The Dead
Curzio Malaparte

BY MIDNIGHT MORE THAN FOUR HUNDRED CORPSES and about a hundred injured had been dug out. At about one a few soldiers arrived with a searchlight. A blinding shaft of white light penetrated into the mouth of the cavern. At a certain stage in the proceedings I went up to an individual who seemed to be in charge of the rescue operations.

"Why don't you send for more ambulances? One is useless," I said to him.

The man was a municipal engineer --- an excellent fellow.

"There are only twelve ambulances left in the whole of Naples. The rest have been sent to Rome, where they don't need them. Poor Naples! Two raids a day, and we haven't even got ambulances. Thousands of people have been killed today: as always, the working-class districts are the worst hit. But what can I do with twelve ambulances? We need a thousand."

I said to him: "Requisition a few thousand bicycles. The injured can go to a hospital on bicycles, can't they?"

"Yes, but what about the dead? The injured can go to a hospital on bicycles, but what about the dead?" said the engineer.

"The dead can go on foot," I said, "and if they don't want to walk kick them in the ass. Don't you agree?"

The engineer looked at me strangely, and said: "You're trying to be funny. I'm not. But it will end as you say. We shall only get the dead to the cemetery if we kick them there."

"They deserve it. They're a real nuisance, the dead. Always corpses, more corpses, and still more corpses! Corpses everywhere! For three years we've seen nothing but corpses in the streets of Naples. And what airs they give themselves --- as if they were the only people in the world! Let them lay off, once and for all! Otherwise, boot them to the cemetery, and to hell with it!"

"Exactly. To hell with it!" said the engineer, giving me a strange look.

We lit cigarettes, and began to smoke, scanning the corpses lined up on the pavements in the blinding glare of the searchlight. Suddenly we heard a frightful uproar. The crowd had rushed the ambulance, hurling stones at the orderlies and the soldiers.

"It always ends like that," said the engineer. "The crowd demands that the dead should be taken to a hospital. They think the doctors can revive the corpses with the aid of a few injections or artificial respiration. But the dead are dead more than just dead! Do you see the state they're in? Their faces are pushed in, their brains are sticking out of their ears, their intestines are in their trousers. But the people are like that. They want their dead taken to hospital, not to the cemetery. Oh, grief makes people mad."

I saw that he was crying as he spoke. He was crying, and it seemed that the tears were not his own, but those of someone else close by. It seemed that he did not realize he was crying, that he was sure there was someone else beside him who was crying for him.

I said to him: "Why are you crying? It's no good."

"It's my only amusement, crying," said the engineer.

"Amusement? You mean consolation."

"No, I mean amusement. Even we have a perfect right to amuse ourselves every now and again," said the engineer, and he began to laugh. "Why don't you try it too?"

"I can't. When I see some things I want to be sick. My amusement is being sick."

"You're luckier than I am," said the engineer. "Being sick relieves the stomach. Crying doesn't. I wish I could be sick too!" And he moved off, elbowing his way through the crowd, who were yelling and cursing in menacing tones...

Everybody knows what a race of egoists the dead are. They are the only people in the world, no one else counts. They are jealous, and full of envy, and they forgive the living everything save the fact that they are alive. They would like everybody to be like themselves --- full of worms, with empty eye-sockets. They are blind, and do not see us; if they were not blind, they would see that we also are full of worms. Ah, the bastards. They treat us like slaves, they would like us to be alongside them, at their beck and call, always ready to be of service to them, to satisfy all their whims, to bow and raise our hats, to say "Your most humble servant." Try to say "No" to a dead man, try to tell him that you have no time to waste on the dead, that you have other things to do, that the living have their own affairs to settle, that they have duties to perform toward the living too, and not merely toward the dead, try to tell him that in these days the dead are dead and the living soon console themselves for their absence. Try to tell a dead man this, and see what happens to you. He will round upon you like a savage dog, and will try to bite you and tear your face with his nails. The police ought to handcuff the dead instead of being in such a frantic hurry to handcuff the living. They ought to shut them up in their coffins with irons on their wrists, and get a strong force of thugs to follow every funeral procession, in order to protect honest citizens from the fury of those savages; for they have a terrible strength, the dead, and they might burst their irons, smash their coffins, and break out and bite and tear the faces of all and sundry, relations and friends. The police ought to bury them with handcuffs on their wrists and, having nailed up the coffins securely, lower them into very deep, specially dug holes, and then tread down the earth above the grave, to prevent those bastards from coming out and biting people. Sleep in peace, you bastards --- sleep in peace if you can, and leave the living undisturbed.

--- from The Skin

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