Â by Gianluca Mercadante
A police officer stops me and asks me for my driving licence and vehicle registration certificate. He steps away, carries out the necessary checks with his colleague who has stayed by the police car, then returns and hands the documents back to me through my open window.
– Have you got any snow chains? — He asks.Â â€¨They’ve been lying in my boot since last year; I get out and open it to show him. But the officer rests his gaze on a box right next to the chains.
– And what are these?Â —
– Books.Â —
– What are you doing with all these books? Where did you get them?Â —
– It’s an anthology.Â —
– A what?!!… —
– An “anthology” is a collection of stories written by several authors. I am one of the authors.Â —
– Sorry, I don’t buy that.Â —
I extract a copy of said anthology from the box and show him my name printed on the cover. The officer reads it and looks me up and down as though he were seeing me for the first time. He looks at me, then the name, he looks back at me, then back at the name. I look elsewhere; unfortunately elsewhere is precisely where his colleague is standing, caressing his assault rifle for lack of anything better to do.
– So you’re a writer?! — concludes the officer. — You don’t seem like one to me.
– Believe me, I feel exactly the same way a lot of the time. — I reply.
– Mercadante! How do you get your books published? By paying?
-No. By writing.
– But writing books isn’t enough, is it, Mercadante! You’re in cahoots, aren’t you, Italian style. That’s how you publish.
– That’s no doubt true. The problem is that I’m in cahoots with people who make good books and believe in what they do. If I’d got in cahoots with people who don’t care about whether it’s books or shoes they’re making, by now I’d have enough money to get by. And you would be the one wanting to get in cahoots with me. Italian style.
11:00 am, Post Office.
I’m in the queue. I have some bills to pay and I’ve been keeping some money my relatives gave me in the house since Christmas. I thought it’s high time I put it away, in the savings account my Dad opened for me when I was little. Old habits die hard, even if in times of crisis it’s hard to save money and you need to wait until Christmas to then pretend you haven’t received anything until Easter, just in case you get a rather hefty bill in the meantime. If you do, it’s best to wait until the autumn to deposit your savings. Perhaps adding them to the ones for the next Christmas,Â if your final heating bill at the end of the spring doesn’t force you to blow them all in one go.
It’s my turn. I pay the bills and deposit my savings. When the cashier hands my savings book back over, I notice that in addition to the deposit, a debit has been made. Today.â€¨I ask the cashier: – “What’s this?” You’ve taken 34 euros and sixty cents. Without asking me anything. Without any warning. —
– It’s a government tax. — The cashier explains. — The previous government introduced it; it’s levied on savings exceeding X amount of money by a smidgen. So your savings must be a smidgen over that amount, aren’t you happy? —
– No. — I reply. — I’m not happy at all. And… tell me, dear: what does the current government think about this tax introduced by the previous government? —
– Oh, well, they did actually talk about it, and it seemed like they wanted to do away with it. Then they forgot about it. — Remarked the cashier.
I put my savings book away and leave the post office feeling like a rich man, or at least a man whose savings exceed X amount by a smidgen so small that I even have to pay tax on them. Not a huge amount of tax, mind you. Just a smidgen.
To pay my most recent bills, it took me a month and a smidgen. For some people, not even a year and a smidgen is enough.
The wind is getting stronger. Perhaps I’ll be able to see Mont Blanc from my balcony this evening if the sky becomes clearer. At least a smidgen clearer.
– Doctor, I need something to distract me.
– Buy a television.
– And for everything else there’s Mastercard, right?
– No. For everything else there’s i-Phone.
– Mercadante! You haven’t been on Facebook for five days, nine hours, eleven minutes and forty-four seconds. How are you doing?
– Like anyone who’s come back especially to write that piece of crap.
Illustration by ManuelaCh
Gianluca Mercadante was born in 1976 in Vercelli. Dozens of his short stories have appeared in anthologies, magazines and in the Italian book series Giallo Mondadori.Â He has published “McLoveMenu” (Stampa Alternativa publishing, 2002, Parole di Sale prize), “Il Banco dei Somari” (NoReply publishing, 2005), “Nodo al Pettine — Confessioni di un parrucchiere anarchico” (AlacrÃ n publishing, 2006), “Polaroid” (Las Vegas publishing, 2008), “Il giardino nel recinto di vetro” (Birichino publishing, 2009), “Cherosene” (Las Vegas publishing, 2010), “Io ho visto tutto” (Milanonera publishing, 2012), “CasinÃ² Hormonal” (Lite Editions publishing, 2013), “Caro scrittore in erba…” (Las Vegas publishing, 2013) and “Noi aspettiamo fuori” (EffedÃ¬ publishing, 2014). Together with Daniele Manini, he has also been responsible for the anthology “Liscio assassino” (Zona publishing, 2014), appended to the band Banda Putiferio’s album with the same name. He has written literary criticism articles for the Italian daily newspaper “La Stampa” and for the magazines “Orizzonti”, “Pulp” and “Satisfiction”.