The End

Benjamin Tietjen
The End
On the terrace in front of the timbered house, a man sits and reads Hamsun’s “Mysteries” as a waitress comes by and asks him if he would like a coffee.
“With pleasure, Anne,” he says and looks up from his book.
Shortly after the woman has left the scene and the man can devote himself again to his book, another man enters the terrace. This man carries a black leather briefcase. He stands still and looks around. Several tables are free, yet he directly proceeds to the table at which the reader sits.
“Excuse me, sir. Is this place unoccupied?”
“The chair is still free, yes, yet …” The man with the book cannot finish his refusal.
“Thank you.”
The man places the briefcase between his feet, takes off his coat and lays it on the bench. The reader does not pay further attention to him.
“Do you think that a storm is coming in?” asks the man with the briefcase.
Mumbling, without looking up from his book the reader replies, “Don’t know.”
The reader continues to read. The one with the briefcase waves to the waitress.
“Did you also seek out protection … from the storm?”
“I’m on vacation.”
“Can you tell me what time it is?”
The reader glances at his watch, “3:30.”
“3.30. That’s good. That’s really good. I was in a rush … because of the storm.”
The man with the briefcase looks hurriedly over his shoulder in the direction of the cliffs. Then he says, “May I ask what you are reading?”
The reader shows him the binding of his book.
“Hamsun. How wonderful. I mean, it is a wonderful coincidence to meet someone right now who is reading such an outstanding book.”
“Thank you.”
“I would love to be able to read exactly this book for the first time. Do you understand? Simply turn back time and again so virginally approach this work. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work.”
“No, that doesn’t.”
“Do you know Kafka?”
“Of course.”
“Have you read The Castle?
“Why do you want to know?”
“If you know the book, then you of course know that it is unfinished. It simply does not have an end.”
The man with the briefcase lifts himself from the chair and reaches to his back pocket. He brings a book out and lays it on the table so that the reader can recognize it.
“This is the critical edition from the publisher Fischer of the manuscript version.”
“I’m unclear as to where you want to go with this.”
The man with the briefcase flips through the book. “I’ll have it in a sec, here. ‘She offered K. her trembling hand and let him sit down next to her, with difficultly she spoke, one could hardly understand her, but what she said…’”
Both men look at each other.
“And that’s how it ends. Do you understand? There is no end.”
“Why are you telling me all of this?”
The waitress arrives and serves the reader his coffee; then she asks the man with the briefcase for his order.
“The same as the man sitting across from me.”
The waitress pauses at the table. She says, “I had to read that book when I was at school.”
“Did you like it?” asks the man with the briefcase.
“Not really. It doesn’t have any ending.”
The waitress leaves. The man with the briefcase watches her go and is observed by the reader.
“An ordinary waitress knows this book and doesn’t like it because it doesn’t have any ending. You’re no doubt asking this whole time what I am trying to say; what’s up with all this Kafka talk anyway?! Here are two complete strangers sitting across from one another. One is reading Hamsun, the other has a Kafka in his back pocket. And I don’t need to tell you that Kafka was a big fan of Hamsun, right? Well, where all of this is going is: In this ordinary briefcase can be found … Tell me something, how do you like the end of The Castle?”
“Like the waitress already said: there is no ending.”
“I don’t mean the ending that it doesn’t have, rather the ending that I read aloud just before.”
“One must accept that it doesn’t have an ending.”
The waitress brings the man with the briefcase his coffee.
The reader refers to the briefcase. “What do you have in there?”
“Now, when I arrived and asked you if this spot was taken or not, you certainly did not have any idea that you would a few minutes later be let in on a secret, one whose publication will have an unimaginable literary-historical worth.” He whispered, “What would you think if I told you that here, in this ordinary briefcase, I have a part of the handwritten manuscript from Kafka’s The Castle. And none other than the ending.”
The reader laughed out loud.
“You don’t believe me, do you –“
“Show it to me. The handwritten ending.”
“If you please,” he pointed upwards with his finger. “The light here is not good for the paper. The ink could fade. The paper could immediately turn to dust. It would be lost forever.”
“You don’t have a copy of the manuscript?”
“I don’t think you quite understand. I have not had any sleep in days. Always on the move. How should I have made a copy?”
“And how did you get this manuscript?”
“It came to me.”
“Where does it come from?”
“It came with time. Simply so.”
“Tell me more!”
“I cannot talk about it here.”
“Have you been able to read the manuscript?”
“Of course.”
“Even though you have not had any sleep for days?”
The man with the briefcase, offended, remained silent.
“How does the book end?”
“Because of the suspense, I cannot tell you.”
“Because of the suspense,” the reader put a hand over his belly. “Well, my bladder is also full of suspense. You can think about telling me until I get back from the toilet.”
“There is nothing to think about.”
“Then do so just for the fun of it.”
“I beg you, don’t leave!”
“I’ll be right back. And then we can at least give an ending to our story.”

When the reader returns, the man with the briefcase is gone, his dishes removed. The reader is a little puzzled, yet sits down at the table and opens the Hamsun. The waitress comes by.
“Excuse me, Anne. Where did the man go who was sitting here before?”
“What man?”
“The gentleman with the briefcase. With whom you talked about Kafka?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“You told him that you don’t like The Castle because it doesn’t have an ending.”
“The waitress doesn’t answer. She turns away. She turns away, then turns a last time to the man who is not reading anymore. She says, “You should leave now. A storm is coming in.”

Translated from German by Shan Wardell

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