Some Math, from Some Machines
by Lucy Corin
 
 

One time they took Jim off to be tortured. Poked him with their index fingers, told lies about his mother, smacked him in his funny bones, scratched his eyes out with their fingernails. Person Equals Torturer.

One time they took Jim off to be tortured. Chained him in the stocks, stuck him in a barrel, let the community take over. They peed on him. People Equals Torture.

One time they took Jim off to be tortured. Torture (an OED definition): to 'twist' (language, etc.) from the proper or natural meaning or form; to distort, pervert. For example: the Chair, the Pear, the Wheel, the Fork, the Ladder, the Hook, the Rack, the Saw, or the great Bronze Bowl. Jim surveyed the chamber. My God! Any ordinary thing, it seemed, could kill you. A chair. A sweet pear. For the rest of his days, though he walked away, his eyes shifted, his body crooked and leaping with nerves. He feared paperclips, cups and saucers, the toilet plunger, packing tape rollers, newspaper caddies, golf clubs, typewriter covers, pocket-protectors, humble onions, and any piece of furniture, especially pine. Object Equals Torture.

One time they took Jim off to be tortured. His son Charlie kept hamsters in his bedroom, but when they overturned a bowl of rodents on Jim's stomach and heated the bowl, the rodents burrowed. The pulley that raised his intestines had been so friendly when it lifted cargo from his ship. The apple rumps of the four horses set to draw and quarter him were rosy, broad, and quivered, ready and afraid. Animal Plus Person Equals Machine.

One time they took Jim off to be tortured. The Branks, the Breast Ripper, the Headcrusher, the Whirligig, the Ducking Stool, the Cat's Paw, Phalaris' Bull, the Rack, the Brodequin, but then, more wonderful, the Iron Maiden, which enclosed him like an exoskeleton, his body within a body, pierced and warm within cold metal. Then when they set up to strangle him, Jim expected a pair of stockings, as before, which had worked fine for a garrote when they first worked with objects, but this time they brought out a loop of metal with a screw that tightened it. There was something different about this strangling. The limp stocking had leaped to life and stiffened with action around his neck, but this, these specialized machines, he thought, meant someone knew all along he'd be tortured. They'd prepared and readied a machine to place between them, as if the torturer was entirely audience, as if the whole scenario was predetermined, Jim bound there prone, torture his fate.

Machine Equals Torture; Torturer Equals Machine.

Outside the chamber, he saw no Iron Maidens, he saw no screw-laden loop devices as he wobbled from his shack to work and back. His eyes rolled, unfocused in his head because he could not place his fear; the machines were in the dungeons but he saw the dungeons everywhere.

One time they took Jim off to be tortured. The Bed of Nails, the Hugging Stones, the Wooden Horse, or, best, I think, the Judas Cradle, which is nothing more than a spiked pyramid with ropes and pulleys above it. Only when they added Jim did it become a machine. They lowered his ass quietly onto the tip and let his weight work. Body Plus Object Equals Torture Machine. Tortured Equals Machine Equals Torturer.

Here the action of the machine destroyed the machine. Jim slumped, quiet, eyes closed. Outside, new parts waited in line.