After successfully uncovering all of the secrets of the human cell, the men and women of the scientific corporations began turning people into pots and pans.
They called it restructuring and it was not painful, since pots and pans are designed so that they feel no pain – not the heat of fire, the sizzle of grease, the boil of water.
Pots and pans become quickly attuned to small pleasures and they demand very little. Some remarked how easy it was now to hold things, and others were amazed as to how good it felt when spoon or spatula or whisk slapped your withers or went thunk on your bottom.
The people who chose to have themselves restructured usually did so because they were bored with life. “Birth, work, death,” they often said, echoing a century’s-old lament. “Even popcorn has more fun.”
Of course, not all of the daring people who chose to be restructured chose to become a pot or a pan. One man decided that he’d always wanted to be wire and so wire he became: .12 gauge, pure copper, about a mile’s worth. He was part of a communications network and knew a factual joy as his every molecule was regularly turned into words. It was thought he might once have been a poet, though poets tend to be so secretive the truth of that has never come out.
His experience, though, was decidedly better than that of another man with a similar bent who became barbed wire. He was turned into several rolls of barbed razor wire and then shipped to a European country where they were still trying to resolve some questions that had first arisen in the Middle Ages. His job was to surround certain hungry religious refugees and electrocute them if they tried to go somewhere in search of food. It is said the experience drove him insane, though it’s difficult to think about the sanity of wire.
Just east of here, in a small trailer by the river, lived a woman who had five children – all girls – by five different men. None of the men had chosen to live with the woman because she had five children with five fathers and was thought to be morally questionable. Nor did they give her any money or jugs of milk or bags of flour, so both the woman and her children were hungry all the time.
One time her youngest daughter came up to her and said she wasn’t hungry anymore. When her mother asked her why, the child said she’d found some small stones down on the street and she’d eaten them.
“Good for you,” her mother said, and then went down to the local office of restructuring and had herself turned into a half ton of gravel to be spread on the small drive near her trailer door. That story of a mother’s love is often cited when these times are referred to as cold and heartless times.
The whole world under this new science became an interesting place. If voices were heard in the night, they were, by God, listened to.
“Could be the curtains, you know,” was a common comment.
“I think my pillow and I once knew each other,” was an equally felicitous remark. Having known your pillow in another time struck some people as both romantic and bold.
There were warnings, early on, that this turning of people into useful things would have calamitous consequences, but it didn’t turn out that way. To the contrary, a kind of pan-humanism began to evolve. People could regularly be seen talking to the downspouts on their houses or the trash containers on the corners of busy streets. Greetings were given to the turnstiles and tollgates of public transportation, and hardly anyone could pass a mailbox without giving it a gentle pat on its rounded top.
For most people, the world took on a friendlier aspect, and nearly everything – cars, supermarket shopping carts, toasters, church pews, sexual playthings, televisions, and nearly all furniture – had a name, most often the correct one since, when people were restructured into a toothbrush or a six-pack of beer or a puppy bed, records were meticulously kept. You didn’t want to play loose with your ancestor’s evolutions, either, since you never knew when one might turn up as a filling in your tooth. Those who had been restructured into pacemakers or titanium hips and knees were known to be particularly mischievous. More than one disgruntled family member, however, had responded to some my-uncle-the-baseball’s mayhem by getting herself turned into a Louisville Slugger.
Certainly, this story could only have been written during modern times, and it has as happy an ending as endings get these days. For as much as people found their ultimate passion in becoming windshield wipers or even baby pacifiers, it soon became clear that the most responsible choice of all was that of becoming a tree.
Naturally enough, trees were soon everywhere. They popped up in the courtyards of impersonal city buildings and began lining airport runways. Hot cities soon found themselves cooled by acres of (occasionally conversational) shade so that air conditioners could be turned off and windows opened. Experiments were in full swing, too, with varieties of trees that could both float and thrive on salt water. They were called salty trees, and were reserved for people who had not been as happy in their former life as they could have been. Vast acreages of lush forest could thus be seen bobbing merrily about from the shores of India to the coast of France.
Once each year, however, a festive ceremony took place as the leaves loosened their holds on the branches and fluttered softly to the ground. Gently were those leaves raked and harvested, the soft crunch beneath the feet feeling once again like a good conversation with someone who had never really gone.
Science, clearly, had finally made the world a better place.