The Maker of Crèches

Pray you don’t have to look.

“Open your eyes.”

The voice crawls in from the dark. It is little more than a whisper. I am still dazed; I can barely distinguish the words.

“Open your eyes.”

I am on my knees, bent forward, hands behind my back; they seem to be tied, and I can’t move them. Something is tight around my ankles too. My mouth hurts—my tongue retreats from the acrid taste of the taut fabric. A hand clamps the back of my neck and prevents me from falling to the side. The voice whispers again; I feel the breath against my left ear.

“Open your eyes.”

Memories flash through my mind. I had waited for Sonia and Marco to fall asleep, then went into the living room. I retrieved the gifts from the cupboard where they were hidden, carefully placing them under the tree like a window in a downtown shop. After that, I would perform the last magic: emptying the cup of milk, eating a cookie, and crumbling another one on the napkin to complete the illusion of Santa’s visit. I went into the kitchen and approached the table. But the milk cup was empty, and the cookies were gone.

“Open your eyes; everything’s ready.”

Make sure the doors and windows are all closed: this is what the newspapers repeat every year, on December 24th. It’s been 22 years since Christmas night stopped being magical for many people. It’s always the same: couples with only one child, male, four years old. Mother and son are killed and mutilated; their bodies are arranged in a macabre representation of the Nativity. The father is always left alive. The details of what was done to the bodies are never revealed, but none of the fathers ever recover. Some end their lives a few years later. The maker of crèches: that is what the newspapers call him.

“Open your eyes.”

I am dreaming. Yes, I am dreaming. Christmas Eve dinner is always a bit overwhelming. I have probably had one too many. I must wake up; otherwise, I will not be able to put the presents under the tree in time.

“Open your eyes.”

No, this is not a dream. You bastard! Dirty son of a bitch! Did I forget to let you in the house? How could I let you catch me like that? I fight to drive off the images of pain and blood running through me in a spasm. Sonia, forgive me, my love. Marco, my baby, what did you think? Your daddy was not there to protect you! God, I hope they at least didn’t suffer.

“Open your eyes!”

Perhaps he has not done it yet. Perhaps he is waiting for me. And perhaps these ropes are not as strong as they look.

“Open your eyes, look what I made for you.”

No, he does not want spectators while he performs his ritual. He just wants them when it is finished. The papers have always been clear about that. God, no, do not do this to me. Have mercy, no. Let him kill me too. I will not open my eyes! I will keep the image of one last happy moment in my eyes. Let Sonia’s lips touch mine one last time, let Marco’s hand lose itself again in mine; let this be the final thought I have of them. Do not let him destroy it. Let him kill me too!

A hand slides over my hair, grabs it, and lifts my head. The cold bite of the blade against my neck gives me hope. I let myself be lulled by what has been and will be no more. I let myself be overwhelmed by what should have been: Sonia taking me by the hand with a knowing smile, Marco clutching at me and holding me like he would never leave me again. Everything is perfect; I am ready. Marco, Sonia, I am coming.

“Open your eyes: Look!”

The blade slides down my left side, lingers on my back, and penetrates just below the ribs. I bow forward as a silent scream breaks against the cloth blocking my mouth. The blade sinks and begins to twist. The image of Sonia becomes dimmer and dimmer, looking at me with soft, sad eyes, while her fingers run away in a final caress. Marco loosens his embrace and lets himself slip on the ground. He slowly moves away until he disappears into the darkness, waving his hand in a silent hello and hinting a smile upon which a tear breaks. I search for their voices in my soul.

“Goodbye, my love.”
“I love you, Daddy.”

The weight crushing me from the inside prevents me from breathing. The blade still twists and turns. The pain is excruciating and leaves no way out. The reflection is uncontrollable.

I open my eyes.

The Maker of Crèches

First written in Italian as “Il fabbricante di presepi”.
Translated by Sabrina Beretta.
Edited by Kate Seger.

© 2020 Loredano Cafaro
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