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« Die Verwandlung (part 4) | Main | Die Verwandlung (part 2) »
Friday
Dec052008

Die Verwandlung (part 3)

Kafka's tale ("The Metamorphosis") continues.  You can read the original here.

Twilight had already fallen when Gregor awoke from a deep slumber, almost as if he had fainted.  Had he slept any later he would have woken up peacefully since he felt sufficiently rested, but it seemed that a quick step and a careful lock of the door leading to the antechamber had woken him up.  The electric street lamps cast a pale sheen here and there on the room's ceiling and on the upper part of the furniture, but below, near Gregor, all was dark.  Still groping around awkwardly with his feelers which he had just learned to appreciate, he slowly made his way to the door to see what had happened.  His left side boasted one long, unpleasantly painful scar, forcing him to limp on his two sets of legs.  One of his legs had been seriously injured during the morning's attacks − quite a miracle that this had happened to only one leg − and was being dragged lifelessly behind him.  Only when he reached the door did he see what had lured him over: it was the smell of something edible.  In front of him sat a bowl filled with sweet milk in which small pieces of white bread were floating.  He almost laughed out of joy since he was even hungrier than he had been that morning, and soon he was face deep in the bowl of milk.  But he withdrew just as quickly in disappointment, and not only because his sensitive left side gave him some difficulty eating (and he could only eat when his whole wheezing body worked as a unit).  He did not at all like the milk, otherwise his favorite drink and one obviously prepared for him by his sister, and turned away almost reluctantly from the bowl and crawled back to the middle of the room.

Through the door crack Gregor saw that the gas had been turned on in the living room.  But instead of the usual scene at this time − his father propounding in loud tones to his mother and sometimes even his sister details from the afternoon papers − now he heard no sound.  Perhaps they were getting unaccustomed to having these sessions about which his sister always spoke and wrote to him.   But all around it was so quiet and still although the apartment could not have been empty.  "What a quiet life my family leads," Gregor said to himself.  And staring into the surrounding darkness, he suddenly felt very proud that his parents and his sister had been able to make such a life for themselves in such a beautiful apartment.  What if all this tranquility, well-being, and contentment should now meet a horrific end?  So as not to lose himself to such thoughts, Gregor decided it was better to move about and began crawling up and down the room.

During the long evening, each of the side doors was opened just a crack one time and then quickly shut.  Someone must have wanted permission to come in but had too many reservations.  Having made up his mind to let in the hesitant visitor or at least find out who it was, Gregor now stopped right in front of the door to the living room.  But the door was not opened any more and Gregor just waited in vain.  Early on, when the doors had been locked, they had all wanted to come in.  Now that he had opened one door and the others had obviously been opened during the course of the day, no one came by any more and the keys sat in the outside part of the locks.     

Only much later at night did the light in the living room come on again.  His parents and sister had obviously been up this whole time since one could hear them moving away on their tiptoes.  It was clear that no one would come visit Gregor until the morning, so he had plenty of time to ponder undisturbed how he should reorder his life.  But this large room with high ceilings in which he had been forced to lie flat on his stomach scared him.  Without, it should be said, any good reason since he had lived in this room for five years now.  He made a half-conscious turn and not unshamefully scurried under the canopy, where despite the fact that his back was a little squeezed and he could not raise his head any more, he immediately felt very cozy.  His only regret was that his body was too wide to be covered entirely by the canopy.

There he stayed the whole night, some of which he spent half-asleep frightened by his recurring hunger, some of which was devoted to worries and unclear hopes.  Hopes which led him to conclude, however, that for the time being he ought to be good and use patience and supreme tact to mollify the unpleasantries which, like it or not, he had caused his family. 

Early the next morning, it was almost still night, Gregor had the opportunity to put his new resolutions into practice.  From the direction of the antechamber the door opened and his sister, almost completely dressed, peered in with some eagerness.  She didn't find him right away; but when she finally noticed him under the canopy − God, he had to be somewhere, he couldn't have gotten loose and fled, could he? − she had such a fright that without being able to control herself, she slammed the door shut from the outside.  Apparently regretting her behavior, she immediately opened the door again and entered on her tiptoes as if visiting a stranger or someone seriously ill.  Gregor had pushed his head forward to the edge of the canopy and looked at her.  Would she notice that he hadn't touched the milk, and not from any lack of hunger, and would she bring him some other food that that was more to his taste?  If she didn't, he would prefer to starve than have her notice although he truly had the urge to throw off the canopy, throw himself at his sister's feet and beg her for something good to eat.  But the sister noticed the still-full bowl, with a bit of milk spilled around it, and was immediately hurt.  She picked the bowl up not with her bare hands but with some rags and carried it out.  Gregor was extremely curious to know what she would bring him instead and plagued himself with the widest variety of thoughts about the matter.   Yet he would never have guessed what the sister, out of the goodness of her own heart, actually ended up doing.  She brought him an entire selection of items spread out on an old newspaper.  There were some half-rotten vegetables; bones from supper covered in a solid white sauce; some raisins and almonds; cheese that Gregor had deemed inedible a couple of days before; dry bread, buttered bread, and salted bread.  Moreover, next to all these delicacies she placed the bowl that was probably to be Gregor's forever and which she had filled with water.  And out of tenderness, because she knew that Gregor would not eat in front of her, she removed herself as quickly as she could and even turned the key so that Gregor could make himself as comfortable as he wanted.  Gregor's legs buzzed as it came time to eat.  His wounds must have completely healed in the meantime; he no longer felt any kind of hindrance, was rather stunned by all this and thought about how, about a month before, he had nicked his finger with a knife and how the day before yesterday this wound still had still hurt him. 

"Should I somehow be less sensitive now?" he thought, and greedily sucked on the cheese to which he had been more emphatically and immediately drawn than to any of the other foods.  One after another, with great speed and almost tear-filled eyes, he consumed the cheese, vegetables and sauce; the fresh foods, on the other hand, he did not like, not even being able to tolerate their smell, and he separated the foods he wanted by pulling them a short distance away from the rest.  He was long since done and lying lazily in that same spot when his sister began turning the key slowly as a sign that he should step back.  That scared him although he was almost asleep and he raced back under the canopy.  But it cost him a great deal of self-control, as well as the short time the sister was in the room, to stay underneath the canopy since his stomach had gotten a bit round from the hearty meal and it was so tight under there he could hardly breathe.  Choking slightly and with his eyes protruding, he saw how his unsuspecting sister swept up with a broom not only the remains of what Gregor had eaten, but also what he hadn't touched as if it had no further use, shook it all together in a pail, covered it with a wooden lid and took everything out the room.  Hardly had she turned around when Gregor scooted out from under the canopy and stretched and inflated himself.    

This was how Gregor got his food every day, once in the morning while his parents and the maid were still sleeping, and a second time after lunch since his parents tended to nap after lunch, and the maid was sent away on some errand by his sister.  They certainly did not wish for Gregor to starve; yet perhaps they could not have endured knowing about his food other than by word of mouth; perhaps his sister just wanted to spare them a small amount of mourning since they were clearly suffering enough as it was.

Gregor would never know what excuses were used that first morning to get rid of the doctor and locksmith.  Owing to the fact that Gregor was not intelligible, no one suspected, not even his sister, that Gregor could understand the others.  And so whenever she was in his room, he had to content himself with listening to her sighs and calls to the Holy Fathers.  Only later − once he had grown more accustomed to everything, getting completely accustomed to everything was out of the question − Gregor would sometimes hear a remark that was meant as friendly or at least could be taken that way.  "Today he liked the food," she said whenever Gregor cleaned his plate; whereas whenever the opposite occurred she would repeat, almost sadly, "he didn't touch anything again."

Although Gregor never found out any information directly, he heard many things from the adjacent rooms, and whenever he heard voices he immediately ran over to the corresponding door and pushed his whole body up to it.  Especially initially there were no conversations, even secretly, that were not somehow about Gregor.  For two days at every meal the family talked about what to do; but the same subject was also discussed between meals since there were always at least two family members at home and no one, of course, wanted to stay at home alone or completely abandon the apartment.  That first day even the maid − it was not completely clear what and how much she knew about what had happened − had beseeched his mother to fire her on the spot.  And a quarter of an hour later when she left in tears, she was thankful for her dismissal as the greatest act of kindness that anyone had ever done for her and swore, without being asked, never to tell anyone the slightest thing about what had happened.

Now his sister and mother also had to do the cooking together; in any case, it was not too laborious since practically no one ate anything.  Time and again Gregor heard one of them inviting another to eat, but in vain, as there was no response apart from "Thanks, I've had enough," or something of the kind.  Often his sister would ask his father whether he wanted a beer, and volunteer sincerely to get it herself.  When his father would say nothing, she would say to allay his doubts that she could also send the concierge, and he would finally utter a big "no" and no one would bring up the subject any more.      

Already in the course of that first day his father went over the state of the family finances and their prospects with both his mother and sister.  Now and then he would get up from the table and fetch a receipt or notebook from the small Wertheim cash box which he had saved after the collapse of his business five years ago.  You could hear how the complicated lock was opened and then closed again once the desired item was removed.  These declarations by his father composed the first happy news that Gregor had heard since his captivity began.  He was convinced that his father did not have the slightest amount left from that business − at least, his father had never said anything to convince him otherwise − and Gregor had never asked him about it.  Gregor's only concern at that time was to do everything in his power to make the family forget as quickly as possible about this business disaster which had brought hopelessness upon them.  And so he had begun to work at that time with particular ardor and went from being a small commission salesman to a traveler practically overnight.  A traveler whose earning potential was, of course, far different from that of a salesman and whose work success immediately metamorphosized into cash payments which could be brought home and laid on the table before an amazed and delighted family.  These had been fine and happy times − and they had never returned, at least not to that degree, despite the fact that Gregor would later earn so much money that he could and did cover all the expenses of the entire family.  Everyone had gotten used to it, both the family and Gregor, and he was all too happy to deliver the money which was accepted with gratitude, but any kind of special warmth was no longer there.  Only his sister had remained close with Gregor, and he had forged a secret plan to send her to conservatory next year − regardless of the costs that such study would require, and which would be secured by some other means − because she, in contrast to Gregor, loved music and had some mastery of the violin.  Often during his brief visits to the city, she would mention the conservatory to him, but only as a beautiful dream in whose fruition one could not really believe.  His parents did not even like hearing these innocent discussions.  But Gregor thought very decisively about the matter and intended to make a ceremonious declaration on Christmas Eve.

Such thoughts, so useless in his current state, went through his head as he stayed glued to the door listening.  Sometimes, out of general fatigue, he simply could not listen any more and let his head drop carelessly against the door, then immediately raised it again since even the slight noise that this caused was heard next door and made everyone fall completely silent.  "What is he doing now," said his father after a while, likely facing the door, and then the interrupted conversation resumed.

Gregor now got his fill of his father's declarations − since his father tended to repeat himself quite often, partially because he himself had not dealt with these matters in a long time and partially because his mother did not understand everything the first time around − that despite the financial disaster a very small fortune had remained, which had increased recently owing to the untouched interest earned.  Moreover, there was the money that Gregor brought home every month − he had kept only a few guilders for himself − which had not been fully procured and had accumulated a small amount of capital.  Behind his door Gregor nodded eagerly, happy about this unexpected carefulness and frugality.  As it were, he could have used this extra money to chip away at his father's debt to the boss, and he would be a day closer to being able to quit his job.  But now things were undoubtedly better the way his father had set them up.

Now this money was in no way enough for the family to live off the interest; it might have been enough to keep the family for one, maybe two years at the most, but not any longer than that.  Thus it was an amount that one should not touch, to be kept in the event of an emergency.  But the money for daily living needed to be earned.  His father was an older but healthy man who had not worked in five years and in any case could not be expected to do too much.  In those five years, his first vacation in his stress-filled and yet unsuccessful life, he had put on quite a bit of weight and was now rather lumbering.  And should his old mother now be asked to earn some money, his old mother who suffered from asthma, for whom sauntering through the apartment required great effort, and who spent every other day on the sofa next to an open window because she was short of breath?  And should his sister be asked to be the breadwinner, his sister who was still just a child at seventeen, whose life hitherto one could not begrudge her, a life of dressing well, sleeping long, helping out with household tasks, a few indulgences here and there, and, most of all, playing the violin?  And whenever they spoke of the need to make money, Gregor always left the door and threw himself onto the cool leather sofa near the door because he was burning with grief and shame.          

He often lay there the whole night through, not sleeping a wink and only staring for hours at the leather.  Or he spared no effort to push an armchair towards the window, crawl up the wall breastwork and, solidly in the seat, lean against the window lost in some memory of how pleasant it used to be for him to look out the window.  Indeed, from day to day he saw things in close proximity less and less clearly: the hospital across the street whose ineluctable presence he had cursed now fell outside his range of vision.  And if he had not known for a fact that he lived in the quiet but completely urban Charlottenstraße, he might have thought that he was looking out his window into a desert in which the grey sky and grey earth were indistinguishable.  Only twice did his attentive sister see the armchair standing at the window as she moved the armchair back from the window after she had cleaned up the room, and even left the inner window sash open.

If Gregor could have only spoken with his sister and thanked her for everything that she had to do for him then he would have taken her services much better; but as it were, they made him suffer.  His sister was obviously trying to cover up the embarrassment of the whole matter as much as she could, and the longer it went on the better, of course, she got at it − but Gregor was able to see things much more clearly.  Her entrance was already for him a source of horror.  Hardly would she come in the door when she would go back and make sure the door was shut, so desperately did she want to spare the others a look into Gregor's room.  She would then go up to the window, rip it open as if stifled or choking, and stay there a while breathing deeply if it wasn't too cold.  These sounds and movements scared Gregor twice a day.  And the whole time she was there he shivered under the canopy and knew full well that she would have certainly spared him all this if she had only been able to stay in that room, Gregor's room, with the window closed.  

Once, about a month after Gregor's metamorphosis had taken place, with there no longer being any particular reason for his sister to be shocked by his appearance, she came in a bit earlier than usual and caught Gregor, unmoving and so frightening, looking out the window.  It would not have surprised Gregor had she not come in since his positioning prevented her from opening the window right away.  But not only did she come in, she went right back out and closed the door.  A stranger would have immediately thought that Gregor had waylaid her and wanted to bite her.  Gregor, of course, did not hesitate to scurry beneath the canopy, but he had to wait until noon for his sister to come back, and she seemed less at ease than usual.  He understood that his appearance was now even more unbearable, that it would continue to be something she could not endure, and that she would have to exert a great deal of self-control not to run away at the sight of even the smallest part of his body protruding from beneath the canopy.  In order to spare her even this view, one day he put the sheet from the canopy on his back − a task that took him four hours − and organized it in such a way that he was now completely covered, and his sister could not see him even when she bent over.  Had she not thought this sheet necessary she could of course have removed it, since closing himself off like that could not have been to Gregor's enjoyment.  Yet it was quite clear that she left things as they were.  And once, when he cautiously aired the sheet a bit with his head so as to see how his sister liked this new setup, Gregor even thought he perceived a thankful look.

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