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March 02nd 2009 print

Rosanna Licari

Uncle Pepi

The sound of twigs breaking along the path out the back alerts him that there’s  something wrong. This time the trap door in his mother’s cellar doesn’t help him,

he’s at his aunt’s chopping firewood. A German soldier takes him by each arm. They     drive him to Icici to work for them. In gestures more than talk, he tries to explain

that he’s not an electrician but it’s no good and one of them points his gun muzzle at the aerial searchlight that won’t work. Pepi understands that he has to do a good job.

He begins fidgeting with the button on his shirt as he looks at a cow that grazes daily      along the roadside. He’s worried and consoles himself with the thought that at

least his sister and girlfriend will bring him lunch. He figures out how the contraption        works and after two failed attempts at getting a spare part from Fiume and

Trieste, where they send him in a jeep filled with young soldiers and machine guns, the    Germans try Torino then finally Berlin. With the spare part in place, Pepi asks for

oil and when he goes to get the bucket, it’s empty. In a sweat, he looks round and sees the cow nearby licking its lips. The oil is smeared on her snout and ears. He

rushes to the captain, says moo moo and mimes the cow lapping. Three of the soldiers wrestle the cow down and the captain takes a knife from his belt, and slits the

animal’s belly. It jolts as if electrocuted, blood and oil ooze onto the grass. The smell of guts makes Pepi gag. The captain smiles and nods, then orders another bucket of

oil. Pepi gets back to work muttering a quick prayer to the Virgin Mary. Drawing breath,           he flicks the switch and the light beam appears.