Living room of a middle-class apartment. A man in his forties, wearing jeans and a cotton shirt, is sitting on the couch with a laptop on his knees. He’s ticking, focused on the keys. At his feet, on a carpet, a six or seven year old child looks fully absorbed in playing with some plastic dolls resembling hideous monsters. But…
«Daddy, what do you do for a living?».
The man lifts his eyes from the screen for a moment.
«What do you mean, what do I do for a living, little Mark? I’m a writer, aren’t I?».
If he really hoped to get his son off just like that, he was dead wrong.
«Hum… yes… but… what do you mean when you say “I’m a writer”?».
«I mean I write stories that are published».
It sounded like a good answer. But what sounds like a good answer for an adult, it’s not necessarily a good one for a child.
«So you write stories».
«Yes, I do».
«And where do you find these stories?».
«I don’t find them. I make them up».
«So you are an inventor».
«No… well yes… hum… in a way. Oh well, let’s say so. You don’t say inventor-of-stories, you just say writer».
«And after you’ve written your story on the sheets, what do you do next?».
The man rolls his eyes. He has just realized that it will be hard to get out from this conversation, and go back to the story he was trying to jot down.
«Well you know, there is a lot of work to do to get a book published».
«Oh, I see. So you have to collect the sheets, glue them…».
«No, no, what’s that got to do with it? I don’t do these things».
«Can’t you? So mum does it?».
«No, I mean, it is not about whether or not I’d be able to do it. This stuff is done by the printer».
«The pr…, the pri … pro … ter …». The child looks at his father, waiting for help.
«Printer, little Mark. I mean, the person who handles the machines to print the pages, cut and paste them together. To be accurate, this is called book-binding».
«Not band, bind».
«Oh. What a great job, the pipoter».
«Yes, that. What a nice job».
«Well but, being a writer isn’t bad too, is it?».
«It’s OK. They are so beautiful, the machines cutting the sheets and band… binding the sheets».
«B-I-n-d. Right, dad?».
«So, the printer makes the books for real. You just write the story».
The man is restless on the couch. The laptop is dangerously bouncing on his knees.
«Isn’t that enough?».
«No… that’s useful, otherwise the printer would have nothing to b-i-n-d».
«I wouldn’t put it like that».
«And once the book is ready and all nicely bind-ed, what do you do next? You put it on the bookshelf in the living room?».
«No, little Mark. I keep a copy for myself, just as a reminder, but printers don’t only print one copy: they print many copies».
«How many? Ten?».
«No, a lot more than that».
The child instinctively looks down to his hands and feet, counting as he was taught in school, «Twenty?».
«They usually print at least a thousand copies».
«They are many, yes».
«Where do you keep all these books?».
«I don’t keep them».
«You mean, you give them to granpa in the countryside?».
«No, little Mark. After the books are printed, they are taken to storehouses».
«Well, granpa has a big garage too!», Mark points out.
«Yes, but storehouses have to be bigger because there are so many writers».
«Oh, so being a writer must be an easy job, if everybody does it».
Again, the man rolls his eyes. «No, not everybody».
«To sum up, books are carried into storehouses and kept there…».
«No, they don’t stay there. They are taken to bookshops. Do you remember the one in the centre, where we buy your fairy tales books?».
«The one next to the ice cream man?».
«Yes, that one».
The child’s eyes light up, «Near the ice cream man, who makes the chocolate and strawberry ice-cream?».
«What a beautiful job, the ice cream man».
«Yes, it’s a great job indeed», admits the man with a disconsolate expression.
«Why aren’t you an ice cream man?».
«Because I am a writer».
«Are you a writer because you don’t know how to make ice creams?».
For a moment, the man can’t stop thinking that it’s a shame the world has changed so much over the last thirty years. He envies his grandfather who, when the grandchildren were annoying him, stopped them with his famous sentence, ‘Children should only speak when hens pee.’ He made an effort to keep cool and even tried to smile.
«I’m a writer because I like writing».
«But do you know how to make ice creams?».
«No, I don’t know how to make ice creams».
«Oh well, I thought…» says the child, resigned.
«There are plenty of ice cream makers», replies the man, vaguely offended.
«Writers too. You said that there are stores full of books».
The logic of the little boy is pretty damn compelling. The dad doesn’t know what to reply. He tries to move on with a, «Yes, hum, okay. But then books go to bookshops».
«Near the ice cream parlour».
«Yes, but the ice cream parlour is not important here».
«So you say! Will you buy me an ice cream this afternoon?».
The man realizes he is on the verge of defeat. «Okay, I’ll buy you one! However, as I said, books go to bookshops where people buy them».
«They buy them?».
«Of course! Otherwise, why would I write them?».
«You said you wrote them because you love writing!», protests the child.
The man tries a last twist, «True. But if we want to get the money to buy ice creams, dad not only has to write books, but also sell them».
«Wait a minute, I got it».
«You got it?».
«Yes: you sell books. Here’s what you do for a living».
«Oh, my God!».
The man gives up. It is hopeless to continue. He doesn’t even try to fight back.
The boy picks up his doll-monsters. Again, he looks like he’s a million miles away. But …
«When do we go out for an ice cream?».
Translation by Matteo Ciucci (edited by Sara Di Girolamo)