Literary Orphans

Welcome to the Machine by Boris Glikman

Paradise-15

A young man, in the full flower of his youth, comes across extremely lengthy, complicated and abstruse instructions on how to construct an apparatus of some kind. He becomes intrigued and then obsessed by these instructions and devotes all of his hours to the building of this contraption, the function and purpose of which he is completely ignorant and wants desperately to find out.

Years go by as he struggles to comprehend and to painstakingly follow each step of the seemingly endless instructions, but he is not at all concerned by the passing of time, so engrossed is he in his task. And in any case, he is convinced that once the machine is completed, all of the work and the time he had put into it will be retrospectively justified and his life will gain the meaning it presently lacks.

Sometimes, as a reward for a day’s hard labour, the man allows his imagination to run free and in his mind’s eye all sorts of wondrous scenarios begin to materialise: the apparatus turns out to be a vehicle capable of travelling faster than light, or it can be used to visit the Afterworld, or access parallel Universes, or a device that will enable him to change the past, or grant him immortality, or even a genie lamp that will fulfill his every wish.

Occasionally, the man’s resolve wavers momentarily and he is overcome by fundamental doubts as to what he is doing. Was he always destined to discover the instructions for the apparatus or was it merely by chance that he came across them? Was it a blessing or a curse for him to have found them? Are the others constructing their own machines too or is he the only one? What if, so as not to confront the senselessness and emptiness of his own existence, he is just preoccupying himself with meaningless work that will never eventuate in anything?

Other times he wonders if perhaps the machine is just a metaphorical entity and he is merely a character in an allegorical parable that endeavours to convey, through his actions, some essential deep truth about existence—a truth he himself is, alas, blind to and can not comprehend.

Over the years his hands grow less dexterous, his vision loses its acuity, his back becomes less supple, his mind declines. Tasks that previously required almost no physical and mental effort now demand his full attention and strength, leaving him exhausted.

And so, after the long and arduous period of construction, the final component is ready to be put into its place. The only thing left to do is to fasten it with the last nut and bolt and the apparatus will be complete. As he is doing so, the man is captivated by the overpowering allure that seems to radiate from the finished structure and envisages himself never leaving its side, so that he can gaze forever upon its breathtaking beauty.

It is then he realises that he is now living out the final moments of his mortal existence. As his vision grows dim, he sees for the very first time that the machine he had spent all of his life building is a coffin and that nothing else remains for him to do but to place himself in it for all eternity.

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BORIS GLIKMAN is a writer, poet and philosopher from Melbourne, Australia. The biggest influences on his writing are dreams, Kafka and Borges. His stories, poems and non-fiction articles have been published in various online and print publications, as well as being featured on national radio and other radio programs. 

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–Art by Milton G. (Paradise Found)