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The Slush Machine

In Fiction on February 24, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Depending on their imaginative powers, a snowfall can remind people of moulting angel-wings, of perishing mayflies or of a defective TV screen. When the Assistant Submissions Editor of Conglomerated Publishing, Inc. emerged from the subway that day into a swirl of snowflakes, he tried to be reminded of nothing at all—snow is snow is snow—but couldn’t help thinking, as usual, of millions of manuscript pages being shredded on high.

Brushing the flakes off his briefcase, he directed his steps toward the Conglomerated Building, capped by a giant blinking neon sign which advertised in red the latest blockbusters and their dizzying sales figures. Behind the shifting curtain of snow, the sign showed as a vague inflammation. The Assistant Submissions Editor shot up to the fifty-eighth floor and, as he did once a week, let himself into his office. His salary was nothing much but the hours (hour, in fact) very good, thanks to the technological breakthrough represented by the gigantic machine that occupied half the floor space. He sat down before the screen and noted that there were 467 submissions, slightly higher than usual.

The Assistant Submissions Editor pressed a red button. Arms dangling between his knees, he stared dully at the long stretch of glass that revealed the machine’s inner workings. It came to life, emitting hungry sounds. The tube that ran through the transom sucked up the manuscripts in the mail-room. Visually empowered steel fingers delicately withdrew the wrappings like a lover denuding his sweetheart. Other steel fingers withdrew the all-important stamped self-addressed envelopes. The useless remnants proceeded to the shredding unit where a quick multitude of razor-sharp blades did their work meticulously.

A blast of air blew the shreds of the manuscripts into a snow-storm of intimate if fragmentary cohabitation, a promiscuous pot-pourri of genre, sub-genre and cross-genre: suffering childhoods, erotic Romance, pastel Romance, alternate-world time-traveling female vampires, evocations of jolly close-knit families back then, sentient jelly-blobs, fat women who find love, thin girls who lose it, etc. etc. The light of the neon sign close to the window bathed the whirling shreds in alternations of white and blockbuster red. Then the shredded submissions lost their particularity as they were blown into a potent liquid and congealed into a thick grey slush. Rollers converted this into recycled paper immediately printed up with the usual formula:

We have read your manuscript with great interest, but we regret to say that it does not fit into our present publishing plans. Wishing you all success in your future writing endeavors,

Conglomerated Publishing, Inc.

Steel fingers inserted the message into each of the 467 stamped self-addressed envelopes. The flap of each was moistened and sealed and the boomerang letters were neatly piled into two cardboard boxes. The processing machine switched itself off.

The Assistant Submissions Editor stood up. Another day, another dollar. He carefully placed the boxes in a plastic shopping bag which he held in one hand, the other gripping his briefcase. He zoomed down to the palatial ground floor and stepped outside.

The snow had ceased. The Assistant Submissions Editor carefully picked his way through the thick gray slush to the nearby post office, where he entrusted the employee behind the barred window with the 467 letters. Then he sat down at a table and removed a roll of scotch tape and a thick envelope from his briefcase. He pulled out the typed manuscript and proceeded to inspect it for the hundredth time for typos.

Reading intently, he was swept away by his exquisitely wrought style. His face registered a variety of emotions via smiles, frowns, tenseness and even moist eyes. Hours passed. Finally he replaced his manuscript in the envelope and carefully sealed it with lengths of scotch tape. Once more he inspected his name and address in the upper left-hand corner and the name and address carefully printed on the center:

Submissions Editor
Ransom and Scriviner Publications
325 Madison Avenue
New York, NY

He dispatched it. It was a smaller concern than Conglomerated, so had possibly not yet acquired the expensive Kirubawaki XL289 Manuscript Processing Machine. One could always hope.

He left the post office.

The snow had resumed and now covered the gray slush with whiteness, like a page awaiting print.

The Assistant Submissions Editor of Conglomerated Publications, Inc. hurried through the millions of whirling snowflakes. Snow is snow is snow is snow and nothing else he thought, and vanished out of it into the subway.

Born in New York but long a resident of Paris, Howard Waldman taught European History for a France-based American university and later American Literature for a French university. His short stories have appeared in Verbsap, Gold Dust, Global Inner Visions and other publications. His four novels are available on Amazon: Back There, Time Travail, The Seventh Candidate and Good Americans Go to Paris When They Die.

  1. Although I am not very enthusiastic about fiction texts, I found this one readable. Thus: Great post!

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