A Beautiful Machine

The San Francisco Examiner called David Daniel’s White Rabbit “one of the most atmospheric novels about the Sixties.” He has published ten additional novels and over 300 short stories. Recent work has appeared in 101 Words, Sleet, Crack the Spine, Flash Fiction Press, Deadly Writers Patrol, and Zombie Logic. He teaches at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. A collection of flash pieces, Inflections & Innuendos, will appear this summer. You can find more of his work at thestoryside.com

A Beautiful Machine

It arrived by motor freight, special delivery: two medium-sized boxes, some assembly required. The instructions called for an adjustable wrench, a Phillips screwdriver, a tape measure, and time. They said nothing about skinned knuckles, curse words, and more time. But I am a patient man, and now it’s ready.

I step up onto a small chromed-steel platform and toggle the “on” switch. A purring begins around me, low and continuous and relaxing, barely more sound than a Swiss watch makes.

I finger the first of a series of small black knobs, hesitate, then dial it left to right. With the others I do the same. A bank of sensor lights glows, red to amber to green, the signal that the machine is ready.

Drawing a slow breath, I pull a lever. Long and fashioned of shiny metal, it moves with lubricious ease. Everything about the machine is smooth, understated, efficient, delicate, and yet latent somehow, too. Although I don’t recall reading this in the assembly instructions, I think of the machine as feminine in its energies and sparkle.

The purring achieves a lush and steady whirr. I stand like a man in a pulpit and listen and feel and watch. Around me, the workings are visible behind Plexiglas panels: gears mesh with elegant precision, graphite-gray belts whiz fluidly in sprockets, lights wink like harbor beacons.

I close my eyes.

Five minutes?


Time has no relevance. The experience is all.

Then, before I’m scarcely aware, the reversal begins.

The dying hum. The fading lights.

The shutting down.

I step off the platform, move back, and gaze at the machine. I haven’t figured out yet what it is she does, or why. But she sure is a beauty.

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