’s not healthy.”
“Christ! You sound like the old me. Before I knew better.”
“And now, I suppose, you’re… enlightened?”
“I’m certainly happier. That’s for sure.” He turns to me so I can appreciate his smile, before continuing. “For the longest time I tried to exfoliate these thoughts and consider sex from simply a plumbing perspective, but that only made things worse. This cold regard for passion. Soon I discovered that not even death could emancipate me from these repressed thoughts, these ideations that consumed me more gravely than my grave-digging consumption. And so now. Now I know better than to shove them aside. Now I want to partake and indulge fully. If that makes me a hedonist… so be it. By the way, you need a new box of Kleenex.”
As if on cue, the computer screen goes dark on hedonist, returning to its indifferent sleep. He continues in a calm narrative tone, as if careful not to wake it.
“There was this place in Prague. The Café Arco, served all the vegetarian pirogues you could eat on a Thursday night. Used to frequent the place with Max and Yerfel, the famous Yiddish actor. Poor soul used to stuff his pockets with pirogues when he thought no one was looking and they’d always stain his suit like some unseemly secretion. Anyway, whenever you took your first bite, surrounded by all those steaming pirogues, you’d always think - I’m never going to be hungry again, never again! - but ten minutes after you finished your last pirogue, the hunter-gatherer in you would kick in and you’d be starving all over again. Same with sex. It’s always there. No matter what you do, or how often you have it. So why not enjoy it? Find a way to integrate it into your life… like, like that French writer you told me about… S…S…Simon…something…”
“Simenon. George Simenon.”
“Yes. Fuck and write. Or write and fuck. That’s what it’s all about - what I always strived for - without really achieving either I’m sad to say.” He rattles the computer angrily. “Not the writing, nor the sex.”
The screen blushes back to life.
“Although you wouldn’t know that from looking at this shit here.”
All business, Kafka googles himself for my benefit.
“Can you believe this?! Check this out. Soon as I was done with pleasuring myself, I took your advice and typed my name as you suggested. Talk about a post-coital ego boost! You’d think I’d written the Ten Commandments.”
The list is indeed extensive and intimidating. Almost 3 million entries and growing by the second.
“I guess you were right when you said there was no point in burning the shit up. It’s everywhere now.”
“In more languages than you can translate.”
“What a shanda! So tell me, how does this magical internet work?”
Kafka hungrily tours the various sites, as I explain the little I know. I say something about computer relays and lightning fast servers connected by gigantic optic fibers and underwater cables. Then I get a little more philosophical because I’m basically tapped out on the scientific before I even start. I purport some insight about the multifarious effect of instant dissemination in the age of perfunctory presence and translucent absence. Then I go on about distance becoming less relevant now that knowledge can knit us closer together in its attempt to make us truly democratic and asymptotically omniscient. Beforehand, I exegete, one could take innocent refuge in not knowing. But to know everything, at least have it accessible to us, and then be so limited in what we do – that, I advance, is a foolproof recipe for paralyzing impotence, one that will leave our dissociated conscience rent and begging.
Kafka seems unimpressed, he continues to scan the various sites, already multitasking, and I’m wondering if he’s heard anything I’ve said. Especially the part about being implicated but unavailable, how boundless access to information has essentially cast us in the role of the ubiquitous witness in a world that, for the most part, is increasingly disinterested and just wants to be entertained. At some point I even consider comparing the internet to a modern age tower of Babel - wherein we sit typing in its crosshatched shadow, sorting through a weave of facts and non-facts that cripples us even as it immortalizes and aggrandizes who we are, what we do. But I decide not to, fearing it might sound too didactic or clichéd.
“And this wikepedia?” Kafka finally interjects. “What exactly is that?”
“It’s the further capitalization of knowledge. People submitting their own version of the truth, or what they think the truth is. Or should be.”
“You mean anyone can write in and edit the damn thing?”
“It might not be the truth as you know it. But it’s a certain kind of truth unto itself. Consensual and evolutionary, open to the public for correction and emendation.”
“Only more insidious given its patina of veracity.”
I take control of the keyboard.
“Here, let me demonstrate.” I study Kafka’s face. Then choose a site that has an open message thread, and type:
Contrary to common belief, Kafka was quite the swordsman in fin-de-siecle Prague, fighting off as many women as he did duels.
“But that’s not true. Anyone who’s read my diary knows that’s ridiculous.”
“Doesn’t matter. Once you put something out there, in circulation, it’s there forever. That’s the thing about gossip. Once it’s being discussed it’s already true, just by virtue of people talking about it.”
And sure enough, as we watch the screen, someone responds in real time:
Yes, I heard that as well - comes the new thread - But I think it had to do with his trying to overcompensate for a botched circumcision, which is even more ironic given that his grandfather was the most famous kosher butcher in Bohemia.
“Not if people want to believe it. And you’d be amazed at what people want to believe.”
“But it’s not even remotely true.”
“What about your grandfather. Wasn’t he a legendary kosher butcher?”
“Yes, but I wasn’t talking about that part.”
“That’s what makes it so complicated. The lie using the truth for a springboard. How does anyone know where one ends and the other begins?”
“You want I can show you. Right here and now.”
He bolts up, ready to drop his trousers.
“Sit down. And zip up. I don’t care. I’m not the one you have to convince.”
“So what do we do?”
“Nothing. I told you, the web is congested with lies… that’s half the fun of it. Seeing just how far a lie can stretch before it becomes its own kind of truth.”
“I want you to remove it. Now.”
“Can’t. This time it’s not just a book you can take off the shelf.”
“We have to do something.”
“Too late. You can’t just undo gossip once you’ve started. Be easier to bring back the dead haha.”
“But there’s got to be something we can-”
He refastens his pants and pulls up his zipper with conviction.
“You have to understand. People live for this stuff. It’s like snack food for the soul. At once addictive and bad for you. But something you just can’t help. Quick! Catherine the Great! What do you know about her?”
“She died fucking a horse.”
“Exactly. See, everyone knows the gossip, but hardly anyone knows the real facts. I mean hardly anyone knows anything about Catherine herself... Or the horse’s pedigree for that matter.”
“I don’t care about Catherine. What about me? You can’t let that circulate.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Write a disclaimer or something. I don’t care, do something.”
“That will only make them bite harder. Better to just ignore it. Trust me.”
“If you don’t write something, I will.”
He snatches the keyboard back. But it’s already too late. Another post appears.
As a result of his tragic circumcision, Kafka not only peed sideways, but was so embarrassed by his body that he would only fuck prostitutes in very dark rooms. That’s what made him such a great writer!
“Look at what you’ve started. This is all your fault.”
“You wanted to see how it works.”
“Not at my expense.”
“Would it help if I said I was sorry? Because at this point, that’s about the only thing I can really do.”
Another sedimentary thread, layered to the previous ones, has just come in to further illustrate my point as it incites and arouses the online community.
I know what you mean about his conspicuously flawed dick. I remember reading somewhere, that as a child, Kafka’s father beat him mercilessly for peeing askance on the bathroom floor, which was hardly his fault given the fucked up shape of his penis.
“My father never beat me.”
“But he abused you?”
“Not with his hands. Never with his hands!” Kafka is outraged. “Come on, didn’t you even bother to read the letter you plagiarized!?
“You think I have time? I have my own problems.”
“Great. Maybe I should post them on the internet next to mine. See what happens.”
“Problem is I’m not Kafka. No one would be interested.”
“You never know.”
“I know.” All of a sudden I grow sad and disconsolate. My voice resembles that of man sitting alone in the back of a dark cave. “Oh, I know…” I repeat.
Kafka takes pity on me. If anything, it’s a distraction from his own ongoing plight.
“Ok. So what’s your problem?”
“My parents don’t love me.”
“Everyone thinks that at some point in their life.”
“It’s different with me.”
“Can you get more specific?”
“Mine want to throw me out.”
“That could be a problem.”
“Yes, I know. That’s what I said.”
Then I burp like the Hindenburg right before it blew up. God I feel sick - I should at least learn to chew gum instead of incessantly stuffing my face with crap - and yet I wouldn’t have it any other way. Somehow the cloying food provides me with a modicum sense of comfort that only Orsen Welles could understand. Unfortunately, though, the overall sense of unease and malaise which I perversely thrive on also dulls my senses and makes me foggy. Not tired enough to sleep, but hardly lucid enough to think things through, I become resigned and passive and even more depressed than I was prior to eating.
“They’re going to rent my room,” I declare sadly.
“I heard them.”
“That’s not good.”
“No. Not for either of us.”
“Don’t worry. It’s late.” Kafka turns his attention back to the computer. “Things are always better in the morning.”
“I thought you were done with that thing.”
“I can’t let those fuckers have the last word,” he says, squarely adjusting the screen before him.
“But that’s exactly how they get you.”
“I know. But I have to try and rectify this somehow. Sure you won’t help?”
“I would if it’d make a difference.”
Against my better counsel, he goes back to the previous site and bangs in his reply. I head for bed and lie down on my aching stomach.
I don’t know where you philistines are getting your info, but Kafka, as I know him - and I know him best - was beloved by women and animals alike. Including insects. But mostly women. They intuited an incomparable manhood in both his manner and bearing. One that communicated incredible girth and size and nobility.
“I hope you didn’t mind my reading that aloud?” he says.
“Sure. I love bedtime stories. But I’d quit while I’m ahead. Don’t wait for a reply. Forget waiting, there’s no end to it.”
This time he takes my advice and closes the window. Sits with arms crossed, staring longingly at the monitor. Then unbearable curiosity takes over and, like a person examining clandestine photos of his wife’s infidelity, he switches the monitor back on to pore over the latest retort to his most recent entry. As he reads, his face distorts painfully with each new finding.
“I warned you,” I say. “This can go on forever.”
I shut off my lamp, leaving him isolated in a pool of soft blue light, contemplating how to get the final word in.
“You should really get some sleep, if you know what’s good for you.”
“I hardly slept when I was alive, why start now.”
Possessed, he waxes sadly over each new message, vocally advancing or discounting its merits. This, I realize, is the perfect forum for such a paragon narcissist - painfully addictive but secretly pleasurable. I try to tune him out and go to sleep, but it’s difficult when each new entry is met with some vociferous exclamation. Fortunately, his tolerance is exhausted sooner than expected, although still later than I’d hoped.
“That’s it! I’m done. You’re right, I give up!” He quits the screen. “This is like a garbage dump! The altazachen from the shtetel wouldn’t touch this stuff.”
Disgruntled, he shoves fiercely away from the desk – “I’m paranoid enough without this shit!” – and begins pacing. His circumscribed movements, at once wild and agitated, are barely harnessed by the narrow confines of the room.
After a few minutes, he manages to collect himself respectfully and approach the edge of my bed.
“Well, at least I have my diary where I can set the record straight. At least I have that! Do you keep a diary?”
“When I can. On and off.”
“That’s no good. You should be unwavering. No matter what happens, you should write in it every day. That’s what makes the diary worthwhile. Not the isolated entry, but the overall continuity from day to day to day. Your trauma spread out like a pat of butter across an enormous slice of bread.”
I turn on my lamp and remove a notebook from underneath my pillow, unsure if it’s the same one he used when I came in.
“Don’t be shy. Write down your day. Distill its diurnal charms into words before bidding it a final goodnight.”
“But what should I—“
“Write about how we met. What happened after. Write it all down so in the morning the interpretation can begin.”
He removes another identical notebook from under my pillow and opens it. I try and recall if this second notebook was there when I retrieved mine a moment ago.
“We can do this together if you like?”
Kafka has already dipped into my ink, which used to be his ink, before he generously gave it to me, after I stole it.
“We can respectively jot down our intimate version of events and see how they coincide.”
So here we are, two insomniacs, one semi sated, the other fully frustrated, lying in the breathy dark of a curtainless room, delving into the depth of undreamt dreams to uncover some greater truth about each other and of course ourselves.
“Don’t hold back.” K refreshes his nib. “This is no place to be ingratiating. Just let it out.”
When I look over to K, he is writing fluently, without a trace of inhibition, filling page after page. I, on the other hand, write painfully, haltingly, constipated by each and every syllable that spells my failure. Seems like the only time I write is when the lethargy and guilt incurred by not writing becomes more taxing than the actual ritual of procrastination.
“The diary should be easy,” Kafka says without looking up, still scrawling. “It’s later when you try to exploit it for some short story you’re writing that the difficulties begin. Sad to admit, but most of my efforts have been still born.”
On paper I put down only a paltry percent of what I want to say; the majority of what’s recorded a mere footnote to the unwritten anarchy of my thoughts. The rest is murky and unformed, as if it were living in someone else’s head. As if that might make it all more real and accessible - this inarticulate, irretrievable dream that is only remotely recalled here, now, in the cauldron of my room.
Kafka, for his part, continues to actively scribble beside me. I can actually hear him breathing as he writes - and sympathetically I start to conform my breathing to his, matching his every inhalation and exhalation like when you fall behind someone with a noticeable limp and invariably start to mimic their gait or copy the embarrassing stutter of nervous soul in conversation. Obviously I have profound boundary issues. They make me overly polite and reluctantly submissive, before finally I lash out and rebel - usually with a vicious force not at all commensurate to the situation at hand - but for now, for now I am letting old Kafka take the lead.
He darkens several more pages and his shifting countenance seems to mirror what the words express. It’s as if I could almost hear the inner conversation he were having by simply reading the change in his features, a colloquy of one.
Presently, however, his efforts begin to wear me down. My eyes grow tired, close briefly, open tentatively, and close for good. The last thing I see, is Kafka in the nude, doing exercises by the window; a far from comforting sight or reassuring vision, this human pipe cleaner contorting itself in various directions, naked and shameless. I’m praying that this is just part of my dream. But I have serious doubts.