Some say the word Odradek is of Slavonic origin, and try to account for it on that basis. Others again believe
it to be of German origin, only influenced by Slavonic. The uncertainty
of both interpretations allows one to assume with justice that neither
is accurate, especially as neither of them provides an intelligent meaning
of the word.
No one, of course, would occupy himself with such studies if there were
not a creature called Odradek. At first glance it looks like a flat star-shaped
spool for thread, and indeed it does seem to have thread wound upon it;
to be sure, they are only old, broken-off bits of thread, knotted and tangled
together, of the most varied sorts and colors. But it is not only a spool,
for a small wooden crossbar sticks out of the middle of the star, and another
small rod is joined to that at a right angle. By means of this latter rod
on one side and one of the points of the star on the other, the whole thing
can stand upright as if on two legs.
One is tempted to believe that the creature once had some sort of intelligible
shape and is now only a broken-down remnant. Yet this does not seem to
be the case; at least there is no sign of it; nowhere is there an unfinished
or unbroken surface to suggest anything of the kind; the whole thing looks
senseless enough, but in its own way perfectly finished. In any case, closer
scrutiny is impossible, since Odradek is extraordinarily nimble and can
never be laid hold of.
He lurks by turns in the garret, the stairway, the lobbies, the entrance
hall. Often for months on end he is not to be seen; then he has presumably
moved into other houses; but he always comes faithfully back to our house
again. Many a time when you go out of the door and he happens just to be
leaning directly beneath you against the banisters you feel inclined to
speak to him. Of course, you put no difficult questions to him, you treat
him--he is so diminutive that you cannot help it--rather like a child.
"Well, what's your name?" you ask him. "Odradek," he
says. "And where do you live?" "No fixed abode," he
says and laughs; but it is only the kind of laughter that has no lungs
behind it. It sounds rather like the rustling of fallen leaves. And that
is usually the end of the conversation. Even these anwers are not always
forthcoming; often he stays mute for a long time, as wooden as his appearance.
I ask myself, to no purpose, what is likely to happen to him? Can he possibly
die? Anything that dies has had some kind of aim in life, some kind of
activity, which has worn out; but that does not apply to Odradek. Am I
to suppose, then, that he will always be rolling down the stairs, with
ends of thread trailing after him, right before the feet of my children,
and my children's children? He does no harm to anyone that one can see;
but the idea that he is likely to survive me I find almost painful.