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Franz Kafka: The Best Works
Copyright © 2018 by OPU
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When it had already become unbearable — by an evening in November — and I was running along over the narrow carpet in my room as on a racetrack, frightened by the sight of the lights in the street turned around again and was given a new goal in the depths of the room, at the bottom of the mirror, and I cried out, just to hear the scream which is answered by nothing, and from which nothing takes the strength of the scream, which therefore rises up, without any counterpoise, and cannot cease even when it grows silent; a door was opened in the wall so hastily, since haste was indeed necessary, and even the wagon-horses down on the pavement reared, like crazed horses in a battle, their throats exposed.
As a small ghost, a child scurried out of the completely dark corridor, in which the lamp was not yet burning, and stood still on his toes, on an imperceptibly shaking floorboard. Immediately blinded by the twilight of the room he wanted to hide his face in his hands, but calmed down unexpectedly with a look at the window, before whose cross-bar the rising haze from the streetlights finally kept low under the darkness. With the right elbow he supported himself in front of the open door by the wall and let the draught from outside caress the joints of his feet, also the neck, also along the temples.
I watched a little bit, then I said “Good evening” and took my coat from the fire-screen because I did not want to stand there so half-naked. I kept my mouth open for a while, so that the excitement may leave through my mouth. There was bad saliva in me, and in my face the eyelashes were twitching, in short, it only wanted this nevertheless expected visit.
The child was still standing by the wall in the same place, he pressed the right hand against the wall and, all red-cheeked, could not get enough of this, that the whitewashed wall was coarse-grained and rubbing the finger-tips. I said: “Do you really want to come to my place? Is it not a mistake? Nothing easier than a mistake in this big house. My name is Soandso, I live on the third floor. So, am I the one you wanted to visit?”
“Silence, silence!” the child said over his shoulder, “everything is just right.”
“Then come further into the room, I would like to close the door.”
“I just have closed the door. Do not go to trouble. Calm down at any rate.”
“Do not mention trouble. But there are many people living in this corridor, naturally all of them are acquaintances; most of them are now returning from their businesses; if they hear talk in my room they just assume the right to come in and see what is going on. That’s just the way it is. These people have left behind their daily work; who would they submit to in the provisional freedom of the evening! You also know that, by the way. Let me close the door.”
“Well then, so what? What’s the matter with you? For aught I care all the house might come in. And once again: I have already closed the door, why, do you think only you can close the door? I have even locked it with the key.”
“Then it’s alright. That’s all I ask for. You did not even have to lock it with the key. And now make yourself comfortable, as you are here now anyway. You are my guest. Trust me completely. Spread yourself without fear. I will force you neither to stay nor to leave. Do I have to say that in the first place? Don’t you know me better?”
“No. You really didn’t have to say that. Even more, you should not have said it. I am a child; why go to all the trouble for me?”
“It’s not that bad. Of course, a child. But you are not so very small. You are really already grown-up. If you were a girl you might not just lock yourself in a room with me.”
“We don’t have to worry about that. I just wanted to say: The fact that I know you so well protects me little, it only saves you the effort of telling me lies. Nevertheless you are making compliments. Don’t, I’m telling you, don’t. Add to this that I don’t know you everywhere and always, especially in this darkness. It would be much better if you let the lights be put on. No, rather not. Yet, I will bear in mind that you have already threatened me.”
“What? I have threatened you? But I beg your pardon. Why, I am so glad you are finally here. I say ‘finally’ because it is already so late. I don’t quite understand why you came this late. So it is possible that I spoke confusedly in my gladness, and that you understood it like that. I confess ten times that I spoke like that, yes I have threatened you with everything you want. — Only no fight, for heaven’s sake! — But how could you believe it? How could you offend me like that? Why do you want with all your power to spoil this short moment of your presence? A stranger would be more obliging than you.”
“I believe that; that is no wisdom. As much as a stranger can be obliged to you I already am by nature. You also know that, so why this woefulness? Tell me you want to play-act and I’m going right now.”
“Really? You dare even to tell me that? You are a little too bold. After all, you are still in my room. You are rubbing your fingers like crazy on my wall. My room, my wall! And besides, what you are saying is ridiculous, not only insolent. You say your nature obliges you to talk to me in this way. Really? Your nature obliges you? That’s obliging of your nature. Your nature is mine, and when I am friendly to you by nature you mustn’t do otherwise.”
“Is this friendly?”
“I’m talking about earlier.”
“Do you know how I will be later?”
“I know nothing.”
And I went over to the bedside-table on which I lit a candle. I didn’t use to have gas or electric light in my room at that time. Then I sat for a while at the table, until I grew tired of this, too, put on the overcoat, took the hat from the settee and blew out the candle. Going out I became entangled with a leg of the armchair.
On the stairs I met a tenant from the same floor.
“You are already leaving again, you scamp?” he asked, resting on his legs spread out over two steps.
“What am I to do?” I said, “now I have had a ghost in my room.”
“You say that with the same discontent as if you had found a hair in your soup.”
“You are joking. But mark my words, a ghost is a ghost.”
“Very true. But what about it if you don’t even believe in ghosts?”
“Why, do you think I believe in ghosts? But how does my not-believing help me?”
“Very easy. You just don’t have to be afraid anymore when a ghost really comes to you.”
“Yes, but this is just the subordinate fear. The substantial fear is the fear from the cause of the apparition. And this fear stays. This one is downright tremendously in me.” In my nervousness I began to search through all my pockets.
“But since you were not afraid of the apparition itself you could have asked it quietly for the cause of it!”
“You have obviously never talked with a ghost. Why, you can never get any clear information from them. It’s a to and fro. These ghosts seem to be in doubt as to their existence even more than we are, which, considering their frailty, is no wonder.”
“But I have heard you can feed them up.”
“You are well informed. You can do that. But who would do such a thing?”
“Why not? If it’s a female ghost, for example,” he said and rose up on the upper step.
“Oh, I see,” I said, “but even then it will not stand for it.”
I recollected myself. My acquaintance was already so high up that in order to see me he had to bend forward under a curvature of the staircase. “But still,” I cried, “if you take away my ghost up there it is over between the two of us, forever.”
“But that was only a joke,” he said and drew back his head.
“Then it’s alright,” I said and could have quietly gone for a walk, now. But because I felt ever so much forsaken, I rather went up and laid me down to sleep.
It was a Sunday morning in the very height of spring. Georg Bendemann, a young merchant, was sitting in his own room on the first floor of one of a long row of small, ramshackle houses stretching beside the river which were scarcely distinguishable from each other in height and coloring. He had just finished a letter to an old friend of his who was now living abroad, had put it into its envelope in a slow and dreamy fashion, and with his elbows propped on the writing table was gazing out of the window at the river, the bridge, and the hills on the farther bank with their tender green.
He was thinking about his friend, who had actually run away to Russia some years before, being dissatisfied with his prospects at home. Now he was carrying on a business in St. Petersburg, which had flourished to begin with but had long been going downhill, as he always complained on his increasingly rare visits. So he was wearing himself out to no purpose in a foreign country, the unfamiliar full beard he wore did not quite conceal the face Georg had known so well since childhood, and his skin was growing so yellow as to indicate some latent disease. By his own account he had no regular connection with the colony of his fellow countrymen out there and almost no social intercourse with Russian families, so that he was resigning himself to becoming a permanent bachelor.
What could one write to such a man, who had obviously run off the rails, a man one could be sorry for but could not help. Should one advise him to come home, to transplant himself and take up his old friendships again — there was nothing to hinder him — and in general to rely on the help of his friends? But that was as good as telling him, and the more kindly the more offensively, that all his efforts hitherto had miscarried, that he should finally give up, come back home, and be gaped at by everyone as a returned prodigal, that only his friends knew what was what and that he himself was just a big child who should do what his successful and home-keeping friends prescribed. And was it certain, besides, that all the pain one would have to inflict on him would achieve its object? Perhaps it would not even be possible to get him to come home at all — he said himself that he was now out of touch with commerce in his native country — and then he would still be left an alien in a foreign land embittered by his friends’ advice and more than ever estranged from them. But if he did follow their advice and then didn’t fit in at home — not out of malice, of course, but through force of circumstances — couldn’t get on with his friends or without them, felt humiliated, couldn’t be said to have either friends or a country of his own any longer, wouldn’t it have been better for him to stay abroad just as he was? Taking all this into account, how could one be sure that he would make a success of life at home?
For such reasons, supposing one wanted to keep up correspondence with him, one could not send him any real news such as could frankly be told to the most distant acquaintance. It was more than three years since his last visit, and for this he offered the lame excuse that the political situation in Russia was too uncertain, which apparently would not permit even the briefest absence of a small businessman while it allowed hundreds of thousands of Russians to travel peacefully abroad. But during these three years Georg’s own position in life had changed a lot. Two years ago his mother had died, since when he and his father had shared the household together, and his friend had of course been informed of that and had expressed his sympathy in a letter phrased so dryly that the grief caused by such an event, one had to conclude, could not be realized in a distant country. Since that time, however, Georg had applied himself with greater determination to the business as well as to everything else.
Perhaps during his mother’s lifetime his father’s insistence on having everything his own way in the business had hindered him from developing any real activity of his own, perhaps since her death his father had become less aggressive, although he was still active in the business, perhaps it was mostly due to an accidental run of good fortune — which was very probable indeed — but at any rate during those two years the business had developed in a most unexpected way, the staff had had to be doubled, the turnover was five times as great; no doubt about it, further progress lay just ahead.
But Georg’s friend had no inkling of this improvement. In earlier years, perhaps for the last time in that letter of condolence, he had tried to persuade Georg to emigrate to Russia and had enlarged upon the prospects of success for precisely Georg’s branch of trade. The figures quoted were microscopic by comparison with the range of Georg’s present operations. Yet he shrank from letting his friend know about his business success, and if he were to do it now retrospectively that certainly would look peculiar.
So Georg confined himself to giving his friend unimportant items of gossip such as rise at random in the memory when one is idly thinking things over on a quiet Sunday. All he desired was to leave undisturbed the idea of the home town which his friend must have built up to his own content during the long interval. And so it happened to Georg that three times in three fairly widely separated letters he had told his friend about the engagement of an unimportant man to an equally unimportant girl, until indeed, quite contrary to his intentions, his friend began to show some interest in this notable event.
Yet Georg preferred to write about things like these rather than to confess that he himself had got engaged a month ago to a Fraulein Frieda Brandenfeld, a girl from a well-to-do family. He often discussed this friend of his with his fiancée and the peculiar relationship that had developed between them in their correspondence. ‘So he won’t be coming to our wedding,’ said she, ‘and yet I have a right to get to know all your friends.’ ‘I don’t want to trouble him,’ answered Georg, ‘don’t misunderstand me, he would probably come, at least I think so, but he would feel that his hand had been forced and he would be hurt, perhaps he would envy me and certainly he’d be discontented and without being able to do anything about his discontent he’d have to go away again alone. Alone — do you know what that means?’ ‘Yes, but may he not hear about our wedding in some other fashion?’ ‘I can’t prevent that, of course, but it’s unlikely, considering the way he lives.’ ‘Since your friends are like that, Georg, you shouldn’t ever have got engaged at all.’ ‘Well, we’re both to blame for that; but I wouldn’t have it any other way now.’ And when, breathing quickly under his kisses, she still brought out: ‘All the same, I do feel upset,’ he thought it could not really involve him in trouble were he to send the news to his friend. ‘That’s the kind of man I am and he’ll just have to take me as I am,’ he said to himself, ‘I can’t cut myself to another pattern that might make a more suitable friend for him.’
And in fact he did inform his friend, in the long letter he had been writing that Sunday morning, about his engagement, with these words: ‘I have saved my best news to the end. I have got engaged to a Fraulein Frieda Brandenfeld, a girl from a well-to-do family, who only came to live here a long time after you went away, so that you’re hardly likely to know her. There will be time to tell you more about her later, for today let me just say that I am very happy and as between you and me the only difference in our relationship is that instead of a quite ordinary kind of friend you will now have in me a happy friend. Besides that, you will acquire in my fiancée, who sends her warm greetings and will soon write you herself, a genuine friend of the opposite sex, which is not without importance to a bachelor. I know that there are many reasons why you can’t come to see us, but would not my wedding be precisely the right occasion for giving all obstacles the go-by? Still, however that may be, do just as seems good to you without regarding any interests but your own.’
With this letter in his hand Georg had been sitting a long time at the writing table, his face turned toward the window. He had barely acknowledged, with an absent smile, a greeting waved to him from the street by a passing acquaintance.
At last he put the letter in his pocket and went out of his room across a small lobby into his father’s room, which he had not entered for months. There was in fact no need for him to enter it, since he saw his father daily at business and they took their midday meal together at an eating house; in the evening, it was true, each did as he pleased, yet even then, unless Georg — as mostly happened — went out with friends or, more recently, visited his fiancée, they always sat for a while, each with his newspaper, in their common sitting room.
It surprised Georg how dark his father’s room was even on this sunny morning. So it was overshadowed as much as that by the high wall on the other side of the narrow courtyard. His father was sitting by the window in a corner hung with various mementoes of Georg’s dead mother, reading a newspaper which he held to one side before his eyes in an attempt to overcome a defect of vision. On the table stood the remains of his breakfast, not much of which seemed to have been eaten.
‘Ah, Georg,’ said his father, rising at once to meet him. His heavy dressing gown swung open as he walked and the skirts of it fluttered around him. — ‘My father is still a giant of a man,’ said Georg to himself.
‘It’s unbearably dark here,’ he said aloud.
‘Yes, it’s dark enough,’ answered his father.
‘And you’ve shut the window, too?’
‘I prefer it like that.’
‘Well, it’s quite warm outside,’ said Georg, as if continuing his previous remark, and sat down.
His father cleared away the breakfast dishes and set them on a chest.
‘I really only wanted to tell you,’ went on Georg, who had been vacantly following the old man’s movements, ‘that I am now sending the news of my engagement to St. Petersburg.’ He drew the letter a little way from his pocket and let it drop back again.
‘To St. Petersburg?’ asked his father.
‘To my friend there,’ said Georg, trying to meet his father’s eye. — In business hours he’s quite different, he was thinking, how solidly he sits here with his arms crossed.
‘Oh yes. To your friend,’ said his father, with peculiar emphasis.
‘Well, you know, Father, that I wanted not to tell him about my engagement at first. Out of consideration for him, that was the only reason. You know yourself he’s a difficult man. I said to myself that someone else might tell him about my engagement, although he’s such a solitary creature that that was hardly likely — I couldn’t prevent that — but I wasn’t ever going to tell him myself.’
‘And now you’ve changed your mind?’ asked his father, laying his enormous newspaper on the window sill and on top of it his spectacles, which he covered with one hand.
‘Yes, I’ve been thinking it over. If he’s a good friend of mine, I said to myself, my being happily engaged should make him happy too. And so I wouldn’t put off telling him any longer. But before I posted the letter I wanted to let you know.’
‘Georg,’ said his father, lengthening his toothless mouth, ‘listen to me! You’ve come to me about this business, to talk it over with me. No doubt that does you honor. But it’s nothing, it’s worse than nothing, if you don’t tell me the whole truth. I don’t want to stir up matters that shouldn’t be mentioned here. Since the death of our dear mother certain things have been done that aren’t right. Maybe the time will come for mentioning them, and maybe sooner than we think. There’s many a thing in the business I’m not aware of, maybe it’s not done behind my back — I’m not going to say that it’s done behind my back — I’m not equal to things any longer, my memory’s failing, I haven’t an eye for so many things any longer. That’s the course of nature in the first place, and in the second place the death of our dear mother hit me harder than it did you. — But since we’re talking about it, about this letter, I beg you, Georg, don’t deceive me. It’s a trivial affair, it’s hardly worth mentioning, so don’t deceive me. Do you really have this friend in St. Petersburg?’
Georg rose in embarrassment. ‘Never mind my friends. A thousand friends wouldn’t make up to me for my father. Do you know what I think? You’re not taking enough care of yourself. But old age must be taken care of. I can’t do without you in the business, you know that very well, but if the business is going to undermine your health, I’m ready to close it down tomorrow forever. And that won’t do. We’ll have to make a change in your way of living. But a radical change. You sit here in the dark, and in the sitting room you would have plenty of light. You just take a bite of breakfast instead of properly keeping up your strength. You sit by a closed window, and the air would be so good for you. No, Father! I’ll get the doctor to come, and we’ll follow his orders. We’ll change your room, you can move into the front room and I’ll move in here. You won’t notice the change, all your things will be moved with you. But there’s time for all that later, I’ll put you to bed now for a little, I’m sure you need to rest. Come, I’ll help you to take off your things, you’ll see I can do it. Or if you would rather go into the front room at once, you can lie down in my bed for the present. That would be the most sensible thing.’
Georg stood close beside his father, who had let his head with its unkempt white hair sink on his chest.
‘Georg,’ said his father in a low voice, without moving.
Georg knelt down at once beside his father, in the old man’s weary face he saw the pupils, overlarge, fixedly looking at him from the corners of the eyes.
‘You have no friend in St. Petersburg. You’ve always been a leg-puller and you haven’t even shrunk from pulling my leg. How could you have a friend out there! I can’t believe it.’
‘Just think back a bit, Father,’ said Georg, lifting his father from the chair and slipping off his dressing gown as he stood feebly enough, ‘it’ll soon be three years since my friend came to see us last. I remember that you used not to like him very much. At least twice I kept you from seeing him, although he was actually sitting with me in my room. I could quite well understand your dislike of him, my friend has his peculiarities. But then, later, you got on with him very well. I was proud because you listened to him and nodded and asked him questions. If you think back you’re bound to remember. He used to tell us the most incredible stories of the Russian Revolution. For instance, when he was on a business trip to Kiev, and ran into a riot, and saw a priest on a balcony who cut a broad cross in blood on the palm of his hand and held the hand up and appealed to the mob. You’ve told that story yourself once or twice since.’
Meanwhile Georg had succeeded in lowering his father down again and carefully taking off the woolen drawers he wore over his linen underpants and his socks. The not particularly clean appearance of his underwear made him reproach himself for having been neglectful. It should have certainly been his duty to see that his father had clean changes of underwear. He had not yet explicitly discussed with his bride-to-be what arrangements should be made for his father in the future, for they had both of them silently taken it for granted that the old man would go on living alone in the old house. But now he made a quick, firm decision to take him into his own future establishment. It almost looked, on closer inspection, as if the care he meant to lavish there on his father might come too late.
He carried his father to bed in his arms. It gave him a dreadful feeling to notice that while he took the few steps toward the bed the old man on his breast was playing with his watch chain. He could not lay him down on the bed for a moment, so firmly did he hang on to the watch chain.
But as soon as he was laid in bed, all seemed well. He covered himself up and even drew the blankets farther than usual over his shoulders. He looked up at Georg with a not unfriendly eye.
‘You begin to remember my friend, don’t you?’ asked Georg, giving him an encouraging nod.
‘Am I well covered up now?’ asked his father, as if he were not able to see whether his feet were properly tucked in or not.
‘So you find it snug in bed already,’ said Georg, and tucked the blankets more closely around him.
‘Am I well covered up?’ asked the father once more, seeming to be strangely intent upon the answer.
‘Don’t worry, you’re well covered up.’
‘No!’ cried his father, cutting short the answer, threw the blankets off with a strength that sent them all flying in a moment and sprang erect in bed. Only one hand lightly touched the ceiling to steady him.
‘You wanted to cover me up, I know, my young sprig, but I’m far from being covered up yet. And even if this is the last strength I have, it’s enough for you, too much for you. Of course I know your friend. He would have been a son after my own heart. That’s why you’ve been playing him false all these years. Why else? Do you think I haven’t been sorry for him? And that’s why you had to lock yourself up in your office — the Chief is busy, mustn’t be disturbed — just so that you could write your lying little letters to Russia. But thank goodness a father doesn’t need to be taught how to see through his son. And now that you thought you’d got him down, so far down that you could set your bottom on him and sit on him and he wouldn’t move, then my fine son makes up his mind to get married!’
Georg stared at the bogey conjured up by his father. His friend in St. Petersburg, whom his father suddenly knew too well, touched his imagination as never before. Lost in the vastness of Russia he saw him. At the door of an empty, plundered warehouse he saw him. Among the wreckage of his showcases, the slashed remnants of his wares, the falling gas brackets, he was just standing up. Why did he have to go so far away!
‘But attend to me!’ cried his father, and Georg, almost distracted, ran toward the bed to take everything in, yet came to a stop halfway.
‘Because she lifted up her skirts,’ his father began to flute, ‘because she lifted her skirts like this, the nasty creature,’ and mimicking her he lifted his shirt so high that one could see the scar on his thigh from his war wound, ‘because she lifted her skirts like this and this you made up to her, and in order to make free with her undisturbed you have disgraced your mother’s memory, betrayed your friend, and stuck your father into bed so that he can’t move. But he can move, or can’t he?’
And he stood up quite unsupported and kicked his legs out. His insight made him radiant.
Georg shrank into a corner, as far away from his father as possible. A long time ago he had firmly made up his mind to watch closely every least movement so that he should not be surprised by any indirect attack, a pounce from behind or above. At this moment he recalled this long-forgotten resolve and forgot it again, like a man drawing a short thread through the eye of a needle.
‘But your friend hasn’t been betrayed after all!’ cried his father, emphasizing the point with stabs of his forefinger. ‘I’ve been representing him here on the spot.’
‘You comedian!’ Georg could not resist the retort, realized at once the harm done and, his eyes starting in his head, bit his tongue back, only too late, till the pain made his knees give.
‘Yes, of course I’ve been playing a comedy! A comedy! That’s a good expression! What other comfort was left to a poor old widower? Tell me — and while you’re answering me be you still my living son — what else was left to me, in my back room, plagued by a disloyal staff, old to the marrow of my bones? And my son strutting through the world, finishing off deals that I had prepared for him, bursting with triumphant glee, and stalking away from his father with the closed face of a respectable businessman! Do you think I didn’t love you, I, from whom you are sprung?’
Now he’ll lean forward, thought Georg, what if he topples and smashes himself! These words went hissing through his mind.
His father leaned forward but did not topple. Since Georg did not come any nearer, as he had expected, he straightened himself again.
‘Stay where you are, I don’t need you! You think you have strength enough to come over here and that you’re only hanging back of your own accord. Don’t be too sure! I am still much the stronger of us two. All by myself I might have had to give way, but your mother has given me so much of her strength that I’ve established a fine connection with your friend and I have your customers here in my pocket!’
‘He has pockets even in his shirt!’ said Georg to himself, and believed that with this remark he could make him an impossible figure for all the world. Only for a moment did he think so, since he kept on forgetting everything.
‘Just take your bride on your arm and try getting in my way! I’ll sweep her from your very side, you don’t know how!’
Georg made a grimace of disbelief. His father only nodded, confirming the truth of his words, toward Georg’s corner.
‘How you amused me today, coming to ask me if you should tell your friend about your engagement. He knows it already, you stupid boy, he knows it all! I’ve been writing to him, for you forgot to take my writing things away from me. That’s why he hasn’t been here for years, he knows everything a hundred times better than you do yourself, in his left hand he crumples your letters unopened while in his right hand he holds up my letters to read through!’
In his enthusiasm he waved his arm over his head. ‘He knows everything a thousand times better!’ he cried.
‘Ten thousand times!’ said Georg, to make fun of his father, but in his very mouth the words turned into deadly earnest.
‘For years I’ve been waiting for you to come with some such question! Do you think I concern myself with anything else? Do you think I read my newspapers? Look!’ and he threw Georg a newspaper sheet which he had somehow taken to bed with him. An old newspaper, with a name entirely unknown to Georg.
‘How long a time you’ve taken to grow up! Your mother had to die, she couldn’t see the happy day, your friend is going to pieces in Russia, even three years ago he was yellow enough to be thrown away, and as for me, you see what condition I’m in. You have eyes in your head for that!’
‘So you’ve been lying in wait for me!’ cried Georg.
His father said pityingly, in an offhand manner: ‘I suppose you wanted to say that sooner. But now it doesn’t matter.’ And in a louder voice: ‘So now you know what else there was in the world besides yourself, till now you’ve known only about yourself! An innocent child, yes, that you were, truly, but still more truly have you been a devilish human being! — And therefore take note: I sentence you now to death by drowning!’
Georg felt himself urged from the room, the crash with which his father fell on the bed behind him was still in his ears as he fled. On the staircase, which he rushed down as if its steps were an inclined plane, he ran into his charwoman on her way up to do the morning cleaning of the room. ‘Jesus!’ she cried, and covered her face with her apron, but he was already gone. Out of the front door he rushed, across the roadway, driven toward the water. Already he was grasping at the railings as a starving man clutches food. He swung himself over, like the distinguished gymnast he had once been in his youth, to his parents’ pride. With weakening grip he was still holding on when he spied between the railings a motor-bus coming which would easily cover the noise of his fall, called in a low voice: ‘Dear parents, I have always loved you, all the same,’ and let himself drop.
At this moment an unending stream of traffic was just going over the bridge.
Before the law sits a gatekeeper. To this gatekeeper comes a man from the country who asks to gain entry into the law. But the gatekeeper says that he cannot grant him entry at the moment. The man thinks about it and then asks if he will be allowed to come in later on.
“It is possible,” says the gatekeeper, “but not now.”
At the moment the gate to the law stands open, as always, and the gatekeeper walks to the side, so the man bends over in order to see through the gate into the inside. When the gatekeeper notices that, he laughs and says:
“If it tempts you so much, try it in spite of my prohibition. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only the most lowly gatekeeper. But from room to room stand gatekeepers, each more powerful than the other. I can’t endure even one glimpse of the third.”
The man from the country has not expected such difficulties: the law should always be accessible for everyone, he thinks, but as he now looks more closely at the gatekeeper in his fur coat, at his large pointed nose and his long, thin, black Tartar’s beard, he decides that it would be better to wait until he gets permission to go inside. The gatekeeper gives him a stool and allows him to sit down at the side in front of the gate. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be let in, and he wears the gatekeeper out with his requests. The gatekeeper often interrogates him briefly, questioning him about his homeland and many other things, but they are indifferent questions, the kind great men put, and at the end he always tells him once more that he cannot let him inside yet. The man, who has equipped himself with many things for his journey, spends everything, no matter how valuable, to win over the gatekeeper.
The latter takes it all but, as he does so, says, “I am taking this only so that you do not think you have failed to do anything.”
During the many years the man observes the gatekeeper almost continuously. He forgets the other gatekeepers, and this one seems to him the only obstacle for entry into the law. He curses the unlucky circumstance, in the first years thoughtlessly and out loud, later, as he grows old, he still mumbles to himself. He becomes childish and, since in the long years studying the gatekeeper he has come to know the fleas in his fur collar, he even asks the fleas to help him persuade the gatekeeper. Finally his eyesight grows weak, and he does not know whether things are really darker around him or whether his eyes are merely deceiving him. But he recognizes now in the darkness an illumination which breaks inextinguishably out of the gateway to the law. Now he no longer has much time to live. Before his death he gathers in his head all his experiences of the entire time up into one question which he has not yet put to the gatekeeper. He waves to him, since he can no longer lift up his stiffening body. The gatekeeper has to bend way down to him, for the great difference has changed things to the disadvantage of the man.
“What do you still want to know, then?” asks the gatekeeper. “You are insatiable.”
“Everyone strives after the law,” says the man, “so how is that in these many years no one except me has requested entry?”
The gatekeeper sees that the man is already dying and, in order to reach his diminishing sense of hearing, he shouts at him, “Here no one else can gain entry, since this entrance was assigned only to you. I’m going now to close it.”
One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous vermin. He lay on his armour-hard back and saw, as he lifted his head up a little, his brown, arched abdomen divided up into rigid bow-like sections. From this height the blanket, just about ready to slide off completely, could hardly stay in place. His numerous legs, pitifully thin in comparison to the rest of his circumference, flickered helplessly before his eyes.
"What's happened to me?" he thought. It was no dream. His room, a proper room for a human being, only somewhat too small, lay quietly between the four well-known walls. Above the table, on which an unpacked collection of sample cloth goods was spread out—Samsa was a travelling salesman—hung the picture which he had cut out of an illustrated magazine a little while ago and set in a pretty gilt frame. It was a picture of a woman with a fur hat and a fur boa. She sat erect there, lifting up in the direction of the viewer a solid fur muff into which her entire forearm had disappeared.
Gregor's glance then turned to the window. The dreary weather—the rain drops were falling audibly down on the metal window ledge—made him quite melancholy. "Why don't I keep sleeping for a little while longer and forget all this foolishness," he thought. But this was entirely impractical, for he was used to sleeping on his right side, and in his present state he couldn't get himself into this position. No matter how hard he threw himself onto his right side, he always rolled again onto his back. He must have tried it a hundred times, closing his eyes so that he would not have to see the wriggling legs, and gave up only when he began to feel a light, dull pain in his side which he had never felt before.
"O God," he thought, "what a demanding job I've chosen! Day in, day out, on the road. The stresses of selling are much greater than the work going on at head office, and, in addition to that, I have to cope with the problems of travelling, the worries about train connections, irregular bad food, temporary and constantly changing human relationships which never come from the heart. To hell with it all!" He felt a slight itching on the top of his abdomen. He slowly pushed himself on his back closer to the bed post so that he could lift his head more easily, found the itchy part, which was entirely covered with small white spots—he did not know what to make of them and wanted to feel the place with a leg. But he retracted it immediately, for the contact felt like a cold shower all over him.
He slid back again into his earlier position. "This getting up early," he thought, "makes a man quite idiotic. A man must have his sleep. Other travelling salesmen live like harem women. For instance, when I come back to the inn during the course of the morning to write up the necessary orders, these gentlemen are just sitting down to breakfast. If I were to try that with my boss, I'd be thrown out on the spot. Still, who knows whether that mightn't be really good for me? If I didn't hold back for my parents' sake, I'd have quit ages ago. I would've gone to the boss and told him just what I think from the bottom of my heart. He would've fallen right off his desk! How weird it is to sit up at that desk and talk down to the employee from way up there. The boss has trouble hearing, so the employee has to step up quite close to him. Anyway, I haven't completely given up that hope yet. Once I've got together the money to pay off my parents' debt to him—that should take another five or six years—I'll do it for sure. Then I'll make the big break. In any case, right now I have to get up. My train leaves at five o'clock."
He looked over at the alarm clock ticking away by the chest of drawers. "Good God!" he thought. It was half past six, and the hands were going quietly on. It was past the half hour, already nearly quarter to. Could the alarm have failed to ring? One saw from the bed that it was properly set for four o'clock. Certainly it had rung. Yes, but was it possible to sleep through that noise which made the furniture shake? Now, it's true he'd not slept quietly, but evidently he'd slept all the more deeply. Still, what should he do now? The next train left at seven o'clock. To catch that one, he would have to go in a mad rush. The sample collection wasn't packed up yet, and he really didn't feel particularly fresh and active. And even if he caught the train, there was no avoiding a blow-up with the boss, because the firm's errand boy would've waited for the five o'clock train and reported the news of his absence long ago. He was the boss's minion, without backbone or intelligence. Well then, what if he reported in sick? But that would be extremely embarrassing and suspicious, because during his five years' service Gregor hadn't been sick even once. The boss would certainly come with the doctor from the health insurance company and would reproach his parents for their lazy son and cut short all objections with the insurance doctor's comments; for him everyone was completely healthy but really lazy about work. And besides, would the doctor in this case be totally wrong? Apart from a really excessive drowsiness after the long sleep, Gregor in fact felt quite well and even had a really strong appetite.
As he was thinking all this over in the greatest haste, without being able to make the decision to get out of bed—the alarm clock was indicating exactly quarter to seven—there was a cautious knock on the door by the head of the bed.
"Gregor," a voice called—it was his mother!—"it's quarter to seven. Don't you want to be on your way?" The soft voice! Gregor was startled when he heard his voice answering. It was clearly and unmistakably his earlier voice, but in it was intermingled, as if from below, an irrepressibly painful squeaking, which left the words positively distinct only in the first moment and distorted them in the reverberation, so that one didn't know if one had heard correctly. Gregor wanted to answer in detail and explain everything, but in these circumstances he confined himself to saying, "Yes, yes, thank you mother. I'm getting up right away." Because of the wooden door the change in Gregor's voice was not really noticeable outside, so his mother calmed down with this explanation and shuffled off. However, as a result of the short conversation, the other family members became aware that Gregor was unexpectedly still at home, and already his father was knocking on one side door, weakly but with his fist. "Gregor, Gregor," he called out, "what's going on?" And, after a short while, he urged him on again in a deeper voice: "Gregor!" Gregor!" At the other side door, however, his sister knocked lightly. "Gregor? Are you all right? Do you need anything?" Gregor directed answers in both directions, "I'll be ready right away." He made an effort with the most careful articulation and by inserting long pauses between the individual words to remove everything remarkable from his voice. His father turned back to his breakfast. However, the sister whispered, "Gregor, open the door—I beg you." Gregor had no intention of opening the door, but congratulated himself on his precaution, acquired from travelling, of locking all doors during the night, even at home.
First he wanted to stand up quietly and undisturbed, get dressed, above all have breakfast, and only then consider further action, for—he noticed this clearly—by thinking things over in bed he would not reach a reasonable conclusion. He remembered that he had already often felt a light pain or other in bed, perhaps the result of an awkward lying position, which later turned out to be purely imaginary when he stood up, and he was eager to see how his present fantasies would gradually dissipate. That the change in his voice was nothing other than the onset of a real chill, an occupational illness of commercial travellers, of that he had not the slightest doubt.
It was very easy to throw aside the blanket. He needed only to push himself up a little, and it fell by itself. But to continue was difficult, particularly because he was so unusually wide. He needed arms and hands to push himself upright. Instead of these, however, he had only many small limbs which were incessantly moving with very different motions and which, in addition, he was unable to control. If he wanted to bend one of them, then it was the first to extend itself, and if he finally succeeded doing what he wanted with this limb, in the meantime all the others, as if left free, moved around in an excessively painful agitation. "But I must not stay in bed uselessly," said Gregor to himself.
At first he wanted to get out of bed with the lower part of his body, but this lower part—which, by the way, he had not yet looked at and which he also couldn't picture clearly—proved itself too difficult to move. The attempt went so slowly. When, having become almost frantic, he finally hurled himself forward with all his force and without thinking, he chose his direction incorrectly, and he hit the lower bedpost hard. The violent pain he felt revealed to him that the lower part of his body was at the moment probably the most sensitive.
Thus, he tried to get his upper body out of the bed first and turned his head carefully toward the edge of the bed. He managed to do this easily, and in spite of its width and weight his body mass at last slowly followed the turning of his head. But as he finally raised his head outside the bed in the open air, he became anxious about moving forward any further in this manner, for if he allowed himself eventually to fall by this process, it would take a miracle to prevent his head from getting injured. And at all costs he must not lose consciousness right now. He preferred to remain in bed.
However, after a similar effort, while he lay there again, sighing as before, and once again saw his small limbs fighting one another, if anything worse than earlier, and didn't see any chance of imposing quiet and order on this arbitrary movement, he told himself again that he couldn't possibly remain in bed and that it might be the most reasonable thing to sacrifice everything if there was even the slightest hope of getting himself out of bed in the process. At the same moment, however, he didn't forget to remind himself from time to time of the fact that calm—indeed the calmest—reflection might be better than the most confused decisions. At such moments, he directed his gaze as precisely as he could toward the window, but unfortunately there was little confident cheer to be had from a glance at the morning mist, which concealed even the other side of the narrow street. "It's already seven o'clock," he told himself at the latest striking of the alarm clock, "already seven o'clock and still such a fog." And for a little while longer he lay quietly with weak breathing, as if perhaps waiting for normal and natural conditions to re-emerge out of the complete stillness.
But then he said to himself, "Before it strikes a quarter past seven, whatever happens I must be completely out of bed. Besides, by then someone from the office will arrive to inquire about me, because the office will open before seven o'clock." And he made an effort then to rock his entire body length out of the bed with a uniform motion. If he let himself fall out of the bed in this way, his head, which in the course of the fall he intended to lift up sharply, would probably remain uninjured. His back seemed to be hard; nothing would really happen to that as a result of the fall. His greatest reservation was a worry about the loud noise which the fall must create and which presumably would arouse, if not fright, then at least concern on the other side of all the doors. However, it had to be tried.
As Gregor was in the process of lifting himself half out of bed—the new method was more of a game than an effort; he needed only to rock with a constant rhythm—it struck him how easy all this would be if someone were to come to his aid. Two strong people—he thought of his father and the servant girl—would have been quite sufficient. They would have only had to push their arms under his arched back to get him out of the bed, to bend down with their load, and then merely to exercise patience and care that he completed the flip onto the floor, where his diminutive legs would then, he hoped, acquire a purpose. Now, quite apart from the fact that the doors were locked, should he really call out for help? In spite of all his distress, he was unable to suppress a smile at this idea.
He had already got to the point where, by rocking more strongly, he maintained his equilibrium with difficulty, and very soon he would finally have to decide, for in five minutes it would be a quarter past seven. Then there was a ring at the door of the apartment. "That's someone from the office," he told himself, and he almost froze while his small limbs only danced around all the faster. For one moment everything remained still. "They aren't opening," Gregor said to himself, caught up in some absurd hope. But of course then, as usual, the servant girl with her firm tread went to the door and opened it. Gregor needed to hear only the first word of the visitor's greeting to recognize immediately who it was, the manager himself. Why was Gregor the only one condemned to work in a firm where, at the slightest lapse, someone immediately attracted the greatest suspicion? Were all the employees then collectively, one and all, scoundrels? Among them was there then no truly devoted person who, if he failed to use just a couple of hours in the morning for office work, would become abnormal from pangs of conscience and really be in no state to get out of bed? Was it really not enough to let an apprentice make inquiries, if such questioning was even necessary? Must the manager himself come, and in the process must it be demonstrated to the entire innocent family that the investigation of this suspicious circumstance could be entrusted only to the intelligence of the manager? And more as a consequence of the excited state in which this idea put Gregor than as a result of an actual decision, he swung himself with all his might out of the bed. There was a loud thud, but not a real crash. The fall was absorbed somewhat by the carpet and, in addition, his back was more elastic than Gregor had thought. For that reason the dull noise was not quite so conspicuous. But he had not held his head up with sufficient care and had hit it. He turned his head, irritated and in pain, and rubbed it on the carpet.
"Something has fallen in there," said the manager in the next room on the left. Gregor tried to imagine to himself whether anything similar to what was happening to him today could have also happened at some point to the manager. At least one had to concede the possibility of such a thing. However, as if to give a rough answer to this question, the manager now, with a squeak of his polished boots, took a few determined steps in the next room. From the neighbouring room on the right the sister was whispering to inform Gregor: "Gregor, the manager is here." "I know," said Gregor to himself. But he did not dare make his voice loud enough so that his sister could hear.
"Gregor," his father now said from the neighbouring room on the left, "Mr. Manager has come and is asking why you have not left on the early train. We don't know what we should tell him. Besides, he also wants to speak to you personally. So please open the door. He will be good enough to forgive the mess in your room."
In the middle of all this, the manager called out in a friendly way, "Good morning, Mr. Samsa." "He is not well," said his mother to the manager, while his father was still talking at the door, "He is not well, believe me, Mr. Manager. Otherwise how would Gregor miss a train? The young man has nothing in his head except business. I'm almost angry that he never goes out at night. Right now he's been in the city eight days, but he's been at home every evening. He sits here with us at the table and reads the newspaper quietly or studies his travel schedules. It's a quite a diversion for him to busy himself with fretwork. For instance, he cut out a small frame over the course of two or three evenings. You'd be amazed how pretty it is. It's hanging right inside the room. You'll see it immediately, as soon as Gregor opens the door. Anyway, I'm happy that you're here, Mr. Manager. By ourselves, we would never have made Gregor open the door. He's so stubborn, and he's certainly not well, although he denied that this morning."
"I'm coming right away," said Gregor slowly and deliberately and didn't move, so as not to lose one word of the conversation. "My dear lady, I cannot explain it to myself in any other way," said the manager; "I hope it is nothing serious. On the other hand, I must also say that we business people, luckily or unluckily, however one looks at it, very often simply have to overcome a slight indisposition for business reasons." "So can Mr. Manager come in to see you now?" asked his father impatiently and knocked once again on the door. "No," said Gregor. In the neighbouring room on the left a painful stillness descended. In the neighbouring room on the right the sister began to sob.