Kafka’s Wasp

Ken Wilkinson woke after a long nap to find himself lying next to a drain.  He was surprised to discover that he now comprised six legs, a crusty outer shell, wings and a pair of antennae. After thundering confusion, he gathered himself together and made his way from this exposed location to the cloistered warm and damp surrounds of someone’s kitchen sink.

Later that afternoon a woman walked into her kitchen to discover a waspish insect on the window sill. She closely inspected its brindled body and decided that it wasn’t pestilence, and spared its life observing that the grey, speckled body resembled the ibis feather in her car.

KW recognised the resident of the flat: it was the woman who had made subtle advances on him over the last few months, with whom he held in high regard but was slightly fearful.  However implausible the premise, KW became increasingly anxious about being recognised. So deep was KW’s shame at his changed form that he began to hide from her.  So he spied on the woman night and day, listened to her practising the piccolo, toiling with the grammar of a Romance tongue, and observed her rushed, careless ablutions.

After two days of intense scrutiny of the woman’s private world, KW began to feel that indeed he wanted to be noticed by her, even if only as a motley bug.  He felt he deserved more than her dismissive glances.  After all, KW was once the prime object of her interest – or so he flattered himself – and here he was now en casa with her. 

“How strong was the supposed bond between our kindred souls that she can’t recognise me?”, KW reasoned pitifully.

He suffered numerous days of ignominy at the woman’s kitchen sink.  After a particularly difficult night he finally lit upon the idea that he would win her attentions by acting flamboyantly.  He climbed onto a beam of the cupboard above the sink and positioned himself to a spot just inches from the woman’s face as she washed up. He waited for hours in this position and finally she returned home and began the process of filling the sink with scalding hot water and agitating a soap ladle vigorously.  KW endured the rising steam and soapy vapours from this vantage point and struggled to keep his beady little eyes open long enough to catch her looking at him.  At this moment, he would act out what he’d been practising half of the long night before.

In what seemed to him like the drawing of an infinite breath the woman finally looked up and noticed the strange little bug raising its front leg.  Using his right rear legs as purchase, KW mustered all the strength on his left side and raised his leg high and proud.

“It looks like its waving”, thought the woman. “Hi!” she bandied back. “How are you?”

The sense of accomplishment which KW felt was enormous and a great sense of relief passed through his body.  His antennae were fairly humming at his achievement.

“It’s almost smiling at me”, the woman muttered to herself.

Buoyant with his success in engaging the woman, KW decided to install himself permanently in the vertical position on the beam above the sink.  At night he would practice on manoeuvres to attract and interest her and in the morning try them out as she washed-up.  KW had even been working on a broad smile that he was convinced would radiate into the woman’s soul.

“I do believe that little creature enjoys hanging out in this kitchen”, the woman reflected after two days of KW’s blatant exhibitionism. 

KW felt he was getting somewhere.  Now the woman was noticing him each time she walked into the kitchen.  She would sometimes come up closely to him and gently and affectionately comment on his design or such like.  Still, KW wanted more out of this relationship: her mild interest was gratifying but he was seeking a significant bond.

That night while she was out, KW relocated himself from the beam above the kitchen sink to her beloved teapot.  It was a gamble because his motley pattern was a camouflage on the brindled clay pot.  She arrived home late as usual on a Monday – he had been at the flat a week and he knew her routines.  He knew her first move would be to make a cup of tea.  The woman entered the kitchen and approached the sink and began preparing a pot of tea.  When she noticed KW on the pot grinning at her she smiled warmly at him.

“How touching, it wants to be noticed”.  KW was joyous at this comment.  For her part, the woman had only just finished reading Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” and was happy to entertain the idea that a recent object of her desire had been turned into bug and had come to woo her and that in true fairy story lore her treatment of the humble lowly critter would determine whether she was worthy of the gift of true love.

So here was KW, romantic hero trapped in an insect body, but were her affections for him authentic, he wondered.  He thought they seemed to pass through a series of well-charted pathways: with the kiss of a toad a prince would materialise; that the beautiful were saved by the size of their feet and the rest wore ill fitting slippers, or were devoured by wolves for vanity and poisoned by waxen apples for crimes of the heart.  He felt like he was just a frivolous construct, a plaything. She had nothing else – not even a TV! While he could reason that the woman couldn’t properly relate to him in his current state, regardless of how strong her feelings had been before his transformation, he felt no different now as he did when he was the confident, pink flesh-bodied man of just a week ago, and his feelings toward the woman became desperate. 

His outlook was dark as he struggled to accept the futility.  In a desperate bid for attention on a Sunday after she returned from choir, KW leapt into the air and landed on her left cheek.  It gave her quite a fright but she quickly regained herself and put a paper up to her cheek for KW to climb onto.  There seemed no end to her acceptance of him as a member of her household and his quirky behaviour and for this he was thankful. 

KW was noticing that he was undergoing swift changes within his crusty frame; he was aging at a rate where he could sense time slowing down.  His despair deepened.  He took to utterly senseless measures that had vague, uncertain objectives and which appeared to throw his fate into the wind.    One morning the woman arrived at the sink to wash up, to see her “little mate” clinging upside down inside the loop handle of the sink plug.  Again the woman rescued KW, once again circumventing his departure from this mortal coil. 

Her rescue set up a complex array of ambivalances which he retreated to sort throughout but only after having recovered from the effects of acute blushing.  He was, fundamentally, humiliated, at being found upside down in a degrading position.  He hadn’t expected to be recovered and then have to bear the weight of this embarrassment.  He had simply wanted to end it all spectacularly with her urgent hands at the sink acting as unsuspecting agents of his morbid design.  Then she might bear some weight, some ennui, some darkness; and thus lighten his load somewhat.  The woman, however, was increasingly attentive to KW, which heartened him and he reminded himself that these deepening attentions were his aim just days ago and now he was being rescued, lovingly relocated to “a safer place” and significantly spoken to, and now even addressed as “my KW”.

The truth was that KW could not bear himself any longer.  It would only be a matter of time, he told himself, that the woman would come to despise him and his pain would be twofold. His actions became increasingly extreme.  On one occasion he placed himself on the floorboards in a high traffic area in front of the sink.  It was tantamount to an utter withdrawal from Life. The unlikely outcome was that the woman distinguished a dark smudge on the mottled boards and picked him up.  During this rescue the woman noticed that the rather charming ambling gait of KW had slowed down considerably to what seemed like the carriage of a septuagenarian.

“KW has entered his dotage”, mused the woman and she smiled as he arthritically hobbled his antennae across the paper and onto the shelf.  KW now had eye level shelf privileges.  He had truly come up in this world and was exceedingly grateful of his fortune since his abject transformation.  If he was to muse on how such a fate could befall an ordinary bloke such as he, he may have found himself buying into a raft of absurdities such as ladders made from human hair, people from gingerbread and princesses in love with toads. He found himself dwarfed by an unfamiliar forest so he made a hasty retreat from the subject.

The woman hadn’t seen KW for three days after the floorboards incident and she had begun to miss him and feared the worst: that her last rescue was of a senile and absented-minded bug that had finally come to rest somewhere.  Preparing to practice, she opened the piano lid to find KW under there.  He graced a high Eb that only a piccolo could reach.

“A nice touch”, thought the woman. KW paraded exactly four octaves down the keyboard and then began marching back up.  The woman noticed his peculiar gait.  The rear legs would rise up in a show of impossible insect agility.  KW was demonstrating an exoskeleton prowess that the woman realised she could never really appreciate.  KW was really playing for attention, grandstanding and strutting the keyboard.

“What a performance!” she said to KW directly. 

Later that day KW appeared on a CD case of tango selections.

“Curious bug”, she laughed.

After one of her late finishes the woman returned home in a rather fractious mood. She hurriedly began assembling some food and hadn’t got far when she heard a crunch under foot.

“This is it”, said the woman immediately, “I knew it would come to this: where I will suffer enormously for having squashed yet another friendship underfoot on my incessant journeying. This friend has thrown himself not at my feet but under them, and I will be forever remorseful about how it has ended”.

She picked up his body and placed it on the eye level shelf. He was barely alive and seemed to be reeling in pain and shock. This was terrible for her. KW was not a cruel person and he didn’t want to make the woman suffer anguish. No, to be sure, KW was a performer who was compelled to evoke intense emotion from his audience. He was simply eliciting an acknowledgement of his heroism. Throwing himself under her feet was an act of sacrifice for Art.

The woman thought there was a dim possibility he could recuperate. The dilemma to either explore this, or to end his misery in a merciful fashion with the sole of her shoe, hung heavily. She flipped him onto his legs but KW forced himself back into the belly-up position. He was a tangle of animated legs, Hydra, a conductor with batons flailing. It occurred to the woman that KW might be gesticulating wildly as if waving goodbye. She returned the gesture with a worried look.

“His death scene is breathtaking”, she commented. “He’s the consummate leading man to the end”. KW thought he’d pitched it perfectly and extended the cadenza of his final moments.

“Watching him die like this ritardando makes me witness his heroism on an epic scale”. It continued for more than an hour. Just when she thought she’d seen his final flourish of limbs he would sally forth with more movement. She bade him her last goodbyes and went uneasily off to bed.

As KW lay on his back in the dark alone, he worked his six limbs over and over, gaining mobility throughout the night. A few hours had passed like this when he became aware of the antennae of another creature brushing over his body. His night sight had been fading of late but he could just make out a critter no bigger than he milling around him curiously. Soon he was being tormented by a second bug. As he lay in the prone position consolidating his strength, the cockroach began making attempts to haul his live carcass into a crevice. The torture endured for many hours throughout one of the longest nights of his life. He was powerless to flip over onto his feet and escape. His only defence was to animate himself in a flurry of limbs. At one point the other bug sunk his masticating jaw spurs into KW’s soft larval underbelly. There were times when all he could was endure it.

The next morning the woman expected to find KW expired in the place and attitude she had left him the night before: in noble insect warrior pose with left and right limbs joined in deathly meditation. Instead, she was horrified to see a brown Californian cockroach struggling to drag KW off into a hold and another bug loitering with intent, and all the while KW fighting valiantly with his flailing limbs. So the woman rescued him yet again.

“I have to make some effort to help him regain strength”, she reasoned limply, flipping him over to the legs-down position. When she checked on him an hour later he was attempting to haul himself into the belly-up position again. When he finally succeeded in returning to a larval position it felt natural, for he was very tired.

“She has saved me yet again from misadventure. What an angel. I’ll sleep now”. So KW passed into dust and ash quietly and with dignity.

The woman was slightly incredulous by this stage that KW was capable of such a passage. She had begun to think KW was immortal or possibly mythic. She recalled the numerous rescues, the wry locations in which he chose to frequent, the ubiquity that was KW, and concluded that the critter was extraordinary, and by implication, romantic love.

Just then she saw something drop from the ceiling near the exoskeleton.  It was another brindled wasp. A search of her apartment found a total of five wasps. The discovery was a revelation.  It was the end of mythic heroism for her. The little fairy tale corner, that in her solitary adult life was a private indulgence, had been ransacked. It was akin to the discovery that there were multiple Rin Tin Tins and eight or more standby Lassies. She was transformed.

Several weeks later she answered the telephone to the man Ken Wilkinson, her former heartthrob, who explained he had been rehabilitating after undergoing cardiac surgery and had called to ask her out to dinner. She declined, offering an excuse that her pet cat required an intensive flea bath on that evening. She was lightened by the anticipation of the many possibilities that awaited her.

by Aspergine Spears (C)

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~ by aspergine on January 24, 2010.

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