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by Rudi Dornemann

That summer, the fad was gamelan orchestras -- steam-driven gamelan orchestras. You heard them clanging in corners of beer gardens half the night. You couldn't take a walk the next morning without passing crank-wound tabletop models tinkling in sidewalk cafes and their circular melodies would chase around the inside of your skull the rest of the day.

Joe the Wrench knew what was next and vowed he'd be the first to get where the fad was going. His first girlfriend's father was Balinese; he'd whistled some of those unshakable tunes. And he'd told them stories of what that music had accompanied. So Joe rolled his barrel of tools to the burned-out terrace where a beer garden had been, and set to work on the remnants of the gamelan engine.

He brought in scraps of a walking machine in vogue two summer's back. He lugged discarded, discolored hides from the tannery, struck deals with the least mad of the sidewalk chalk artists and the least reclusive of the seamtresses' guildswomen. He hung canvas, strung lines of the thinnest, strongest cord he could find, and stockpiled cylinders of light-lime.

Word got around. His ex-girlfriend's father started dropping by late afternoons. He said he was glad she'd married that bank clerk fellow who kept getting promoted -- no offense, he admired Joe's energy, and his skill, but he sometimes doubted his direction. The doubts weren't strong enough that he wouldn't hang around to see how it all turned out.

He told stories and Joe listened as he assembled, as his machine rose and sprawled along the beer garden's back wall. He told the old stories he'd seen performed, seas and years away, performances he barely remembered, four decades gone. Weddings and battles and games of dice and castles of fire. Demons and monkey-princes. Joe the Wrench nodded, posed occasional questions, spent evenings listening while he punched miles of spliced-together piano roll.

Then opening night: Joe stoking the engine, leveling pressure, lighting the lights and loosing the catches. From charred benches, the audience watched shadows stream across backlit canvas, puppet silhouettes driven as much by the music as by gears and steam.

Demon weddings. The histories of fire-monkey dynasties. Games of dice.

His ex-girlfriend's father stared, smile wide, eyes sad. "That's wonderful," he said. "That's not the way it was at all."

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