[ssf] the big machine

h t adam at diamat.org.uk
Sat Oct 31 20:04:58 GMT 2009

      "you know what i want to be"

   tell me"

      "a pilot
       i want to fly"

  tanner shook his head

  "you can't
   do you ever watch the birds
   they don't go very high
   they're scared to
   you get up there in a plane
   and those winds'll kill you"

      "i could fly real low ..."

  "the terrain is too irregular
   and the winds vary in altitude
   hell, there are hills
   i won't drive on
   because i might be swept away
   you can tell them
   by the turbulence
    the waves are visible
     because of all the crud they carry
   and also the fact that
   there's nothing but bare rock
   above a certain point"

      "i could look out for stuff like that ..."

  "yeah, but the winds change
   they dip and they rise
   there's no predicting
   when or where either"

      "but i *want* to fly"

  tanner looked at the boy and smiled

  "there's an awful lot of things
   most folk want to do
   and it turns out
   for some reason or other
   they never can
    flying's one of them
   you'll have to find something else"

  jerry's lower lip suddenly protruded
  and he kicked at stones as he walked

  "everybody has something special
   they want to do
   when they're young"
   -- said tanner --
  "it never seems to work out that way though
   either it turns out impossible
   or you never get the chance to try it"

      "what did you want to do
       if it wasn't driving"

  tanner stopped and turned his back to the wind
  shielding the light he struck until
  he could get a cigarette going

  then he drew on it twice
  staring into the smoke
  and said --

  "i want to be the keeper of the machine"

      "what machine"

  "*the* machine
   the big machine
   it's hard to explain ..."

  he closed his eyes a moment
  then opened them, and
  "i had a teacher"
  -- he said --
  "back when i was in school
   who told us that the world
   was a big machine
    that everything acted
    on everything else
    that everything that happened
    was a function of all this action
    and interaction

   so i started thinking about it
   and i got myself a picture
   of this goddamn big machine
    all kinds of gears and pistons
    and chain belts;
    all sorts of levers and cams
    and shafts and pulleys and axles;
   and i figured it really existed
   someplace, this machine
    and that according to whether
    it operated smoothly or not
    things would go good or bad
    in the world
   well, i decided then
   that it wasn't running too well
   and that it needed someone
   to give it a good going over
   and to keep an eye on it after that
   once it was fixed
    and i used to sit in class
    and have day dreams about it
    and think about it every night
    before i fell asleep
   i used to think:

   'i'm going to go looking for it
    someday, and i'm going to find it
    then i'm going to be
    the keeper of the machine
     the guy who oils it
     and tightens a nut here and there
    replaces a worn part
    polishes it
    adjust its controls

    then everything will work out all right

    the weather will be nice
    everyone will have enough to eat
    there won't be any fighting
    any sick people
    any drunks
    anybody who'd steal
    because there's something he wants
    but can't have'

   i used to think like that

   i used to want that job

   i could see me there
   in a factory building
   or in a cave
   working my backside off
   to keep the thing in tiptop shape
   and everyone happy

   and i could see me having fun with it too

   like, i'd want a vacation, say
   so i'd turn it off
   and shut down the shop

   then everything'd stop, see
   except me

   it'd be like you see
   in a photograph
   everybody'd be frozen
   like statues
   in what ever they were doing:
    driving along, eating, working,
    making love
   everything'd just stop
   and i could walk through the city
   and nobody'd know i was there

   i could see everybody
   at what they were up to

   i could take food
   off the plates
   swipe clothes and things
   from the stores
   kiss the girls
   read the books
   for as long as i wanted

   then, when i got tired of that
   i'd go back and turn the machine on
   and everything'd start up again
   like natural
   and no one'd be the wiser
   and nobody'd care
   even if they did know
   because i'd keep the machine going real well
   and everyone'd be happy

   that's what i wanted to be
   the keeper of the big machine
   only i never found it"

     "did you ever look for it"
     -- jerry asked --


     "why not"

  "because i wouldn't have found it"

     "how do you know"

  "because it isn't there
   there is no machine
   it was all a comparison
    the teacher was just trying to say
    that life *is like* a machine
    not that that's what it is
   i didn't understand him right, though
   and spent years thinking about
   that goddamn thing"

     "how do you know there's no machine"

  "he explained what he'd meant to me later
   when i went to ask him
   where the thing was
   boy, did i feel stupid"

     "he could have been wrong"

  "not a chance
   they're too hip on stuff like that
   those old teachers"

     "maybe he was lying"

   now that i'm older
   i know what he meant
   he was wrong in a way though
   it's too screwed up
   to be like a machine
   but i know what he meant"

     "then they're not too hip
      the teachers
      if they can be wrong
      even one way"

  they resumed walking again
  jerry looked at his ring

  tanner said --

  "they're hip in different ways
   like a biologist i met a while back
   they're smart with words, mainly
   my teacher knew what he was saying
   and now i know
   but it takes some getting older
   to figure what they're talking about"

     "but what if he *was* wrong
      what if it is there
      and you found it someday
      would you still do it
      would you still want to be
      the keeper of the machine"

  tanner drew on his cigarette

  "there int no machine"

      "but if there was"

  "yeah, i guess so"
  -- he replied --
  "i guess i'd still like the job"

      "that's good
       because i still want to fly
       even though you told me i can't
       but maybe the winds'll change someday"

  tanner put his hands on the boy's shoulder
  and squeezed

  "that'll be nice"
  -- he said --

      "i hope you find it someday
       and fix everything
       so i can fly too"

  tanner flipped the butt
  into the ditch beside the road

  "if i ever do
   that'll be the first thing i fix ..."


More information about the ssf mailing list