The evening before K.'s thirty-first birthday - it was about nine
o'clock in the evening, the time when the streets were quiet - two men
came to where he lived. In frock coats, pale and fat, wearing top hats
that looked like they could not be taken off their heads. After some
brief formalities at the door of the flat when they first arrived, the
same formalities were repeated at greater length at K.'s door. He had
not been notified they would be coming, but K. sat in a chair near the
door, dressed in black as they were, and slowly put on new gloves which
stretched tightly over his fingers and behaved as if he were expecting
visitors. He immediately stood up and looked at the gentlemen
inquisitively. "You've come for me then, have you?" he asked. The
gentlemen nodded, one of them indicated the other with the top hand now
in his hand. K. told them he had been expecting a different visitor.
He went to the window and looked once more down at the dark street.
Most of the windows on the other side of the street were also dark
already, many of them had the curtains closed. In one of the windows on
the same floor where there was a light on, two small children could be
seen playing with each other inside a playpen, unable to move from where
they were, reaching out for each other with their little hands. "Some
ancient, unimportant actors - that's what they've sent for me," said K.
to himself, and looked round once again to confirm this to himself.
"They want to sort me out as cheaply as they can." K. suddenly turned
round to face the two men and asked, "What theatre do you play in?"
"Theatre?" asked one of the gentlemen, turning to the other for
assistance and pulling in the corners of his mouth. The other made a
gesture like someone who was dumb, as if he were struggling with some
organism causing him trouble. "You're not properly prepared to answer
questions," said K. and went to fetch his hat.
As soon as they were on the stairs the gentlemen wanted to take
K.'s arms, but K. said "Wait till we're in the street, I'm not ill."
But they waited only until the front door before they took his arms in a
way that K. had never experienced before. They kept their shoulders
close behind his, did not turn their arms in but twisted them around the
entire length of K.'s arms and took hold of his hands with a grasp that
was formal, experienced and could not be resisted. K. was held stiff
and upright between them, they formed now a single unit so that if any
one of them had been knocked down all of them must have fallen. They
formed a unit of the sort that normally can be formed only by matter
that is lifeless.
Whenever they passed under a lamp K. tried to see his companions
more clearly, as far as was possible when they were pressed so close
together, as in the dim light of his room this had been hardly possible.
"Maybe they're tenors," he thought as he saw their big double chins.
The cleanliness of their faces disgusted him. He could see the hands
that cleaned them, passing over the corners of their eyes, rubbing at
their upper lips, scratching out the creases on those chins.
When K. noticed that, he stopped, which meant the others had to
stop too; they were at the edge of an open square, devoid of people but
decorated with flower beds. "Why did they send you, of all people!" he
cried out, more a shout than a question. The two gentleman clearly knew
no answer to give, they waited, their free arms hanging down, like
nurses when the patient needs to rest. "I will go no further," said K.
as if to see what would happen. The gentlemen did not need to make any
answer, it was enough that they did not loosen their grip on K. and
tried to move him on, but K. resisted them. "I'll soon have no need of
much strength, I'll use all of it now," he thought. He thought of the
flies that tear their legs off struggling to get free of the flypaper.
"These gentleman will have some hard work to do".
Just then, Miss Bürstner came up into the square in front of them
from the steps leading from a small street at a lower level. It was not
certain that it was her, although the similarity was, of course, great.
But it did not matter to K. whether it was certainly her anyway, he just
became suddenly aware that there was no point in his resistance. There
would be nothing heroic about it if he resisted, if he now caused
trouble for these gentlemen, if in defending himself he sought to enjoy
his last glimmer of life. He started walking, which pleased the
gentlemen and some of their pleasure conveyed itself to him. Now they
permitted him to decide which direction they took, and he decided to
take the direction that followed the young woman in front of them, not
so much because he wanted to catch up with her, nor even because he
wanted to keep her in sight for as long as possible, but only so that he
would not forget the reproach she represented for him. "The only thing
I can do now," he said to himself, and his thought was confirmed by the
equal length of his own steps with the steps of the two others, "the
only thing I can do now is keep my common sense and do what's needed
right till the end. I always wanted to go at the world and try and do
too much, and even to do it for something that was not too cheap. That
was wrong of me. Should I now show them I learned nothing from facing
trial for a year? Should I go out like someone stupid? Should I let
anyone say, after I'm gone, that at the start of the proceedings I
wanted to end them, and that now that they've ended I want to start them
again? I don't want anyone to say that. I'm grateful they sent these
unspeaking, uncomprehending men to go with me on this journey, and that
it's been left up to me to say what's necessary".
Meanwhile, the young woman had turned off into a side street, but
K. could do without her now and let his companions lead him. All three
of them now, in complete agreement, went over a bridge in the light of
the moon, the two gentlemen were willing to yield to each little
movement made by K. as he moved slightly towards the edge and directed
the group in that direction as a single unit. The moonlight glittered
and quivered in the water, which divided itself around a small island
covered in a densely-piled mass of foliage and trees and bushes.
Beneath them, now invisible, there were gravel paths with comfortable
benches where K. had stretched himself out on many summer's days. "I
didn't actually want to stop here," he said to his companions, shamed by
their compliance with his wishes. Behind K.'s back one of them seemed
to quietly criticise the other for the misunderstanding about stopping,
and then they went on. The went on up through several streets where
policemen were walking or standing here and there; some in the distance
and then some very close. One of them with a bushy moustache, his hand
on the grip of his sword, seemed to have some purpose in approaching
the group, which was hardly unsuspicious. The two gentlemen stopped,
the policeman seemed about to open his mouth, and then K. drove his
group forcefully forward. Several times he looked back cautiously to
see if the policeman was following; but when they had a corner between
themselves and the policeman K. began to run, and the two gentlemen,
despite being seriously short of breath, had to run with him.
In this way they quickly left the built up area and found
themselves in the fields which, in this part of town, began almost
without any transition zone. There was a quarry, empty and abandoned,
near a building which was still like those in the city. Here the men
stopped, perhaps because this had always been their destination or
perhaps because they were too exhausted to run any further. Here they
released their hold on K., who just waited in silence, and took their
top hats off while they looked round the quarry and wiped the sweat off
their brows with their handkerchiefs. The moonlight lay everywhere with
the natural peace that is granted to no other light.
After exchanging a few courtesies about who was to carry out the
next tasks - the gentlemen did not seem to have been allocated specific
functions - one of them went to K. and took his coat, his waistcoat, and
finally his shirt off him. K. made an involuntary shiver, at which the
gentleman gave him a gentle, reassuring tap on the back. Then he
carefully folded the things up as if they would still be needed, even if
not in the near future. He did not want to expose K. to the chilly
night air without moving though, so he took him under the arm and walked
up and down with him a little way while the other gentleman looked round
the quarry for a suitable place. When he had found it he made a sign
and the other gentleman escorted him there. It was near the rockface,
there was a stone lying there that had broken loose. The gentlemen sat
K. down on the ground, leant him against the stone and settled his head
down on the top of it. Despite all the effort they went to, and despite
all the co-operation shown by K., his demeanour seemed very forced and
hard to believe. So one of the gentlemen asked the other to grant him a
short time while he put K. in position by himself, but even that did
nothing to make it better. In the end they left K. in a position that
was far from the best of the ones they had tried so far. Then one of
the gentlemen opened his frock coat and from a sheath hanging on a belt
stretched across his waistcoat he withdrew a long, thin, double-edged
butcher's knife which he held up in the light to test its sharpness.
The repulsive courtesies began once again, one of them passed the knife
over K. to the other, who then passed it back over K. to the first. K.
now knew it would be his duty to take the knife as it passed from hand
to hand above him and thrust it into himself. But he did not do it,
instead he twisted his neck, which was still free, and looked around.
He was not able to show his full worth, was not able to take all the
work from the official bodies, he lacked the rest of the strength he
needed and this final shortcoming was the fault of whoever had denied it
to him. As he looked round, he saw the top floor of the building next
to the quarry. He saw how a light flickered on and the two halves of a
window opened out, somebody, made weak and thin by the height and the
distance, leant suddenly far out from it and stretched his arms out even
further. Who was that? A friend? A good person? Somebody who was
taking part? Somebody who wanted to help? Was he alone? Was it
everyone? Would anyone help? Were there objections that had been
forgotten? There must have been some. The logic cannot be refuted, but
someone who wants to live will not resist it. Where was the judge he'd
never seen? Where was the high court he had never reached? He raised
both hands and spread out all his fingers.
But the hands of one of the gentleman were laid on K.'s throat,
while the other pushed the knife deep into his heart and twisted it
there, twice. As his eyesight failed, K. saw the two gentlemen cheek by
cheek, close in front of his face, watching the result. "Like a dog!" he
said, it was as if the shame of it should outlive him.