Half the Story

Franz Kafka, the story goes, encountered a little girl in the park
where he walked every day. She was crying. She’d lost her doll.
Franz helped the girl search for the doll, but they couldn’t find it.
They arranged to meet there next day to look again for her doll,
but still they could not find it. When they met the following day,
Kafka gave her a tiny letter that he told her he’d found nearby.
She read ‘Don’t be sad: I’m only travelling. I’ll write every day!’
And every day that summer, when Kafka and the little girl met,
he’d read a new letter to her describing the places the doll visited
what it did there and who it met. The little girl was comforted.
When the holiday was over and she had to go back to school,
he gave her a doll that he said was the prodigal returned,
and, if she seemed a little different from the doll of her memory,
a note pinned to her scarf explained: ‘My travels changed me.’

Or so ends this version of the story, popular with therapists,
but in Dora Diamant’s own account, our one first-hand source,
there was no new doll, nor a message of change and growth;
instead, Dora had described a final letter sent to the little girl
detailing how the doll met its soul mate and had married him’
how it would be too busy with family life to write again,
enjoining the little girl to seek similar fulfilment in her own life.
Dora also noted how this affair had driven Kafka to distraction,
who’d endured white nights, tortured by his own compassion,
feverishly thinking up new adventures for his changeling doll,
a golem doppelgänger made out of letters and lies and love,
this correspondence of doll, girl and Kafka lasting three weeks –
the same time as that holiday when Dora had first met Kafka,
a place whose name I only half-recall at best, Graal-something.

Ian Duhig

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