Harold Behr
Harold Behr

Larry Spilkin’s Metamorphosis, with apologies to Franz Kafka

Larry Spilkin woke up one morning to find that he had turned into a giant ape. He was usually a restless sleeper and a prolific dreamer, which often left him feeling tired and irritable in the morning, but this last night’s sleep had been uncharacteristically peaceful and, as far as he could remember, dream-free. All the more his shock, while absent-mindedly rubbing his normally smooth tummy, at feeling a thick layer of fur extending upwards and downwards along his entire body. Further examination, furtively conducted in order to avoid waking his wife, compounded his shock. His face, clean-shaven the day before, had overnight acquired a heavily bearded growth which, horror upon horrors, had spread from his cheeks and chin to embrace his forehead, neck and shoulders. Moreover, his entire body had lengthened, obliging him to flex his legs in order to remain within the confines of the bed. His arms, too, had lengthened disproportionately, and his hands and fingers had shaped themselves into an unmistakably simian form.

Larry was a scholarly soul, trained as a scientist and inclined to see the world in rational terms. His first thought, fighting its way through a mind now palpitating with anxiety, was that he had acquired a rare endocrine condition, but for the life of him he could not think what that might be. The time had come wake Edna and share his distress with her.

“Darling!” He said in an undertone, trying to sound calm. “Darling! Edna! My love!” But instead of producing these tender words, he could only emit a series of barks, which had the effect of immediately electrifying Edna into a bolt upright position. Then, as her gaze came to rest on her beloved, she emitted an equally harsh animal shriek which exceeded her husband’s utterances in both volume and duration. This was succeeded by a barrage of terrified screaming accompanied by desperate movements aimed at pushing Larry out of the bed.

Once Edna’s emotional reaction had subsided into a series of jerky sobs, Larry attempted, with placatory gestures, to reassure her that he was who he was, namely her ever-loving husband. He pointed to the pyjamas he was wearing, decorated with his favourite Snoopy logo and, reaching for his spectacles, fitted them round his strangely protuberant ears and over his now flattened nose to further demonstrate his essential Larryness. Edna rapidly discovered that Larry could both nod and shake his head meaningfully in response to her questions but this observation did little to relieve the state of panic which now gripped her.

The couple had not long been married, and Edna’s first port of call in the circumstances was not the family doctor but her parents, who lived not far away. In no time at all, Mr and Mrs Blumenfeld had materialised in the couple’s bedroom and were emitting similar though more restrained gasps and exclamations at the sight of the bespectacled creature staring at them from the bed. Mrs Blumenfeld was the first to summon the voice of reason. “We must ring the doctor at once”, she declared.

“The boy is very ill. He’s a risk to the whole family. It looks to me like some kind of plague. God forbid we could all end up looking like him”. Mr Blumenfeld heartily acquiesced. His first thought had been for his own state of health and the possibility that he might have a stroke at any moment, never mind the hairy condition of his son-in-law, so the prospect of having Dr Oberman on the premises was immensely reassuring to him.

Dr Maurice Oberman had seen many things in his time and he was not one to be fazed by the spectacle which now greeted him in the Spilkin home. He cast his eye over the reclining patient, held one arm up to closer inspection, extended the flexed fingers a few times and turned to the family crowding anxiously around the bed.

“I’m afraid you have all been the victims of a cruel practical joke”, he said tersely. “I know an ape when I see one. I suggest you look elsewhere for Larry. Find out where he is hiding and warn him that this is not in the least bit funny and that he is wasting everybody’s time. “As for the ape, he added as an afterthought, “this one is a perfectly healthy specimen, but if there are any further concerns about its health, I suggest you call in a vet.” And with that, he took his leave of the stunned family.

The next step was to summon Larry’s own parents to the bedside. The same sequence of shock and horror played itself out but in a different emotional key: the older Mrs Spilkin took one look at her son and turned away sharply, pale and speechless. Her husband, who was determined never to be shaken by anything that life might throw at him, studied Larry for a long time in silence, breathed deeply a few times and turned to his wife saying, “Now I can see a definite resemblance to your side of the family, Jayney.” Mrs Spilkin barely managed to throw her husband a filthy look before fainting into an armchair.

At a turbulent family conference Edna and the two sets of parents could arrive at only one conclusion – the matter must be kept secret within the family at all costs. Perhaps this was only a passing aberration and the Larry they all knew and loved would assume his original form. Larry nodded vigorous assent tot his plan and so the couple resumed their life together, with a few modifications. Edna’s mother moved in to be closer to her daughter at this time of need, while Larry took up occupancy of the spare bedroom.

The young couple were now seldom on their own. Mealtimes became more of a family occasion, with the older generation anxiously watching Larry for signs of any change in his behaviour. But apart from a slight change in his dietary habits (mainly an increased partiality for bananas and nuts) there was nothing of significance to be seen. Larry’s table manners were impeccable. He wore his yarmulka during the Friday night meal and joined in with the ‘Omeyn’ at the end of the Kiddush blessing by sounding a respectful bark. Conversation flowed around the dinner table as usual, with Larry frequently nodding and grinning while the ladies did most of the talking.

Time heals all things. Larry’s good-natured temperament shone through his ape persona and he did everything possible to reassure Edna that he was really quite harmless. But the passage of time also had a detrimental effect on life in the Spilkin household. For one thing, the lack of matrimonial relations began to take its toll, and a new problem soon arose, centring around the one outsider who was privy to what had happened.

Edna had a best friend called Betsy, with whom she was in regular contact and to whom she was accustomed to turn on all matters of personal import. Contrary to the family’s injunction to secrecy, she had confided in Betsy about the dreadful event which had overtaken her life and which now marred her domestic bliss. To support her friend, and also to satisfy her curiosity, Betsy had solicited an invitation into the Spilkin home and was both thrilled and alarmed at the sight of the ape grinning at her from across the family dinner table.

During subsequent visits, Edna could not help noticing Larry’s unconcealed delight on seeing Betsy, manifested by his jumping up and down and emitting a few short barks. Both Edna and Betsy decided that this was a bridge too far. At a council of war involving both sets of parents it was agreed that a new plan must be evolved. But what? Couples therapy was out of the question. Edna declared that Larry’s problem had nothing to do with her and besides, no therapist in their right mind would take on such an assignment. Divorce was also dismissed as an option – despite what had happened, Edna was still hoping for a reversal of Larry’s state. No, the immediate problem was to find alternative living arrangements for Larry, at least in the short-term.

The humane solution, it was decided, would be for Larry to be relocated in a zoo. Consultations with a team of keepers and the local vet resulted in Larry being led off, hand in hand with Edna, to Paradise Park, a popular zoological gardens not far out of town, with spacious animal enclosures where Lara’s every need would be met. At the moment of parting Edna flinched when Larry pursed his lips to give her an affectionate peck, but as soon as he had disappeared inside the enclosure she felt that a weight had been lifted from her. A new life awaited her, and the Larry she has once known, as well as the Larry he had recently become, disappeared from her consciousness.

However, a cloud soon gathered over Larry. Despite ample space in which to swing, climb and perch, his new environment proved inhospitable, if not frankly hostile. His fellow inmates, having immediately sensed that he was not one of them, showed their rejection by a series of gestures, including armed fangs, warning barks and the occasional nip and shove. Larry was soon ousted from their company. He retired to a corner of the enclosure where he hunkered down in solitude and spent his days and nights gloomily rocking back and forth. A keen ear would have picked up an almost human sound, rather like an ‘oy’, repeated over and over again.

Of more concern to his keepers was the fact that Larry soon stopped eating and began to lose weight. Something had to be done. The creature was clearly pining away. A conference of zoo personnel was convened to consider what action to take, but nature could not wait and took its own course. Early on the morning following the conference, a keeper entered the enclosure and was horrified to see, lying in the corner, the body of a creature which was unmistakably Homo Sapiens. At the moment of his departure from this world, Larry Spilkin had resumed his original form and rejoined the human race.

About the Author
I was born in South Africa in 1940 and emigrated to the U.K. in 1970 after qualifying in medicine. I held a post as Consultant Psychiatrist in London until my retirement in 2013. I am the author of two books: one on group analytic psychotherapy, one on the psychology of the French Revolution. I have written many articles on group psychology published in peer-reviewed journals. From 1979 to 1985 I was editor of the journal ‘Group Analysis’; I have contributed short pieces to psychology newsletters over the years.
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