The Bucket Rider
by Franz Kafka
Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir
oal all spent; the bucket empty; ground do not rise with more dignity,
the shovel useless; the stove shaking themselves under the sticks of their
breathing out cold; the room drivers. Through the hard-frozen streets we
freezing; the trees outside the window rigid, go at a regular canter; often I am upraised
covered with rime; the sky a silver shield as high as the first storey of a house; never
against anyone who looks for help from it. I do I sink as low as the house doors. And at
must haveJ coal; I cannot freeze to death; last I float at an extraordinary height above
behind me is the pitiless stove, before me the vaulted cellar of the dealer, whom I see
the pitiless sky, so I must ride out between far below crouching over his table, where
them and on my journey seek aid from the he is writing; he has opened the door to let
coaldealer. But he has already grown deaf out the excessive heat.
to ordinary appeals; I must prove irrefutably "Coaldealer!" I cry in a voice burned
to him that I have not a single grain of coal hollow by the frost and muffled in the cloud
left, and that he means to me the very sun made by my breath, "please, coaldealer, give
in the firmament. I must approach like a me a little coal. My bucket is so light that I
beggar, who, with the death rattle already in can ride on it. Be kind. When I can I'll pay
his throat, insists on dying on the doorstep, you."
and to whom the cook accordingly decides The dealer puts his hand to his ear.
to give the dregs of the coffeepot; just so "Do I hear right?" he throws the question
must the coaldealer, filled with rage, but over his shoulder to his wife. "Do I hear
acknowledging the command "Thou shalt right? A customer."
not kill," fling a shovelful of coal into my "I hear nothing," says his wife,
bucket. breathing in and out peacefully while she
My mode of arrival must decide the knits on, her back pleasantly warmed by the
matter; so I ride off on the bucket. Seated heat.
on the bucket, my hands on the handle, the "Oh yes, you must hear," I cry. "It's
simplest kind of bridle, I propel myself with me; an old customer; faithful and true; only
difficulty down the stairs; but once without means at the moment."
downstairs my bucket ascends, superbly, "Wife," says the dealer, "it's
superbly; camels humbly squatting on the someone, it must be; my ears can't have
deceived me so much as that; it must be greetings; just one shovelful of coal; here in
and old, a very old customer, that can move my bucket; I'll carry it home myself. One
me so deeply." shovelful of the worst you have. I'll pay you
"What ails you, man?" says his wife, in full for it, of course, but not just now, not
ceasing from her work for a moment and just now." What a knell-like sound the
pressing her knitting to her bosom. "It's words "not just now" have, and how
nobody, the street is empty, all our bewilderingly they mingle with the evening
customers are provided for; we could close chimes that fall from the church steeple
down the shop for several days and take a nearby!
rest." "Well, what does he want?" shouts
"But I am sitting up here on the the dealer. "Nothing," his wife shouts back,
bucket," I cry, and numb, frozen tears dim "there's nothing here; I see nothing, I hear
my eyes, "please look up here, just once; nothing; only six striking, and now we must
you'll see me directly; I beg you, just a shut up the shop. The cold is terrible;
shovelful; and if you give me more it'll make tomorrow we'll likely have lots to do again."
me so happy that I wont know what to do." She sees nothing and hears nothing;
All the other customers are provided for. but all the same she loosens her apron
Oh, if I could only hear the coal clattering strings and waves her apron to waft me
into the bucket! away. She succeeds, unluckily. My bucket
"I'm coming," says the coaldealer, has all the virtues of a good steed except
and on his short legs he makes to climb the powers of resistance, which it has not; it is
steps of the cellar, but his wife is already too light; a woman's apron can make it fly
beside him, holds him back by the arm and through the air.
says: "You stay here; seeing you persist in "You bad woman!" I shout back,
your fancies I'll go myself. Think of the bad while she, turning into the shop, half-
fit of coughing you had during the night. But contemptuous, half-reassured, flourishes
for a piece of business, even if it's one her fist in the air. "You bad woman! I
you've only fancied in your head, you're begged you for a shovelful of the worst coal
prepared to forget your wife and child and and you would not give it me." And with
sacrifice your lungs. I'll go." that I ascend into the regions of the ice
"Then be sure to tell him all the mountains and am lost forever.
kinds of coal we have in stock! I'll shout out
the prices after you."
"Right," says the wife, climbing up to 1921
the street. Naturally she sees me at once.
"Frau Coaldealer" I cry, "my humblest