One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible insect.
–Franz Kafka, “The Metamorphosis”
One night, when Grgrsmszzz woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his sleeping place into a horrible human the size of a bug–life inside the kitchen wall would never be the same again.
“Where’re my stiff, bristly legs? Where’s my shiny, brown carapace? My ribbed belly? My antennas?” The splintery hole in which he lay seemed unaccountably hard and uncomfortable. “What’s happened to me? I must be dreaming,” he thought and fell back to sleep.
Worried that her son had not yet risen, Grgr’s dear mother slipped into the hole where he slept and gently tapped him with an antenna. “Awaken, my darling son,” she said. “Shouldn’t you be scuttling around the kitchen, looking for tasty bits of garbage for us to eat? You know how hard it’s been to put food on the table since your father was almost squashed.”
“Blast! I’ve overslept!” Grgr yelled. How strange his voice sounded to those things on the sides of his head that passed for hearing membranes. Alarmed, he jumped up and startled his mother half to death. She reeled from the hole just as his father rushed to her assistance and peered over the edge.
“What has gotten into you, Grgr?” he shouted. Grgr struggled out of the hole and tried to explain things as best he could. Straining to understand his hapless son’s reply, his father said, “He speaks gibberish! And look at how he’s changed! Only four limbs now, no exoskeleton, no antennas–” He gave Grgr a series of pokes with his forelegs. “Get back in your hole, you brute!”
“Ow! Hey, knock it off, will ya?!” said Grgr as he retreated to the safety of his hole. For the rest of the night, he tried to amuse himself by exploring his sleeping place: a shaft-like knothole in a horizontal two-by-four about one inch deep and a couple of inches in diameter. Since he could climb vertical surfaces now only with the greatest of difficulty, after a while he simply sat at the bottom and sulked. Grgrsmszzz was depressed.
At mealtime, his loving sister tossed a delectable selection of edibles down to him, trying to tempt his palate with choice bits of decaying food and greasy gunk, but none of it appealed to poor Grgr. This went on for a couple of nights, but little by little his family’s mixed feelings of fear and sympathy had turned to indifference. The fact is, they were so busy trying to make ends meet that they no longer had time to think about him. Left alone in his hole, Grgr became thinner and weaker, living only on occasional drops of water and bread crumbs that somehow found their way into his sleeping place.
And then, as if things couldn’t get worse, Grgr’s father rented out his hole–his hole!–to some boorish beetles who drove him into a corner and heaped dust and debris on him. “Hey,” Grgr complained, “I’m still living here, ya know?” Then Grgr fell silent and brooded.
The hours flowed by, and after a couple more nights, Grgr’s transition was complete. He couldn’t understand a word any of these bugs said anymore, and, more important, he didn’t really care. First, he drove off the beetles with loud verbal abuse and shrewd pokes with a pointy splinter of wood. Then, after a rest to gather his waning strength, he used his strange limbs to climb the side of what was once again his hole. The time had come to confront the family.
Poking his head over the edge, Grgr saw that a meeting was in progress. “Good timing,” he thought, as he watched his mother, father, and sister talking.
He heard his mother groan. “How hard things have been since Grgr became so strange!” she said in cockroach.
“Yes,” agreed his father. “It’s not enough that he refuses to support us, he’s become so rude he scared away our boarders!”
“You want to know what I think?” asked Grgr’s sister. Her mother’s and father’s antennas twitched toward her. “I think he’s persecuting us. Yes, that’s it: he’s persecuting us!”
“She’s right! He’s turned against us,” said her father. It was at this juncture that they became aware of Grgr, crouched outside their little family circle.
“Stop persecuting us!” yelled his sister, who had become terribly fond of that word. “Get out! Get out!”
Her parents turned to face him and picked up the cry: “Get out, get out!” they all yelled.
Grgr may not have comprehended their words–they just sounded like a bunch of hisses–but he certainly understood their tone. “That’s it!” he shouted back at them. “I’ve had it with this two-bit hole in the wall! I’m outta here!”
Bill Waters has been writing one thing or another for years and is showing no sign of slowing down. Recent milestones include sharing the stage (sort of) at a poetry reading with Princeton University’s Paul Muldoon; watching his three-minute version of Hamlet being performed; being married for 15 years to the most wonderful woman he’s ever met; and self-consciously speaking about himself in the third person. He and his wife live in Pennington, N.J., with their three amazing cats.