THE LITTLE MACHINES
Ralph was a “completist” - he enjoyed having sets of things. They could all be slightly different, but had to be recognisably akin to each other. He liked having the tiny blue cups whose shapes were all the same, but whose roses decorating the rims were in contrasting colours. He like having the cushions with Vesuvius on, because some of them were pristine and others were bleached by the sun. And he liked having the little clockwork toys - cars with passengers, trains with drivers, bicycles with ladies astride, grizzly bears with tambourines. They all had keys that he could turn to set the mechanism in motion, and they all had different quirks in their operation.
It was his chief desire to set all his clockwork toys going at once. This required some dexterity and speed on his part, since they were inclined to stammer and hiccup with no warning. But one day he decided to go hell-for-leather. The jangling and whirring was music to his ears. He reached out to the Red Riding Hood figure (the one with the snapping wolf) and found that her little basket had come off in his hand. When he looked at her, he was quite sure that she was moving, and of her own volition. She stretched out her hand for her basket.
Things intensified. The motorcyclist, whom he had neatly positioned next to the lady on the bike, climbed off his vehicle, pushed the lady away, purloined hers and cycled under the sideboard. The bear, who had hitherto seemed such a docile creature, sank its incisors into his toe, and worried it. The train driver seemed intent on observing the lady cyclist from his cabin, and he rubbed himself in an unbecoming way.
Ralph had to put a stop to all of it. One by one he snatched the keys from their keyholes, and swallowed them. “Down the little red road”, as his mother used to say. Once by one, the keys plummeted down his gullet. They felt cold at first. But later (we are furnaces inside!), they would be warm, and burnished by gastric acid.
As the toys finally chundered to a standstill without their keys, Ralph felt pleased. He had managed to restore order. But all stasis comes at a cost. In a few days, the keys would reappear, but in camouflage. Someone would have to deal with that. Just as long as it wasn’t him.