Saturday, July 4, 2009

the lion in the machine

The first roar was faint and distant and could have been mistaken for any one of the creaks and groans offered up by the strained metal and aging cogs of the big machine. We paid no attention to it and continued to play chess by the control board. Every so often, after moving a pawn or a knight, I would leave my hand beside the board and Paul would gently stroke it as he considered his next move.

The second roar was louder and more distinct. Paul and I said nothing, but we both turned to look over the dials and meters to see if they registered anything. Nothing. We sat back in our chairs. Then came the third roar, terrifying, echoing in the great metal cylinders of the big machine. The Greek cross hanging over the control board vibrated slightly from the sound. Paul motioned for me to stay at the controls as he put his jacket on. The lion roared again. God knows how long it had been trapped inside, it must have been hungry and maddened by the labyrinth of steel tunnels and the absence of sky. Paul said there was a good possibility this lion was St. Jerome's lion, and since he still had a few traces of religion left we had some reason for hope. He turned the turbines down to low, grabbed a copy of the Vulgate, and stepped into the hatch.

The sound of his boots on the catwalk slowly died out, but I could still hear the occasional roar. It might take him some time to find the lion, sounds were hard to track in the interminable tunnels of the big machine. I had to relax, be patient. I wandered around the control room, peeking in the cabinets. In the first aid kit I found, under some used gauze blackened with blood from long ago, a deck of tarot cards.

I knew nothing of reading tarot cards, but I was aware at least one card bore the image of a lion. I thought if I lay the cards in a particular form and the lion card appeared, I might be able to surmise something by the cards surrounding it. I laid them out in a square. No lion card. I continued to lay them out, this time in a circle over the square. Again, no luck. I laid them out in a cross, an octagon, a rhombus, like the numbers on a clock, like the windows of Versailles, like the flags of different African nations. How many cards were there in a tarot deck, I wondered? I kept trying and eventually succeeded in drawing the lion, which I placed it in the center of the pile. The mass of overlapping forms made any reading impossible --the lion was awash in a flood of swords, queens, disks, hanging men, cups, hermits, wands, lovers... I heard the roar again and shuddered.

I noticed Paul had left his locker door ajar. I opened it and ran my hand down the stripes of his dress shirt, remembering the last party we had thrown, how we'd danced clumsy waltzes as Pepe played Strauss on the squeezebox, our steps resounding on the metal floor of the big machine dining hall. Then I saw the skull on the shelf at the top of the locker.

I was afraid. Even if we were lucky and it was St. Jerome's lion, how could Paul have a chance without the memento mori? What should I do? I couldn't go down the hatch, I had to watch the controls. Besides, what if I came across the lion before I found Paul? With my bad Latin and no religion?

Another roar thundered around me, shaking the coffee cups and the doorframes. I felt a tear fall onto my cheek. I couldn't listen to the lion, I couldn't. Fully knowing how much I was endangering Paul, I went to the panel and turned the turbine up to full. The control room filled with a deep rumble, and I sighed with relief. Any lion's roar would now be swallowed up by the unforgiving noise of the big machine.

1 comment:

  1. Great. Is this new? It's like a perfect melding of your short stories, your poetry and your Miniatures. You should definitely continue exploring this form for a while.

    I can only (gleefully) imagine what kind of influence the reading you've done in the last eight years might have on your own creative work.

    This passage, however, did leave me slightly uncomfortable: "Every so often, after moving a pawn or a knight, I would leave my hand beside the board and Paul would gently stroke it as he considered his next move."

    I am not adding the hand-stroking app to Facebook, sorry.