I wrote this piece in my first year of university for a Creative Writing module. I’ve long loved Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis and through a curiosity to hear the untold stories, I focussed on Gregor Samsa’s mother who has a handful of lines but is full of the conflict of maternal love versus the human revulsion to insects.
I chose the medium of a diary entry with haikus for each appearance Mrs Samsa makes in the book. As she has to turn to needlework to support the home, she would have increasingly little time to write a diary and would have had to hide it from her family. I liked to think of Mrs Samsa catching five minutes now and then to collect her thoughts in this rigid, simplistic style.
“When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin, a giant beetle-like insect, thus becoming an object of disgrace to his family, an outsider in his own home, and a quintessentially alienated man.”
Sticky brown liquid
Little legs fly everywhere –
This is not my son.
One-part white vinegar, two-parts warm water. Blot the stain with a dampened clean towel. Remember, never rub, only blot. To remove a coffee stain from a carpet, you use hydrogen peroxide. Egg-yolk and rubbing alcohol works too, if you have nothing else. But the key is to catch it fast.
That stain distracts me, now. I feel that I could stare at it all day long.
It tortures me even now that such a disgrace of this family was made of the chief clerk. I hadn’t even had time to put my hair up, as I’ve grown used to doing. The floor a mess, just an old, effete couple.
I was going to put the washing out to dry this morning, but it was raining. It just wouldn’t stop raining. Even now, I can hear it shuffling on the windows.
We sit in silence
The weight of this change, hanging
over helpless minds
Little bits of news are all we get from Grete. She tells us that he hides from her, that he eats only the rotten food. I suppose that means one less mouth needing fresh food – but where will we find the money to feed the other three?
It was announced today that we have some savings. I was surprised this had been kept from me; I understand not telling Gregor, but I had believed a marriage to be an equal partnership. At least in some ways.
It’s been decided that we will all need jobs. A year ago I would have been wild for the chance to work again; to fill my days with meaningful tasks instead of hovering about the house. But after this length of domestication, I dread the very idea of labour. I know that years of little exercise – especially since Grete became too old and independent to look after – have weakened me, left me a struggling old woman, long before my time.
The tragedy is –
I can’t remember his voice.
He seems long gone now
I ask my husband if he remembers how Gregor smiled. We never thought to take pictures of him. He reminds me that Gregor wasn’t much of one to smile, anyway. I’m not sure what that means.
Only through a panicked haze did I see him after his transformation, I can barely remember. It seemed a blur of legs, a brown mess on the floor. That floor that I’d scrubbed only days before, eagerly awaiting the return of my son.
Now I have to plead to see him, like a child desperate to visit the zoo. I don’t know when I lost control, when I became so helpless. I think I know how he feels, locked in that room.
Shiny red bullets.
Barely clothed, I cry and beg;
“Not my only son”
It was horrible. I don’t know whether it was trying to scare me, or trying to reach out to me. It was far worse than I’d remembered from my fleeting glance before; even so, I shouldn’t have reacted like that. It only served to make my husband more angry when he returned home; angry at Grete for giving into my whims, angry at me for not obeying his every command.
How can I tell what I’m doing, and what Grete’s doing is right, if it can’t talk to us? We are still unsure of whether it can even understand us – admittedly, no one has been tempted to spend enough time with it to work on some kind of code. Wiggle your right legs for yes, your left legs for no. I don’t think so.
Just a small mercy
But his watching sickens me,
Eyes glint in the dark
We try to carry on like we can’t see it, but we know it’s there. I’m not sure which is worse – feeling it watch us, observing our every move through the door, or just knowing that it’s trapped in the next room. Its good behaviour is encouraging, we keep reminding ourselves. Maybe we finally taught it a lesson.
I don’t know whether I’d rather it understood or not. If it was just an animal, if we could say once and for all, “Gregor’s dead,” we could grieve and carry on. I had hoped it was some kind of mistake, some nightmare, maybe a punishment, but that time has passed. We all thought that perhaps we might get used to it in time; but despite the rational part of my mind telling me not to be afraid, I suffer terribly when I see it. Even Grete, who experiences it on a daily basis, is still unused to it, no matter how she pretends in front of me and her father.
Who knew that kindness
Could cause my little girl such harm,
My man such anger?
I am his mother after all; shouldn’t I be looking after him? I suppose I’m out of practise. He grew up so fast. And when did Grete become a young woman? It surprises me still how the passion of a young girl can completely sway opinions; before I had been chided for not looking after him, but now he won’t let it go, how foolish I was to risk myself. All I did was clean the room; it’s still my house after all, and the dust and filth does spread.
I wonder whether I’m more at fault for trying to look after my son, or for not sticking to my needlework. After all, as was kindly pointed out, the Charwoman is here to help so that I don’t have to concern myself with such things; I can work work work all day. But, being confined to this house as I am, I need to find myself distractions; my mind was never very good at staying still for too long, and although I have always enjoyed needlework, it has become such a chore lately.
They said he must go.
If only I’d stayed stronger,
Protected my child.
When I have the time to glance back over what I’ve said, I notice that I changed from saying “him” to “it.” Is that awful? Only a few months and I’ve already begun to describe my son as a monster. Tonight – for me – marked the human still inside. For the others, it only established him more firmly as a creature. I thought for a moment I could see passion and feeling in his eyes again; he’d always been fond of Grete’s playing, even if he couldn’t understand the mechanism.
The others took Gregor’s uncharacteristic boldness as a sure sign we are dealing with something that is not our son. I for one assume he’s finally taking after his mother. Grete often reminds me of when I was young – passionate, believing I was the only person in the world who was right. I’m sure she’d be terrified if I told her that, and immediately place herself in a convent to avoid becoming like me. I wouldn’t blame her.
We give thanks to God,
For the death of the monster
And forget the man.
It saddens me that there won’t be a funeral for him. What we’ll tell people still has to be discussed – perhaps we say he left on business and we never heard back, now missing presumed dead. Maybe that he was struck down with a mysterious illness which left him incapacitated for several months before he finally passed away. But then, would we have to hold a sham funeral? Pretend to cry, when really we mourned for Gregor a long time ago? Even before Grete condemned him, even before my husband beat him, I distanced myself; knowing that, should Gregor come back, he would understand.
We took the day off work, and went into town for some air; all of us stretching the bodies which lay dormant for so long, and now are being used purely for work. It was enjoyable; we walked along almost in silence, but a comfortable one. For the first time since I can remember, I felt part of a family. And not just that; a family with prospects, with an old man and woman who’ve found that they’re not past it yet, and a daughter just turning into a woman. For a long time we’d depended on Gregor, allowing ourselves to stagnate rather than keep this family afloat when he would do it for us. And for that, son, I’m sorry. When he was home I’d hear him talking in his sleep; a sure sign of an unsettling dream. Perhaps no one wakes up from these dreams without changing.
Image © Jenny Mugridge