«Look what idiot: he’s parking again on my spot! Is he blind or what? Isn’t he able to read the inscription on the road? That spot is addressed to my hearse. I also put up a sign saying: “Private Property”. Now I’m gonna giving him a telling off!».
Raimondo is the senior owner of the “Fratelli Gismondi: Onorati di onorarvi” funeral home in via Budelli, Brescia. He was standing upright on the steps delimiting the glass window of his shop, red-faced with anger. No more than a five-foot-two of a man, he showed off his big belly squeezed in a white shirt. He looked like the landlord of an inn more than a gravedigger, with all those little red veins running through his ruddy cheeks. Every time he gets nervous, flushing starts from the base of his neck and reaches the tip of his only hair on the head, a hair he fixed carefully with an unlikely comb over.
«Now I’m gonna knock him down! I’ve already told him a thousand times. He can park his piece of somewhere else».
A feeble, hoarse voice came from inside the shop: «What d’you think you’re doing? You’re just an idiot, all you can do is shout, but when you should get down to brass tasks you’re nothing but a chicken. Scratch his car if you dare to!».
Raimondo moved slightly, looking at his reflection in the dark glass window decorated with golden and red crosses.
«What are you saying, Adelmo? Your voice is so feeble that it seems coming from beyond the tomb. I can’t hear you, come out from the shadows».
«No way. You know I don’t like sunlight. And what for? To look at you as you’re making yourself ridiculous in front of everybody? That sign you hanged on is a fake, like your comb over. You even sketched your face on the no parking sign. You’re just a grumbler, all talk no action».
«Shut up! You’re just a workaholic devoted to accounts and numbers. When we were children, while I was playing in the garden digging holes, you used to stay all day long at home reading and studying».
A scornful laugh came from the shop: «You were already digging your own grave. Mom was proud of me and of my grades. I do have an accounting degree, while you got out secondary school by the skin of your teeth. If it hadn’t been for me, our family business would have been bankrupt. Who has been managing accounts in all these years? Who has been managing the administration? You’re just a walking dead».
Raimondo went down the three steps that divided the shop from the sidewalk, and, after having adjusted his tie with his sweaty hands, started walking all cheesed off down the paving, his arms folded behind his back.
The sky was getting dark and the few people who had gone to the tobacco shop to play with machines or at the lottery were coming back home now. Under the bar’s gazebo the usual neighbours gathered for the happy hour were joking with Karina, the beautiful Russian bartender, who ambled up and down among the tables showing her curves.
Soon the lampposts would have enlightened the peeling walls of the surrounding buildings and the pizzeria would have started to take pizzas out of the oven.
«Raimondo, stop being such a stupid. You have to take care of your business. Find some dead people: our caskets are empty. You just wanna get drunk and undress all the passers-by with your eyes. I saw you the other day as you were gazing at our neighbour. She’s too young for you. Why don’t you try to date a mature lady? At least you could provide some useful material to increase our business. You’re the only gravedigger without clients».
Raimondo ceased to walk back and forth down the sidewalk, he adjusted his mouse-grey suit with a gesture of his hand and went into the shop with aggressive intentions.
The coffins were arranged in manic order, perfectly parallel to one another. The choice was limited, but still decent variety of different models was available. Some were silk-filled caskets made out of the finest wood, some were darker and opaque, with synthetic lining inside. Artificial wreaths were scattered all around the shop and purple awnings decorated the windows.
Adelmo, with pomade in his hair and his tailor-made suit, was still, his glasses leaning on his hooked nose and the shop’s ledger between his hands. Out of sheer petulance, Raimondo moved the awnings so to let the feeble sunlight in. His brother loved the shadows, he would have surely seen this gesture as a challenge.
Playing the peacock, he walked up to Adelmo: «I’ve had enough of your humiliations. You look after accounts, I look after coffins and the dead. Our cousin, Gennaro, just called me, he’s a nurse at the hospital. There are four or fives old beans who are going to croak and when they drop dead, he’ll let me know. That’s why I need the parking spot. Now I’m going to that bastard who always steals my spot and I’ll choke him with my bare hands».
«Well, at least we’ll have a dead man and some money» cried Adelmo.
«You better go out and take an eyeful of Karina, she’s beautiful today. She’s wearing a breath-taking miniskirt and a floral shirt that lets half see everything».
«Listen, she’s not around. How come that in sixty years you’ve never managed to find a woman? You’re a loser. Look at me: I had a wife, children… sure, it’s all over now, but at least I tried».
«It’s just I couldn’t find the right woman. Maybe Karina…»
«You’re pathetic! She doesn’t even look at you. She smiles only to make you order one more glass: you’re her best client. Did you take a look at yourself in the mirror?»
«And you’re the one to talk! You, with that pale face of yours and those massive bags under your eyes, you look like a dead man» he lay off, resting his chubby hands on his bloated belly and laughing out loud.
«You know my skin’s soft and I’m allergic to sun. You don’t know what else to do to pick up a woman, you even came up with the telefax and photocopies service. In your mind, which woman in her right mind would ever go into a funeral home to send a fax?»
«I’m an entrepreneur and then again hope never dies. But now that’s it, I’m through with you. I’ll have a glass of wine and then I’ll get my hands on that yokel who always steals my parking spot».
Without waiting for a reply Raimondo reached the bar next door. Karina greeted him with a smile and gave him his usual drink. The man sat at the wrought iron coffee table under the gazebo and he started sipping his Campari quietly.
«Hey blond head!» Raimondo cried out as soon as he caught sight of the boy who had stolen his parking spot.
«If I ever catch you again on my spot, I’ll throw you in one of my coffins!»
The young guy, looking amused at the bartender, drew circles with his index finger around his temple.
Raimondo stood up awkwardly, befuddled by alcohol, he couldn’t even reach the usurper on time, he had already sped off. Panting and disappointed, Raimondo said goodbye to Karina and came back to his funeral home.
A strong scent of formaldehyde hit him like a punch in the face: even though he has been living with it for years, he never got used to that pungent smell.
«You stink like a hobo, and you’re not even able to defend yourself» Adelmo yelled at him.
«Maybe you’re right. You’ve always been the smart one. I’m just an incompetent bungler. I’m tired, don’t wanna discuss anymore. I need some rest».
He reached out to his brother and kissed him on his icy forehead. «Tomorrow I’ll give you another quick touch-up. You’re decomposing again».
Adelmo’s glassy eyes stared at him from inside the mahogany casket. He was lying properly in a luxurious coffin, with his glasses on his nose and a black notebook between his frozen hands. «Tonight I’ll keep you company». Raimondo closed the casket caressing the cover of it. He took his jacket off and double-locked the door.
Like an old vampire he took his seat inside the casket lined with red brocade.
«Goodnight my dear brother!» he whispered to the corpse.
Even though he hated him sometimes, he couldn’t never live without him. He’s always been the number one: his missing part, his mentor, his voice. Nobody shall ever part them, not even death.
Translation by Monica Frigerio (edited by Davide Spagnoli)