KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 2: Winter 2015
Micro-Fiction: 380 words

A cage went in search of a bird

by Kimmo Rosenthal

We all on occasion might imagine we understand what Kafka means by this enigmatic sentence, especially when the intractable dark world closes in and we despair of breaking free. Such is the case with the young female professor who stands at the window, watching snowflakes dance a sad pavane in the velvet night as she ponders her pending tenure review. Her appearance suggests a free spirit, not your typical faculty member, with her spiky blond hair and the tattoo of a bird which can barely be made out on the pale, beautifully rounded shoulder in the debauch of light provided by a forlorn moon. Given a perennial penchant for heterodoxy, she gravitates toward boundaries and often crosses them. She knows many of her colleagues find her different. Looking at arabesques of shadows created by scarves of snow that adorn the trees, she thinks about how she feels caged. She perceives the irony of the much overused phrase “academic freedom,” because freedom is the one thing she has never felt since arriving at this dream job at a prestigious college. Conformity hems her in, coerces her into playing the game, a masquerade born of intellectual vanity. Although she could confidently wear the right mask, she is loath to do so, while the menacing, black silhouette of tenure hovers, casting an unwanted shadow over her. She has been warned to forego strong opinions and to appear agreeable. Certainly, she should not appear arrogant around the lesser but tenured champions of a pleasant mediocrity, who will judge her less on her merits than by their own insecurities. She longs to feel connected with herself, to feel free even if it leaves her vulnerable, for failure to be true to her feelings would ultimately be the hardest to bear. Her dissertation was on Proust and his “intermittences of the heart” and she finds herself thinking of the fields of Combray. Suddenly she longs to “breathe with ecstasy” in the falling snow of the front yard. Thus she pulls on her boots and then throws her winter coat over her shoulders, and steps into the dark to stand and wait for the nascent morning, as she looks towards her inner horizon with the world adrift inside her.

[Editor’s Note: The title of this story is Number 16 of 109 aphorisms written by Franz Kafka from September 1917 through April 1918, which were then published by Max Brod in 1931 (six years after Kafka’s death) in a volume entitled, The Zürau Aphorisms.]

Kimmo Rosenthal
Issue 2, Winter 2015

has taught mathematics at Union College in New York for more than three decades. During that time he served a lengthy stint as Dean of Studies overseeing the undergraduate curriculum, including the First-Year Seminar on critical reading and writing, and Writing Across the Curriculum. Since returning to the faculty, he has taught the seminar regularly and has turned his attention from mathematical research to writing fiction.

Rosenthal’s short story “Reading Murnane at 4AM (The Consolation of Possibility)” was nominated by Prime Number for a Pushcart Prize.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Reading Murnane at 4AM (The Consolation of Possibility), 1626-word short story in Press 53’s Prime Number Journal (Issue 53, April-June 2014); includes brief interview of five Questions and Answers

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