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So, in the October of ’87, CRB cleared out a room on the second floor and put in eight young ladies whose task was to answer the telephone and to collect the readers’ opinions. The question was: should Mami Jane die?
 Of the eight young ladies, four were employees of CRB, two had been sent by the social work department, and one was the Chairman’s granddaughter. The last, a girl of about thirty who came from Pomona, was there on the strength of a traineeship contract won after she had given the correct answer on a radio quiz show (“What does Ballon Mac hate most in the world?” “Doing a scale and polish”). She always went about with a little tape recorder. Every now and then she would switch it on and say things into it.
 Her name was Shatzy Shell.
 At 10. 45 of the twelfth day of the poll – when death for Mami Jane was winning by 64 to 30 (the remaining 6 per cent maintained that they should all go screw themselves, and had called in to say so) – Shatzy Shell heard the telephone ring for the twenty-first time. She wrote down the number 21 on the form in front of her and picked up the receiver. The following conversation ensued.



“CRB, good morning.”
 “Good morning, is Diesel there yet?”
 “Okay, he hasn’t got there yet…”
 “This is CRB, Sir.”
 “Yes, I know.”
 “You must have a wrong number.”
 “No, everything’s okay, now listen to me…”
 “This is CRB, it’s the poll, ‘Should Mami Jane die?’”
 “Thanks, I know.”
 “So would you be kind enough to give me your name?”
 “My name doesn’t matter…”
 “But you must give it to me, it’s the procedure.”
 “Okay, okay… Gould…My name is Gould.”
 “Mister Gould.”
 “Yes, Mister Gould, now if I may…”
 “Should Mami Jane die?”
 “You should tell me what you think about it… whether Mami Jane should die or not.”
 “Oh Jesus…”
 “You do know who Mami Jane is, don’t you?”
 “Sure I know, but…”
 “You see, Sir, all you have to do is tell me if you think that…”
 “Would you just hold it and listen to me a minute?”



“Right, do me a favour, take a look around.”
 “Yes, there, in the room, do me this favour.”
 “Okay, I’m looking.”
 “Good. Can you see by any chance a kid with a shaved head who is holding hands with a really big guy, I mean a really huge guy, a kind of giant, with enormous shoes, and a green jacket?”
 “No, I don’t think so.”
 “Are you sure?”
 “Yes, I’m sure.”
 “Good. Then they haven’t arrived yet.”
 “Okay, now I want you to know something.”
 “Those two aren’t bad.”
 “No. When they get there they’ll set to smashing everything up, and in all probability they’ll take your telephone and wrap it around your neck, or stuff like that, but those two boys aren’t bad, really, it’s just that…”



“Mister Gould…”
 “Would you mind telling me how old you are?”
 “Twelve… to be precise, twelve.”
 “Listen Gould, your mom isn’t around there somewhere, is she?”
 “My mom left home four years ago, these days she lives with a professor who studies fish, fish behaviour, an ethologist, to be precise.”
 “I’m sorry.”
 “You don’t have to be sorry, life’s like that, there’s nothing you can do about it.”
 “Really. Don’t you think it’s like that?”
 “Yes… I think it’s like that… I don’t know for sure, I imagine it’s like that.”
 “Sure as hell it’s like that.”
 “You’re twelve, right?”
 “Tomorrow I’ll be thirteen, tomorrow.”
 “Happy birthday, Gould.”



“It’ll be splendid to be thirteen, you’ll see.”
 “I hope so.”
 “Happy birthday, really.”
 “I don’t suppose your father is around, is he?”
 “No. He’s at work.”
 “My father works for the army.”
 “Is everything always so splendid for you?”
 “Is everything always so splendid for you?”
  “Yes…, I think so.”
 “I mean… it often happens to me, that’s it.”
 “You’re lucky.”
 “It happens to me even at the oddest times.”
 “I think you’re lucky, really.”



 “One time I was in a diner, on Highway 16, just out of town, and I stopped in this diner, I walked in and stood in line, there was a Vietnamese on the cash desk, he didn’t understand hardly anything, so nothing was getting done, folks would say a hamburger and he would say, What?, perhaps it was his first day on the job, I don’t know, and so I set to looking around, inside the diner, there were five or six tables, and all the people eating, lots of different faces and everybody with something different in front of them, chops, sandwiches, chilli, everybody was eating, and everybody was dressed the way they wanted to be dressed, they had got up in the morning and had chosen something to put on, the red shirt, the dress that fitted snug over the tits, exactly what they wanted, and now they were there, and they all had a life behind them and a life ahead of them, they were just passing through in there, tomorrow they would all start over, the blue shirt, the long dress, and for sure the blonde with the freckles had a mother in hospital somewhere, with her blood counts all haywire, but now she was there picking out the blackish looking fries from the other ones, reading the paper propped up against a salt cellar in the shape of a gas pump, there was a man dressed up in a baseball outfit, who certainly hadn’t set foot on a baseball park for years, he was there with his little boy, a kid, and he kept slapping him about the head, on the back of the head, every time the kid would straighten his cap, a baseball cap, and then, pow!,



his father would give him another slap, and they were eating all the while, beneath a television attached to the wall, switched off, with the noise from the street coming in waves, and in a corner there were two men, dressed in grey, very elegant, and you could see that one of them was weeping, it was absurd, but he was weeping, over a steak and French fries, he was weeping in silence, and the other was taking no notice, he had a steak too, he was eating and that’s all, but then, at a certain point, he got up, went over to the next table, took the ketchup bottle, went back to his place and, being careful not to stain his grey suit, he poured some onto the other man’s plate, the one who was weeping, and he whispered something to him, I don’t know what, then he put the cap back on the bottle and started eating again, they in the corner,  and the rest around them, with a cherry ice cream all squashed on the floor, and a sign on the restroom door saying out of order, I was looking at everything and the only thing you could think was what a piece of puke, kids, it was so sad you could have puked, and instead what happened to me was that while I was standing in line with the Vietnamese there still unable to understand a damn thing I thought God how beautiful, and I even felt a bit like laughing, damn, how beautiful all this is, really all of it, right down to the last crumb of stuff squashed on the floor, right down to the last greasy napkin, without knowing why, but knowing that it was true, it was all damned beautiful. Absurd, isn’t it?”



 “It’s kind of embarrassing to tell that story.”
 “I don’t know… people don’t usually tell stories like that…”
 “I liked it.”
 “Come on…”
 “No, really, especially the part about the ketchup…”
 “He took the bottle and he poured out a bit…”
 “Dressed all in grey.”
 “Just like that.”
 “Just like that.”
 “I’m glad you called.”
 “Hey, no, wait…”
 “I’m here.”
 “What’s your name?”
 “My name is Shatzy Shell.”
 “Shatzy Shell.”



“And nobody’s standing there wrapping the phone cord around your neck, right?”
 “Will you remember, when they come, that they’re not bad?”
 “They won’t come, you’ll see.”
 “Don’t count on it, they’re coming…”
 “Why should they, Gould?”
 “Diesel adores Mami Jane. And he’s eight foot one inch tall.”
“That depends. When he’s real mad it’s not splendid at all.”
“And is he real mad right now?”
“You would be too if they held a poll about killing Mami Jane, and Mami Jane was your ideal mother.”
“It’s only a poll, Gould.”
“Diesel says it’s a put up job. They decided months ago they were going to kill her off, they’re doing this just to save face.”
“Maybe he’s wrong.”
“Diesel is never wrong. He’s a giant.”
“How much of a giant?”
“Very much.”
“I used to go with a guy who could make a smash at basketball without even standing on tip toes.”
“But his job was taking tickets in a movie theater.”



“Were you in love with him?”
“What kind of question is that, Gould?”
“You said you were going with him.”
“Yes, we used to go out together. We stayed together for twenty-two days.”
“And then?”
“I don’t know… it was all a bit complicated, you know?”
“Yes… it’s all a bit complicated for Diesel too.”
“That’s the way it is.”
“His father had to build him a special john, made to measure, it cost him a fortune.”
“I told you, it’s all a bit complicated.”
“Yeah. Like when Diesel tried going to school, it was down at Taton. He got there in the morning…”
“Excuse me a second, Gould.”
“Hold the line, will you?”
Shatzy Shell put the line on hold. Then she turned toward the man who was standing in front of her desk watching her. He was the head of promotion and development. His name was Bellerbaumer. He was one of those people who suck the legs of their glasses.



“Mister Bellerbaumer?”
Mister Bellerbaumer cleared his throat.
“Young lady, you were talking about giants.”
“That’s right.”
“You were on the phone for twelve minutes and you were talking about giants.”
“Twelve minutes?”
“Yesterday you gaily chatted away for twenty-seven minutes with a stockbroker who in the end made you a proposal of marriage.”
“He didn’t know who Mami Jane was, I had to…”
“And the day before you were glued to that telephone for one hour and eleven minutes while you corrected homework for some damned kid who by way of an answer suggested: ‘why don’t you have Ballon Mac knocked off?’”
“That might be an idea, think about it.”
“Miss, that telephone is the property of CRB, and you are paid to say one damn sentence: ‘Should Mami Jane die?’”
“I try to do my best.”
“I do too. That’s why I’m dismissing you, Miss Shell.”



“I am obliged to fire you.”
“On the level?”
“I’m sorry.
“Mr Bellerbaumer?”
“Would you mind if I finished the call?”
“Which call?”
“The call. There’s a kid on the line, waiting.”
“Finish the call.”
“My pleasure.”
“It looks like I’m going to have to hang up, Gould.”
“They’ve just fired me.”
“I’m not so sure about that.”
“If nothing else they won’t strangle you.”
“Diesel and Poomerang.”
“The giant?”
“The giant is Diesel. Poomerang is the other one, the one with no hair. He’s mute.”
“Yes. He’s mute. He can’t speak. He can hear but he can’t speak.”



“They’ll stop them at the entrance.”
“In general, those two never stop.”
“Should Mami Jane die?”
“They can all go screw themselves.”
“’Don’t know’. Okay.”
“Will you tell me something, Shatzy?”
“I have to go now.”
“Just one thing.”
“That place, that diner…”
“I was thinking… it must be a pretty good place…”
“It’s OK…”
“I was thinking I’d like to have my birthday there.”
“How do you mean?”
“Tomorrow… it’s my birthday… we could all go there to eat, maybe those two guys dressed in grey will still be there, the ones with the ketchup.”
“That’s a strange idea, Gould.”
“You, me, Diesel and Poomerang. It’s on me.”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s a good idea, I swear.”
“What’s that?”
“It’s my number, call me if you feel like it, okay?”
“It doesn’t seem like you’re thirteen.”
“I’ll be thirteen tomorrow, to be exact.”
“So it’s settled then.”
“Bye Shatzy.”



Shatzy Shell pressed the blue button and closed the connection. It took her a little while to put her things in her bag, it was a yellow bag with Save planet Earth from painted toe nails written on it. She also took her framed photographs of Walt Disney and Eva Braun. And the little tape recorder she always carried around. Every now and then she would switch it on and say things into it.
The other seven young ladies watched her, silent, while the telephones rang unheeded, their precious instructions for the future of Mami Jane hanging suspended in the air. What Shatzy Shell had to say, she said while she was taking off her tennis pumps and slipping on her shoes with the heels.
“So, just for the record, in a little while a giant and some character with no hair, a mute, are going to walk through that door, they will smash up everything and strangle you with the phone cords. The giant is called Diesel, the mute is called Poomerang. Or maybe it’s the other way round, I can’t remember which. Anyhow: they’re not bad.”
  (Translated by Alastair McEwen)


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