The Machine: A Dream in One Act

I sat there in front of the machine, mystified. My boyfriend and I were supposed to be on a hike, but on the way to the trailhead, he had pulled over to this rustic roadside eatery, sat me down in front of the machine, and left me there to figure it out. Once I’d accomplished that, he said, and got it to produce a column of egg salad for a picnic lunch, he would return so that we could set out on the hike.

The machine consisted of long rubbery tentacle-like tubes, and S. had led me to believe that the trick was to braid or tie or somehow contrive to make this medusa of a contraption squeeze out the desired nourishment for our hike. I’m not ashamed to say that I was more than flummoxed, more than at a loss. In other words, I needed help, and S., my beloved boyfriend, usually so resourceful in these situations, had gone off to prepare in some other way for our trip. And because I didn’t know what that other way was, I was a little pissed. For there I sat grasping at a tangle of flaccid tubes, trying to find the right combination of knots and loops to make the egg salad happen. It was as frustrating as trying to solve the Rubik’s cube but much more physically exhausting.

So, I turned to the only other person in the eatery, an elderly man sitting at one of the square wooden tables behind me. He was a professorial type, absorbed in a thick tome of a book, not looking in the least like he wanted to be disturbed. But I asked anyway, “Do you know how to figure this thing out?”

At first, he failed to respond, as if he hadn’t heard me speak. Then he closed the book with a certain finality, looked up with a distracted smile, and said that he was Austrian and was a professor and, yes, he could help. I thought, when hearing he was from Austria, that he might be a good match for a friend of mine, also Austrian in origin. But as soon as I had entertained this casual thought, the professor tilted his head back and his entire physiognomy changed. He now looked down his nose at me, his dark eyes looming large and lasciviously through his round wire-frame glasses. A strange smile, a sneer really, then stretched across his face.

“What kind of professor are you?” I asked.

“I’m a professor of sexuality,” he lisped.

As soon as he had said this I immediately dismissed the idea of setting him up with my friend. It wasn’t that I found him to be sinister or insane or even some mix of the two. He was just creepy as hell. I turned back to the machine, content to figure it out on my own.

My dilemma persisted, however, for no matter what combination of loops and knots I attempted, the machine failed to respond. Since there was no one else in that rustic out-of-the-way eatery, I asked him again, keeping my back to him. “Do you know how to make this machine work?”

“First of all,” he said, taking on the tone of a long lecture, “you and your significant other are sorely mistaken in regard to the purpose of this machine. Or perhaps your other half knows but wanted you to discover the workings of this wonderful apparatus yourself. However that may be, let me speak plainly here. This machine is meant for one purpose only: to improve your sex life.”

Immediately, I felt my cheeks heat up, no doubt turning beet red, and I was relieved that he could not see my subconscious reaction. Then, to my surprise, I laughed. I laughed quietly at first, then burst out with real spontaneous laughter for suddenly I became aware that what he had said was true. Completely true. Now the tubes and pulleys and spaces in between took on a whole new dimension, and I felt the urge to stroke the largest of the tubes, which extended from a tangle of more slender strands. I had to fight hard to suppress the urge, however, for in no way did I want the professor to know that my understanding of the implications of this machine had anything to do with him.

By the time I heard a scraping sound behind me, indicating the movement of a chair, I had composed myself well enough to face him.

He was a lanky, craven man, resembling a figure who might have stepped full-bodied out of an Egon Schiele painting, only not as colorful. He wore a gray suit and a gray tie. Even the shirt beneath his open jacket was a gray shade, as if soiled with days’ old sweat.

“Humor me,” he now said, positioning himself in front of the machine to my left. He then proceeded to brush his entire torso against the fulsome assemblage of tentacles. They responded immediately to his bodily caress and one by one writhed about him, some entering his open mouth, some his ears, while others reached out into the air tentatively, as if in yearning.

Where was S.? I wondered. How could he leave me here in such a compromising position, all for the sake of an egg salad picnic lunch?

The professor was now in full ecstatic mode—his eyes rolling back, a groan issuing from the back of his throat, and a hand reaching out toward me.

I looked through the eatery’s open door, at a scene as picturesque as the most idyllic color-drenched image of the Swiss Alps you could ever hope to see on Instagram: high snow-capped mountains, red-roofed chalets nestling at the base, a sky as blue as the proverbial robin’s egg—the perfect setting for a long hike with S. Yet this view did nothing to entice me thither. In fact, it had the opposite effect.

I turned back to the professor, now engulfed in the machine’s miasma of undulations, save an outstretched hand.

I took hold of it.

A. L. Anzalone has stories in the journals Sgraffito and The Urbanite. blog:


Submit a comment