A short story by Christopher Orlet

The Engineer Heartfield
a short story by Christopher Orlet

To the interview, the Engineer Heartfield wears safety glasses, rubber boots and a bulletproof vest. “An engineer can never be too careful,” he says soberly.

The Engineer Heartfield lives in a two-story brick ranch with a 56-year-old woman who is not his wife. The woman knows next to nothing about flexible automation systems, but is a master of the hurdy gurdy. She has two grown children from a previous disaster, both in their mid-thirties. The Engineer Heartfield lives within a comfortable 45-mile radius of work but wouldn’t mind residing a few miles farther out “in the country.”

The Engineer Heartfield’s current project involves tailoring his company’s critical-use expansion joints to suit demanding industrial ducting and piping applications, though he doesn’t much like to talk about it. “If you talk about it too much you never do it. You talk yourself out of it,” he says sagely. If I were to describe the Engineer Heartfield to you, I would start with his ears which were designed to redirect the flow of fluid systems around the auditory canal to the jawline. Then I’d move on to the temples which contain two massive cogs that revolve at enormous speed. Patent Pending.


THE ENGINEER HEARTFIELD: Only a nincompoop believes man can live in harmony with nature. Nature must be put in her place. She is a rough beast that must be subdued, a wild horse whose spirit must be demolished. We engineers are in a constant struggle with the wench over control of the planet. In the past, she has had the upper hand. But no more. No more, I tell you! We have tamed her sprawling rivers, reduced to pulp her tall dark forests, made Swiss cheese of her purple mountains, given a whole new design to her native landscape. I like to think the world is a much safer place thanks to our planning. What newspaper did you say you were with?

INTERVIEWER: I’m with E Magazine.

THE ENGINEER HEARTFIELD: Does the E stand for Engineering?

INTERVIEWER: No. Environment.

THE ENGINEER HEARTFIELD: Well. That’s not good.

The Engineer Heartfield’s firm has been awarded a multi-billion dollar government contract to build a large electric plastic tube the size of a Russian aircraft carrier to redirect the flow of the West Wind.

The government is Somalia. The Engineer Heartfield calls his design the Wind Tamer I, which seems to suggest a Wind Tamer II and, quite possibly, a Wind Tamer III. The Engineer Heartfield is ticking off all the wondrous possibilities that a post-Wind Tamer I world holds in store. “No more West Wind,” he says profoundly.

The Engineer Heartfield is concerned about his colon. He has been reading a lot lately about colon cancer and how it attacks 50,000 men his age annually. The Engineer Heartfield’s doctor suggests an exam and slips on a plastic glove, dipping his index finger in a generous tub of petroleum jelly. The Engineer Heartfield drops his pants and bends over while his physician jams an index finger up the Engineer Heartfield’s rectum. 

“You’re fine,” the doctor says. “You might want to wipe off your bum though. It’s kind of messy.”

The following books can be found on The Engineer Heartfield’s bookshelf:

  • Orbital Mechanics: Theory and Applications
  • Microsale Energy Transport
  • The Art of Control Engineering
  • Valve Handbook
  • High Risk Parts: Application of LEFM and FMDM Theory
  • Practical Introduction to Pumping Technology

In the evenings The Engineer Heartfield goes shopping with the 56-year-old woman he lives with. Along the way to the shopping center, he points out structures he has designed. “I designed that,” he says. “I designed that. And that. Oh, see that? I did that! And that.” As they pull into the shopping center parking lot, he confides, “I designed the shopping center parking lot too.”

The Engineer Heartfield would like to have children of his own someday. Little engineers about the place. But the 56-year-old woman he lives with is too old, too old. That is why The Engineer Heartfield is sad. That is why he weeps in his whiskey at night. No little engineers about the place. If he had a little engineer, he would name him Otis. Otis Heartfield.

“No little engineers, no West Wind,” he says through tears and clenched teeth.

The Engineer Heartfield dreams of building great bridges of liquid steel and industrial metal. Palaces of gold and myrrh. Airports of recycled newspaper. Coliseums of chert and feldspar. Hippodromes of electric plastic. Cathedrals of bytes and digits. Skyscrapers of pyrite. Universities of cold coffee and tears. Train stations of dead dreams and rain. All of these visions occur while he is awake, of course.

The BBC is reporting today that 256 Somalians were crushed to death when a fierce West Wind toppled a 600-ton machine known as the Wind Tamer I. The machine’s designer was quoted as saying, “We regret this horrible loss of life. Our engineers are working on the problem.”


©2000 Christopher Orlet

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