June '03 [Home]
Never read Kafka when you are in love. There can be outcomes.
I read In the Penal Colony with him, and The Metamorphosis with her. I shouldn't have shared the same author with the two of them. I know that now, but I loved them both, if not equally, then in equally compelling ways, and I wanted them both to love me. So, I read my favorite books aloud to them with a charming voice, in the big house and the little apartment, in the king-size bed, in the narrow twin, at night and in the afternoon.
He would make love to me in that serious way of his, folding me around him like clean laundry, and she would also make love seriously, placing me face down on the kitchen table like a forbidden, fattening snack, the cups and dishes clattering to the floor. But the main thing was the reading, my own recitation just a provocation, an excuse that I might indicate to my beloved where he or she should take up the text, their voices mingling and intermingling in my head, one perfect androgynous sound.
But, as I said, there can be repercussions.
Punished for being a cheater, you think. No, the problem was I couldn't decide. Most hold that The Metamorphosis is Kafka's greatest work, but what of The Country Doctor, The Hunger Artist and, my personal secret favorite, about which I told no one? You see, I thought I could narrow down my choices; I thought I could limit my desires to two. But, lurking in my heart of hearts, when he was out, when she was washing the dishes, was the amorous identification with the smart small canine—a dachshund perhaps—who philosophized about flying.
There is a man down the street who has read the incomparable Investigations of a Dog. A shaved headed man with many muscles. Piercing eyes. He owns the record store on Carmelina. A man who likes to fight. He carries boxing gloves strung over an immense, carved shoulder. He is handsome and frightening.
He would see me walking on the street going to the grocery store, and he would always offer me a ride. On an, of course, motorcycle, leather-covered thighs gripping the machine. Kafka is pathetic, he said to me once. But he does amuse, doesn't he?
Three lovers felt like too many. Further than two I could not go.
I woke up one morning, and found I had changed. I am beautiful, unlike poor Gregor, purebred and German, unlike poor Kafka. But very long and small.
It seems it was the secret love that betrayed me. The one I could not admit to.
Now the first two still share me, passing the travel bed and collar back and forth; they know and they don't mind. Perhaps even prefer it, for now they have more control. I spend some time in the apartment, where she threatens me with a rolled up newspaper when I steal scraps from the kitchen table, and some time outside in the garden of the house, with him and he is always gentle.
I miss reading for myself, but they read to me every day still with their beautiful human voices. Strange how having my belly scratched has replaced the orgasm. The pleasure of a smell, digging in the yard—so many joys I had never thought of.
Recently I learned how to put my long nose into the crack of the door in his house and slip down the stairs, slip out of the house, or press my paw on the old elevator button, get down from her apartment. The shaved head man waits outside; he pats my rump on his way back from his boxing club, where he has pounded lesser men into pulp for hours.
What a beautiful little beast, he says. He flexes his muscles and I whine. Sit, he says. I will read you a story about obedience and love. I fasten my limpid brown eyes on him, and cock my ears. He picks me up and takes me to a big park near the freeway to train me to fetch and to play dead. To become the perfect pet, he says. I bark.
There are times when he seems to be changing too, but into what, I cannot yet tell.
(A former New Yorker, Stephanie Hammer lives in Los Angeles. This story is her second contribution to the magazine. "Vintage" appeared in the Jul '02 issue.)