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Thursday
Dec112008

Die Verwandlung (part 6)

The conclusion to "The Metamorphosis."  You can read the original here.

That very evening − Gregor did not remember having heard the violin this whole time − the violin resounded from the kitchen.  The occupants had already finished their supper, the middle one having taken out a newspaper and given the others each a page to read, and now all three were leaning back and smoking.  As the violin began to play they became attentive, got up from the table and went on their tiptoes to the door to the antechamber, where they all stood crowded on top of one another.  They must have been heard from the kitchen because his father then called out: "Is the violin playing bothering you gentlemen?  It can be stopped right away if you so choose."  "On the contrary," said the middle occupant, "wouldn't the young lady like to come over and play for us in this room which is cozier and much more comfortable?"  "Our pleasure," said his father, as if he were the violinist.  The occupants went back into the room and waited.  Soon his father came in with the music stand, followed by his mother with the notes and his sister with the violin.  His sister then got everything ready to play; her parents, who had never before rented out a room and thus expressed exaggerated courtesy towards the occupants, did not even dare sit on their own chairs.  Instead, his father leaned back against the door, his right hand wedged between two buttons of his livery uniform, while his mother had a chair offered to her by one of the occupants and sat down precisely in that random place where the occupant had set the chair, off in a corner on the side.

His sister began to play.  Each on one side, father and mother followed with great interest the movements of her hands.  Attracted by the playing Gregor had edged forward a little bit and already had his head in the living room.  He was hardly surprised by the fact that the others had paid him so little attention as of late; of such attention he used to be so proud.  And for that reason he would have had even more incentive to hide since, on account of the dust which lay all over his room was swept up like a sandstorm at the slightest movement, he was also completely covered in dust.  Threads, hair, and the remains of food all coated his back and sides.  Yet his indifference was far too great for him to do what he used to do many times a day, namely lie on his back and scrape off any residue onto the carpet; and despite his present state he had no qualms about setting foot on the immaculate living room floor.

In any case, no one noticed him.  His family was completely enthralled by his sister's violin playing.  The occupants, however, had placed their hands in their pant pockets and were standing much too close to his sister's music stand so that, in fact, they could see all the notes being played, which must have undoubtedly bothered her.  They pulled back suddenly and, their heads bowed in half-muttered conversation, went over to the window where they remained under the concerned eye of his father.  One had the unshakeable impression that the occupants were disappointed in what was supposed to be a beautiful or at least entertaining violin performance, that they were quite fed up with the whole matter and that they now said nothing to discourage her purely out of politeness.  Especially the way all of them were blowing smoke out their noses and mouths up into the air suggested very fragile nerves.  But his sister was playing so beautifully.  Her face was bent to the side and her eyes, observant and sad, stayed on her notes.  Gregor crawled forward a bit and held his head close to the floor trying to meet her gaze.  Was he an animal because music charmed him so?  To him all this seemed to be the way to desirable yet unknown nourishment.  He made up his mind to crawl over to his sister, pull on her skirt, and thereby signal to her that she could come play her violin in his room because no one here appreciated her playing more than he did.  He did not want to let her out of his room any more, at least not as long as he was alive.  His horrible form would finally be of some use; he wanted to be at all the doors of his room at the same time and hiss and growl at his attackers.  But his sister should not be forced to come into his room: she should want to do so of her own freewill.  She should sit next to him on the canopy, lower her ear to him, and then he could confide in her that he had the solid intention of sending her to the conservatory and that had it not been for their misfortune, he would have told everyone this past Christmas − was Christmas actually over? − without paying any mind to their objections.  After this declaration his sister would begin to sob, so touched would she be, and Gregor would stand up to the level of her shoulders and kiss her neck which, since she had been working in the store, was cloaked by neither necklace nor collar.

"Mr. Samsa!" the middle occupant called out to his father and pointed, without wasting another word, with his finger at the slowly advancing Gregor.  The violin went dead; at first, the middle occupant smiled and shook his head at his friends and then took another look at Gregor.  His father thought it was more important to calm the occupants than to drive Gregor back, although they were not at all agitated and Gregor seemed to entertain them more than the violin playing.  He ran over to them and tried with open arms to force them back into their room, at the same time blocking their view of Gregor with his body.  Now they had become a bit annoyed with the whole business; one didn't know whether it was owing to his father's behavior or to the knowledge that all this time they had had a neighbor like Gregor.  They demanded an explanation from his father, raised their arms as well, yanked nervously on their beards and only slowly made their way back into their room.  Meanwhile his sister recovered from the astonishment that ended her performance; her listless hands had held her violin and bow and her eyes had continued to read the notes as if she were still playing.  Now she pulled herself together, placed the instrument on her mother's lap − her mother was almost hyperventilating in her seat − and went into the next room which the occupants, driven back by her father, were approaching ever faster.  One could see how the sister's trained hands brought order to the bed covers and pillows as they flew in the air, and she was done with making the beds and had slipped out of the room before the occupants even got there.  Her father seemed so beholden to his own ideas that he forgot every drachma of respect that he owed his tenants.  He just kept pushing them further and further back until the middle occupant slammed his foot into the door to the occupants' room, which made his father stop in his tracks.  "I hereby declare," said the middle occupant, raising his hand and checking to see whether mother and sister were looking on, "that in consideration of the revolting familial and living conditions," and here he spat decisively on the floor, "I am giving up my room immediately.  Of course, I do not intend to pay a cent for the days I have spent here.  On the contrary, I will need to think about whether I may not want to bring some charges − some very easily justifiable charges, believe me − against you."  He fell silent and looked directly in front of him as if waiting for something.  And indeed, his two friends then chimed in with the words: "We are also leaving right away."  On this note he grabbed the door handle and slammed the door shut.

Groping and staggering his way back, his father fell down onto the seat of his chair.  It looked as if he were stretching out for one of his habitual evening naps; yet the powerful nodding of his almost unhinged head revealed that he was not sleeping at all.  Gregor had been lying there the whole time, perfectly still, in the spot in which the occupant had caught sight of him.  The disappointment over the failure of his plan as well as, perhaps, the weakness brought on by such severe hunger made it impossible for him to move.  At least for the next moment or two, he felt with a certain definitiveness an oncoming collapse and waited for it to hit him.  Not even the violin, which his mother's trembling fingers had let fall from her lap, crashing with a resounding tone, could startle him.

"Dear Parents," said his sister and slammed her fist into the table as a form of introduction.  "It cannot go on like this.  You might not realize it, but I certainly do. I will not utter my brother's name in the presence of this monstrosity, and hence I say bluntly that we must rid ourselves of it.  We have done everything humanly possible to take care of it and endure its ways, and I do not think that anyone can foist the slightest reproof upon us."  "She's completely and utterly right," his father muttered to himself.  Still finding it difficult to breathe, his mother held her hand before her mouth and began coughing drily with an insane expression in her eyes.  His sister hurried over and placed her hands on her forehead, while the words of his sister seemed to have led his father into an another arena of thoughts.  As such, he sat up straight, played with his tip change between the plates which still sat there from the occupants' supper, and looked straight at Gregor, who was still not moving.

“We have to try to get rid of it,” his sister then said, only to his father since her mother could hear nothing over her cough.  “It’ll kill us both, I see it coming.  When one has to work as hard as we all do, one can’t put up with this endless torture at home.  I can’t take it any more.”  And she burst into such a violent fit of sobbing that her tears cascaded onto the face of her mother, who wiped them away with some mechanical movements.”

 

“Child,” said her father compassionately and with noticeable understanding, “what should we do, then?”

 

His sister shrugged her shoulders as a sign of perplexity, quite in contrast to her previous attitude and a stance she had adopted while crying.  “If he only could understand us,” said his father, almost asking a question; his sister, still crying heavily, waved her hand as a sign that this could not be possible.  “If he could only understand us,” repeated his father and closed his eyes in acceptance of his sister’s conviction that this was simply impossible, “then perhaps some agreement with him might be possible.  But as it is −”

 

“We must get rid of it,” said his sister, “that’s the only way, Father.  You simply have to let go of the idea that it’s Gregor.  That’s what we’ve believed all this time, and that has been our own ill luck.  But how can it be Gregor?  If it were Gregor he would have long since realized that it’s not possible for such a beast to live together with human beings and would have left of his own freewill.  Then we would have no brother but could at least go on with our lives and cherish and honor his memory.  But all this beast does is harass us and drive out our tenants; he clearly wants to take over the whole apartment and let us spend the night on the street.  Just look now, Father!” she screamed suddenly.  “He’s at it again!”  And scared for a reason wholly unknown to Gregor, his sister left her mother, got up melodramatically from her seat as if she would rather sacrifice her mother than remain in Gregor’s vicinity, and scurried behind her father who, agitated by her behavior, also stood up and raised his arms in front of her like some kind of shield.

 

But Gregor had no intention of scaring anyone, much less his sister.  He had just begun to turn around to go back to his room, which became rather noticeable since he had to use his head to help with the difficult turns.  He lifted his head again and again only to have it fall back on the floor.  Then he stopped and took a look around.  His good will seemed to have been acknowledged; it was only a momentary fright.  Now everyone was silent and sad as they looked at him.  His mother was lying with her legs stretched out and pressed together in her seat, her eyes almost closing out of exhaustion, while his father and sister were sitting next to each other with her sister's hand on the nape of her father's neck.  "Perhaps now I should turn around," thought Gregor and began his work anew.  Yet he could not suppress his huffing and puffing as he strained himself and had to rest every so often and catch his breath.

As it were, no one was urging him on: he was left to his own devices.  Once he had completed turning around he immediately began to walk straight back to his room; the huge distance separating him from the door was astounding, and he simply could not understand how, in his weak condition, he had just covered the same ground without even noticing.  Now he concentrated on crawling fast and hardly noticed that he was not disturbed in his efforts by a single word or call from his family.

Only once he was already in the door did he turn his head − not completely, since his neck felt stiff − and saw that nothing behind him had changed; his sister had gotten up, but nothing else.  His last glance in that direction was towards his mother who by now was completely asleep.

Hardly had Gregor gotten inside his room when the door was hastily slammed shut, bolted and locked behind him, scaring him so much that his legs buckled.  It was his sister who had run up to the door.  She had already been standing and waiting, then sprung forward nimbly − Gregor had not heard her coming at all − and screamed out "finally!" to her parents as she turned the key in the lock.

"Now what?" Gregor asked himself and looked around in the darkness.  He soon discovered that he could no longer move.  But this did not surprise him; rather, it seemed quite unnatural that he had actually been able to make it this far on those thin legs of his.  Anyway, he felt relatively well.  Although he had pain throughout his body, it seemed to be getting weaker and weaker as if, one day, it would simply disappear.  He hardly felt any more the rotten apple in his back or his cankerous surroundings, covered entirely in white dust.  Love and emotion ruled the memories of his family.  His conclusion that he had to leave might have been even more resolute than the sister's.  And he remained in this state of empty and peaceful contemplation until the tower clock struck the third hour of morning; then he experienced the first hours of general brightness outside in front of the pool.  Then his head sank down against his will and from his nostrils came forth his last breath.

Early the next morning when the maid came − despite that she had been asked countless times to avoid doing so, she slammed all the doors closed in the apartment, so that no more peaceful sleep was possible − she initially found nothing out of the ordinary during her brief and habitual visit to Gregor's room.  She thought he was intentionally lying there without moving and pretending to be ashamed or offended; there was no sort of logic of which she didn't think him capable.  Yet while she happened to be holding her long broom in her hands, she tried to tickle Gregor away from the door.  When this proved wholly unsuccessful she got annoyed and gave a slight kick.  Only when she had managed to knock him from his place without the slightest resistance did she suddenly become more alert.  She soon discovered the real state of affairs, and whistled to herself as her eyes got very big, but did not waste much time before ripping open the door to the bedroom and projecting her loud voice into the darkness: "Take a look, all of you, he croaked!  He's just lying there, dead as a doornail!"

The Samsas sat up in their conjugal bed; their shock was distorted by the maid's loudness before they understood what her announcement meant.  Then, however, both Mr. and Mrs. Samsa, one on each side, got out of bed as quickly as they could.  Mr. Samsa threw the covers over his shoulders; Mrs. Samsa came with only a nightshirt on, and thus garbed they entered Gregor's room.  Meanwhile, the door to the living room had been opened; this was where Grete had been sleeping since the occupants moved in. She was completely dressed as if she hadn't slept at all, evidenced also by her chalk-white face.  "Dead?" said Mrs. Samsa and looked inquisitively at the maid, even though she could have verified everything herself and come to the same conclusion, in fact, without verifying anything.  "That's what I think," said the maid and knocked Gregor's corpse off to the side with her broom as proof.  Mrs. Samsa gestured as if she wanted to stop the broom, but did not.  "Well," said Mr. Samsa, "now we can thank God."  He crossed himself and the three women followed his example.  Grete, who could not turn her eyes away from the body, then said:  "Just look how emaciated he was.  He hadn't eaten anything for so long. The food left the way it was brought in."  And indeed, Gregor's body was flat and dry.  Only now was this evident, since he was no longer raised up on his legs and nothing else distracted one's view.

"Come in here with us for a while, Grete," said Mrs. Samsa with a wistful smile, and Grete walked into the bedroom behind her parents without looking back at the body.  The maid closed the door and opened the window completely.  Despite the early morning, the fresh air was already mixed with mildness.  It was already the end of March.

The three occupants stepped out of their room and glanced around for their breakfast with an amazed look on their faces.  The family had forgotten about them.  "Where is our breakfast?" the middle occupant asked the maid testily.  But she only placed her finger to her lips and quickly and silently signaled to the men that they could enter Gregor's room.  And they came and stood there, hands in the pockets of their somewhat worn gowns, around Gregor's body in the now very bright room.

Then the door to the bedroom opened and Mr. Samsa appeared in his livery with one arm around his mother and one around his daughter.  All of them were crying, if only a bit; Grete would occasionally press her face into her father's arm.  "Leave my apartment immediately!" said Mr. Samsa and pointed towards the door without letting go of the two women.  "What do you mean by that?" said the middle occupant somewhat taken back and smiled sweetly.  The two others kept their hands in their gowns and rubbed them together constantly as if in anticipation of a huge fight that would be resolved in their favor.  "I mean it just the way I say it," answered Mr. Samsa and, accompanied by his two women, went in a straight line towards the middle occupant.  The middle occupant stood there quite still and looked at the floor as if the ideas in his head were assuming a new order.  "Then we'll be going," he said and, suddenly overcome with humility, looked at Mr. Samsa as if asking for additional permission for this decision.  His eyes large and round, Mr. Samsa simply nodded a few times.  Thereupon the middle occupant proceeded with long strides into the antechamber; his two friends had since stopped rubbing their hands together and trotted in after him as if in fear that Mr. Samsa might enter the antechamber before them and cut off their connection to their leader.  In the antechamber all three of them took their hats from the clothes rack, pulled their canes out of the bin, bowed silently and left the apartment.  Then in a, as it turned out, wholly unfounded display of suspiciousness, Mr. Samsa and the two women stepped out to the vestibule, leaned on the railing and watched the three occupants slowly but surely go down the steps, disappear at every floor in a particular bend of the stairwell, and reappear a few seconds later.  The deeper they went, the less they interested the Samsas.  And then as a butcher's apprentice walked up towards and then past them with his barrow proudly on the back of his head, Mr. Samsa and the women left the railing and returned much relieved to their apartment.

They decided to spend that day resting and walking; not only had they earned a respite from their work, they also needed it desperately.  And so they sat down at the table and wrote letters to excuse themselves from their jobs; Mr. Samsa to his management, Mrs. Samsa to her client and Grete to her immediate supervisor.  While they were writing the maid came in to say that she was leaving since her morning work was done.  The three of them continued writing and just nodded without even looking up until the maid still did not want to leave, at which point everyone got annoyed.  "Well?" said Mr. Samsa.  The maid stood smiling in the threshold of the door as if she had great news to report to the family, but wouldn't do so unless she were asked repeatedly.  The small, almost upright feather in her hat which had annoyed Mr. Samsa for nearly her entire time there swayed gently in all directions.  "So what do you really want?" said Mrs. Samsa, for whom the maid had the most respect.  "Yes," answered the maid, who could not go on right away because she was laughing amicably, "I wanted to let you know that you didn't have to worry about all the stuff in the next room.  Everything's already taken care of."  Mrs. Samsa and Grete went back to work on their letters, or so it seemed; Mr. Samsa, however, who had noticed that the maid now wanted to go into detail about everything, waved her off decisively with his hand.  Since she wasn't allowed to continue with her story she remembered that she was in a rush and, a bit hurt, called out to everyone: "Farewell to all!"  Then she turned around wildly and left the apartment with a horrific slam of the door.

"She'll be fired this evening," said Mr. Samsa, although he received no response from either his wife or daughter because the maid seemed yet again to have disturbed their hard-won peace.  They got up, went over to the window and remained there draped over one another.  Mr. Samsa spun in his seat towards them and watched them silently for a while.  Then he said: "Alright, come over here. Enough of your old tricks. Come over here and pay me a little attention."  The women obeyed him immediately, rushed over and caressed him and then hastily finished their letters.

Then all three of them left the apartment together, something they hadn't done in months, and took an electric light rail to the countryside outside the city.  The car in which they sat seemed gorged on warm sunshine.  Sitting comfortably in their seats, they began talking about their prospects in the future, and it turned out that upon closer inspection these were not so bad after all.  All three of them were employed although they had hardly inquired about each other's jobs, profitable jobs whose prospects were promising.  Of course, the greatest improvement right at this moment would involve changing apartments: they wanted a smaller and cheaper place, yet one better located and more practical than the one they were in at present, the one picked out by Gregor.  As they continued to converse, Mr. and Mrs. Samsa looked at their now much livelier daughter and almost simultaneously reached the same conclusion: despite all the trouble in recent weeks which had made her cheeks so pale, she had now bloomed into a lovely and voluptuous young woman.  Exchanging glances and understanding one another almost unwittingly, they fell silent and thought that it was now time to find her a good man.  And when they reached their stop, their daughter got up first and, as if confirming their new dreams and good prospects, stretched forth her young body.

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