“We had stayed up all night, my friends and I,” I read, “under hanging mosque lamps with domes of filigreed brass, domes starred like our spirits, shining like them with the prisoned radiance of electric hearts. For hours we had trampled our atavistic ennui into rich oriental rugs, arguing up to the last confines of logic and blackening many reams of paper with our frenzied scribbling…”
“Oh, gaaaaawd,” said Tim. “Who wrote that? Not you I hope.”
“F.T. Marinetti. The founder of futurism.” Although this dangerous knowledge left me feeling breathless, I feigned a casual weariness. “A literary and artistic movement of the early 20th century, which glorifies mechanism and violence and repudiates sentimentalism.”
Tim made a farting noise with his lips. I decided to stop reading aloud.
We intend to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and fearlessness.
Marinetti had seen a future of machines and noise. The throbbing of engines! The wild yell of triumph as stillness was shredded by turbines! But instead we were soothed by reason and courtesy. Where was the brilliance, the power, the drive? My friends and I did not gather to celebrate chaos and the machine, but to rage against their passing.
Tonight we gathered for another reason as well. Zoltan had V-mailed us all, his face and voice eager. “I found something I have to show you. I’ll bring it tonight.”
Courage, audacity and revolt will be essential elements of our poetry.
I checked my watch: time to set out. Tim was not invited.
The four of us met in Pete’s basement room. He’d done his best to purge it of the comforts his parents had installed. We sat on chairs. The lights were fluorescent; we loved their steady growling. There were no plasma Louvres or Guggenheims on the wall to browse. The artwork Pete favored was crude and corporeal, and chiefly concerned with sprockets.
“Look at this,” said Zoltan. “I found it at my uncle’s house.” He took a box out of his pack. It was plain, except for a small indentation on one edge.
“So?” said Pete.
“No, no, watch!” Zoltan pushed the indentation, and a screen appeared on one face. We saw pictures grow clearer and acquire depth and color. They showed armies – armies – multitudes in uniforms and their great machines of battle. The sounds told of struggle and pain. We couldn’t look away.
We intend to exalt aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap.
Finally I stirred. The pictures had filled me with a fervor and a fury that roared in my ears like the battle machines themselves.
“We’ve watched and watched,” I said. “We’re watching now. Why haven’t we acted?”
They shifted in their chairs as my iron stare laid bare their timid souls. One of the fluorescent lights had a persistent flicker. I liked how it seemed as though lightning was crackling around me.
“Carlo,” Misha began, then stopped.
“Yes?” I snapped.
“What, exactly, do you think we should be doing?”
We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath – a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.
“We’ll steal a car.” They were still called cars; it excited me that Marinetti and I both spoke of cars (although I had never seen a race). “We’ll find out what speed feels like.”
They gasped at my daring.
We thundered up the stairs and out into the night. I ached to feel the slice of sharp, cold wind as I ran, but the air was gentle, always gentle, and the sky serene.
It took only a few moments to find a car. Hardly the sleek monster of Marinetti’s vision! I opened the settings panel and entered the sequence to free the car from the bondage of its limiters. No need for security in a passionless world. But they had not planned for me.
My friends sat in the car, giggling and twitching and waiting for me. Without speaking, I got in and began to drive. They hooted and grinned, the fools, even though so far I was keeping to the tedious pace of the other drivers.
We want to hymn the man at the wheel, who hurls the lance of his spirit across the Earth, along the circle of its orbit.
I began to nudge the accelerator. The car whined at the unaccustomed speed. Misha whined as well. We ignored him. Six, twelve miles per hour. Faster! My eyes quivered, searching for something they knew how to perceive, something that wasn’t a streak of color past the windshield. My ears throbbed. My heart pounded with the wildness of it! The air inside the car was thick and damp with our panic, our exhilaration! The car was mine, the world was mine!
The road had not been designed for such a speed as ours. As it curved, I twitched the wheel – too far. I wrenched it back the other way, and back again, with large, powerful movements. The car rocked from curb to curb. Pete and Zoltan screamed. I was beyond caring, beyond anything but the splendid battle to keep us alive.
The car shook as we spun into a light pole. The impact shocked us all, and in that moment I thought to take my foot off the accelerator. The car quieted instantly, and I drove it slowly over to the curb. We got out, dazed and panting. Misha rubbed his forehead, which was already swelling.
Except in struggle, there is no more beauty.
“So,” I said. “So.” I bared my teeth. I thought of all the years, the centuries, that speed – noise, war, heat, cold, hunger, pain, fierceness, joy – had been hidden away. Tranquillity is humanity’s highest truth, we had been taught. Lie! This, this was the highest truth: the violent rush of strength and power, body and machine straining to answer the will’s command!
“Now we know speed.” The others said nothing. I was sure they were listening, waiting for each word. “Next, we…”
“Carlo,” said Zoltan, so quietly that my still-ringing ears could hardly hear him.
Shocked, I fell silent.
He had interrupted me.
My fist clenched. I knew there was such a thing as hitting, but I had no idea what it looked like, how to do it. I waved my arm clumsily, and it struck the side of his head. I stared at my arm, then at Zoltan. His face looked like the moon, pale and poignant.
Now we knew anger, and shame.
“Carlo, we’re going,” said Pete. “We’re going back to my place.”
“Why?” My voice trembled, and I hated them for that.
“Because you could have killed us, you stupid fuckwit,” shrieked Zoltan. “I have people who love me! People who care whether I come home!”
Everyone went as still as death.
“I mean, I’m sorry, Carlo...”
Pete drew him away. “Don’t make it worse,” I heard him murmur to Zoltan.
Why should we look back, when what we want is to break down the mysterious doors of the Impossible?
I left the battered car and walked back to the apartment, an age between each step. What had it been to stand amid the endless rushing flood of cars, to feel the gusts of their passage, to have no time for thought or regret? I wondered, with a desire like pain, what exhaust fumes had smelled like.
We will glorify war – the world’s only hygiene – militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for and scorn for woman.
When I walked through the door, Tim and his girlfriend were in the living room, making a wet snarl of arms and legs and tongues.
I went to my room, lay down, and turned out the light. I stared and stared into the darkness.
More than a week passed before I heard from any of my friends. By that time I was busy with other things, and I ignored Pete’s message.
There may have been others like me, slinking from bookshop to bookshop, acquiring a smell of mold, fingertips dried and cracking from gripping the dusty covers day after day. But I worked alone. I found books of violence, books of revolution and destruction, books of madness and disintegration. I brought them home under my coat. I put a lock on the door of my room.
We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind, will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice.
It took me months to find a name in the books for what I wanted to do, and many months after that to gather what I needed and make the device.
The night that I finished my preparations, I had a dream. I was small, pressed close to someone’s chest. My arms were wrapped around a neck, I wept into a shoulder, someone’s hand stroked my back. I could not be consoled in my terror and my grief. Where are you, where are you?
When I woke, I knew, as always, that it was memory, not dream. It was the day of my desolation. A world of order had not kept my mother and father safe, had not kept me from suffering and loneliness. Such a world was nothing but the worst of lies. It was no longer enough to pine after a distant past, with its forgotten logic of loss and agony. I would bring that past back. Pain, not tranquillity, was humanity’s highest truth.
I sang that truth to myself, over and over again, as I placed my device in the central information archives. The building was full of kind people and kind lies, quiet voices and smothered questions. It stank. I set the pack down in a corner and walked away.
We will sing of great crowds excited by work, by pleasure, and by riot; we will sing of the multicolored, polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals...
The video feeds played the scene over and over again, until three more devices exploded in cities across the world. Then, of course, coverage ceased. But they could not undo what I had begun.
Laura E. Goodin’s stories and articles have appeared in a wide variety of publications and her plays have been broadcast on national radio in Australia.