The Suffering of Being Kafka


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A second volume of short stories and poetry translated from the Hebrew.

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The Suffering of Being Kafka 2nd EDITION Sam Vaknin Editing and Design: Lidija Rangelovska Lidija Rangelovska A Narcissus Publications Imprint Skopje 2011 Not for Sale! Non-commercial edition.


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© 2004, 2011 Copyright Lidija Rangelovska All rights reserved. This book, or any part thereof, may not be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission from: Lidija Rangelovska – write to: Short Fiction in English and Hebrew Poetry of Healing and Abuse Anatomy of a Mental Illness Download free anthologies here: Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited Created by: Lidija Rangelovska, Skopje REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA


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CONTENTS Short Fiction A Beheaded Cart Language of Black and Red On the Bus to Town The Butterflies are Laughing The Con Man Cometh Janusz Courts Dinah My Affair with Jesus The Last Days The Future of Madeleine The Out Kid Pierre's Friends Death of the Poet Redemption Shalev is Silent Pet Snail and Ned’s Short Life Write Me a Letter Harmony Blind Date Nothing is Happening at Home Poetry of Healing and Abuse Our Love Alivid Moi Aussi Cutting to Existence A Hundred Children


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The Old Gods Wander In the Concentration Camp Called Home The Miracle of the Kisses Fearful Love My Putrid Lover When You Wake the Morning Narcissism Prague at Dusk In Moist Propinquity Prowling Getting Old Sally Ann Selfdream Snowflake Haiku Twinkle Star Synthetic Joy Tableaux (van Gogh) Hebrew Love Her Birthday The Author


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The Suffering of Being Kafka Short Fiction


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A Beheaded Cart by Sam Vaknin Read the Hebrew original. (In Hebrew, the word "Agala" means both cart and the feminine form of calf. A beheaded calf is among the sacrificial offerings enumerated in the Bible). My grandfather, cradling an infant's crib, departed. Navigating left and right, far along the pavement, he reached a concrete, round, post. There he rested, sheltered from the humid sun by peeling posters for lachrymose Turkish films. He pushed the crib outside the penumbral circle and waited. Curious folks besieged the old man and his orphaned frame and then proceeded to buy from him the salted seeds and sweets that he lay, meticulously organised, inside the crib. My grandfather smiled at them through sea-blue eyes, as he wrapped the purchased sweetmeats in rustling brown paper bags. My embarrassed uncles built for him a creaking wooden cart from remaindered construction materials. They painted it green and mounted it on large, thin-tyred, wheels borrowed from an ancient pram. They attached to it a partitioned table-top confiscated from the greengrocer down the lane. Every morning, forehead wrinkled, my grandfather would fill the wooden compartments with various snacks and trinkets, at pains to separate them neatly. Black sunflower seeds, white pumpkin seeds, the salted and the sweet, tiny plastic toys bursting with candies, whistles, and rattles. Still, he never gave up his crib, installing it on top of his squeaking vehicle, and filling it to its tattered brim with a rainbow of offerings. At night, he stowed it under the cart, locking it behind its two crumbling doors, among the unsold merchandise. With sunrise, my grandfather would exit the house and head towards the miniature plot of garden adjoining it. He would cross the patch, stepping carefully on a pebbled path in its midst. Then, sighing but never stooping, he would drive his green trolley – a tall


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and stout and handsome man, fair-skinned and sapphire-eyed. "A movie star" – they gasped behind his back. Day in and day out, he impelled his rickety pushcart to its concrete post, there dispensing to the children with a smile, a permanence till dusk. With sunset, he gathered his few goods, bolted the fledgling flaps, and pushed back home, a few steps away. When he grew old, he added to his burden a stool with an attached umbrella, to shield him from the elements, and a greenish nylon sheet to protect his wares. He became a fixture in this town of my birth. His lime cart turned into a meeting spot – "by Pardo", they would say, secure in the knowledge that he would always be there, erect and gracious. Like two forces of nature, my grandpa and the concrete post – older than the fading movie posters – watched the town transformed, roads asphalted, children turn adults, bringing their off-spring to buy from him a stick of bitter black chewing gum. Lone by his cart, he bid the dead farewell and greeted the newborn, himself aging and bending. Creases sprouted in his face, around his dimming sights, and in his white and delicate hands. My grandfather had one love: my grandmother. A ravishing, proud, raven-haired woman. A framed retouched photo of her hung, imposing, on one of the walls. In it she stood, defiant, leaning on a carved pillar in a faraway place. This is how he must have seen her at first: a mysterious, sad-eyed disparity between dark and fair. Thus he fell in love and made her his only world. This woman sat by his side, adjacent to his azure pushcart, day in and day out. She said nothing and he remained mute. They just stared with vacuous eyes, perhaps away, perhaps inside, perhaps back, to previous abodes in bustling cities. At first, she seemed to like being his sidekick, confidently doling confectionery to toddlers, whose mothers remained forever infants in her memory. Intermittently, she laid a shrivelled hand on his venous knee, leaving it there for a split, fluttering, second, conveying warmth and withdrawing as unobtrusively. It was enough to restore him to his full stature. But then, the municipal workers came and pasted funereal announcements onto his concrete pole and the magic was all but gone. My grandma withered, dilapidated by this onerous existence. Eveningtime, she would get up and carry her stool afore, clenched in two twiggy hands, tediously dragging her reluctant self on the long march home. My grandfather observed her, his eyes a moist, eroding guilt. His disintegrating pushcart, the rain-drenched figure of his loved one, the whizzing torment of the desert winds, the


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sound of the crackling paper bags in her arthritic palms – they all conspired to deny him his erstwhile memory of her. Each morning, my grandfather woke up to study this ageless image as he glided over her translucent skin, high-arching cheeks, and sleep-fluttery eyelashes. He fended off the intrusions of the world as he smoothed the covers and tucked her figure in. Then, he would get up and make her breakfast, arranging ceremoniously her medicines in multicoloured plastic containers on the tray. But my grandma rejected his sunup pleas. She wouldn't go on living. One silent morning, she clung to her sheets and wouldn't rise and accompany him. That day, grey and defeated, my grandpa ploughed the pavement with his barrow, unfolded a worn deck chair, and sank in, awaiting my grandmother's reappearance. When she did not materialise, he left his post much earlier than usual. He emptied the compartments duteously, packed the unsold goods in large canvas sacks, tidying them away behind the two bottom doors of his cart. He then unfurled a polyester sheet above it and sailed home, shoving and cajoling his screeching and scraping workstation. My grandma was in bed, as he had left her, ensconced in blankets, a suicidal tortoise, glaring at the ceiling as it bled in aqueous abstracts. My grandfather parked his rusting, faded, wagon and climbed home. His wife awoke with startled whimpers, tears streaming silently down her creviced face, tearing his heart with the iron grip of festering love. He hugged her and showered her with panicky little kisses. She froze and fortified her berth with pillows piled high, staring at him through narrow cracks of oozing sanity. One day, my grandpa, returning in the evening, left his cart outside, uncharacteristically. He entered and, for a few minutes, he and my grandmother just watched each other wearily. He extended a calloused hand and she dreamily stood up and escorted him to their porch, which overlooked the weed-grown garden. My grandfather draped her shoulders with a knitted woollen shawl. He tightened it, and then, her shivering hand in his, he sat his love among some cushions he prepared. She glanced aimlessly at a guava tree that shot among the trail of gravelled stones. My grandfather contemplated her awhile and then, with sudden resoluteness, left. Seconds later he reappeared among the shrubs, saluted her with a sledgehammer he held tenuously with both hands. She strained her face, attentive, consuming his image, like a flower would the sun, or the blind do the sounds.


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Gasping and panting, my grandpa heaved the pushcart to the centre of the plot. With repeated, furious, blows, he dislocated its wheels and doors. Reduced to splintered wood and twisted metal, he cocooned it in the nylon throw and left it, devastated by the trees. Sitting beside, they watched the setting sun diffracted from the green-hued sculpture in the garden. A smile budded in my grandma's honeyed eyes and spread into my grandfather's deep blue gaze. The cart stood there for years, disintegrating inexorably beneath its blackening shield. Its wheels, now rooted in the soil, it sank into the mildewed ground, another, peculiarly shaped sapling. My grandpa never adjusted the synthetic sheet that swathed it, nor did he dig out the burgeoning wheels. My grandpa was visiting a pharmacy, replenishing her medications, when my grandma died. With the dignity of the indigent, he never bargained, never raised his voice. Packed in small, white, paper bags, he rushed the doses to his wife, limping and winded. This time the house was shuttered doors and windows. My grandma wouldn't respond to his increasingly desperate entreaties. He flung himself against the entrance and found her sprawled on the floor, her bloodied mouth ajar. As she fell, she must have hit her head against the corner of a table. She was baking my grandfather his favourite pastries. Her eyes were shut. My grandpa knew she died. He placed her remedies on the floured and oiled table and changed into his best attire. Kneeling beside her, he gently wiped clean my grandma's hands and mouth and head and clothed her in her outdoors coat. His business done, he lay besides her and, hugging her frail remains, he shut his eyes. My uncles and aunts found them, lying like that, embraced. My grandparents' tiny home was government property and was reclaimed. The sanitary engineers, revolted, removed from the garden the worm-infested, rotting relic and the putrid sheet concealing it. The next day, it was hauled by sturdy garbage collectors into a truck and, with assorted other junk, incinerated. Return


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Language of Black and Red by Sam Vaknin Eli and I sit on ladder-backs next to a luxurious roulette in a casino in Spain. I can almost pick glitters from the heavy, lowered chandeliers. I can practically touch the shiny wooden wheel. I can see the croupier's manicured nails. Lithe young bellhops, clad in ornamental uniforms, place trays on gypsum pillars next to our chairs. We fervently gulp the champagne from the tall, prismatic glasses and nibble at the tiny sandwiches. We are that lucky that we dare not leave the table, not even to relieve ourselves. Piles of shiny square chips represent our exceptional streak of winnings. The table supervisor looks very anxious. He shifts restlessly on his elevated seat, hawk-eyeing everyone malevolently. Sure enough, he doesn't like us. He clears all other players, letting us bet in splendid isolation, facing each other. Eli's upper lip and temples glisten. My armpits ooze the acrid smell of manly perspiration. Easy to tell we are tense or apprehensive or both. We evade each other's gaze. Our hands are shaking and the boys keep pumping us with increasingly inebriating drinks. They want us under the influence. They want us to cough up everything we have and then some. We want to win. We want the casino broke. Our differences are profoundly irreconcilable. Eli is a quarter of a tough century my senior. His life-swept face is haggard, straggly and raven eyebrows, lips cruel and eyes chillingly penetrating. He finds his sense of humour irresistible. It often is. My baby face is framed by the plastic quadrangles of my glasses. I broadcast innocence and guile. The reactions I provoke are mixed. Some sense my vulnerability and hasten to protect me. Others find my haughty slyness loathsome. I guess I conjure my defencelessness to con my victims. It may prove unhealthy to lose our sponsors' money. These people are charm itself and sheer delight – until you breach their pockets. They tend to lose their fabled equanimity. They regard


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business losses as hostile acts and the perpetrators as lethal enemies. So, they strike first, giving you no chance to err, to apologise, to scrutinise. We are piling on not be piled in. The dough is multiplying. What if we lose? Eli says he has this thing going for him tonight, a wild card, from nature, and he does not dream to stop even though we reek of the casino's funds, even though two Spanish beauties resolutely scramble over him and heavies in bursting suits forage around obtrusively. Eli's protruding eyes fixated on the wheel, mesmerically attempting to bring it to a favoured halt. It smoothly winds down and Eli ignores my furious pestering: our underwriters invested to test and implement a betting method I developed. "I am offended" – I whisper, he ignores me. A febrile Eli has bonded with the table and every number wins, especially his choices. "Twenty eight!" – he hisses, sidestepping the croupier to fetch his gains. He sprawls on the green felt surface and lovingly enfolds the clacking tokens. Reclining, eyes shut agloat, he savours his unaccustomed fortune. For he deserves a break. To Eli, this is not a game or, as I regard it, merely another path to self-enrichment. To him, it is a sweet revenge for all the years he wasted, vending decaying fruits, along dusty and sizzling highways. This loot proves his detractors wrong. It loudly states, in black and red: I am here, not to be snubbed. "Let's play some baccarat" – he sneers – "I am tired of this game." We stretch our limbs and Eli surveys the killing fields we leave behind. He tremulously stacks the chips on one another, by size and then by colour. We carry them with trepidation all the way to the cashier and convert them to pesetas. Eli halves the tottering mound. He entreats me to deposit one of the two resulting heaps in the strongbox in our room. He pleadingly commands me: "No matter how much I beg and threaten, order or cajole – do not be tempted to obey me. Do not bring down this money." I eagerly acquiesce. "And now" – he rubs his hands – "Let's fry this fish in its own fat. Let's use some of the profits to dine in the casino's restaurant. Do you know that eateries in gambling dens are the best in the world?" I don't. It is my first trip away from Israel. But he is right, the food is mouth-watering. A gypsy band of violins plays in the background.


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Now, cleaned out gamblers alight by our burdened table and pat Eli's upright back. They greet him eagerly, as though, through him, they humble the much unloved establishment. They questioningly glance at me, a cold appraising look. They recount how they turned pros and swap the numbers of their rooms in the hotel above the gaming halls. They sound content but look harassed and wiry. Involuntary ticks ravage their hands and faces. They all sport golden rings, red necks enchained with chokers. Their eyes dart restively. They sound as though they are listening and nod their heads in places, right and wrong – but they are distant. Minute or two of pleasantries and off they go to haunt another patron. The dinner over, Eli fires up a black cigar and sighs. He casts an ominous stare at me for daring to suggest we call it a day. "Don't be a jinx!" – he rasps – "You don't retire on a night like this with Lady Luck herself in partnership. These are the kind of early hours that casinos fear, I tell you" – and he goes on to rattle off the names of acquaintances turned millionaires. The next day they reverted, he ruefully admits. "Too greedy" – is his verdict – "Didn't know when to stand up." Now that we've won, can we try out my method? He snorts. "It puts me to sleep, your martingale" – he grunts – "Its slowness drives me to distraction. I came here to enjoy myself, not just to profit. If you insist, here is some cash. Go, play your darned system. Just do me a favour, stray to another table." Eli, returning to our first roulette, is greeted with regal pomp. I wander to a further board with lower minimum wagers. I squash my way into a raucous mob. They screech and squeal with every spin. I place some of my meager funds on red. Despite the tiny sum and nearly equal chances – I waver nauseous and scared. Until the ball reposes and the croupier announces black. Twenty eight. I lost. Another dose on red, just slightly larger. Another anxious wait while the croupier employs a silver rake to place the bets. I sneak a peek at Eli's table. It's hard to tell his state. His body tilts in zealous inclination, his shaded eyes impale the imperturbable dealer, his twitchy hands engulf the cards doled out from the "shoe". It's "21" or Blackjack, a pretty basic card game. On certain rounds, Eli presents his palm, two of its fingers pointing at the "shoe". The dealer acknowledges him discreetly and draws the cards. He lays them gingerly in front of Eli who,


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exultant, gathers his winnings and tips the grateful worker. I can relax. My tiny gains accumulate. The hours pass, the tables empty, it's only I and the croupier. My capital is nearly doubled. Eli, his countenance spent, keeps gambling. His bobbing head recoils as he awakes from interrupted slumber. It's just the two of us against the weary staff. As autumn night is pierced by moonlight, the practiced smiles are lifted, wiped is the feigned civility of all involved. Players and house alike frantically observe each card, each turn of the wheel, the rested ball, the flickering digits of the stressed croupier. We shut our bloodshot eyes between one twirl and another, in intervals when cards aren't dealt and profits aren't paid. Fatigue-glued to my chair I find it hard to stoop and place the wagers on the fluctuating squares of the roulette board. Eli wobbles towards me, his loosened tie dangling on his much-stained shirt. He undoes the upper buttons and slumps onto a lounger. The presence of his silence compels me to skip the coming spin. I half turn towards him, rubbing my eyes with sticky hand. We stare at the tarnished carpet until he mutters: "I am left with nothing." And then: "Go get the money from the safe." But then he had instructed me to ignore such orders. Using my method, I have doubled our funds and more while Eli lost all our money overnight. I feel wrath-struck. I want to grab him by his tainted collar and shake him till it hurts. Instead, I rise, my legs a wobbly and oedematous mass. I stumble hesitantly until the pains subside and I can properly walk, toes hard on heels, to the elevator bank. When I am back, Eli is slouched, position same, and snores. I could refrain from rousing him, say that I fell asleep in our room, that I lost the key to the safety deposit box, that I stirred him up but he wouldn't budge, I could come up with anything I damn well please, now that he is sound asleep – he will thank me for it, he will want to believe me. It is our last chance. I regard the rustling plastic bag. I feel the greenish notes inside. Then I jiggle Eli's shoulder. He comes to in panic, surveying the alien landscape. Then, mechanically, he snatches our neatly packed reserve and falters towards his table. I bide the time to his return, eyes glazed, lips forced into a tortuous smile. "It's over" – he mumbles – "let's get out of here."


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I collect my winnings from the board and proudly display them. He snickers: "Less than my losses in every minute of this cursed evening." But that is all we have. We pack our meager belongings and sneak through the back door to the taxi at the head of a nocturnal queue. Eli sprawls across the upholstered back seat for a quick shut-eye. I give the driver the name of our hotel at the heart of Madrid and he embarks on the twisting byways of the mountain slope. Midway, Eli stops the cab and throws up through the semi lowered pane. The irate cabby refuses to proceed. He points to an antiquated manual meter and demands his fee. I pay him and with emphatic whoosh he vanishes behind a gloomy curve. Eli and I, left crouching on a foreign hillside, far from any settlement, the night a velvet murk. Eli ascends the road, takes me in tow, two Chaplinesque figures in bargain-basement suits and fluttering cravats. The hours pass and we are no closer to our destination. A rising sun daubs us with pink and wine. Eli turns to me and vows: "From now on we play only with your system, Shmuel, I swear to you, only your martingale." I don't respond. I distrust Eli's ability to keep his promises. This pledge came unsolicited and useless. Eli drags his feet laboriously, wipes tears from reddened eyes and moans: "Only your way, I guarantee, never again just gambling wildly. We wager on your brain and win, we win a lot, I'm talking millions. We won't know what to do with it, I'm telling you. After all, how many steaks can one consume? With mushrooming gains, we will occupy the best hotels and bang the greatest stunners, and wear the chicest clothes…" There is such yearning in his voice. I embrace him warmly and I say: "Sure thing, Eli, it's bound to happen. You and I, and screw the world. What you have just described is only the beginning. Just stick to my gambling system and it will turn out fine. Casinos everywhere will fear us like the plague…" "The plague" – Eli reiterates and we stand, cuddled, two silhouettes carved against the inexorably rising day. Return


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On the Bus to Town by Sam Vaknin Read the Hebrew original. I must catch the city-bound bus. I have to change at the Central Station and travel a short distance, just a few more minutes, to jail. The prison walls, to the left, will shimmer muddy yellow, barbwire fence enclosing empty watchtowers, the drizzle-induced swamp a collage of virile footsteps. I am afraid to cross its ambiguous solidity, the shallow-looking depths. After that I have to purge my tattered sneakers with branches and stones wrenched out of the mucky soil around our barracks. But there is still way to go. I mount the bus and sit near a dishevelled, unshaven man. His abraded pair of horn-rimmed glasses is adjoined to his prominent nose with a brown adhesive. He reeks of stale sweat and keeps pondering the clouded surface of his crumbling watch. His pinkie sports a rectangular, engraved ring of golden imitation. The bus exudes the steamy vapours of a mobile rain forest. People cram into the passages, dragging nylon-roped shopping bags, shrieking children, and their own perspiring carcasses, their armpits and groins stark dark discolorations. All spots are taken. Their occupants press claret noses onto the grimy windows and rhythmically wipe the condensation. They explicitly ignore the crowd and the censuring, expectant stares of older passengers. As the interminable road unwinds, they restlessly realign their bodies, attuned to seats and neighbours. Our driver deftly skirts the terminal's piers and ramps. Between two rows of houses shrouded in grimy washing, he hastens towards the freeway. He turns the radio volume up and speakers inundate us with tunes from the Levant. Some travellers squirm but no one asks to turn it down. It is the hourly news edition soon. Thoughts wander, gaze introspectively inverted, necks stretch to glimpse the passing views. The broadcast screeches to a sickening but familiar halt. Faint cries, the Doppler wail of sirens, air surgically hacked by chopper



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