The Dark Mirror of Desire - an extract from Chapter 3
Tschissik (I so enjoy writing that name) likes nodding her head at the table even
while eating roast goose, you believe you can get in under her eyelids with your
gaze if you first look carefully along the cheeks, and then, making yourself small,
slip in, without having to raise the eyelids, for they're raised, letting out
a bluish gleam, which tempts you in. Kafka, writing in his diary, was first
attracted to the Yiddish actress in October 1911; she had a large mouth, a big
bony body, and long restless arms. As an actress she depended on that frightened
look while searching for a way of escape from her antagonist. It was Brod
who had arranged for them to sit together at a party on the 21st October after
Kafka had attended one of her performances. She was married and had a daughter
who had no shape to her body at all.
Jaroslav was reminded of the way Alice looked at him, her blue eyes gleaming
in such a way that he was drawn in under her eyelids. She rearranged her dress,
brushed it, and then sat up, her eyes blinking in the sunlight. She was searching
for a way to escape the loneliness that she felt deep inside at Jaroslav's impending
departure. Two months had passed and Jaroslav had just two days leave. Alice was
"Will you wait for me?" said Jaroslav.
she said, as a tear began to form at the side of her cheek.
will return as soon as possible, you know that?"
but it has been so nice these last two months. I know you have to go away, but
it doesn't make it any easier."
He helped her pack away the basket,
and they walked across to a brook that bordered the field where they had sat down
to eat their picnic. They crossed it and entered a wooded glade. The sunlight
caught her hair, which hung loosely over her shoulders; she shook her head as
if casting off some magic spell.
"I want to remember you just as
you are," said Jaroslav suddenly, as he fumbled with the camera. She stopped,
looked around, and put the basket down.
"Wait," she said,
"I'm not ready." She smiled and positioned herself next to an oak tree.
Jaroslav raised the camera a little and looked through the lens. "Will this
be okay?" she said, as she stood still.
"That will be fine,"
he said. He realized that it was only her hair caught in the gentle breeze that
he wanted to remember at that moment, not the eyes, which looked at him so longingly
while they ate their picnic, or the words that were suffused with thoughts of
parting. "Are you ready?"
"Yes, I'm ready," she
said. The camera clicked, and she relaxed.
"Good, Alice, that was
perfect!" he said.
"Do I look pretty for you today?"
"Of course you do," said Jaroslav.
Alice began to
walk slowly as Jaroslav folded the camera away. When he caught up with her he
placed his hand loosely around her shoulder. They walked along a makeshift path
that had been worn into the grass, which grew sparse as they headed into the woods.
Alice began making a dancing motion with her hands, the way Frau Tschissik
might have done when she entered centre stage, and then she brought her hands
to her mouth and emulated fear, but Alice wanted to express how the world was
just a small place where they could meet and find themselves again. The sunlight
passed straight through her dress and Jaroslav could see the dark shadow within
silhouetted against the sky.
"Here!" she said. She then lowered
"What is it?"
"I told you I liked
walking, and now we're all alone!"
Frau Tschissik looked awkward as she sat at the table in the café;
Kafka studied her odd-shaped, bony body. They were talking about what it would
be like to play in other towns after they had missed the train to Brünn;
it was Löwy who had overslept. They talked about Nürnberg. Why go
to Nürnberg in one jump? Suggested Kafka. Frau Tschissik pressed him.
All that was visible of her body above the table, wrote Kafka in his diary
on the 7th November, 1911, all the roundness of the shoulders, back and breast
was soft, despite her bony, almost rough build, which was apparent when she was
on stage in European clothes. Absurdly, I suggested Plzeñ.
Perhaps Jaroslav felt awkward for not revealing his feelings towards Alice.
But it was the same when they first met. She had certainly given him cause to
desire her. Perhaps like Kafka he felt awkwardness in the innocent way she looked
at him. They had emerged from the wood and a small clearing that led to the same
brook that they had encountered earlier.
"I will come back,"