A trapeze artist

Franz Kafka
Originally published in “Revista da Semana”, in its March 30, 1946 edition.
The research, transcription and orthographic adaptation is by Iba Mendes (2016)

A trapeze artist – as we know, this art that is practiced on top of the domes of great circuses is one of the most difficult of all those possible for man – had organized his life in such a way that – first by professional zeal for perfection, then for a habit that had become tyrannical – while working for the same boss, he remained on the trapeze day and night. All his needs – on the other hand, very small – were met by servants who took turns and were watching below. Everything needed on top was taken and brought in baskets built especially for that purpose.
This way of living did not present the trapeze artist with any special difficulties with the rest of the world. It was just a little uncomfortable for the other numbers of the program, because it was impossible to hide that he had stayed up there, although he kept quiet, some glances from the public turned to him. But the directors forgave him because he was an extraordinary, irreplaceable artist. In addition, it was known that he did not live like that on a whim and that only in that way he could be perfectly fit and preserve the extreme perfection of his art.
Besides, up there he was very well. When, in the hot summer days, the side windows around the dome were covered, and the sun and air broke out in the twilight of the circus, it was even beautiful. Their human coexistence was very limited, of course. Sometimes a touring colleague climbed the ascension rope, sat beside him on the trapeze table, leaning on the right rope, the other on the left, and they talked for a long time. Workers who repaired the roof exchanged a few words with him through the skylight, or the electrician who checked the wires in the upper gallery shouted some respectful, though almost unintelligible, word.
Except on those occasions, he was always alone. Sometimes, an employee wandering around during the rest of the empty circus looked up at the almost attractive time when the trapeze artist rested or practiced his art, without knowing that he was being watched.
Thus, the trapeze artist could live in peace except for the inevitable trips from one place to another that greatly teased him. What is certain is that the businessman tried to shorten this suffering.
The trapeze artist was driven to the station in a race car that drove through the deserted streets at full speed at dawn; too slow, however, for his nostalgia for the trapeze.
On the train a place was prepared especially for him with a petty replacement – but somehow equivalent, in his way of living.
At the destination, the trapeze was already set up long before its arrival, even before the boards were closed and the doors were set. For the businessman, the most pleasant moment was when the aerialist supported his foot on the climbing rope and was going to settle again on his trapeze.
Despite all these precautions, travel seriously disturbed the trapeze artist’s nerves, so that, however good they were, economically speaking, for the businessman, they always proved painful.
Once they were traveling, the artist at his post, dreaming, and the businessman by the window, reading, the trapeze man spoke to him gently. And I told him, biting my lips, that from that day on I needed, to live, not a trapeze, as before, but two, one in front of the other.
The businessman immediately agreed. But the trapeze artist, as if he wanted to demonstrate that the entrepreneur’s acceptance did not matter more than his opposition, added that he would never, at any time, work solely on a trapeze. He seemed to be horrified at the thought that it might ever happen to him. The businessman, stopping and observing his artist, reiterated his absolute conformity. Two trapezoids is better than one. On the other hand, the exercises would be more varied and more pleasing to the eye.
But the artist suddenly started to cry. The businessman, deeply moved, stood up and asked what was wrong. And, as he received no answer, he went up to the artist, caressed him, hugged him and pressed his face to his, until he felt tears on his skin. After many questions and affectionate words the aerialist exclaimed sobbing:
A single bar in the hands. How could I live!
So it has now become easier for the entrepreneur to comfort him. He promised that at the first station, at the first stop, he would telegraph to install the second trapeze, and he reproached himself for letting the artist work so long on one trapeze. Finally, he thanked him for making him aware of that unforgivable omission. In this way, the businessman was able to reassure the artist and return to his place.
In return, he was the one who was not at ease. With grave concern, he peeked, secretly, over the book. If such thoughts had started to torment him, could they stop altogether? Wouldn’t they continue to increase day by day? Wouldn’t they threaten its existence? And the businessman, alarmed, thought he saw in that apparently calm dream, in which the hiccups had ended, the first wrinkle began to sketch on the trapeze artist’s childish forehead.

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