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Fernando Sorrentino
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For some time now, my bookshelves have been filled to capacity and overflowing. I should have had them enlarged, but wood and labor are expensive, and I prefer to put off these expenses in favor of other, more urgent ones. In the meantime, I’ve resorted to a temporary solution: I placed the books in flat, and in this way I managed to make better use of the little space available.

Now it’s well known that books—whether they’re vertical or horizontal—gather dust, bugs, and cobwebs. I haven’t the time, the patience, or the dedication to do the periodical cleaning required.

On a certain cloudy Saturday a few months ago, I finally decided to take all the books out one by one, give them a dusting off, and run a damp dustcloth over the shelves.

On one of the lower shelves, I found Piccirilli. Despite the dust in those nooks, his appearance was, as always, impeccable. But I became aware of that only later. At first, he just looked to me like a piece of shoestring or a bit of cloth. But I was mistaken; it was already Piccirilli, from head to foot. That is to say, a complete little man five centimeters in height.

In an absurd way, it struck me as strange that he should be dressed. Of course, there was no reason for him to be naked, and the fact that Piccirilli is tiny does not warrant our thinking of him as an animal. Stated more precisely, then, I was surprised not so much by the fact that he was dressed as by how he was dressed: a plumed hat, a filmy shirt with point lace edging, a coat with long tails, leather, floppy topped hip boots, and a sword at his waist.

With his bristly mustache and his pointed, little Vandyke beard, Piccirilli was a tiny living facsimile of D’Artagnan, the hero of The Three Musketeers, just as I remembered him from old illustrations.

So then, why did I name him Piccirilli and not D’Artagnan, as would seem logical? I think, above all, for two complementary reasons: the first is that his sharp pointed physique literally demands the small i’s of Piccirilli and rules out, accordingly, the robust a’s of D’Artagnan; the second is that, when I spoke to him in French, Piccirilli didn’t understand a word, which demonstrated to me that, since he was no Frenchman, neither was he D’Artagnan.

Piccirilli must be fifty years old; there are a few silver threads running through his dark hair. I am thus calculating his age the way we do with human beings of our size. Except that I don’t know whether identical amounts of time are meted out to someone of Piccirilli’s tininess. Seeing that he is so diminutive, one tends to think—unjustifiably?—that Piccirilli’s life is shorter and that his time passes more swiftly than ours, as we understand the case to be in animals or insects.

But who can know that? And even in the event that it is so, how does one explain the fact that Piccirilli wears seventeenth-century clothes? Is it conceivable that Piccirilli is nearly four hundred years old? Can Piccirilli, that being who occupies so little space, hold title to so much time? Piccirilli, that being of such fragile appearance?

I should like to question Piccirilli on these and other matters, and I should like him to respond; and, in fact, I often do put such questions to him and, in effect, Piccirilli answers them. But he can’t manage to make himself understood, and I don’t even know whether he understands my questions. He does listen to me with an attentive look on his face, and, no sooner do I fall silent, he hastens to answer me. To answer me, yes, but in what language is Piccirilli speaking? Would that he spoke in some language I don’t know; the trouble is, he speaks in a language that is nonexistent on earth.

Despite his physique so suitable to the letter i, Piccirilli’s high-pitched little voice only utters words in which the exclusive vowel is the o. Of course, since Piccirilli’s voice timbre is so extremely shrill, that o sounds almost like an i. This, however, is a mere conjecture on my part, since Piccirilli never pronounced the i; hence, neither can I guarantee, by way of comparison, that that o is really an o, nor, as a matter of fact, that it is any other vowel.

With my scanty knowledge I endeavored to determine what language Piccirilli speaks. My attempts proved unfruitful, except that I was able to establish in his speech an invariable succession of consonants and vowels.

This discovery could have some importance if one were sure that, in reality, Piccirilli speaks some language. Because any language, however poor or primitive it may be, will probably be characterized by a certain linguistic scope. But the fact is that all of Piccirilli’s speech is reduced to this phrase: “Dolokotoro povosoro kolovoko.”

I call it “phrase” for the sake of convenience, for who can know what those three words contain? Whether they really are words, and whether there really are three? I have written them like that because those are the pauses I seem to perceive in Piccirilli’s single-stringed diction.

As far as I know, no European language possesses such phonetic characteristics. As for African, American, or Asiatic languages, my ignorance is total. But that doesn’t concern me since, on the basis of all evidence, Piccirilli is, like us, of European origin.

For that reason, I addressed him with sentences in Spanish, English, French, Italian; for that reason, I attempted words in German. In all instances, Piccirilli’s imperturbable little voice responded: “Dolokotoro povosoro kolovoko.”

At times Piccirilli irritates me; other times I feel sorry for him. It’s obvious he regrets not being able to make himself understood and thereby initiate a conversation with us.

“Us” includes my wife and me. The intrusion of Piccirilli produced no change in our lives. And the truth is that we esteem and even love Piccirilli, that minuscule musketeer who eats with us in a very mannerly way and who keeps—Lord knows where—an entire wardrobe and personal possessions proportionate to his size.

Although I can’t get him to answer my questions, I do know he is aware that we call him Piccirilli, and he has no objection to being called that. On occasion, my wife affectionately calls him Pichi. This seems to me like a breach of formality. It’s true that Piccirilli’s smallness lends itself to affectionate nicknames and loving diminutives. But, on the other hand, he’s already a mature man, perhaps four centuries old, and it would be more appropriate to call him Mr. Piccirilli, save for the fact that it’s very hard to call such a tiny man Mister.

In general, Piccirilli is quite proper and demonstrates exemplary behavior. At times, however, he playfully attacks flies or ants with his sword. At other times he sits in a little toy truck, and, pulling it by a string, I take him for long rides around the apartment. These are his meager amusements.

Does Piccirilli get bored? Can he be alone in the world? Are there other creatures of his kind? Where can he have come from? When was he born? Why does he dress like a musketeer? Why does he live with us? What are his intentions?

Useless questions repeated hundreds of times, to which Piccirilli monotonously responds: “Dolokotoro povosoro kolovoko.”

There are so many things I would like to know about Piccirilli; there are so many mysteries he will carry with him to the grave.

Because, unfortunately, Piccirilli has been dying for some weeks. We suffered a great deal when he got sick. Seriously ill, we immediately learned. But what treatment could be devised to cure him? Who would dare surrender the tiny body of the being called Piccirilli to a physician’s judgment? What explanation would we give? How were we to explain the unexplainable, how speak of something about which we are ignorant?

Yes, Piccirilli is leaving us. And, helpless, we shall let him die. I’m already concerned about knowing what we’re to do with his almost intangible corpse. But I’m more concerned, infinitely more concerned, over not having delved deeply into a secret that I held in my hands and that, without my being able to prevent it, will escape me forever.

Translation: Thomas C. Meehan
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Copyright ©Fernando Sorrentino, 1982
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Date of publicationNovember 2000
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