“I once knew a man who was inside out, though he wore his hat in the usual way.”
“This is you that I am referring to Franz,” said Max, pointing to the page he was reading from.
“Don’t be absurd!” Franz replied, pulling his insides more closely towards him with both arms lest they touch anything else on his plate, (even though this movement so clearly soiled his shirt cuffs which were improperly rolled up).
“I wish you would stop writing about me” Franz added staring down at his plate, “read me something different Max.”
“No, not me, I have nothing else tonight” Max declined, closing his book with a slight clap causing his words to collide on opposing pages.
“Well then Fyodor, how about you?” he asked of the tall man sitting to his left at their small table.
“I have nothing for you tonight either my friend,” Fyodor answered while idly bouncing a small ball on the ground beside him, glancing in disgust at the mess of organs and sauerkraut on Franz’s plate.
The cadence of the ball kept everybody mesmerized for a few moments until Fyodor missed the ball and it rolled under the table and bumped against Franz’s bare foot. Franz kicked it away and Fyodor left the table to fetch it somewhere in the back of the room. It was dark away from the candlelit table and he couldn’t see if it had rolled under the couch or not.
Then somewhere in the dark a cat let out a loud MEUW as Fyodor grabbed its paw by accident.
“I beg your pardon,” he said to the cat and got up off his knees and went back to the table.
“May I take the candle for a moment?” he asked of his friends.
“Of course,” said Max.
“Of course,” said Franz. And all at once Max and Franz found themselves sitting in the dark, watching the flickering light grow smaller in the separation and hearing Fyodor apologizing once again to the cat as he removed his foot from its tail.
“Kafka’s Writing Group” was first published in Five South, 2020.
FEATURED IMAGE: Mathieu Laca “Franz Kafka”, 2017. Oil on linen. 76cm X 92cm, Private Collection. Laval, Quebec.
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Jenn Ashton is an Award-winning author and visual artist. Her book of Short Stories, People Like Frank, and other stories from the edge of normal (Tidewater 2020) was shortlisted for the Indigenous Voices Award 2021. Jenn is the current Writer in Residence at the British Columbia History Magazine and an Authenticity Reader for Penguin/Random House USA. When she is not writing, painting, or teaching, she enjoys cedar and wool weaving, making regalia and being in her greenhouse.