He died in a tree from which he wouldn’t come down. “Come down!” they cried to him. “Come down! Come down!” Silence filled the night, and the night filled the silence, while they waited for Kafka to speak. “I can’t,” he finally said, with a note of wistfulness. “Why?” they cried. Stars spilled across the black sky. “Because then you’ll stop asking for me.” The people whispered and nodded among themselves. They put their arms around each other, and touched their children’s hair. They took off their hats and raised them to the small, sickly man with the ears of a strange animal, sitting in his black velvet suit in the dark tree. Then they turned and started for home under the canopy of leaves. Children were carried on their fathers’ shoulders, sleepy from having been taken to see who wrote his books on pieces of bark he tore off the tree from which he refused to come down. In his delicate, beautiful, illegible handwriting. And they admired those books, and they admired his will and stamina. After all: who doesn’t wish to make a spectacle of his loneliness?
One by one families broke off with a good night and a squeeze of the hands, suddenly grateful for the company of neighbors. Doors closed to warm houses. Candles were lit in windows. Far off, in his perch in the trees , Kafka listened to it all: the rustle of the clothes being dropped to the floor, or lips fluttering along naked shoulders, beds creaking along the weight of tenderness. It all caught in the delicate pointed shells of his ears and rolled like pinballs through the great hall of his mind.
That night a freezing wind blew in. When the children wake up, they went to the window and found the world encased in ice. One child, the smallest, shrieked out in delight and her cry tore through the silence and exploded the ice of a giant oak tree. The world shone.
They found him frozen on the ground like a bird. It’s said that when they put their ears to the shell of his ears, they could hear themselves.