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Palimpsest: A Memoir

Palimpsest: A Memoir

By Gore Vidal
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Arts and Culture

The Metaphorphosis

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Posted on Mar 20, 2012
Mr. Fish

By Mr. Fish

As Samsa Gregor awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a human being. No longer built with the slick durability of an oily seed, he was now naked flesh stretched over a living armature of interlocking bones that conspired to create an enormous mammalian beast so murderous in reputation, yet so charitable when it came to producing great mountains of succulent and fetid garbage and boundless oceans of foul and sopping refuse, that he couldn’t help but wonder whether he had been reincarnated as his own God.

He was lying facedown in a cold puddle behind the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., with the tangy piquant of spent petroleum and cat urine trilling through his nostrils with the bright enthusiasm of a fistful of pine needles. Wearily lifting his head just enough to notice the intense sunlight marking the perimeters of his shadow, he felt the warmth of high noon on the back of his neck and imagined the easy mark he was making for any hungry pigeon who might be flying by. Instinctively, he made a frantic move to skitter in the direction of a weeping gnash set deeply in the dented belly of a dead refrigerator, which was capsized and oozing slime the color of applesauce in between a pair of rusty green dumpsters just 10 feet away. Regretfully, though he had willed himself to shoot forward, he didn’t move more than a few inches, his limbs being way too heavy and oversized to coordinate around a leaden torso that seemed anchored to the frozen ground. The effort to move produced in him an involuntary little cry, pitiful really, his new genitals having been rolled hard against the scabrous asphalt and his left nipple having nearly been sliced off by a twisted bottle cap serrated by decay. Hoisting his hips off the ground and taking a moment to let his scrotum hang free from constriction like a tiny purple beehive, he exhaled into the meager relief, taking a moment to push the bottle cap away with his right hand before letting his weight settle gingerly back to earth, resting amid the broken glass and feculent litter once again.

***

When the telephone rang at 11 a.m. with all the raw fervor of a machine gun being fired into an empty trash can, Congressman Brown, who had enjoyed the night and much of the morning somersaulting blissfully through nimble dreams about flying and relentless intercourse with flexible and grateful strangers, barely reacted. Having spent his entire career demonstrating a real talent for disarming panic by waterlogging it with cheerful complacency, the sudden noise didn’t bother him. He had no problem taking an extra minute to roll over onto his back and to stretch, catlike, his left hand finding his morning wood and misreading it as triumph, before hoisting himself up against the hotel headboard, the pillows around him making him feel like Jupiter weightless upon his throne.

The lawyer on the line had good news. The Andersons, whom the congressman recognized as a shiftless, greedy bunch right from the get-go, had finally agreed to accept the offer from Batoff, Biddle and Reath and to sign the non-disclosure agreement. Of course, this was exactly what the congressman expected to happen, having watched the resolve of the family weaken over time simultaneous with their gradual acceptance of the loss of their two youngest children, the names of which he’d long since put out of his mind. “After a while you get tired of hanging onto the pain and you just want to get on with your life,” he told Batoff. “If you’re smart, you reinvent yourself as a survivor and, if you’re lucky, you get to do it with a shitload of money in the bank. Make sure you call the governor and tell him that we’ve got an election to prepare for.”

 

***

Gone were his armor-plated back and his dome-like brown belly divided into stiff arched segments. Gone were his antennae and his root beer-burnished legs, as numerous and nimble as fingertips and as agile as smart adjectives made to propel a cunning phrase forward into purpose. Gone too was the innate sense that he belonged in the world.

Dropping his cheek back into the slick puddle on the alley floor, he squeezed his eyes shut and attempted to re-enter his sleep in the hopes that he might discover there the proper door from which to escape this nightmare and re-emerge into the dazzling afternoon as a fully formed dung beetle. But, of course, the more he strained in the direction of unconsciousness, the more he became acutely aware of his wakefulness. He felt a terrible heat erupt inside his chest as he pinched his eyes tightly enough to see sparks swarming his inner lids like algae, his grief so woefully inarticulate as to evade capture by reason. He gritted his teeth and steeled his jaw just as a sudden gust of wind swept through the alley and lifted a newspaper into an ecstatic avian pirouette next to his head, startling him onto his side where he attempted to collapse himself into a full-body fist and found that he hadn’t enough hinges to make himself very small. Immediately relieved to see that the winged monster threatening him was just The New York Times, he sighed and watched the enormous paper bird twist through the air and eventually explode in a striptease so complete that it left nothing in its wake to gawk longingly at, its segments wafting back to earth like so much benign frivolity. Emptiness, it seemed to insist, is the most revealing nudity upon which we drape our most profound understanding of all things.

 

***

Stepping into the shower, still chuckling over the lapse in memory he’d just suffered while looking himself over in the bathroom mirror, having momentarily mistaken the lipstick in his ass crack for blood, he thought about his own wife and children and how no amount of money on earth would ever be enough to compensate for any one of their deaths. He thought about how he might tell them the good news when he got home, not that they’d be at all surprised to hear it. After all, they knew from listening to all the talk about damage control from his advisers last summer regarding the incident in the sauna at the Rayburn House gymnasium that presidential aspirations were part of the master plan. He then thought about how grateful he was to his own parents for not making a big deal about what Judge Worthley did to him and several of his colleagues when he was a congressional page back in the 1960s, figuring that had those photographs been known to exist during the indictment procedure his own prospects for public service would’ve been compromised if not totally eradicated. He thought about God and how gracious he was to let people be their own judge and jury. And executioner. And crucified savior. And resurrection. He then wondered if they ever found more than just the judge’s left thumb down by the dock and why none of it ever made the paper.

He picked up the soap and massaged the bar into a fragrant lather.

 

***

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M Henri Day's avatar

By M Henri Day, March 22, 2012 at 8:02 am Link to this comment

So the cockroach is going to run for US president ? Good to see that venerable traditions are still being upheld !...

Henri

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, March 21, 2012 at 7:34 am Link to this comment

Magnificent.  Especially the first sentence, which adorns and completes even the great Kafka.

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By justarandomreaderwithacomment, March 21, 2012 at 7:16 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

very nice!

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By jimmmmmy, March 20, 2012 at 3:34 pm Link to this comment

Reminds me of Naked Lunch without the sex. Entertaining none the less. Thanx Fish.

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By gerard, March 20, 2012 at 11:50 am Link to this comment

Watch it there, Fish! You’re makin’ Truthdig seem irrelevant.

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