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« Die Verwandlung (part 3) | Main | Die Verwandlung (part 1) »
Wednesday
Dec032008

Die Verwandlung (part 2)

The second part to Kafka's story ("The Metamorphosis").  You can read the original here.

"Mr. Samsa," the general manager called out with a raised voice, "what is wrong?  You're barricading yourself in your room, giving us yes and no answers, causing your parents serious and unnecessary concern, as well as neglecting − I just mention this in passing − your work obligations in an unprecedented manner.  I speak now in the name of your parents and your boss and ask you very earnestly for an immediate and unambiguous explanation.  I am just astounded, astounded.  I took you for a peaceful, reasonable person, and now you suddenly want to start parading around making strange sounds.  This morning the boss suggested a possible explanation for your behavior, and it had to do with the debt collection tasks recently entrusted to you.  But I practically gave him my word that this couldn't be the reason.  Now, however, I am witness to your unbelievable stubbornness and have completely lost any desire I might have had to stick up for you.  And your job is not exactly the most secure.  I originally had the intention of telling you all this in private, but since you've made me waste my time here waiting, I don't see why your parents shouldn't learn about your indiscretion.  Your contributions recently have also been less than satisfactory.  It's true that now's not high season for particular types of business transactions, we are well aware of that.  Yet there is no such thing as a season for no business transactions, Mr. Samsa, as well there shouldn't be."

"But sir," shouted Gregor, beside himself with agitation and forgetting everything else.  "I'll open up in just a moment, right away.  A light bout of ill health and dizziness prevented me from getting up.  I'm still in bed, you see, but I'll be fresh and ready to go in no time.  I'm just getting out of bed now!  Just a moment, be patient!  I'm still not doing as well as I thought.  But I'm alright.  How these things can just knock you off your feet!  Yesterday evening I was doing fine, as my parents know, or better said: yesterday I had a premonition of what was about to occur.  You could have seen it on my face.  Why didn't I just report it to the office!  But one always thinks that one can get over an illness without staying home.  General manager, sir, please spare my parents!  There is no reason for you to reprimand me; no one has breathed a word of this to me.  Perhaps you have yet to read the most recent contracts that I sent in.  By the way, I'll be traveling on the eight o'clock train; these couple of hours have really made me stronger.  Please don't wait around, sir, I'll be at work very soon, and please be good enough to give my regards to the boss!"

And while Gregor spat all this out in haste, hardly aware of what he was saying, he had slowly inched his way towards the chest owing to his having practiced this movement in bed, and was now trying to straighten himself up against it.  He really did want to open the door, have himself be seen and speak with the general manager; he was eager to find out what the others who had so longed to see him would say upon his appearance.  If they were frightened then Gregor was no longer responsible and could be calm.  If they were to take everything the right way, then he really wouldn't have any reason to get worked up and could in fact be, if he hurried, at the train station at eight.

He initially slid off the smooth chest a few times, but finally, with one last heave, he was able to stand upright.  He no longer paid any attention to the pain in his lower stomach, regardless of how badly it burned.  He leaned against the back of a chair in his vicinity and propped his legs up securely on the chair's edge.  Thus he achieved some measure of mastery over his body and immediately fell quiet because he could hear the general manager talking.

"Did you understand a word of that?" the general manager asked his parents.  "He's not making a fool of us, is he?"  "For God's sake," yelled his mother, already in tears.  "He may be seriously ill, and we're torturing him. Grete! Grete!" she then screamed.  "Yes, mother?" his sister called out from the other side.  They were communicating through Gregor's room.  "You must go to the doctor's this very minute.  Gregor is ill.  Rush off and fetch the doctor.  Didn't you hear Gregor talking?"  "That was the voice of an animal," said the general manager in tones noticeably softer than the mother's screaming.

"Anna! Anna!" his father screamed through the antechamber into the kitchen and clapped his hands.  "Get a locksmith, and make it quick!"  And soon both women, their skirts rustling through the antechamber − how did his sister get dressed so quickly? − ripped open the apartment doors.  You could not even hear the doors slam shut; they had probably left them open, as tends to happen in homes which have incurred a great misfortune.

Yet Gregor had become much calmer.  It was true that his words were no longer intelligible, even if they were coming to him more clearly than before, perhaps thanks to the acclimation of his hearing.  But all the same, it was still believed that something was wrong with him and that he should be helped.  The assurance and certainty with which these decisions were made did him some good.  Once again he felt incorporated into human circles and expected outstanding and surprising services from both the doctor and locksmith without distinguishing them from one another too much.  In order to have the clearest possible voice for the upcoming discussions, he cleared his throat a bit, in any case with some effort towards discretion in the event that this sound also might not resemble a human cough − a distinction which he no longer felt capable of making.  In the meantime it had gotten rather quiet in the adjacent room.  Perhaps his parents were sitting at the table and whispering to the general manager; perhaps they were all leaning against the door and listening.

Slowly, Gregor pushed himself with the chair to the door, let the chair go, threw himself against the door, held himself up straight against it − the balls of his legs had a bit of sticky substance − and rested there a while from the strain.  Then he tried feverishly to extract the key from the lock with his mouth.  Unfortunately it turned out that he had no teeth.  How then was he going to grab the key?  But for that purpose he had particularly powerful jaws.  Using them he was able to start moving the key, inattentive to the fact that he was undoubtedly doing himself some harm since a brown liquid began flowing from his mouth, flowing over the key and falling in drops on the floor.

"Do you hear that?" said the general manager from the adjacent room.  "He's turning the key."  That statement provided Gregor with a great deal of encouragement, although everyone should have called out to him at this point, even his mother and father: "Up now, Gregor," they should have said, "keep moving towards that lock, that lock!"  And imagining that every one of his movements would be plagued by tension, he engaged himself senselessly with the key with all the force he could muster.  With every progression and turn, the key danced around the lock; he held himself up only with his mouth and, whenever needed, hung onto the key or pushed down on it again with the entire weight of his body.  The clear, clean sound as the lock finally snapped back was what woke Gregor up for real.  Exhaling, he said to himself: "Looks like I didn't need a locksmith after all," and he lay his head on the handle to open the door completely.

Since he had to open the door this way, it was already wide open and kept him hidden.  He still had to work his way slowly around the wing of the door, and was very careful not to fall on his back right before anyone came into the room.  Each laborious movement still monopolized his efforts and he had no time to pay attention to anything else.  It was then that he heard the general manager blurt out a loud "Oh!" − it sounded like the wind blowing through − and now he saw how the general manager, the first person at the door, was holding his hand against his open mouth and slowly retreating as if driven back by an unseen and relentless force.  His mother − she was standing here, despite the presence of the general manager, with her hair still loose and bristling high above her head from the night before − then looked to his father with her hands folded, took two steps towards Gregor and fell right down on her skirts spreading out around her, her head lost deep in her breast.  His father balled his hand into a fist and assumed a hostile expression as if he wanted to shove Gregor back in his room.  Then he looked around the living room hesitatingly, covered his eyes with his hands, and began to cry so violently that his breast shook.   

Now Gregor did not enter the room at all, but leaned back inside on the secured wing of the door with only half of his body visible and his head tilted to the side peering over at the others.  In the meantime it had become much brighter.  A clear outline of the endless grey-black house across the street could now be seen − it was a hospital − with its uniform windows protruding from the front façade.  The rain was still falling but now in large, individually visible drops which also hit the earth one by one.  The breakfast dishes were piled up on the table since, for Gregor's father, breakfast was the most important meal of the day and what kept him going through his hours of reading newspapers.  On the opposite wall hung a picture of Gregor from his army days, when he was a lieutenant smiling insouciantly, his hand on a dagger, his uniform and posture demanding respect.  The door to the antechamber was open and one could see, since the living room door was also open, out onto the vestibule of the apartment and the beginning of the descending staircase.

"Now," said Gregor, quite aware of the fact that he was the only one who had remained calm, "I'm going to get dressed, pack up the collection of samples, and head out.  Will you, will you let me head off to work?  Now, general manager, sir, you see that I am not stubborn and I like to work.  Traveling is burdensome, true enough, but I could not live without traveling.  Where are you going, then, sir?  To work?  Yes?  Will you be good enough to report everything factually, the way you saw it?  A person can be unable to work for a spell and that is the time that one has to think about that person's previous contributions and consider that later, once the obstacle has been overcome, the person will resume his work with even more diligence and concentration.  As you know, I am so indebted to our boss, you do know that, right?  On the other hand, I do worry about my parents and sister.  I'm in a rut, but I'm going to work my way out of it.  Please don't make it any harder for me than it already is.  Please take my side at work!  Travelers are not loved or appreciated, that much I know.  The popular perception of the traveler is that he makes a king's ransom and leads an all-too-sweet life.  And people have no particular inducement to think otherwise.  But you, sir, you, general manager, you have a much broader view on matters than the rest of the staff; I would even say you have a better perspective than the boss himself since in his capacity as entrepreneur he often errs all too quickly to the disadvantage of the employee.  You are also well aware that travelers, being almost the whole year out of the office, are susceptible to gossip, contingencies, and complaints with no basis in fact, against which it is impossible to defend themselves.  Impossible because they usually don't learn of what's being said and if they do, it's only when they come back home, exhausted from a trip and every inch of their body feels the nefarious consequences whose causes are no longer transparent.  General manager, sir, do not leave here without saying something that shows you agree with me on some fundamental level!"

But the general manager had already turned away during Gregor's first words and was now looking over his twitching shoulder at Gregor, his lips bulging.  And while Gregor spoke he was not still for a single moment; instead he kept warping himself against the door without taking his eyes off Gregor.  All this was accomplished very gradually as if obeying a secret commandment to leave the room.  He was already in the antechamber, and with the sudden movement he made with his foot to get out of the living room, one could have thought that he had burned his soles.  In the antechamber, however, he stretched out his right hand towards the staircase as if in that corner there awaited him some celestial redemption.       

Gregor realized that he should not let the general manager leave in such a state, not with his job at the firm in such great danger.  His parents didn't quite understand that; over the years they had convinced themselves that Gregor was set for life in this company, and, anyway, they were so concerned by what was going on right now that any foresight was lost.  But this foresight had not eluded Gregor.  The general manager had to be stopped, calmed down, persuaded and ultimately won over: the future of Gregor and his family depended on it!  If only his sister were here!  She was clever; she had already cried when Gregor was lying peacefully on his back.  And certainly the general manager, that womanizer, would have allowed himself to dally with her; but she would have shut the apartment door and talked him out of his fear in the antechamber.  But, as it were, his sister was not there so Gregor had to act on his own.

And without thinking about the fact that he did not know anything about his current capacity for movement, nor about the possibility that his speech had been misunderstood − indeed, this was likely − he left the wing of the door.  He pushed himself through the opening and wanted to go up to the general manager who was already in the vestibule clinging ridiculously to the railing with both hands.  But trying to stop, he immediately fell down with a mild cry on his four legs.  Hardly had this happened when his body experienced a feeling of well-being for the first time this morning.  His legs had solid ground beneath them, and they complied fully, as he noticed to his great satisfaction; he even tried to lead them where he wanted to go.  And soon enough he came to believe that an improvement in his condition was imminent.  At that same moment, however, as he wobbled gingerly not far from his mother lying on the floor, she jumped up all at once, no longer so crumpled and collapsed.  Then she screamed, her arms stretched out wide, her fingers splayed: "Help, for God's sake help!"  She bent her head as if she wanted to see Gregor better, but  then, in contradiction to that action, she scurried backwards.  Here she forgot that behind her was a table all set for meals, and out of absent-mindedness she sat down at the table with some haste as if she had just arrived.  She did not even seem to notice that near here, a knocked over pot of coffee was gushing in full force onto the rug.

"Mother, mother," said Gregor softly, and looked up at her.  For a moment he forgot completely about the general manager; yet upon sight of the flowing coffee he could not help himself from snapping his jaws at the empty air in front of him.  This provoked more screaming by his mother, who fled from the table into the arms of his father rushing to meet her.  But Gregor had no time for his parents right now: the general manager was already on the staircase.  His chin on the railing, he looked back for the last time.  Gregor got a running start so as to catch up to him as quickly as possible, but the general manager must have sensed something since he leapt over several steps and disappeared.  "Huh!" he screamed, and it echoed throughout the stairwell.  Unfortunately this escape now seemed to throw the father, who until now had been relatively composed, into a complete state of agitation: instead of running after the general manager himself, or at least not impeding Gregor in the latter's attempts to catch up to him, he seized the general manager's walking stick with his right hand (the general manager had left his stick, hat and overcoat on an armchair), used his left hand to grab a thick newspaper from the table and tried, by stomping his feet and waving the stick and newspaper, to drive Gregor back into his room.  No plea on Gregor's part helped his cause; no plea was understood.  The more ashamedly his head turned, the stronger came the stomps of his father's feet.    

Upstairs, despite the cold weather, his mother had opened a window.  Leaning out far outside the window, she pressed her face into her hands.  Between the street and the stairwell a powerful draft emerged, the window curtains flew up, the newspapers on the table rustled, and individual pages wafted down to the floor.  His father persisted mercilessly emitting hissing noises like a savage.  Gregor had had no practice in going backwards and was moving extremely slowly.  Had he turned around he would have been right back in his room, but he feared that the time-consuming turn would make his father impatient, and there was the unending threat of a deadly blow on the head or back from the stick in his father's hand.  Ultimately, however, Gregor had no alternative (this repulsed him greatly) since walking backwards did not even allow him to maintain a certain direction.  And so he began with constantly fearful looks at his father to turn himself around as quickly as he could, which in reality was a very slow process indeed.  Perhaps here his father noticed his good intentions because he made no effort to disturb him in such a maneuver and instead directed him here and there with the tip of his stick.

If only he could have done away with that unbearable hissing!  This was making Gregor absolutely crazy.  He had almost turned himself completely around when, still privy to the hissing, he got confused and reversed course just a little bit.  But as his head finally and happily arrived at the threshold of the door, he saw that his body was too wide to go any further.  Given his state of mind at that moment, his father also did not think of opening the other wing of the door so that Gregor would have enough space to pass.  His one monomaniacal thought was simply to have Gregor retreat into his room as quickly as possible.  Nor would he ever have allowed Gregor the necessary preparations for him to stand up straight and potentially get through the door in this way.  Rather, he continued to make a lot of noise urging Gregor on as if there were no obstacles.  Now the noise behind Gregor no longer seemed like the voice of his only father; now there was no longer any fun or amusement in any of this; and Gregor forced himself, come what may, into the door.  One side of his body came up and he was wedged deep in the opening of the door; one of his flanks had been rubbed raw and hideous spots remained on the white door, and soon he was stuck.  By himself he could no longer move anywhere: on one side his legs hung quivering in the air; on the other, his legs were pressed painfully to the floor.  Then from behind his father smacked him so hard that he came free and fled, bleeding heavily, back into his room.  Another blow hit the door, and then at last all was quiet.

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