The news arrives: “The Prime Minister is dead.” We rush to mourn him. Being a public figure, his corpse is on display for all to say goodbye. The casket on a stage in the chapel. The benches placed asymmetrically in front of the altar accommodate a disordered crowd. There is confusion among the mourners. They are puzzled by the empty casket.
Instead of resting in peace, the Prime Minister hangs on the steps beneath the altar like a limp puppet. Journalists whisper about how he got caught with a transvestite prostitute, how his sweet wife had no idea he had these preferences.
He is brownish and flaccid, a trace of his stoutness remains in between the folds of the skin. Though he is dead he can still speak and move in small measures. His arm lurches forward as he raises his index finger begging to be heard. “I am here!” Nobody in the room takes notice that though he is dead, he is also partly alive. “Excuse me,” I say to the Minister, “Please understand we don’t quite know how to look at you. You’re a corpse but you’re moving . . .” The Minister is impressed, “That’s Exact!”
I rejoice over my accurate assertion, and shake him, but he begs me to hold my horses, “Hey! I’m dead. If you shake me I’ll be deader and will have no more words to speak.” His voice is barely audible and he has stopped all movement except for a little bit of head nodding. His skull bares a long scar.
I hold his hand softly, “What happened with the transsexual prostitute?”
“I like prostitutes with dicks,” he admits.
The journalists in the chapel note his statement, “Finally a real piece of news!”
“And what about your wife? There are rumors of spicy ties with an underage girl!” someone else screams out.
“None of that matters anymore when you’re dead. When you’re dead you don’t even know you’re married.”
His mother, slightly ashamed, comes to the steps and leads him back to his casket. The crowd on the benches is ready for the ceremony to begin. The Prime Minister lies down, but his arm keeps creeping back up out of the coffin. “Don’t worry,” says the mother, “These are the last little bursts. It’ll take years before he can move again. We can bury him now.”
“I’d like to poison myself and take my life,” said the grandfather one day. “The way things are going, it would be a good idea if the child did the same.” I told him that if anybody were to poison my boy, it should be me, seeing I was his mother. “If you want to poison yourself, go ahead. I’ll be in the room next door.” And left my son with the old man.
The boy never cried. It was a great virtue of his. And he barely ever moved. Eleven months old and I could already let him sleep in the crib with no bars. On the day of the poisoning, though, I heard him sob and scream like an eagle from the other room. I ran to see what was going on and found my father slumped at the feet of his desk, notebooks wide open in front of him. His head was planted on the chair seat. The boy was propping himself onto the old man’s chair legs. He looked at his grandfather and cried.
“Gosh Dad, are you happy now?” I told the old man. His eyes were still open. He wasn’t dead yet, but paralyzed from the venom. His expression revealed a sense of regret. “I made a mistake,” he said, “death by asphyxiation is the worst one of all.” But we all knew it was too late to change that. There was nothing to do other than accompany him, with sweetness, onto the other side.
I kneeled towards my son and embraced him from behind. This was his moment to say goodbye. I took his hand in mine, miming a wave, and whispered in his ear, “Bye-bye grandpa. Bye-bye. Have a good trip.” We stayed like that, my son and I, observing the last instants of the man’s life.
Then we went in the other room, and lay down face to face on a small bed. I knew I had been wrong in allowing a boy to see such a thing. Maybe that was why my father suggested I poison him as well: to make sure he would have no memory of this day. I looked at the boy in front of me and felt that I loved him. “Wouldn’t you rather be alive than dead?” I asked him. For the first time my son looked at me like a man. I saw the person he would become. His expression was a definite yes. The choice was made right then.
Camels and Oasis
In Guatemala to know who you really are you are asked by a spiritual guide to envision a desert. If it looks like a globe you are blessed with unlimited possibilities. If it looks like a map with borders, it means your mind is closing off. The guide whispers: “Think about oasis.” No thanks. “Envision a camel.” How boring. You always thought camels and oasis were too simple to be thought of. Now it turns out that if you refuse to think of them you are refusing salvation. As far as envisioning goes you prefer to keep walking. The desert you imagine is a bit like Palms Springs. Large fans are ventilating the earth, working as energetic windmills. No water in sight, no animals—surely a sign of a barren soul, you think, worrying that the spiritual guide will blow your cover. Right then the face of a lonely Indian with no legs and no bust appears on the side of the road. He does not smile and neither do your parents.
Chiara Barzini is a screen and fiction writer. Films written by her have been distributed in Italy, Spain, Japan, and Latin America. The most recent one, Into Paradiso premiered at the 67th Venice Film Festival. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Noon, Or Magazine, Sleeping Fish, The Encyclopedia Project, The New Review of Literature, and Smyles & Fish as well as Rolling Stone Italy, Marie Claire, Flair, and Italian Vanity Fair.