A Fratricide

Franz Kafka in 1906. Artwork : This picture is in the .
Franz Kafka, 1906

The evidence shows that this is how the murder was committed:

Schmar, the murderer, took up his post about nine o’clock one night in clear moonlight by the corner where Wese, his victim, had to turn from the street where his office was into the street he lived in.

The night air was shivering cold. Yet Schmar was wearing only a thin blue suit; the jacket was unbuttoned, too. He felt no cold; besides, he was moving about all the time. His weapon, half a bayonet and half a kitchen knife, he kept firmly in his grasp, quite naked. He looked at the knife against the light of the moon; the blade glittered; not enough for Schmar; he struck it against the bricks of the pavement till the sparks flew; regretted that, perhaps; and to repair the damage drew it like a violin bow across his boot sole while be bent forward standing on one leg and listened both to the whetting of the knife on his boot and for any sound out of the fateful side street.

Why did Pallas, the private citizen who was watching it all from his window near by in the second story, permit it to happen? Unriddle the mysteries of human nature! With his collar turned up, his dressing gown girt round his portly body, he stood looking down, shaking his head.

And five houses further along, on the opposite side of the street, Mrs. Wese, with a fox-fur coat over her nightgown, peered out to look for her husband who was lingering unusually late tonight.

At last there rings out the sound of the doorbell before Wese’s office, too loud for a doorbell, right over the town and up to heaven, and Wese, the industrious nightworker, issues from the building, still invisible in this street, only heralded by the sound of the bell; at once the pavement registers his quiet footsteps.

Pallas bends far forward; he dares not miss anything. Mrs. Wese, reassured by the bell, shuts her window with a clatter. But Schmar kneels down; since he has no other parts of his body bare, he presses only his face and his hands against the pavement; where everything else is freezing, Schmar is glowing hot.

At the very corner dividing the two streets Wese pauses, only his walking stick comes round into the other street to support him. A sudden whim. The night sky has invited him, with its dark blue and its gold. Unknowing he gazes up at it, unknowing he lifts his hat and strokes his hair; nothing up there draws together in a pattern to interpret the immediate future for him; everything stays in its senseless, inscrutable place. In itself it is a highly reasonable action that Wese should walk on, but he walks on to Schmar’s knife.

“Wese!” shrieks Schmar, standing on tiptoe, his arm outstretched, the knife sharply lowered, “Wese! You will never see Julia again!” And right into the throat and left into the throat and a third time deep into the belly stabs Schmar’s knife. Water rats, slit open, give out such a sound as comes from Wese.

“Done,” says Schmar and pitches the knife, now superfluous blood-stained ballast, against the nearest house front. “The bliss of murder! The relief, the soaring ecstasy from the shedding of another’s blood! Wese, old nightbird, friend, alehouse crony, you are oozing away into the dark earth below the street. Why aren’t you simply a bladder of blood so that I could stamp on you and make you vanish into nothingness? Not all we want comes true, not all the dreams that blossomed have borne fruit, your solid remains lie here, already indifferent to every kick. What’s the good of the dumb question you are asking?”

Pallas, choking on the poison in his body, stands at the double-leafed door of his house as it flies open. “Schmar! Schmar! I saw it all, I missed nothing.” Pallas and Schmar scrutinize each other. The result of the scrutiny satisfies Pallas, Schmar comes to no conclusion.

Mrs. Wese, with a crowd of people on either side, comes rushing up, her face grown quite old with the shock. Her fur coat swings open, she collapses on top of Wese, the nightgowned body belongs to Wese, the fur coat spreading over the couple like the smooth turf of a grave belongs to the crowd.

Schmar, fighting down with difficulty the last of his nausea, pressing his mouth against the shoulder of the policeman who, stepping lightly, leads him away.