Thursday, December 13, 2012

Kafka in the Bath

            In retrospect, I see there were signs that some sort of calamity was looming.
Something evil had invaded my sinuses. My head was throbbing. I felt out of sorts. Cumulonimbi hung over Queens. And, last night, according to NPR, a tornado struck a town south of Topeka, leaving one girl missing and ninety-four other residents dead.
            I was beginning to feel convinced that all of these events were related—that an inscrutable sky connected us all. I shut my eyes and I shuddered. Such a thought was almost too horrible to contemplate.
Of course, I might have seen it coming. I might have taken a few of those elementary precautions the Federal Government recommends. I might have duct-taped my windows. I might have taken a moment to caulk that fracture in the plaster under the sink. I might have signed up for extermination on the clipboard in the lobby. I might have been better prepared to receive such a guest.
And still, as I studied my visitor in the gray light as he slept—blind as a drunk movie star to the fragility of his existence—I wondered: Is a telegram really too much to ask?
Had a wire arrived from Prague in time, I would have done many things differently. I doubt that I would have attended graduate school, but I certainly would have taken an antihistamine before I went to bed. And I would have set my alarm for 6:30. And I would have brewed tea instead of coffee this morning—lapsang souchong, perhaps. Right now, I might be nibbling hamantaschen from my favorite Hungarian pastry shop, instead of telling a story.
I could see a million alternative futures radiating out from that absent delicacy: an apricot jelly horizon, where each sunbeam is made up of an infinity of crumbly moments, where each individual moment is more maddeningly delicious than the next.
If only he had called! We might have enjoyed a nice breakfast together and had a jolly good laugh.
He did not.
We did not.
Under the circumstances, I ask you: What else could I do?
I was tired. I had a headache. For a skull-splitting second, I shifted my eyes from the gigantic insect dozing in my tub toward my feet on the talcum-dusted bath mat.
With a sigh, I slid out of my right slipper. I lifted it above my head, carefully avoiding the shower curtain rod, while keeping one eye on Kafka.
            He would die in his sleep like my dreams.

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