Â by Gianluca Mercadante
– Dear!!! For goodness’ sake, what’s happened…?!
– I can’t believe it, it can’t be… oh God, it can’t be true!!!
– What can’t be true, Dear, am I allowed to know? Before the neighbours get the police to come round, if possible.
– Police? Police, Darling?! How could you…? How could you be so cynical, so insensitive! It’s the funeral directors we need, not the Police.
– How about an embalmer whilst we’re at it…
– Stop all this sarcasm! It’s a tragedy, I tell you, a tragedy!
– Could you fill me in on the details? After 28 July 1914, 1 September 1939, 11 September 2001 and the false alarm on 21 December 2012, I’m extremely eager to know the events that triggered today’s tragedy so that I can pass on the memory to our grandchildren, Dear.
– My mother was right about men, you’re all the same.
– That’s a rather widespread opinion — if you ask your grandmother, she’ll say the same thing.
– My grandma is dead!
– I know that, Dear, calm down, it was just a figure of speech. I know your grandma has passed away, I was at her funeral too, but it’s not like anyone has died today, it it? Or have they?
– Yes they have!
– They have…?! Oh… Dear, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise it was so serious…
– Oh no, of course not! This smart-arse thinks I just start screaming like a hysterical banshee for nothing!
– You’re right, Dear, I… I mean, I… I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to say.
– Just don’t say anything then, that’ll be easier.
– Can I ask…
– What do you want to know? You always want to know something, don’t you, Darling. Out with it!
– Who is… who is the de cuius?
– The what…?!!
– The de cuius. The deceased, Dear. What I’m asking is who’s popped their bloody clogs?! Are you going to tell me or will I be waiting until Christmas?
– It’s Christmas the day after tomorrow, Darling.
– There’s still forty-eight hours to go. Well?
– It’s… it’s… oh God, I can’t believe it…! Oh God I can’t… I can’t even say his name!
– Dear: who?
– Yes, Darling. Bubsy is dead.
– Oh, Christ…
– Darling! Bubsy is dead, but at least wait until He is born before calling his name in vain.
– Bubsy, eh?
– So to sum up: you’ve created this huge scene for… for bloody BUBSY?!
– Are you saying Bubsy isn’t worth a huge scene? You don’t have any heart at all, they were right, my…
– … your Mum, your grandma and all the holy saints of God! Bubsy is the name you gave to your damned, dratted and blasted iPhone!!
– Yes…! Poor Bubsy…
– Poor Bubsy?!! We just bought it six months ago and…
– Eight months ago.
– Yes, massive difference.
– Twenty-two days, nine hours and approximately sixteen minutes.
– Dear, I’m filing for divorce.
– Go ahead, Darling. Go to your lawyer, Darling, then we’ll see the grounds on which you intend to leave me, Darling!
– On the grounds that for eight months, twenty-two days and… and…
– Do you want to phone a friend, Darling?
– Very funny, Dear. In any case: since Bubsy’s been on the scene, I’ve ceased to exist. Are those grounds sufficient?
– You’re not being fair. Bubsy wants us to be connected, not disconnected. And especially not divorced.
– Bubsy wants us behind bars, Dear. And if it’s not Bubsy wanting us there, it’ll be the bank instigating proceedings. Let me make myself clear, Dear: there is no way on this earth that I, your husband, will ever go within a mile of another iPhone again after seeing this ridiculous Bubsy break after eight wretched months, twenty-two stinking days and… and…
– Nine hours and approximately sixteen minutes, Darling.
– Enough! This isn’t ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, in fact: precisely because we’re not on ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire”,Â get used to the fact that a Bubsy number two will never set foot in this house, and that’s final.
– Yes, Dear?
– Bubsy was an iPhone 4, actually, an old model. The 6s is out now.
Nativity Call Centre
– Nativity Call Centre, Merry Christmas. My name is Gabriel, how can I help?
– Merry Christmas, Gabriel. The Angel Gabriel?
– Who do I have the pleasure of speaking with?
– It’s the Ox and the Donkey.
– I repeat, which one of those gentlemen do I have the pleasure of speaking with?
– Oh, that’s up to you. We’re practically a single entity these days. In some models they’ve even glued us arse to arse, so…
– Er… using slightly more appropriate language, perhaps, let’s return to the main question.
– You mean whether it’s the Angel Gabriel’s fault that Christmas exists? The electronic voice who put us on hold asked us that. We replied “maybe”.
– No, the main question is: how can I help you? It’s nothing personal, believe me, it’s the default question.
– Orders… from above?
– Let’s just say the supervisor wants it that way. He thinks in terms of dogma,Â even though He’s in favour of free will. Let’s get back to business: how can I help?
– We’d like you to be so kind as to update the Nativity scene with an additional figure.
– Which one exactly? We have Arab bakers, Turkish pizza makers, Chinese handymen, illegal immigrants in thousand-piece gift sets, we’re up to our eyeballs in carpenters (they’re the only sponsored category, by the way…), architectural barrier builders, pro-nuclearists, pro-abortionists, mass-murderers, bankers, politicians, Freemasons…
– No, no, heavens no, none of those. We were thinking… well, we were thinking about the possibility of inserting a… new figure.
– New?… Interesting. Which one would you like?
– A cleaner.
– A… a what?!
– A person in charge of cleaning our bed of straw.
– Are you serious?
– Of course. Our working conditions are rather unfavourable — and I assure you, Gabriel, that’s putting it extremely mildly. We’re the Nativity’s heating system, Baby Jesus’s heat pump, completely environmentally friendly. You use us at Christmas and eat us at Easter. How have you got the gall to leave us sitting in our own poo, excuse our French?
– Well, I… we…
– From December to January. Wouldn’t you want to have a wash now and again?
– I guess so.
– A nice hot shower? Being careful not to get your wings wet.
– I wash those separately.
– But… but, hold on a second: shouldn’t Joseph be taking care of this?
– Joseph?! Apart from the fact that he’s become infatuated with Mary — and we know that’s their own business -, all Joseph does is look at the Baby Jesus. All the Kings do is look at the Baby Jesus, all the shepherds do is look at the Baby Jesus, all the sheep do is look at the Baby Jesus, all the Star of Bethlehem and the whole firmament do is look at the Baby Jesus. But no-one pays any attention to the state of our bedding.
– I see.
– Can you do something? Otherwise we’ll give Gordon Ramsey a call.
– I’m afraid… er… I’m afraid your proposal involves certain rather significant breaches of protocol.
– Well, Gabriel, why don’t you see whether we can amend a clause in the protocol or add one in. Who do you have to ask, the Vatican? Go ahead and ask, it’s in Italy — the Italians change their laws overnight as and when it suits them.
– I don’t think the Vatican has much to do with it.
– Doesn’t it? Oh. Sorry.
– But I’ll see what I can do anyway.
– Alternatively, you could propose more up-to-date Ox and Donkey models.
– What do you mean?
– With liberal attitudes, to put it simply. Complete with a small mound on the floor. The ecologist and town planning movements will do the rest.
– Of course. Public opinion first and foremost.
– Public opinion first and foremost.
– If that will be all, can I ask you to kindly hold the line so that the electronic operator can record your level of satisfaction with the service?
– We’ll wait.
– Thank you for contacting our Call Centre, Merry Christmas.
– Merry Christmas.
– Are you still there?
– What did you mean by “maybe”? The Annunciation was all my doing, you animals!
Beating around the Bush
– Merry Christmas, Mum.
– Merry Christmas, Son. Come on, surprise me: what have you got your revered mother this year?
– A necklace, Mum.
– Marvellous, Son. You’ve really touched me.
– You wouldn’t know it, Mum.
– Are you curious to know, Son, what your Mummy’s got you? Your lovely Mummy who you spoil rotten?
– From your tone of voice, Mum, I’m not expecting anything particularly lovely…
– You’re wrong there, Son. Your tireless source of life, your breast always full of milk, has got you much more than a Christmas present this year. This year, Son, I’m giving you the gift of awareness.
– Awareness, Mum?
– Yes, Son, awareness.
– Right… so, how do you wrap awareness then, Mum?
– You write it on a card, Son.
– All this beating around the bush, Mum, to tell me that all you’ve got me for Christmas is a measly card…?!
– Yes, Son, but it’s not just any old card.
– I hope it’s a jumbo-sized card then, Mum.
– It’s the classic postcard size, Son, four by six inches, with the following words: “Son, ask yourself why, at forty years old, you’re still saving certain Christmas presents for your mother.”
– Merry Christmas, Mum.
– Merry Christmas, Son.
– Season’s Greetings, Doctor!
– Sorry, what do you mean by “Season’s Greetings”?
– I mean Merry Christmas, Doctor. Do you celebrate Christmas?
– Depends whether or not I’m on shift at the surgery.
– But I’m calling you at the surgery right now.
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”.