Branzini was dead, that’s all they knew. The crowd had gathered outside his bathroom door. Within, Branzini lay face down on the tiles, all four hundred pounds of him, unclothed, his flesh carpeted in coarse dark hair.
The crowd had wondered when he might fall. And though they thought it inevitable, they managed to think of other things. Branzini had been their savior and their tormentor. But they knew of nothing else. Only Branzini. And now he was gone.
The women, all of whom Branzini had deflowered as they came of age, some earlier, and the men, all of whom had been brutalized by him over the years or cuckolded many times over, felt now a great sense of relief, but not without an equal measure of trepidation. Branzini, at least, they knew. His scent of nail polish remover, dried blood and manure, and his appetite for cupcakes, raw mutton and, occasionally, bestiality, though never with domesticated animals. One of Branzini’s innumerable decrees: You must not fuck your pets.
No, they knew as they looked on, not one of them speaking a word, that he was not a fair man. Yet he believed what he said and in the acts he perpetrated, and somehow it was this belief that made the objects of his oppression empathetic to his weakness for cruelty. One man in the crowd recalled the time he arrived home to find Branzini taking his wife from behind, her body folded over the kitchen table. Branzini paused a moment to gaze across the room at him, and said, “I’d prefer if you knock first the next time,” before turning back to her and thrusting away. Such assurance Branzini wielded that the man turned on his heel at once and stumbled back out the door, embarrassed to have interrupted.
Plus, he was good at fixing things. Branzini was. He carried a toolbox wherever he went, and though many of the things he repaired were things he had broken in the first place, he could almost always be counted on making them at least slightly better than useless. He was a man of action. No one could fault him for that.
Some even said, in private moments, his generosity nearly approached genuine proportions. So deft he was with the backhanded compliment and unreadable stare. And his laughter, a stuttering cackle enlivened by involuntary drooling, seemed only marginally disturbing when one’s ears and eyes were covered, and, subsequently, once the proscribed eight to ten sessions with the town psychiatrist completed.
A woman in the crowd, nostalgic for the day Branzini bludgeoned her son for accidentally treading across his shoe, broke into a brief sob and snuffle. She wondered if her boy, released into a vegetative state by Branzini’s sharp but loving blows, would have ever embraced discipline without him.
Suddenly, Branzini’s body moved, his left leg and right hand convulsing a moment, and the crowd gasped. Peering with agitation toward the town doctor, they quickly made way for his entrance into the bathroom. The doctor held an index finger to Branzini’s neck, paused, then pursed his lips and shook his head. One young woman, whose brother Branzini had tortured, vivisected, dismembered and ultimately eaten with grain alcohol and shoestrings of red licorice—duty-bound as Branzini was to all his decrees, this one: Never bore Branzini or you will suffer the consequences—fainted momentarily before being helped back to her feet.
It was now official: Branzini, beyond question, was no more. Tears began to fall from the faces in the crowd. They wept for Branzini and because of Branzini, for their loss and because of the uncertainty of their gain.
The town executioner, wiping a tear of solidarity from his eye, then blurted, “Branzini made me who I am!” “And me!” the town rapist concurred with a pump of his fist. The town pedophile simply shrugged and nodded in agreement, as did the town racist. The town thief shifted his eyes and said nothing. “Whatever,” growled the town pessimist. “Branzini was created in my image, it’s so obvious,” chirped the town narcissist. “Yes, we have much to learn from Branzini,” said the town propagandist, “much to learn.”
Then, one by one, they filed into the bathroom and tore Branzini to pieces.
About the author:
Brad Jacobson recently completed a short story collection and is now working on a body of short shorts, a play and a novel. He lives in Brooklyn and prefers his mutton cooked.