Pierre Lamont drew delicate brushstrokes upon the body of the curious wooden box before him. It was a superficial embellishment. The mechanics of the thing had been worked upon for months, Lamont electrocuting himself a number of times in the process. Through a pane of darkened glass, you could just about observe the outlines of a blur of tangled wiring, running through to a customised electrophorus generator at the back. It was to be a projector of images.
He had first conceived of the thing in an opiated haze, as he solitarily roamed the parks of Paris ruing bitterly the manner in which he had been spurned by the innkeeper’s daughter. Overcome, consumed and twisted around by a potent concoction of heartbreak and “the horse,” he dragged his sorry hooves forlornly down the city’s cobbled streets in search of a quill and ink with which to record the distinctly odd thoughts that occurred to him with a feverish intensity. He had been thinking about how, whilst one’s train of thought can gamely chug its way onto the page, there was no equivalent manner in which one could make such a verbatim document of those most tangible senses; sight and sound. Nor smell, for that matter.
So he’d been working on it. Admittedly, he was no closer to mechanically simulating smells than he had been on his mad opium binge, but he felt headway was being made on the sound and vision front. The electricity from the generator gave the machine life, but it was not as yet reflecting the purpose for which it had been designed. The inventor, who – like many of his peers, indebted to Rousseau – saw arts and sciences as inseparable bedfellows, had begun daubing intricate patterns on the exterior when he needed a break from wiring, but vowed to resume the technical nitty-gritty as soon as he felt the lightning jolt of inspiration.
A huge roar resounded outside his place, a mass of humanity swamping the streets. The commotion jogged Lamont’s hand and he butchered a part of his painting.
“For fuck’s sake,” he muttered. “Can’t get any bloody peace these days.”
Gently, he eased his paintbrush across the surface of the box, trying to paint around the aberration, before – BLAM! – his front door swung open and crashed rudely against the wall. He felt his hand slip, glanced over to see what all the commotion was, and then, looking back, noticed an unsightly red blotch slashed all over his beautiful patterns.
“What’s your fucking problem?” he bellowed at his friends standing in the doorway; Alain the cobbler, Jacques the baker, and Paul and Marie L’Jaume, who sold fish, and whose scent would not be the first Lamont would seek to reproduce with his new contraption. Antoine the innkeeper had not made an appearance, which made sense, as his relationship with Lamont had been somewhat strained of late.
“Lighten up, Pierre,” said Jacques. “It’s all work, work, work with you.”
“Did Paine and Rousseau not extol the virtues of work?”
“Well, I mean…”
“Fuck off, then.”
“Come on, mate. Haven’t you read the latest L’Ami du peuple?”
“I have not, for I have been working and, furthermore, Marat is a pompous dickhead.”
“Aw, you’re missing out, honest,” said Alain. “It’s not all devouring the palpitating hearts of aristocracy, you know. You get some useful news in there.”
“Yeah, like what?
“Like we’re marching on the bloody Bastille right now and you haven’t fucking noticed,” said Marie.
“Yeah, we’re gonna free all the political prisoners.”
“We’re not, mate,” said Jacques. “When d’you last actually leave the house?”
“I’ve been working,” he hissed.
“It’s been madness, honest. Big old crowd of citizens looted me bakery; robbed me blind, they did. Decided I’m not getting anywhere being on the wrong side of all this. After that I got involved in the looting and bagged myself a cartload of grain from the St-Lazare monastery.”
“So…” began Alain.
“So, you coming?”
“Well, my machine is nearing the final stages of its compl-”
“Oh don’t be such a fucking wet blanket,” said Paul.
“Yeah, you wimp,” added Marie.
“That’s right,” Paul nodded at his wife’s interjection, “you dripping pussy. How often are we given the opportunity to curdle the blood of our oppressors like mangy milk?”
“For fuck’s sake,” Lamont threw down his paintbrush. “I’ll come along so long as you stop talking like fucking Marat.”
“Smashing day. Shame there was only seven blokes in there…”
“For fuck’s sake!”
“Alright, Pierre? Going all nuts again, are we?” Jacques walked through Lamont’s front door and found the inventor on his knees, wildly gesticulating at a blank space in the floor.
“It’s the fucking sans culottes!” Lamont yelled. “They’ve stolen my contraption!”
“What? Oh, that, the big empty space.”
“I spent months working on that! Fucking months!”
“Well, it’s alright, y’know…we can put some feelers out.”
“For fuck’s sake! For fuck’s fucking sake! Fuck!”
“Alright, alright, chill out, mate; think about it, how many other sick nick-knacks and this’n’thats ‘ave you put together? What about that thing where you stick your ear at one end and some geezer’s voice comes out of fuck knows where?”
“The telephonic communication device? It’s fucked. It was all ready to go on the market when I popped out to build a bridge and then…well, things got complicated.”
“Complicated like how?”
“Well, it took me about three years, didn’t it? I didn’t have any time for inventing!”
“Why did you want to build a bridge? Someone already invented bridges.”
“Well, thanks, mate. Look, I just…I just really wanted to build a bridge, ok? But all the streams had already been bridged for fucking miles so there I was wandering the country for yonks trying to find an appropriate spot. In the end I just built one over a field near Versailles, but then I ran out of timber and had to come back to the city, and me landlord told me I was behind on the rent and he’d sold the bloody telephonic communication device to some Scottish twat.”
“So why did you build your bridge over a field?”
“Because I wanted to build a bridge, didn’t I? I wasn’t gonna just sit and wait for someone’s stream to become available.”
“Did you read L’Ami du people?”
“Mhmm?” Lamont could hardly hear Alain over the din of the 20,000-strong crowd in which they stood.
“Did you read L’Ami du people? The insurrection special?”
“Yes, I read it.”
“But I thought you said Marat is a pompous dickhead?”
“I always read Marat, which is how I’m aware he’s a pompous dickhead.”
“Look,” whispered Jacques irately, “if you’re just gonna talk over it I don’t know why you bothered coming along.”
“Well where is he, then? We’ve been waiting fucking hours. I got up early especially.”
“You had to get up early?” said Paul. “Wow, it’s alright for some, isn’t it? Some of us workers – without whom, I should add, Marat says society would not exist for a single day – get up early every day, whilst scoundrels grow fat by our sweat, and drink our blood in cups of gold!”
“Yeah, yeah, heard it all before, mate,” Lamont shook his head. “You’ll never guess what I was knocking up when the verdict came in…”
“Fuck off. It was incredible. Some true enlightenment shit. You know when the king went on the lamb in that massive fucking stagecoach?”
“It gave me this big brainwave…”
“Were you back on the opium?”
“I might’ve been! That’s neither here or there. Just listen; I thought, it’s a shame how these great wheeled beasts that mankind has built require the assistance of actual beasts to be propelled across the earth. What if…”
“Do you wish to render horses superfluous?”
“Yes! But no. I think the horse still has its uses. However, after this invention, they may lie predominantly within the food chain…”
“Do you often eat horse?”
“Shhh!” Jacques beseeched him, “He’s coming on.”
A gaunt, unsteady figure daintily stepped onto the stage that reared way ahead of them, and began to address the crowd.
“I forgive my enemies…” he began.
But his words were swallowed up by a huge drumroll. There was no point in Citizen Louis Capet simply miming his speech. Submissively, he climbed onto his knees.
“Christ, he’s actually sticking his head in the guillotine,” gasped Alain.
“A guillotine? Fuck off. I’ve been saying for ages that chopping people’s heads off would be a better idea than strapping them to a huge wheel until their backs break. I can show you the plans and everything. Joseph-Ignace always was a thieving fuck.”