The Later Life of Herr Samsa’s Picture’, Elizabeth R. McClellan

Art © 2023 Dr T. Eratopo

 [ Frame, © 2023 Dr T. Eratopo ] There was no reason to pick it up
from the curb, except that the rain
had just come, and the frame was so
fine: turned neatly, made with care.

The picture was an advertisement
I remembered: a woman in furs,
flushed warm, with the smooth lips
of someone whose water was always clean.

Why such a fine frame for an ad? This
G.S., who had etched his initials in the
thing he built, did he love her like we love
the dreams they sell us to keep us quiet?

Did she remind him of sister, lover, wife—
even self? Such things are not unheard of.
Stuffing it beneath my ragged jacket,
I felt something crusted and dried

on the thin glass, barely adhesive,
coated with grime. rubbing did not
remove it, and it rained harder now,
so I hurried home before I was soaked.

It came clean with some alcohol and salt,
and yes, the bourgeois in the picture had
a prettier face when seen clearly, but
furs are the province of the oppressor,

the uniform of the class enemy. Still.
She had mattered to this G.S., before
whatever spill had left his picture obscured,
whatever ill fortune had left it to gather

dirt and later be rained on with the rubbish.
My comrade, he made fun of me, the
snobbish bastard: “Furs and fine ladies,
then, instead of revolution?” I told him

to bite his tongue until he gave up his
grandfather’s linen handkerchiefs, and he
shot me a look that was not solidarity,
muttered something he would not

repeat. I studied the furred model while I
sewed my living, and wondered about him:
had he died? It seemed a shame to leave
such a perfect frame in the rain. Did they

not miss him enough to keep a memento?
Perhaps he built better ones, to hold more
cherished things, and there was not room
for one more? Perhaps they didn’t even

know him, just bought a pretty piece from
a workman with a steady lathe-hand, but
it fitted the picture so exactly, like one was
made for the other. When I was next around

that street, after a meeting where nothing
was decided except that men of every class
talk too much and listen too little, and me
in my better clothes, as not to attract suspicion,

I knocked at a door near where I remembered
picking up the frame, and asked “do you
know a woodworker who may have lived
near here, a Herr G.S.?” The door slammed

in my face like a shot, and the woman
who opened the next door looked at me
like she would rather shoot me dead than say
“He’s dead. Family gone. Get off the street,

it’s late.” I did not risk a third. Perhaps G.S.
was a revolutionary too, perhaps he died
gloriously, and his family fled. Perhaps the
lady in furs was a trick, a bit of misdirection.

My comrade isn’t welcome around now.
I told him it was my landlady, but I prefer
her quiet company by candlelight,
subversive pamphlets tucked behind her frame.

© 2023 Elizabeth R. McClellan

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