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An Incredible Christmas Story

by Walther and Antonio Bellomi

Verso la versione originale

In the ancient palace of Marquis Silvacroce in Florence, the old mahogany clock struck twelve. Suddenly the great room with dark wood-paneled walls came alive. The darkness, impenetrable an instant before, was broken by a faint greenish luminescence and the images in the portraits of the family ancestors quivered in their frames, before taking a tridimensional shape.

From old canvas cloudy ghosts sprang up and took a bodily form. Within five minutes twenty-five ancestors of the current family were gathered around the massive oak table. The old patriarch wearing a lansquenet uniform spoke first. “Here ve are again!” the old lion head roared. As head of the old family he liked to impose his will on the others. “Anoder Christmas... anoder gadering.”

“As it was conceded us by the enchantment of dear sorceress Marlina whom we fed and dressed,” said a venerable looking man wearing the traditional vest of 16th-century noble folk.

Dagoberto Silvacroce, second to last member in the time line, frowned and said, “Prithee, let us not indulge in useless chatter. Remember that we only have one hour in order to discuss our family business before we go back to our previous state. What is the agenda this year?”

The twenty-five members of the Silvacroce family had already taken their places around the big table and Giberto, the elegant and hair-pomaded dandy, killed in a house of ill repute in the remote year 1715, spoke. “The matter we are about to discuss is the shameful behavior of one member of our time-honored kin,” he said with his shrill voice. “Listen, my brethren. Giberto, youngest son of the current Marquis Silvacroce, has refused to work in the family bank and is doing menial work.”

A collective “Oh!” surged from the surprised and outraged gathering. Everyone frowned and looked angry.

“It is... it is... unthinkable!” said Cardinal Pompilio Silvacroce, his triple chin quivering like a jelly mountain of arrogance. “One of our family working like a commoner!”

“And he is going to work in the houses of commoners whose ancestors crept at our feet for a bit of half munched bread,” Giberto said. “It is outrageous! Utterly outrageous!”

“It is an insult to our revered family name!” roared the stern-looking judge Aleardo who, under the reign of Franz the First of Austria, had made quite a name for himself repressing popular demonstrations.

“And what is this outrageous menial work?” Cardinal Silvacroce asked.

The twenty-four remaining Silvacroces looked at each other, embarrassment clearly shown on everybody’s face. Colonel Odelio Silvacroce, who had died in the 1944 war during the Russian Campaign, broke the uneasy silence. “Well, this Giberto Silvacroce is a plumber.”

“And he has got my name too, the shameless scoundrel!” The dandy looked horrified. “But, prithee, what is a plumber?

“It is a kind of new work,” Colonel Silvacroce tried to explain, bridging the cultural gap of ages. “In simple words, he is engaged in constructing or repairing running water systems in the houses of people. Perhaps this is a bit difficult for you to understand, after all running water did not exist at the time most of you lived. Just as bathrooms did not exist either.”

The old patriarch looked horrified and his accent became heavier. “Running vater in de houses? Vot art of devilish habit is dis? And as for bad, who did efer need one?” His coarse soldier laughter shocked his more refined offspring who, terrified as usual by his temper, didn’t utter a word.

“Ven ve had to clear de dust ve had gadered ve only needed a good slashing rain and to get dry noding vas better than a stable vere to roll vid some tavern vench!” His coarse laughter sounded again and the Cardinal made the sign of the cross.

“This is not the point,” Dagoberto Silvacroce said. “The indignity of this matter is that a Silvacroce might be working for somebody else!”

“Definitely outrageous,” said Giberto, looking more feminine than ever. “We have to take measures. And strong measures, I would say!”

“Silfacroce... Silfacroce!” the old lansquenet roared. “How many times do I haf to tell you dat our name is Silberkreutz? Silfacroce doesn’t sound like a man name to me! But...” He paused and a glitter shone in his eyes. “But does dis Giberto get good money in return for his vork at least?”

“Oh, as for money, there are no doubts...” Colonel Odelio started to explain, but a horrified Cardinal Pompilio cut him short. “Money! How can you think of vile money in such terrible circumstances? I...”

“You shut your goddammed old trap!” Leotard Silberkreutz shouted. “Vot de devil do you know of money... you... you who found plenty of it in your pocket danks to old man here? Do you know how many droats I cut to get dat money for you? And de vounds I had to suffer? And de nights I spent skulking in de svamps vaiting for some rich merchant to pass by?”

The eyes of the old lion shone with ancient fire. “No, my emasculated offspring, you should not spit on money, you who vere able only to spend it.”

“But...” Giberto tried to cut in, but a ferocious look by the old lansquenet made him tremble and suddenly he did not feel like going on. No one else dared utter a single word.

Leotard Silberkreutz swept a circular glance of contempt on his offspring and uttered his verdict. “Dis Giberto Silberkreutz is a man after my heart. I like him. He appears to haf more guts dan all of you, pack of parasites. Dereby he has my permission to carry on vith his vork.”

“But...perhaps... you should hear the opinion of the rest of us...” Jacopo Silvacroce, notary public in 1816, tried to put in shyly.

A lion laughter roared, “I, Leotard Silberkreutz, am the opinion of all of you, and you shall do as you vere told.”

Cardinal Pompilio wanted to reply, but at that precise moment the old clock struck one toll and the shapes of the twenty-five Silberkreutz-Silvacroces became translucid. Their clouds rose from the table and took their places once again in the ancient paintings to rest for another year.

For a few more seconds Leotard Silberkreutz’s sarcastic laughter still lingered in the room before the last strokes of the clock sounded, and everything — the room, the paintings, the house — was shrouded in silence.

Copyright © 2009 by Antonio Bellomi
First published in Il Giornale del Termoidraulico 18 (1988)
Translated by the author – Revised by Kaelen Myril

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