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« Die Verwandlung (part 5) | Main | Die Verwandlung (part 3) »
Sunday
Dec072008

Die Verwandlung (part 4)

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

For the first fourteen days his parents could not bring themselves to go into his room.  He often heard how they fully acknowledged his sister's current tasks, whereas hitherto they had only been annoyed because she seemed to be a quite useless young girl.  Now, however, both his father and mother would wait in front of Gregor's room as the sister was cleaning up; and hardly had she left the room when she was obliged to relate how the room looked, what Gregor had eaten, how he had behaved this time around, and whether she had noticed any kind of improvement.  His mother, as it were, wanted to visit Gregor relatively soon, but his father and sister initially tried to persuade her that this was unreasonable.  Listening attentively, Gregor overheard all the reasons why they were hesitant and completely agreed.  Eventually force had to be used to hold his mother back, which was when she called out: "Let me go see Gregor!  After all, he's my wretched son!  Do both of you not understand that I have to see him?"  At this point Gregor thought it might be good were his mother to come in − not every day, of course, but perhaps once a week.  She understood everything much better than his sister who, despite her efforts, was still nothing more than a child who ultimately might have taken on such a difficult task out of childish giddiness. 

Gregor's wish to see his mother was soon granted.  During the daytime Gregor did not want to show himself at the window out of his consideration towards his parents.  That said, he could not crawl around the floor too much given the room's small dimensions; being still and quiet was particularly difficult at night; food did not give him the slightest pleasure or satisfaction; and so, he absentmindedly developed the habit of crawling all over the walls and ceiling.  He particularly liked hanging from the ceiling; it was completely different from sitting on the floor.  Here you could breathe more freely; here a faint vibration rushed through him; and in his almost happy state of absentmindedness up there, it was possible that he could surprise himself by letting go and crashing to the floor.  But now, of course, he had far greater control of his body than he had at the beginning and such a fall would no longer hurt him.  His sister immediately noticed his new pastime − traces of his natural adhesive were scattered wherever he crawled − and she got the idea into her head of facilitating Gregor's crawling as much as possible, including moving furniture such as the chest and desk that were in his way.  Yet she could not do all this alone; she didn't dare ask her father for help; the maid would certainly not have helped at all, since the sixteen-year-old had persevered bravely following the dismissal of the former cook and had asked as a favor that everyone keep the kitchen closed and open it only upon special request.  His sister had therefore no recourse but to fetch her mother one time when her father wasn't around.  With cries of joy his mother came up to the door but then fell quiet as she was about to enter the room.  Of course, first she looked at his sister to see whether everything in the room was alright, then his sister let her enter the room.  In great haste Gregor had deepened and put more folds in the sheet, and the whole thing now looked like a sheet thrown over a canopy.  This time Gregor refrained from spying from beneath the sheet; this time he did without seeing his mother and was just glad that she had come.  "Come in, you can't see him," said his sister and apparently took her mother by the hand.  What Gregor now heard were two weak women moving a rather heavy old chest and his sister bearing the brunt of the work without heeding any of her mother's warnings since her mother feared she would overwork herself.  It took quite a while.  After a good fifteen minutes his mother said that they should probably just leave the chest where it was.  In the first place, she said, it was too heavy and they would never be done barricading the middle of Gregor's room with the chest before Father got home.  In the second place, it was not at all clear that they were doing Gregor a favor by moving the furniture; the opposite, in fact, seemed to be true, and the sight of the empty wall aggrieved her heart.  And why wouldn't Gregor feel that way since he was long accustomed to the furniture and would feel desolate in an empty room?

"And isn't," his mother concluded gently, almost in a whisper so that Gregor, whose precise location she did not know, might not even hear her voice; that he couldn't understand her words she was still fully convinced.  "Isn't our removal of the furniture an indication that we've given up all hope of improvement and are thoughtlessly leaving him to his own devices?  I think it would be best to try to keep this room in exactly the state it was in before, so that when Gregor comes back to us he'll find everything unchanged and will be able to forget the intermediate time all the more quickly." 

Upon hearing these words from his mother Gregor realized that, in the last two months, the lack of direct human contact combined with the monotonous life at home with his family must have confounded his reason; his earnest desire to have his room emptied out could not be explained otherwise.  Did he really wish to let the warm confines of his cozily furnished room replete with heritage pieces be metamorphosized into a hollow in which he could crawl in every which direction undisturbed, and simultaneously endure the rapid and thorough obliteration of his human past?  Had he not been already quite close to forgetting it all, if jolted out of this oblivion by his mother's long since unheard voice?  Nothing then should be removed.  Everything should be kept as it was.  He could not do without the good effects the furniture had on his condition.  And if the furniture hindered his senseless crawling about, it was no loss but a rather substantial benefit.  But unfortunately his sister was of another opinion; she had grown accustomed, not unjustifiably, to representing Gregor's interests in any discussions with her parents, and her mother's advice was enough for her to insist on the removal of not only the chest and desk − the things she had first thought of − but also of all the furniture with the exception of the indispensable canopy.  This decision, of course, was nothing more than the product of childish defiance and recent, unexpected and hard-won self-confidence.  She had also actually observed that Gregor needed a lot of space to crawl about; of the furniture, on the other hand, he did not seem to have any use.  

Perhaps it was the enthusiasm typical of girls her age, enthusiasm that sought gratification at every opportunity, that tempted Grete to make Gregor's situation more terrifying so that she could do even more for him.  No one except Grete would ever have dared enter a room whose empty walls were ruled by Gregor alone.  And she did not let her mother dissuade her from her decision.  Even when her mother seemed unsure of the loud unrest in the room; even when her mother soon fell silent and helped her, as much as her strength allowed, to get the chest out of the way.  And hardly had the two women, moaning under the weight, left the room with the chest when Gregor stuck his head out from under the canopy to see how he could take action as carefully and considerately as possible.  But unfortunately it was his mother who came back first while Grete wrapped her arms around the chest and swung back and forth without, of course, moving it an inch.  Yet his mother was not accustomed to seeing Gregor, his sight could have made her ill, and so Gregor hurried back in fright to the other end of the canopy, but could no longer keep the sheet from moving forward a bit.  That was enough to make his mother notice.  She stumbled, stood still for a moment, then went back to Grete.

Despite Gregor's repeating to himself that nothing out of the ordinary was occurring, just some furniture being moved, he would soon have to admit that this to and fro by the women, their calls to each other, the furniture scratching the floor, oppressed him from all sides like some unfathomably loud commotion.  So Gregor drew in his head and legs, pushed his body on the floor, and inevitably had to tell himself that he would not be able to take much more of this.  They cleaned out his room; they took everything that meant something to him; they had already carried out the chest in which he kept his fretsaw and other tools; now they were unscrewing from deep in the floor the desk on which he as a trade school student, a secondary school student, and even a primary school pupil had done his homework.  He no longer had any time to verify the noble intentions of these two women whose existence he had almost forgotten as they were exhausted, working in silence, and one could only hear their heavy fumbling steps.

It was here that he emerged − the women were taking a breather in the other room, leaning on the desk − changed direction four times, not really knowing what he should save first.  On the already near-empty wall he caught sight of the picture of the woman regaled in furs, then quickly crawled up and pressed his face to the picture glass that held him securely and did his warm belly good.  This picture, at least, this one picture completely covered up by Gregor, no one would be able to take away.  He turned his head towards the living room door to watch for the women's return.

They had not given themselves much of a chance to rest and were coming right back.  Grete had her arm around her mother, almost carrying her.  "What should we take now?" said Grete and took a look around.  Then their gazes met on the wall at Gregor.  Trembling and imprudent, and maintaining her composure only because of her mother's presence, Grete bent her face towards her mother to keep her from casting her eyes about the room.  "Come now, why don't we go to the living room for a moment?"  For Gregor, Grete's intention was clear: she wanted to get her mother to safety and then get him down off the wall.  Well, she could always try!  He sat on his picture and would not give it up.  He would have preferred to jump onto Grete's face.

But Grete's words had already upset her mother substantially.  She stepped to the side, gazed upon the gigantic brown spot on the flowery wallpaper, and called out in a raw, shrill voice as if she had realized that what she was looking at was Gregor: "Oh God, oh God!"  Then she fell, her arms spread wide as if she were surrendering everything she had, onto the canopy and lay very still.  "You, Gregor!" screamed his sister, with her fist raised and a somewhat crazed expression.  These were the first words she had said directly to him since his metamorphosis. She ran into the adjacent room to fetch some essence with which she could revive her mother.  Gregor also wanted to help − there would still be time to save the picture.  So he followed her into the next room as if he wanted to give her some advice as he used to do, but he had to sit behind her idly as she rummaged through various flasks and bottles.  And she got a scare when she turned around; one flask fell to the ground and shattered, with a shard injuring Gregor in the face, and he was encircled by the fumes of some escharotic drug.  Meanwhile Grete gathered up as many bottles as she could and ran over to her mother, slamming the door shut with her foot. Gregor was now sealed off from his mother, his mother who because of him might be near death.  He was not permitted to open the door and did not want to harass his sister since she had to stay with their mother.  There was nothing left for him to do but wait.  And spurred on by concern and self-reproach, he began crawling over everything − walls, furniture, even the ceiling − and finally, in his despair, as the whole room seemed to spin around him, tumbled down onto the large table.

A short while passed and Gregor was still lying there, weary and motionless.  Around him all was still; perhaps this was a good sign.  Then someone rang the doorbell.  The maid was, of course, still locked in her kitchen and so Grete had to go get the door.  Their father had come.  "What happened?" were his first words; but Grete's appearance told him everything he needed to know.  Grete answered in a dull voice, apparently pressing her face in her father's chest: "Mother fainted, but she's doing better.  Gregor is loose."  "I expected that," said her father, "I always told you that, but you women never wanted to listen."

To Gregor it was clear that his father had badly misinterpreted Grete's all-too-brief report.  His father assumed that Gregor must have committed some act of violence.  Therefore Gregor now had to try to appease his father, since he had neither the time nor opportunity to explain matters in full.  And so he raced over to the door of his room and pushed himself against it so that his father could see immediately upon entering that Gregor had only the best intentions, the intention to return to his room and that it was not necessary to beat him back.  All one had to do was open the door and he would disappear.

But his father was not in the mood for such subtleties.  "Ah!" he screamed as he entered in a tone that seemed both furious and happy.  Gregor pulled his head back from the door and raised it towards his father.  He had never really imagined his father the way he stood before him now.  His father had missed his recent crawling about since he was seeing to matters in the rest of the apartment, and ought to have bargained on the eventuality that the situation would change.  And yet, and yet, was this really his father?  The same man who lay in bed dead tired when Gregor would come back from a business trip; the same man who would receive Gregor upon his return home in a nightgown, sitting in a recliner; the same man who was not even capable of getting up and could only demonstrate his happiness by waving his arms; the same man who, on those rare Sunday and holiday strolls together with Gregor and his mother (who walked, as it were, rather slowly to begin with), was always a little slower, wrapped up in his old coat, working his way forward with his carefully placed cane, and if he wanted to say something, then always stopping and assembling everyone around him?

But now his father looked dashing.  He was garbed in a well-cut blue uniform with gold buttons like bank employees tended to wear; above the coat's high starched collar you could see his strong double chin; under his bushy eyebrows his dark eyes had a fresh and darting gleam; his normally disheveled white hair had been combed back into an embarrassingly precise and shiny part.  He threw down his loose change on which a gold monogram, probably that of a bank, was incused, all over the room and onto the arch of the canopy.  With his hands in his pant pockets and his long coattails pushed back, he then went up to Gregor with a dogged look on his face.

His father's intention was not clear, perhaps not even to himself.  He kept lifting his feet unusually high off the ground and Gregor was stunned by the huge size of the soles of his boots.  But he did not linger in these movements, and already on the first day of his new life Gregor understood full well that his father believed that only austerity would be appropriate in dealing with Gregor.  So he ran in front of his father, stopping when his father stood still, and rushing on forwards whenever his father budged.  In this way they went around the room a few times without anything decisive occurring, and without the need for the whole affair, owing to its slow tempo, to resemble some kind of hunt.  For that reason Gregor remained temporarily on the floor, fearing in addition that his father would take a scamper to the walls or ceiling as a definite sign of evil.  In any case, Gregor had to admit he could not keep this up for too long, since he needed a plethora of movements for every one step of his father's.

Soon, his shortness of breath became more noticeable, just as in his younger years when his lungs would always betray him.  He could barely keep his eyes open as he lurched forward, trying to gather all his strength.  In this state of numbness he could think of no other method of saving himself than running; and he had almost forgotten that the walls were available, walls obstructed by carefully carved furniture full of jagged edges.  Then something flew down next to him, jerking and sliding somewhat, and rolled out in front of his eyes.  It was an apple.  A second one flew down at him and Gregor froze in fear.  Moving about any more was useless because his father had decided to bombard him.

His father had filled his pockets from the fruit bowl sitting on the credenza and was now throwing, without so much as aiming, apple after apple in Gregor's general direction.  These small red apples rolled as if electrified all around the floor, colliding into one another.  And one weakly tossed apple grazed Gregor's back then slid off harmlessly; an immediately subsequent apple, however, hit him squarely in the back.  Gregor wanted to keep moving as if movement would cause the surprising and unbelievable pain to fade, but he felt nailed down, his senses in complete disarray, and he stretched himself out flat.  His last look told him that the door to his room had been ripped open and his mother had rushed in followed by his screaming sister.  His mother was in a nightshirt since his sister had already undressed her to let her breathe more easily after her fainting spell.  Then he saw his mother run up to his father, her skirts sliding in her path to the floor one after another; he saw her stumbling over her skirts, forcing her way to his father and putting her arms around him, uniting with him completely and absolutely; then he saw − and here Gregor's vision failed him − her, her hands on the back of his father's head, begging him to spare Gregor's life.

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