The Teleportation Accident Online - Ned Beauman

Part I

Literary realism


BERLIN, 1931

When you knock a bowl of sugar on to your host’s carpet, it is a parody of the avalanche that killed his mother and father, just as the duck’s beak that your new girlfriend’s lips form when she attempts a seductive pout is a quotation of the quacking noise your last girlfriend made during sex. When the telephone rings in the night because a stranger has given a wrong extension to the operator, it is a homage to the inadvertent substitution of telegrams that terminated your adulterous cousin’s marriage, just as the resonant alcove between the counterpoised struts of your new girlfriend’s clavicle is a rebuttal to the apparent beauty of your last girlfriend’s fleshier décolletage. Or this is how it seemed to Egon Loeser, anyway, because the two subjects most hostile to his sense of a man’s life as an essentially steady, comprehensible and Newtonian-mechanical undertaking were accidents and women. And it sometimes seemed as if the only way to prevent that dread pair from toppling him all the way over into derangement was to treat them not as prodigies but rather as texts to be studied. Hence the principle: accidents, like women, allude. These allusions are no less witty or astute for being unconscious; indeed, they are more so, which is one reason why it’s probably a mistake to construct them deliberately. The other reason is that everyone might conclude you’re a total prick.

And that was the final worry to flutter through Egon Loeser’s mind before he pulled the lever on his Teleportation Device one morning in April 1931. If it went wrong, they would all say: for what possible reason did you name your experimental stagecraft prototype after the most calamitous experimental stagecraft prototype in the history of theatre? Why make that allusion? Why hitch those two horses together? Paint the devil on the wall and the devil will come, as every child knows. Or, to sieve the German idiom down to an English one, don’t tempt fate. But Loeser was so unsuperstitious he was superstitious about it. He’d once got up on the stage of the Allien Theatre half an hour before a performance to shout ‘Macbeth!’ until he was hoarse. And one of his father’s long-standing psychiatric patients had been an American financier who named his yacht Titanic, his daughters Goneril and Regan, and his company Roman Empire Holdings in the same spirit. So he couldn’t credit the English idiom’s characterisation of fate as something like a hack playwright who never missed a chance to work in an ironic pratfall, any more than he could credit the German idiom’s characterisation of the devil as something like a preening actor who checked every gossip column in every newspaper every morning for a mention of himself (although perhaps God was like that). Accidents allude, but they don’t ape. Naming one thing after another cannot, logically, increase the chances of the new thing turning out like the old thing. But if the test today went straight to ruin, people would still say he shouldn’t have called it the Teleportation Device.

What choice did he have, though? This machine was primarily intended for use in a play about the life of Adriano Lavicini, the greatest stage designer of the seventeenth century. And the climax of the play portrayed the ghastly failure of Lavicini’s Extraordinary Mechanism for the Almost Instantaneous Transport of Persons from Place to Place, better known in modern discourse as the Teleportation Device. Since Egon Loeser was, in his own opinion, Lavicini’s closest modern counterpart, and since this new Teleportation Device was his finest innovation just as the old Teleportation Device had been Lavicini’s, then to stifle the parallel between the two would have been even more perverse than to let it breathe.

Anyway, Lavicini himself had painted the devil on the wall with far bolder strokes than Loeser possibly could. Back in 1679, the Teleportation Device wasn’t allowed a test run. Like a siege weapon, it had been constructed in total secrecy. No stagehand had seen more than a single jigsaw piece of the plans. Even Auguste de Gorge, the dictatorial owner of the Théâtre des Encornets, had not been permitted a peek, and even at the final dress rehearsal of Montand’s new ballet The Lizard Prince the machine had not yet been in operation, so neither the dancers nor their choreographer had any idea what to expect on opening night. But Lavicini insisted that the operations of the Teleportation Device were so precise that it