Maurizio Brancaleoni

Red-penning Slips

      Like every other day, I wake up early. I wash my face, get dressed, have a quick breakfast. I go out, cover by foot the distance to the station and wait for the train patiently. A delay of twenty minutes. Luckily I had taken that possibility into account and I had acted accordingly, getting up earlier.
      Finally, the train arrives and I get on board. The car is filled up in a few seconds; the seats in front of me are both occupied and I can’t stretch out my legs. I close my eyes and try to sleep, abandoning myself to the music of the MP3 player.
      As the train moves closer to its final destination, I rise and step down into the vestibule so as to be able to alight as soon as possible.
      I make my way through the apparently impassable throng on the platforms. Fortunately, it’s a matter of minutes before the metro train arrives.
      There is no empty seat, so I stand near the door, squashed and englobed in the horde of morning commuters.
      As I get off the metro, I opt for the imposing staircase instead of taking the indolent and crowded escalators.
      I check my watch. There’s still time. No need to catch a bus, I can walk. Along the way, I stop at a coffee shop to drink an espresso.
      When I walk into the office, I’m perfectly on time. I greet my two colleagues and I sit down at my desk.
      “Look here,” G says, rising from his chair and showing a me a daily newspaper from 1984. “’Have gone’ is repeated three times in this article. If it wasn’t for us –”
      “Does it ever occur to you guys that what we do is absurdly useless?” H bursts out. “The newspapers we’re checking have already come out and they surely won’t be reprinted after we have corrected them.”
      “I don’t think our job is useless,” G replies. “Personally, I find it extremely stimulating.”
      “So what? ‘Stimulating’ doesn’t mean ‘useful’. What’s your take on it, N?”
      “I work for a living. I don’t care whether my job is useful or not as long as I get paid.”
      G and H mimic me: “I don’t care I don’t care .”
      “You don’t care about anything” G adds.
      I see them making coarse gestures out of the corner of my eye. I shrug my shoulders and grab my red pen. A demanding day awaits me.
      During the lunch break, I go to L, whose office is close to mine, and ask her out.
      “Are you free tonight?”
      “No, I have to wash my hair.”
      “And Saturday night?”
      “I’ll have to bite my nails.”
      She joins her friends who have been waiting for her before the elevator, they go down to the ground floor. Through the high glass partitions I see them walk out of the building and gather in front of the entrance to smoke and chat. I’m not hungry at all, so I get a tea from the vending machine and go back to my office.
      The day after I ask L out again.
      “How about going to the cinema tonight?”
      “Sorry, I’m busy tonight. I have to clean my ears.”
      “Wednesday night?”
      “I’ll have to listen to my mobile ringtone.”
      I decide to try a different approach.
      “What about the new Dupobs album? They’re so beyond.”
      “Who the fuck are they supposed to be?”
      After work, both because today is my birthday and because I feel particularly depressed, I decide to buy me a gift and purchase a human being steak at the delicatessen. On my way home I eagerly anticipate the moment when I’ll sink my teeth into that dainty flesh and I feel unusually euphoric.
      As soon as I get home I turn on the radio immediately because there’s a Mahler symphony I want to listen to, then I proceed to cook the steak with great care. While the first movement charges along, I sit at the table and taste the steak. Nothing great.
      I expected it to be much better, especially at that price.
      In any case, eating human flesh is an important status symbol in contemporary society and the day after, at work, I boast of my dinner with G and H.
      “You should have tasted that human delicacy!” I declare.
      “Yeah, sure,” H says, guffawing. G says nothing, but looks perplexed, as though I’ve talked mega-bullshit. They must be envious.
      Before clocking off, I go and see L again and ask her if I can offer her a coffee or something at the cafe nearby.
      “No I can’t, I have to run home and give birth to Sun Ra” is her answer.
      I wonder what’s wrong with me.


      Like every other day, although the alarm clock has been ringing for ten minutes, I stay under the sheets for a little while. I want to enjoy the warmth of my bed as long as I can.
      Finally I get up, wash my face and get dressed. I go out and have breakfast at my leisure at the coffee shop opposite home. When it’s time to go, I just have to take a few steps to reach the RightoTypo branch office where I work since it is located next to my apartment.
      I take my seat and caress my pile of magazines. I feel hyped up. I’ll correct them all in a day, forget about ‘minimum target achievement’!
      Just at the moment when I pounce on Dogs in the World, N comes in.
      As always, he says hello in a low voice without the slightest trace of cheerfulness or conviction. He sits down, takes his red pen from a can on the desk and starts looking through the colourful headlines of his first magazine in the day.
      I’ve never liked N. He’s strange.
      I mean, there’s nothing particularly strange about his clothes or the way he looks, but I always perceive him to be extraneous, as if he didn’t belong to this country. Or rather, to this world. It sounds ridicolous, I know.
      For example, he’s anything but stupid, or so it seems judging by his education, but despite his Bachelor of Languages, he’s so gullible! Yesterday he told me and H he had had an excellent human being steak for dinner. As if it could be even remotely possible or legal! Obviously the seller fooled him into believing it was human flesh, so as to make him pay more than the steak was worth.
      It makes me wonder if he knows he’s human. If he knows we all are.
      Not to mention all those times when words literally die in his throat. All of a sudden he just can’t find the right word and, like a ship high and dry, runs aground. And yet, on other occasions, he has proved to be able to speak clearly and resolutely.
      But over and above that, to put it in plain words, he’s strange. He’s really strange. He’s unclassifiable. Somehow he doesn’t fall into any human category that occurs to me.
      One day I happened to come across his curriculum vitae. He hasn’t done anything for three years before working here! What did he live on in the meantime? As far as I know, he has always lived alone, and has neither friends nor relatives.
      He’s tenacious, though, this can’t be denied. Unfortunately, in his case, such a good quality ends up bordering idiocy. Every day he asks L out and she always refuses and, on top of that, makes fun of him with such answers as “I’m busy, I have to buy a foot-massaging pillow.” And he doesn’t turn a hair.
      However, it seems to me that L doesn’t despise him as she wants us to believe. Probably, since she plays a pivotal role in this company, she just can’t allow gossip to spread about her possibly being sentimentally involved with somebody like N.
      Unlike N, H is easy to describe: an arrogant stupid youngster. Perhaps I’m being a little harsh, but I can’t find any redeeming qualities in him. He got this job because his uncle owns 30% of the company shares and, because of this, he basically does what he likes: he comes to work late, he’s slack and careless and some days he doesn’t even show up. Anyhow, I have to admit I’m glad to back him up when he makes fun of N. Somehow you need to make time pass.
      But here comes H. He steps in with an air of confidence, swaggering his shoulders bellicosely. He nods towards me and N, greets us with a rough “Ho”. He sits down, and instead of setting to work, turns on his computer, surfs the internet.
      “Excuse me, G. How many years have passed since the last coming of Godzilla?”
      Good God. Only N could ask such a question.
      “I have to check some dates here on the newspaper. I need it to make a calculation.”
      H, apparently unattentive, says: “A thousand Godzillas died and were resurrected over the last few years, it’s impossible to remember the last time it came! We are so inured to that funny gummy thing that it doesn’t even give us a little shiver now. Only old people still get terrified, but it’s just a habit.”
      “How can you say something like that?” I reply. “The fact that so far we’ve been lucky doesn’t mean that such a creature is no longer dangerous! Can’t you see that that monster is still a menace to the whole mankind?”
      “I just need the date” N almost begs.
      I tell it to him. I’d like to add that they are stupid and ingenuos, but I don’t out of compassion.


      Like every other day, I get up. At what time doesn’t matter because my uncle owns some shares of RightoTypo. I wash my face, get dressed and go out. I stop at a coffee shop to have breakfast and read the sport news. I can take my time, I always do. When I feel like it, I slowly set off to work.
      As I walk into the office, those two jerks, G and N, are already there. Always on time. Those assholes are always so precise! Not one second late!
      A few days ago, N lied about having had a human being steak for dinner. As if he could afford it! Sometimes he’d do better to shut up. As when, in the middle of a conversation, he can’t find a word and stops speaking all of a sudden. Such a ridicolous little man!
      And then he asks L out over and over again, as if there was the slightest chance that L may be interested in him. Probably she hates him but doesn’t say it to his face because she doesn’t want to be rude; L. is a classy woman, she really is.
      As to G, he’s always immersed in his memories. The good old days! When he was young and life was beautiful and everything was easier and the sale and consumption of human flesh was not legal. To give you an idea of what kind of person he is, he still considers Gojira a menace to mankind! That funny puppet from the Jurassic! Old dotard! Actually, he’s not that old, but he sounds like he’s seventy years or something as soon as he opens his mouth. He’s not that bad, though. At least I have somebody to talk to about soccer: N knows nothing about sport.
      In my opinion, the job is boring and totally useless, but as long as the RightoTypo folks will pay me to do it, I don’t see why I should take the trouble to find another occupation. And then, I do what I like here.
      The other day I was at the pub with my friends and they claimed that the RightoTypo doesn’t really exist. They said that it doesn’t even have a website.
      “But it has hundreds of branch offices all around the world!” I replied. So I’ve been told, at least.
      “And where are they exactly?”
      “Look, I work there,” I replied, slightly irritated. “I should know if it exists or not! And why would they need a website?”
      “I wonder why we need the company itself,” one of my friends retorted. “What’s the point of correcting newpapers and magazines which have already come out? What’s the real aim of the company?”
      In short, I ended up quarrelling with them and told them to get stuffed. Morons.


      Like every other day, I get up, have a warm bath and get dressed. I fix my hair, put on some make up.
      Then I wake up my children, remind my husband to go to the laundry after taking the kids to school, say goodbye, go out. There’s a lot of traffic on the road, but I take a shortcut and manage to arrive on time.
      As I approach the elevator I notice N. I pretend I haven’t seen him and go towards the stairs, but he calls out to me and says: “Don’t worry, I won’t bother you anymore.”
      Such a change in his attitude baffles me.
      We step into the elevator and N says nothing during the whole ascension. What may have happened? I’m unable to find an explanation.
      Surely these subhumans are really strange and it’s extremely difficult to understand them fully.
      We have ensured that their true nature would be hidden so as to prevent them from being discriminated by the masses; we have given them a fake job to keep them busy and give them the impression that they are well integrated into society; they earn a regular salary for carrying out an insipid job, to say the least, and they still aren’t satisfied. This one, for example, doesn’t seem to be able to live without a woman. Sure, nobody here knows I’m married because I mean to keep my private life separate from work, but I did my best to make him understand that he repels me. To no avail! Every day, several times a day, he walks up to me and asks me out. How annoyingly childish! Surely on such occasions his behaviour makes his true nature as a deficient person all the more evident.
      At any rate, we are very interested in the dynamics of the relationships among the subjects of unit 5. At the outset, when I was told about this project to be carried out in synergy between our organization and the National Department of Health, I pictured these subhumans as a sort of hideous and deformed half-wits. On the contrary, – and I almost get the shivers while I say it – they are like us. That is, they look like us. Especially H. He’s an excellent subject, much inclined to conform and extremely reactive to the surrounding environment. If I didn’t know the truth about him, I would think he’s one of us. His sole problem is that he can’t see that he gets older. But in this regard he doesn’t seem to me to be different from all the several Peter Pans among us.
      As to G, he has trouble defining the outside world. This stems from the fact that over the last few years several sociocultural changes have occurred in this nation and G isn’t able to move along with the times, a little like what happens to the human beings of the same generation, although to a lesser extent. To be more precise, G is not able to accept contemporary ordinary cruelty. Nonetheless, he has appeared to be less disgusted by it recently, which gives us hope for the future. In fact, we are convinced that he’s on the road to full recovery.
      As to N, he’s the typical artist type. Very clever, he possesses the capacity to think differently from the masses, but at the same time he is completely incapable of looking after himself and taking control of his life. A clear example of this is his clumsiness when dealing with the opposite sex.
      We made him believe that he obtained a degree to motivate him and spur him to expect more from himself, but it has proven totally pointless. Instead of plunging headlong into the world and finding a place where to make maximum use of his potential, he prefers coming here everyday to correct old newspapers and magazines.
      However, we believe that being among peers will gradually lead them to acquire a novel and more truthful awareness of the surrounding environment. This was also one of the goals of the project, although we must admit that so far the results haven’t lived up to our expectations.
      Some of us believe that we should tell them the truth. They think that being aware of one’s natural inferiority would spur them to improve themselves. I disagree.
      Now they aren’t happy, but at least, they accept themselves. And isn’t that the key to reaching inner balance?


Writer and translator, up to now he has published over twenty poems and short stories in several Italian collections and journals as well as in the previous issues of Peculiar Mormyrid. In 2015 he graduated in Languages and Translation at Sapienza University of Rome with a thesis which aimed to show how Hugo Claus’ novel The Sorrow of Belgium might be regarded as a grotesque counterpart of Joyce’s Portrait. In the same year he was one of the three winners of a poetry competition on non-places with his poem uno o l’altro verso tante direzioni comunque (toverse here or there a lot of directions anyway). Interviews, reviews and translations are (ir)regularly posted on his bilingual blog “Leisure Spot”. He also contributes as a translator to various websites and journals such as Rivista!unaspecie or Fischi di carta.

Issue 3 Table of Contents