Into the Interior
Having come at last to the
edge of the map, we lifted it. The cartographer declined to go on, asserting
that his interest in landscape was entirely superficial. Pennington
"The man's lost his
nerve!" he said.
I disagreed but secretly
wondered if the rusted ventilator shaft sunk in the rock-strewn margin
had not "put the wind up him." With such an object evident
in the landscape, the cartographer may have been wary of what might
be hidden underneath.
Quigley led the way, followed
by the naturalists. I brought up the rear with the porters, who talked
anxiously among themselves of sacrilege.
As we descended, I saw
the tropic sun flame over the brink of the world. Then darkness, and
the lighting of the torches. It was a fine sight -- that long line of
leaping, wavering flame!
We macheted our way through
an enclosure of thorns. Breaching the wall, we entered a zone of machinery.
"We can be of no use
here!" said the disgruntled naturalists, who promptly returned
to the surface.
Smith was sent for. He
had been a motorman in the New York City subway and could be counted
on for a purely mechanistic view of the universe. He examined the works
and pronounced them:
"That would account
for the surface unpredictability," I said.
"It's just like underneath
Coney Island," Smith remarked as he gathered samples of rust, iron
filings, and hydraulic fluid from the vicinity.
Quigley despised the comparison,
believing that it cheapened our investigations. But I reminded him that
Freud himself had visited Dream Land the year before searching for images
of the unconscious. Quigley was clearly unhappy. Like the departed naturalists,
he had expected an organic foundation equivalent to the revelations
beneath tree bark or stones: a swarm of fascinating unpleasantness.
Holding up a large, punched-paper
cylinder similar to a player-piano roll, Quigley shouted:
"Is this someone's
idea of a joke?"
I kept my own counsel.
"The commissioner shall
hear about this!" he growled.
If it was a joke, McCutcheon,
the cartoonist, enjoyed it: his African Impressions, brought
out the following year, was a popular success. Few if any of his readers
appreciated that his wry consideration of the mysterious underpinnings
of Africa was, quite actually, true!
For my part, I was satisfied.
We had hoped to find a Prime Mover, and it made perfect sense that a
Prime Mover should be mechanical.
In the next room we discovered
a hall of mirrors and a smoke machine whose powerful leather bellows
pumped allegory into the upper atmosphere. Infant thunderstorms crackled
in Leyden jars. Black rivers twisted in Stygian sluices. Worm-gears
wound round our feet. There were bats, of course, but they were prototypical
-- creaking hinges looking as if they had been fashioned by the Great
Christmas day was passed
on the march through an empty, waterless region which, up above, Afrikaners
call "the thirst." The heat was great. The fiery ground burnt
the feet of the porters.
On the following day we
came upon an enormous drum, whose hypnotic throbbing was produced by
an ingenious steam engine.
"We've reached the
heart of Africa," said Quigley, who ordered the waxed recording
cylinders unpacked. Huddled together, the porters sang in a strange
modality suggesting the mineral world. It made a fine recording!
On the twelfth day we discovered
the grave of someone named Storey. We could not, of course, know the
circumstances of his undoing. Pennington was irked, having been denied
the jouissance of discovering the ulterior. He cursed the
pile of loose stones.
On the twentieth day we
reached the moon, at rest under the rib of the equator. It shone with
a pale and mysterious light, making our torches superfluous. We stood,
entranced, remembering women gleaming in the light from open windows.
"A cheap trompe
l'oeil effect!" jeered Quigley.
Pennington was all for
potting it, but I wrested his beloved Winchester from his hands, putting
in them instead my Graphlex camera.
The moon graciously provided
its own illumination.
We sat and ate our native
posho. Kassitura played his harp. Pennington told strange tales of adventure
that come only to the man who has lived long the lonely life of the
The moon rose, and we were
once again in darkness. The torches were lit as we prepared to retrace
our steps. We had found an explanation, of sorts, for Africa. In the
years that followed, we clung to it. That there might be other, quite
different explanations, I admitted only to myself.
Norman Lock's fiction appears
in leading American and European journals. He has received the Aga Kahn
Prize given by The Paris Review. "Into the Interior"
is one of 44 linked postmodern fictions in A History of the Imagination,
published at www.OnLineBookDirect.de. Two new short-fiction collections
-- Joseph Cornell's Operas and Emigres -- are available,
in print, from Elimae Books. The
House of Correction has been widely staged in the U.S. and Germany.
Lock's four radio plays have been broadcast over Germany's largest radio
network. He has also written a film produced by the American Film Institute.
He is an Arts Fellow of New Jersey.