Derriere’s “La Fable Moderne”
Translitered from the French by E.W.
The New Machine first appeared on the factory floor on the morning
of Monday, the 15th of May.
It was a smallish box, taller than it was wide or long - about 4 feet
total when resting on its steel pedestal. It was gun-metal grey.
A long cord ran from the Machine into the wall some 30 feet away. Indeed,
the new machine was very close to right in the middle of the factory
floor and quite in the way.
Its top was punctuated by 4 lights: one red, one blue, one amber, and
one green. Periodically, the lights would light up.
No one was sure what to do about the New Machine, so when the presses
and the conveyors began running again, everyone just sort of went about
their jobs, trying not to bump the New Machine, not knowing if it was
important or fragile.
The factory hummed along quite as usual until, about 4:00 P.M., 4
very large men in suits, some of whom the workers knew to be Important
and Powerful within the company, and some of whom were complete strangers,
walked onto the factory floor.
They wore safety glasses, and one of them carried a large pair of scissors.
The New Machine had been loosely wrapped the night before in a gold
ribbon, and a net of multi-colored balloons was suspended above it.
5 or so people with cameras followed the suited men onto the factory
floor. One of them even had a television camera, and a few other people
in suits, some of them secretaries who worked in the office above the
factory floor, gathered around the men.
The men then spoke in turn over the New Machine. Because of the noise
of the factory, no one heard what the large men in suits said.
The workers continued to look busy, except for the 3 from Line 5 who
always appear to be on break.
They stood about 6 paces behind the secretaries and watched with great
After each suited man had spoken, the one with the scissors cut off
the gold ribbon, and the net was released, showering the New Machine
The men and women with suits all left, and the people with cameras
20 minutes later, the cleaning crew came by and took away the ribbon
and the balloons.
The New Machine sat in the middle of the factory floor the rest of
that day, its light on.
The next day, the New Machine was still there, except that only half
the lights were on.
Rumors running around the factory were certain that the New Machine
had cost nearly 400,000 francs, and that each plant in the company had
That seemed to impress everyone fairly well, but they still didn’t
know what to do with the New Machine.
Then someone noticed that two of the lights were no longer lit up.
Maintenance was called in, and they looked at the light situation. One
of them was sent to find a manual. One of the smarter maintenance men
then noticed that each of the lights had a button beneath it. He pushed
the buttons beneath the dark lights, and they lit up.
The factory went on as usual except that when someone noticed a light
out on the New Machine, he or she would simply press the button under
the offending light, restoring it to its proper luminescence.
This went on for some months. But as the weeks progressed, people forgot
about pressing the buttons when the lights went out.
Eventually, we forgot about the Machine entirely, simply walking around
it when we had to.
At some point walking around it became automatic and the Machine disappeared
from the minds of the workers.
It was simply one area we had to walk around, like a support beam.
The Machine collected dust.
The plant was bought and sold. New workers from the new company also
worked around the New Machine. The few of us who were retained, when
nostalgic, would look across the factory floor, see the Machine and
After about 5 minutes of this, we would go back to work.
One day, 3 men from the new maintenance crew in their pressed grey
jumpsuits came onto the factory floor and put a plastic cover on the
3 days later, they returned and stood around the Machine. Several toolboxes
were at their feet. They spoke to one another, their words drowned out
by the noise of the factory.
One got out a small spray can and sprayed the bolts at the bottom of
the Machine’s stand that attached the machine to the factory floor.
He took a wrench out of his toolbox and removed the bolts, breaking
It took 2 men to load the New Machine onto a dolly, and another to
lead, and the Machine was taken out of the factory.
For a few weeks, everyone walked around the pale square where the machine
had been. By force of habit, our feet tacked around the now missing
Machine so we wouldn’t bump it, not knowing if it was important
Eventually, the workers would walk over that bare patch of floor as