serialized excerpt 3 of 5 from Lance Olsenís Anxious Pleasures :
an unwriting of Kafkaís Metamorphosis that will be published spring 2007 by Shoemaker & Hoard.
Heís trying to make fools of us all, The Father thinks, fist falling a final time against the white swing door. I simply wonít have it. Not in my house.
For the past five years The Father has loved nothing more than rising gradually into each morning, letting the bright presence of the day incrementally tint his consciousness. The shrill scent of coffee and oranges. Two greasy links of sausage. He has loved nothing more than taking his own good time over his toilet, lathering in the mirror above the washbasin, shaving with precision, and, at length, strolling out to the living room to linger with his wife and daughter over a delicious breakfast.
The morning glides by, punt down a river, and, before you know it, you are occupying afternoon light. What is the passage of minutes for, half a decade into retirement, if not to relish the world like this? Youth burns itself up believing thereís no end to time, but blind boys shouldnít judge colors.
At this age, here, The Father has come to understand that the ticking of his pocket watch is all about enjoying his pocket watchís ticking. He has done his bit. No one can quarrel with him on that score. The Father has jolly well earned the right to dally over the newspaper, catch up on the latest about the war, see what developments occurred while his swath of the planet lay shawled.
It is easy to be brave from a safe distance, but The Father was there. He has seen things. How at night, as he lay in his cot in the stinking muddy trench in Burma, he could sometimes hear the pop Ö pop Ö pop coming across the no-manís land from the village captured earlier that day as the bastards lined up the children against bamboo walls and shot them in the feet so they couldnít grow up to be soldiers.
The puppy yaps as the bullets broke bone.
The Father has done his bit, and more. And what, precisely, do he and his country have to show for it? It is not by any means simple to say. Back when theories seemed to matter, some maintained the enemy had committed itself to destroying our language and thereby our thought, others that it wanted nothing more than to enter our dreams because, until then, we had never dreamed about them, although they had dreamed about us almost every night.
The Father saw things, although what specifically those things were he cannot be at all certain. Read enough newspapers, listen to enough politicians, and soon what you thought you had observed smudges into newsprint, and the static of patriotic speeches on the radio. Tell a lie long enough, and it becomes the truthóor, if not quite that, then at least a half-truth in which people find it increasingly easy to believe.
In the early days, the regime referred to the bastards as the barbarians. Later, under pressure from the left, it began calling them, simply and impartially, the natural disasters. They were whirlwinds and earthquakes, only flesh. Few citizens had actually seen them, and most of those, like the children in that village, seldom used words again. If they did, the stories they recited conflicted with the stories recited by others in similar circumstances. It was as if each victim had witnessed something altogether unique. So the only fact that remained consistent was this: the regime was under attack by those who wanted to make its lives into their lives, or perhaps into no lives at all, and every morning, lingering over breakfast, The Father thumbed through the newspapers, looking for something that passed for illumination because he deserved nothing less. He was continuously disappointed.
He happens for a brief moment to catch sight of the three photographs framed on the wall behind the dining table. Fresh out of training, hand on sword, a lanky Gregor wears the remains of a smile in the first. Two days after the photograph was taken, he shipped out for the front just as The Father had done three decades before. Eighteen months later, the doorbell rang. The young man on the landing looked like The Fatherís son. He sounded like The Fatherís son. Yet The Father was convinced the army had sent back a stranger in his boyís place. Gregor immediately started squandering his days at the cafť, talking all that bollocks about attending university. It took the full weight of The Fatherís misfortune (nearly thirty years at a decent trade gone with a single sentence uttered almost in passing by his snub-nosed superior) to wake Gregor from his fantasies and place him back in honest work.
If The Father had had it to do over again, he would have sent him away to the military academy despite his wifeís protestations. It would have made all the difference. A childhood there, and Gregor would have learned ability is the poor manís wealth. But at this age, half a decade into retirement, the only thing to do is try to believe this isnít a particularly bad place to have ended up, standing here in this living room, hands in the pockets of his robe, coaxing his own flesh and blood to unlock the door and let him in.
The photograph of Georg, hanging below and left of Gregorís, was taken shortly after he got involved in all that starving business. The skin on his cheeks already tugs tighter against its skeletal architecture than is strictly healthy. His dark brown eyes have already begun to sink back into his head on their expedition to another place. As a child, he used to fritter away his time on the sofa, studying those silly books, but when push came to shove he found himself a proper means of employmentóif you can call sitting in a cage full of hay in the town square for weeks on end while people gawk and point and laugh at you a proper means of employment.
The thought flickers across The Fatherís awareness that he is, truth to tell, glad Georg is not here to see this embarrassment. Or add to it. There is already enough worry to fill this flat, and, right around the next corner, down the next hallway, there will be more.
The Fatherís useless daughter, for instance. Only now is she thinking of pitching in. Who raised these children? Surely not The Father. He was busy earning a decent dayís wage. Just look at her, roosting in the chair in that photograph with her daft violin, looking serious and poised in the manner only sixteen-year-old girls without a clue about existence can look serious and poised.
The time. The money. The very idea makes The Father blink so fiercely the tips of his chalky mustache rise. In hard times, a man needs someone he can depend on. The Father learned this in the trenches, the way men did, listening to that pop Ö pop Ö pop arriving in the night. Yet all he has surrounding him is a flat full of dullards trying to make a fool of him.
Maybe you have to love them because they are yours, but you certainly donít have to fancy them much.
The Father becomes aware of the front doorbell ringing. He understands at once it spells further trouble. If itís not one thing, itís a hundred. No one comes around at this hour unless it is a delivery or an emergency. The insistence of this ringing means it is no delivery.
The Father summons the servant girl and instructs her to answer. She stalls at the living roomís entrance, staring at him with that bland, blank, pitted pinkish face, as if staring at a dozen eggs that have just rolled off the countertop and splattered on the floor, then evaporates without indicating whether or not she has understood a thing heís said.
The Father listens to her footfalls moving down the hallway and feels momentarily invisible.
His ping-pong paddle hands re-fist.
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