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The Unbearable Machine

Megan Voysey (2018)

(Audio recording of the German translation, read by Denis Abrahams)

I had never been to the planetarium before and I was excited, filled with anticipation for something new, something never seen before.  I even tried not to think about The Labyrinth, where I got to see everything, the whole world and what it really is.

I didn’t feel so happy anymore. It was hard to keep a good mood going. It was hard not to think deeply about horrible things.

I wondered what it would be like to be an empty vessel, well, if you were a little slow that is what the teachers called you, told you right there in front of everyone. You were called that if you talked a lot too. Empty vessels make the most noise. What does that even mean? Either way it didn’t seem like there was any winning or any pleasing, unless you were right there at the very top of the class.

“We are almost there, I am really looking forward to it, we will see a whole lot more than we ever will through that home-made telescope. The whole night sky above our heads, close up. It will be fantastic, Astrid.”

Then the dome of the planetarium came into view and my heart beat a little faster. I imagined what it would look like inside.

Well, what would it look like inside?

Maybe even more than fantastic or a total fuck up. Or both.


Mother parked the car out of the way, behind a tree, she was ashamed of our piece of scrap metal on four wheels and so we had to walk a little further than necessary. I almost held her hand, but we weren’t like that with each other.

There weren’t that many people visiting the planetarium that day and my mother walked up to the window to pay, taking a crisp note out of her brown purse with the golden catch. The woman behind the window had a wrinkled face, a cigarette burned next to her in a white ashtray, the tip of the filter coloured red from her lipstick.

She smiled at me, wished us an interesting couple of hours. She looked dead bored when she said it.


The dome was cool inside and we both breathed a sigh of relief. There were rows upon rows of seats with adjustable neck rests arranged around an incredible looking machine.

I was genuinely amazed at its size and complexity, its many mirrors. It looked as if it would come alive any second, to hurt us or save us.

Mother said it looked like a giant ant with hundreds of compound eyes.

“Something from another planet for sure. Isn’t it something.”

It was.

We found places to sit. Here and there we saw a few others, but we guessed the most fortunate people were around their diamond shaped swimming pools.

I found it special that I was there, that I was going to see something wonderful.

Then it went very dark and a man’s voice came on through the speakers, welcoming us to the planetarium, to the night sky.

We looked up into the dome and saw it scattered with shimmering flecks of light. An arrow pointed to places of interest.

We are here, in the Milky Way.

Isn’t it magnificent.

The Milky Way came closer and closer, it felt as if it would fall on us and squash us or bear us away with its spiralling arms.

I wanted to make sense of that swirling disc punctuated with stars, 100 billion or so. Give or take. All those flickering dots one sees from a place like the world. I couldn’t.

Make sense.

Who can?

From the edge of a Sunday afternoon when dinner plates are being thrown at the walls.

Shimmering dots out of reach, probably long dead anyway.

I would have liked to have been someone else then, those days. The dice thrown, the cards dealt. It was written in the stars. All along and all the while. There was nothing to be done about it.


The more the Milky Way galaxy bore down upon our heads the more constricted I started to feel. Crushed, as if the air was being pressed out of me.

A little like how it felt. A lot like how it felt. My afternoons after school with the insides of machines and spare parts. Choked from the inside.

I knew, I assumed, that there were others in the neighbourhood who felt just the same as I did, all over the country, all over the world. In every fancy and run down place, we were looking out at the sky or at our knees, stuffing our hot, wretched fear deep into the earth, burying our tinfoil stars in the ground.

For another time. Another place, for another fucking life.

Covering our heads from constant blows. Repeated traumas to the head, to the body. Take your pick. Take them all. Clean us out.

All that shoving and pushing. All that pain.

The uncles, and cousins, the fathers and grandfathers, the brothers, complete strangers. All taking their turns or all at once in a car that doesn’t want to go anywhere, doesn’t want to be driven. Not like this, not like that anyway. Definitely not like that.


We all look at the rusted guts of the washing machines and the refrigerators, all these things among the grass coming to life.

We could build something that goes, from all of this.

A rocket to another galaxy.

To a place that burns and explodes.


Before I covered my head with my hands the galaxy zoomed out, to a distant dot in the universe. For a little perspective.

It is not so bad is it? This life here. This girl’s life. This woman’s life.

Then our solar system came into view, and there was Earth, in blue and brown and green, revealing nothing of the trouble that goes on its surface.

Then there was Mars in a shade of red and the Asteroid Belt.

The gas giants. Jupiter and its constant storm, then, from a dizzy angle a comet blazed into view. Mother rubbed her neck, it had started to pain with all that craning and peering into the moving heavens.


I imagined I could live inside of a star, that I could be quite comfortable inside of one. All that fury. Not for me the genteel stirring of teaspoons against tea cups on spinning spheres of rock. Too much had happened for that. To feel polite. Courteous. Reasonable.

Still, I say sorry all the time. For my existence. For breathing.


It made sense to me, in my seat with the adjustable headrest, that all I contained, all I knew, everything and everyone might only fill a teaspoon, if I were lucky. All of everything squeezed into the head of a pin. All of my lives, all of my many deaths, thin as paper.

No one saw a thing, not even when I went supernova, by then my life was long over before. Gone, already passed and I could watch it once more. Over and over again.

The consequences.

Out there I had a view, a ringside seat of what it was like to be stripped bare to the core. Collapsed in on myself. One day I would blow myself away.


My eyes started to burn and leak. I wiped my face with the back of my hand. My mother had not seen a thing, her head bent backwards, looking up at all of that twinkling space. I was grateful. She might not have asked anyway, had she seen. It was how we were with each other, wiping our faces and getting on with it, as if nothing had happened.












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