Alex Cecchetti


The Man with the Rifle Who Shoots Some People and Not Others

There’s a man in the mountains who shoots some people and not others. The news spread at night amid the baying of dogs, along the dirt tracks and lorry wheels. It moved slow as morning fog or else clustered and sputtered like frying dough, and then made its way among the café tables, in bed after making love or else before making love. There’s a man in the mountains who shoots some people and not others. That’s what people said and then that’s what the emails were all saying, the blogs, and finally the papers on the metro. You could wipe your arse with this stuff, Paul said, and you’d come out looking like a baboon, which meant with a rainbow arse, which also meant that the junk press has the advantage of fixing itself in your brain, self-publishing in your nerve endings, and gaining easy distribution through the simple mechanism of idiocy, of a pruned-down vocabulary. And so the rainbow arse was a whole metaphor that might even be just another kind of idiocy, but above all why some people and not others? The story had instilled terror at first, then became an anthropological issue and in the end a question of aesthetics, or else ethics. Some people said some monster, some poor jerk, others a young man from a good family, and they envisioned him as eccentric, with an eccentric hunting outfit and an eccentric rifle. That’s why he shot some people and not others, because he was eccentric, that was it. It’s about aesthetics, Paul was convinced. Ethics, someone else said at the next table. Divided by four vast letters, they grew indignant with each other. There are people being murdered and you talk about aesthetics? What aesthetics? The aesthetics of dictators? The aesthetics of insanity? Paul, let it rest. Paul, leave it be. Then came the list, always the same:
Hitler, nominative aesthetics. 
9/11, derivative aesthetics. 
Nero, genitive aesthetics. 
Manson, dative ethics.
Then matricides, patricides, as if killing were just another way of making up names or rubbing them out. And then, why a single murderer instead of many, why a single obsession instead of many? Why not all, why one?
And so murder was a gamble, a throw of the dice in the name of poetry.
If he chooses some people and not others it’s because they remind him of his mother, his sister, his father, the cat on the sidewalk, nutjob stuff.
If he chooses some people and not others he’s God.
God doesn’t choose, he furnishes precepts and prohibitions.
Remember the dancer?
If there was one thing Paul couldn’t stand it was absurdity. He saw the absurdity peeping out of every serious thing. And so he simply changed the subject and there was no better way to shift the subject away from absurdity than pussy. A despicable individual, I’ll admit, guilty of seeking refuge in a crotch, but a friend nonetheless.
What dancer?
The one with the teeny tits.
The police force, the Homicide division, checkpoints on mountain passes, all that business had led to nothing so far. Hunters had gone out with the local farmers, Alpine brigades trooped up, they sent helicopters, volunteers, doctors, all with dogs leading the way. But in the end the dogs were beaten and berated, then put on a diet of biscuits, doughnuts, then sent back up but came back down with not the least last little thing. And the man in the mountains kept shooting people, yes, but not everyone, only some people and not others.
He didn’t kill more people than an earthquake, but at least as many as a Friday or Saturday or an avalanche in May. We even tried to keep track of funerals, but no increase was visible. People die anyway and anywhere. And so we felt like life was a little swarm of flies and death was a windscreen, and as far as the flies knew the car might even run in reverse.
I didn’t think we’d really go, to take a look, a gander, Paul had said. Like everyone else already has. Everyone who? Everyone else. But we really did, in the old black, low-hung Saab, an indomitable automobile that still slid smoothly up the slope. And the road that started out blacktop at the bottom turned dirtbottomed at the top, then potholes and then stones and at a crossroads high in the mountains an Italian madonna.
She’s got a head like an egg, said Paul.
Because the egg is the soul.
And with those robes, one on top of the other like that, folding and unfolding over her like that and that egg-shaped head…
Doesn’t it look like a pussy?
The Italian madonna was iconically modelled after the female sex organ, to reclaim the nymph deities of springs and rills, of openings, nooks and chasms. And where in the ancient religions a penis stood the Catholics put a vagina. That was enough for our contemplation. The road again, then the dirt turned to muck, to mud, and puddles of water. Paul left the car on the edge of a sheer cliff, the low, damp grass was like a beaver pelt. Brown grass, dark, with snails climbing up. And so we walk along and pass one, then two, finally three little hills, and the road turns from muck into a road again. We’re passed by dirt-smeared vehicles, and a biker who rouses frightened woodcocks.
Caw caw.
Let’s go as far as that bridge.
In the mountains things look small and always near at hand, when they're really huge and far away. And the bridge spans a booming, crashing stream, another car pushes us off the road. It’s damp and cold, we hug ourselves inside our coats, hands in our armpits, shoes in the mud, and far off a man in a long jacket. Paul says look, and the man is walking back and forth, and forth and back on the bridge. And so we wait there and the man is walking back and forth, and forth and back on the bridge. A woman in rubber boots with a child comes along, the man looks at them and lets them go by. A tin-gray car comes along, and the man in the long jacket looks at it, and lets it go by. And another woman comes along, and the man lets her go by. And an old man on a bike comes along, and the man lets him go by, and only when the old man has his back turned does he slip out a rifle from under his long jacket. Paul says look, but I’m already looking, and I see as he sees that another man is coming down the hillside across from us, a man with a rifle. And before the other man in the long jacket can shoot or start walking back and forth on the bridge again, the man coming down the hillside shoots and brings him down, face down in the puddles of muck, his long jacket open on the ground in a geometric shape, his rifle still in his fist, his fist turning stiff and his grip to iron. Then blood and all the rest, including silence. Just in time, said Paul. And the old man falls off his bike, hitting his shoulder, his bag crumpling, terror on his face, the lesser of evils. The greater of evils is the man in the long jacket and the rifle dying in the mountains and taking his finest secret with him. We come closer and the man on the hillside walks down toward us. We’ll never know why he let the car and the child go by but was about to kill the old man, says Paul. The old man is on his feet now holding his bike and looking at that hexagon of jacket on the ground and maybe he doesn't know, or maybe he knows, that his life as a whole was a goal, it had a value on that bridge, and he will never know on what basis, by what rules, because the codes of his beauty are denied him, Paul says, stripped away by the death of his own murderer. And if we’re wrong? I say.
The man who has come down the hillside holding his rifle is waiting for us next to the corpse. Good aim Paul says. Mhmh, the man says. Good aim I say. Mhmh, the man says. Good aim, the man says. Good aim we say. The geometric shape on the ground quivers, maybe quivering in the wind of the advancing fall, maybe in promise of rain. The man with the rifle goes back up the hillside and I tail after. Paul calls me back but I keep going and he doesn’t dare follow us, or maybe he vanishes as we move on through the runnels of water around the stream. Suddenly, one by one, the heads of men emerge from the runnels and puddles. Bald heads with whiskers and beards and we plant our boots on them and keep going, and all those heads shiny and white as eggs, all those heads are speaking as our boots come crushing down, and they utter incomprehensible words, they repeat the errors and horrors of language, remarks and things reproached in the past, in childhood, at drunken dinners. And in all those obscenities I follow the man with the rifle treading on the faces as if on stepping stones and we go up the hillside the way you go into the fog, because all we want is to vanish the way heroes do in tales of blood, after doing what they had to do and taking care that no one follows. Whereas we're definitely followed, maybe by Paul, maybe the old man, maybe the corpse, maybe the hexagon.
And at the top of the hill there’s just the top of the hill and nowhere else to go, except two ropes hanging down from the sky, and we take hold of those ropes, our hands gripping the thick, rough coil and arm over arm we climb up, to the sky, and the sky is made of beams, wooden beams like a ceiling and so we start scratching at them, but only the blue comes flaking off, like old paint, dry plaster, but certainly not the beams themselves. And every trapdoor, every fissure we try is a fake trapdoor, a fake fissure. We beat against a sky with no exit.
And when the men catch up, Paul, the old man and with them someone else, they ask us to come down. Come down? We want to vanish, I tell Paul, so do your best now and try to understand. Understand what? That we’ve vanished, I say. And so we come down and nobody says a word to us, and nobody looks at us, and everyone acts like we're gone. And as we go off down the hillside and the cold breeze of fall brings the scent of fires in the valley, I ask the man with the rifle just one thing: If the hand of God comes down from the sky, and his voice does too, and if that means we can say God is sun, or God is elsewhere; then the messages and words that come from the earth and well up out of the mud puddles, that have egg-shaped heads and tell of errors, those are messages from who? The man with the rifle laughs, that's all.
This morning when I got out of bed I asked myself whether it was really him and not the other one, the man with the rifle on the mountain road who kills some people and not others.

traduzione di Johanna Bishop