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Monday
Sep302013

Ein Traum

A short story ("A Dream") by this German-language writer.  You can read the original here.

Joseph K. dreamed:

It was a fine day and K. wanted to go for a stroll.  Hardly had he taken a step or two, however, when he found himself at the cemetery.  Here the paths took very artificial and impractical turns, yet he glided over such a path as if it were water rippling below him in an imperturbable state of suspension.  Already in the distance he espied a freshly dug-up tumulus where he wished to stop.  This tumulus exerted a sort of attraction over him and he believed that he had not arrived there soon enough.  Sometimes he could barely see the tumulus: now it was cloaked in flags whose fabrics spun and struck each other with mighty force.  One could not make out the flag-bearer; yet it was as if great jubilation reigned there.  

Still gazing off into the distance, he suddenly caught sight of the same tumulus beside him by the path, now almost behind him.  He quickly jumped onto the grass.  As the path below his leaping foot raced on, he tottered and fell onto his knees right in front of the tumulus.  Two men were standing behind the grave, holding in the air between them a tombstone.  Hardly had K. appeared when they shoved the stone into the earth and it stood there firmly.  A third man, whom K. immediately recognized as an artist, suddenly stepped out from behind the bushes.  He was wearing only pants and a poorly buttoned shirt; on his head was a velvet cap; and in his hand was an ordinary pencil with which, K. noticed as he approached him, he was drawing figures in the air.    

He sat down now with this pencil atop the tombstone.  The stone was very high, so he didn't have to bend down at all, but he did have to bend over since the tumulus separated him from the stone and he did not wish to step on the tumulus.  Thus he got up on the tips of his toes and leaned with his left hand on the surface of the stone.  With a particularly deft manoeuvre he managed with an ordinary pencil to carve out gold letters.  He wrote: "Here lies –."  Each letter seemed beautiful and pure, deeply embedded, and of immaculate gold.  After he had written the two words he looked back at K.  Being very interested in the continuation of the inscription, K. barely concerned himself with the man and looked only at the stone.  Suddenly the man set to writing again and yet could not; some sort of impediment prevented him.  He let the pencil drop and turned back towards K.  

Now K. was also looking at the artist and noticed he was greatly embarrassed, but could not tell K. the reason why.  All his former liveliness had vanished.  K. too grew embarrassed; they exchanged helpless looks; a wicked misunderstanding stood between them, yet neither of them knew how to solve it.  In an untimely coincidence, the grave's small bell began to peal, but the artist waved his raised hand and it stopped.  After a short while it began again, gently this time, then without any particular prompting once more broke off, as if the bell were simply testing its own sound.         

K. was inconsolable about the artist's plight; he began to cry and for a long time he held his hands to his face, sobbing.  The artist waited until K. had calmed down and then decided that there was nothing more he could do but continue writing.  The first small cut he made released K. from his tension; but the artist obviously performed the cut with extreme reluctance.  No longer was the inscription beautiful – to begin with, it seemed to lack gold – each stroke was pale and uncertain.  The letter was now very big.  It was a J, and almost as soon as it was complete, the artist stomped so angrily upon the tumulus that all the soil around him flew into the air.  Finally K. understood him; there was no more time to apologize; he began digging with every finger into the soil, which hardly resisted.  Everything seemed ready; only a thin crust of earth was erected for appearance's sake; right behind that layer a large hole with precipitous walls opened up, and it was into this hole that K., flipped onto his back by some gentle current, now sank.  But when, down below, he raised his head upon his neck and took stock of the impenetrable depths, his name in boldest adornment splashed across the tombstone above.

Captivated by this sight, he woke up. 

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