“The lowest and the sublime are the two outlets off normalcy.”
A guy busy with making little paper planes is talking to himself close to me, but I am not lending an ear to him. Seated in the waiting room of the small railway-station, I am bored waiting for the train that is not due before a couple of hours.
“I have chosen the second solution between the two and built a god,” the voice goes on.
I turn towards the man who’s just spoken. He’s slim, dressed in grey. And my looking at him gives him the opportunity to smile at me and to introduce himself.
“My name is Hartley and I am a mechanic.”
He pauses a while.
“As I was saying — for I am a mechanic, I wanted to build a logical god, a rational god. Can you understand me?”
“You are telling me, sir, that you have actually succeeded in making it? Goodness knows how much work it took you!” I remarked.
“No, it didn’t. Some people build empires and some people blow bubbles. As for me, I’ve taken the pleasure in building a god.”
“A god? This invention isn’t new at all. There’s already so many of them in every corner of the earth,” I answer disappointedly back to him.
“There are many gods symbolizing all of mankind’s aspirations and necessities. These gods represent the materialization of a cry of grief, they are but surrogates. The god I myself have built, on the contrary, enables us to make our desires come true.”
This man is a thinker. I’m going to ask him a question which has been driving all philosophers mad for ages, just to make him feel uncomfortable.
“What’s the use of suffering in this world?”
He doesn’t seem to get upset and calmly draws his answer out.
“Suffering is like pepper, it is actually needed so that our own lives may be more relishable and interesting.”
The little man’s words begin to beguile me.
“And how did you manage to build your own god? In man’s own likeness?”
“I could have built an anthropomorphous god, too, only with human failings and vices. No! What I did exactly want was to give my own god different features from human ones.”
“And you are saying that it serves the purpose of making desires come true, aren’t you?”
“Yes, men’s desires.”
“Yes, yes, surely so, but can you just prove what you’re stating?”
“Come. Come and see for yourself. My workshop is near here. You know, I do not have to go on a trip,” the little man tells me. “I usually come here solely to study trains.”
After a moment of perplexity, I grasp my suitcases and start to follow him outside the station. All the more so because it takes a great deal of time before the train arrives.
We are walking along a stream. Beyond a dilapidated building bearing the inscription “Lux Hotel,” we take a semi-illuminated side alley, sending tens of mangy cats to flight. Many buildings are still semi-destroyed by war bombings. Some bats are flitting out of the windows, and we hear a moaning owl in the silence.
I am thinking I am wrong in trusting a stranger. He’s possibly going to take me to his accomplices in order to assail and rob me.
The first moon quarter up there in the dark sky is a knick-knack setting beyond foam rubber-like clouds. The sight, goodness knows why, has the power to reassure me and some dear, sad memories are coming back across my mind.
“I particularly did love two things in my younger days,” I whisper in a low voice. “A woman I have lost and a stray dog someone purloined…”
“There’s also a god for dogs as well as a god for artists and for lovers,” he interrupts me.
“Well, do you think it’s at all possible now to see both of them again?”
“Yes. For all a single tessera changing place in the whole picture of reality often implies unwanted shifting of other tesserae to give the overall plan a new balance again. So that summation of all modified events will in the end yield nothing but the exact equivalent to the original situation as a result!”
“You are telling me that it isn’t to our advantage at all to try to modify the course of events? You are contradicting yourself!”
“No. Every complex philosophy seems contradictory. At the same time, it does seem evident that even in nature contradictions are at all possible! But here we are, we have arrived at the place.”
A sombre building. I halt and let him get in first, and only when I see the light trembling through the filthy panes I take the risk to go inside. We are in a workshop. Grease and soot are all over the place. I’m catching a glimpse of a lathe, a pair of bellows, a press, a few big master cylinders. Some disassembled pieces of an aero-motor are on the work tables. I’m following the man, taking care not to stumble against the scrapheaps.
He opens a little door. We go across a narrow, low underground brick passage leading to a henhouse where there is even a lavatory. We are stepping in a small muddy courtyard in between a drainage of water and a few long dark buildings on the windows from which hang pieces of sackcloth. I hear the man pull the bolts and then exclaim.
“Here it is, here is my creation!”
I see nothing, though. Then he switches on a faint electric light and I, too, get in.
The spacious room is entirely taken up by the massive dimensions of a device, which is half a tower clock and half a printing machine. Cogwheels, levers, counterbalances, pistons, a long brass equalizer. We hear the far noise of a waterfall in the silence.
The mechanic doesn’t let me take the time to admire the machine as he seems impatient to give me his directions. He helps me to the top of a little iron ladder ending up to a small seat up there. In front of me is a complex system of lenses and prisms and more below the horn of a megaphone.
From up there I see Hartley busy at starting the racks. I suppose he’s perhaps opening some locks because the noise of the waterfall is increasing.
Then I see Hartley typing some monograms with a typewriter (an old modified Remington typewriter) N 10022 T. A A J W X 23 Y.
A creaking like that of a wheel turning under effort is being heard. All the steel framework begins to vibrate and the room all at once fills up with the low buzzing of gears, spaced at times by heavy metal clicks. As far as I can see, the machinery must be on.
Now I see the mechanic pressing a red key bearing the inscription: RECALL.
The noise is getting more intense, and I realize that the cogwheels are working at a faster pace. Noises of boilers under pressure then follow, noises of sucking pistons, of croaking saws. A red index moves onto greater figures and the pointers of some other instruments start to vibrate.
Now the little man seems possessed. His bald head is dripping with sweat, his eyes are wide open, and he’s moving among the mechanisms more and more frantically. He shouts something at me I can’t grasp because of the terrible noise.
“Get ready — to arrive…!”
He pulls levers and pushes ball grips. He presses a black key with the inscription: CARRY OUT.
On a screen at the bottom of the pipe appears a wisp of very dark smoke swirling just as if it were in a whirlwind. The wisp of smoke is now attracting my attention and seems to be just taking the shape of a slim nude woman vaulting and writhing at an incredible speed. I am irritated both by a hissing sound and by a more and more unbearable and acute whistle at the same time.
I make gestures to make Hartley understand I want to get down, but he does seem beside himself, as he’s busy at spreading a little grease on the mechanisms with a big oilcan.
Semi-besotted by that deafening noise and by the vibrations of the machinery, I cry out louder and louder, helping myself with frantic gestures. The noise becomes still shriller.
Now I do want to come down from where I am. I don’t care for the experiment anymore. I try to move, but I realize I am trapped in the narrow seat and cannot find the rungs.
“Hartley, Hartley. Help!”
In the ultimate attempt to find relief, I plug my ears to quench the hissing sound and half-open my eyes. In the middle of that awful uproar I see swarms of white incandescent sparks.
The machinery seems to have gone mad. The vibrations are stronger and stronger. The levers move faster and faster, the gears turn faster and faster, faster and faster… Then I cry out in despair on top of it all.
“Help! Let me down! I wanna go back to the stationnn…!”
I hear a screeching sound. A tearing noise, then the room fills up with an explosion of light followed by pitch dark.
When I open my eyes again I am seated in the waiting room.
What just happened?
I rub my eyes to dispel tiredness. It’s been only a dream. I must have fallen asleep.
The loudspeakers hanging from the ceiling are croaking my train leaving. I must hurry up if I don’t want to risk missing it.
I get on the train and put my luggage down. I sit on a wooden seat to listen to the stationmaster whistling his starting signal and to the train moving and puffing away.
I’m looking at my shoes. They are completely muddy. My trousers are dirty with dark oil spots.
What an opportunity I missed!
I am astonished. What an opportunity I missed!
The train increases speed, and I can’t get over the odd adventure yet.
But I’m sure I’ll be back one day to see the inventor, and I will be begging his artificial God for money, girls, youthful days, power…