Bohemia Village Voice  Bohemia Village Voice

For bohemians everywhere

Steve Amos

The Machines Stop

Brian works in reprographics for a large government department. He spends his days making endless copies of apparently pointless documents. His performance is measured on the basis of the number of documents copied. His target is 8,000 pages a day, which he exceeds easily.
Brian doesn’t care about the documents, but he does care about his machine. Technically, all the reprographics staff use all the printers, but everyone knows that the XJR5000 is Brian’s machine.
Today though, all is not well. As usual, Brian gets in early to switch on the machines. Normally, there are a few other early birds around but today there is no-one, presumably due to the Christmas party the night before. Brian avoids the Christmas parties. He went once, and suffered nightmarish flashbacks about the things he witnessed for weeks afterwards.
He can’t avoid the morning-after mess though – the half-empty bottles and paper cups, the partially-eaten plates of sausage rolls and scotch eggs, and – above all – the horrible smell. Brian suspects that some people have vomited in the bins, and in a modern office there is no way of opening the windows to clear the smell.
The full horror only hits Brian when he sees the XJR5000. The plastic cover has been wrenched off, and the glass below has a crack in it. When Brian looks more closely he sees buttock imprints on the glass.
“Hey boy,” murmurs Brian, as he gently replaces the paper tray, “what have those horrible people been doing to you?”
He tries to start the machine but it makes an awful screeching noise, as though in terrible pain. Brian phones for an engineer, then spends several anxious hours waiting for him to arrive. As the morning goes by, Brian’s workmates slowly drift in only to sit slumped around the office like zombies, most of them too ill to do any work.
When the engineer finally appears, he dismantles the machine, makes a series of ‘tutting’ sounds, then shakes his head and says that it will need replacing. Brian gives the XJR5000 a consoling pat, puts a piece of its broken plastic in his pocket, then turns away.
At five o’clock, Brian leaves the building and walks mournfully up Victoria Street to the underground. He joins the hordes on the escalator and begins his descent. The escalator jerks and shudders and screams, as the mechanism buckles under the strain. As the heat and noise increase Brian feels like he is descending into Hell. The sinners wait on the platform to be devoured by the beast when it comes roaring from its tunnel.
When he emerges in North London the wind blows Brian down the street and through his front door. Clouds of dust follow behind him; they form into clumps, then swirl like tumbleweed across the bare wooden floor. It seems like all the dust of the city accumulates in this tiny flat.
Brian gets out the vacuum cleaner. He switches it on and it cries out in protest at its task. Brian knows that one day we will all end up as dust, and ponders the futility of an existence which ends inside the bag of a Hoover.
As Brian pushes the vacuum cleaner around, the pitch of its cries becomes higher, and he realises that the mechanism has become blocked. He takes it out to the small concrete yard and dismantles it. He tries to scrape the dust into a refuse sack, but most of it is borne away on the wind. The particles fly off into the night – perhaps, once again, to become stars.

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