A Tour of the Factory

“And these are the rendering vats,” said my guide. I could barely hear him over all the industrial noises, the whiring and whining and the distant, resonant booms. Everything was white, coated in a thick skin of institutional paint unmarred by any other pigment. I felt very clean in here; no dirt could touch me. No dirt could touch anything. The whiteness scared it all away. Luckily they hadn’t made me wear a paper hat. Or a hairnet. “We have a crew that takes care of that… sort of thing,” my guide had said.

“Hair?” I asked. My guide’s upper lip twitched into a curl, but caught itself before too much revulsion was apparent.

“Yes. It’s a patented process, I can’t speak of it any more than that.”

Later I saw a trio of white hazmat-suited individuals wearing Ghostbuster-style backpack vacuums, trying and failing to surreptitiously clear the path behind us of follicles and dander. I made a point of scratching my head on a regular basis.

Now, standing next to the “rendering vats,” the downturned corners of my guide’s mouth discouraged questions. I knocked on the nearest vat and my guide moved forward with his hands outstretched.

“What do you ‘render’ in them?” I asked.

“Please don’t touch the vats.”

I backed away, smiling.

“We render whatever we like,” my guide said, recoiling himself. His chest puffed up, and a haughty bit of smile hooked up the corners of his mouth a centimeter or so. “We place a sample in the vat, and the sample is essentialized, via our patented process.”

“So it’s not just boiling animal fat.”

My guide’s smile disappeared. “No. That would be… unsavory.”

“Especially for the animals. You’re not really telling me much on this tour.”

“It’s not that kind of tour.”

“Lucky me.” I looked around for a while, surveying the rows of white rendering vats, the white scaffolds, the hurried figure near and far enrobed in baggy white jumpsuits. My guide wanted to move on, but apparently could not continue until I gave him permission. The rules in this factory were not very clear. Neither were any memories of signing up for this tour. Or entering the factory. Or much of anything before the rendering vats. Despite the background din, I heard the sound of someone’s frantic scribbling on paper. With gritted teeth, I ignored it.

My guide spoke. “Perhaps we could move on –”

“So: this rendering process. What’s the end product?”

“That depends on what we put in the vat.”

“Then give me an example of what goes in the vat.”

“That would compromise our intellectual property rights.”

I sighed. The scribbling sound intensified. “What if you put a thousand lemons in a vat?”

“Hypothetically?”

“Yes.”

“A thousand?”

“Is that too many?”

“No. But quantity affects the process.”

My guide thought for a moment, oblivious to the intense scribbling that I swear to god was getting louder, and made my teeth itch. Literally. I scratched my front teeth, but it didn’t help and distracted my guide.

“From a thousand lemons, you could get many things. It depends on how you manipulated the controls.”

“Cont–”

“Trademarked. However, hypothetically, rendering a thousand lemons could produce seventy-two gallons of yellow paint. This paint would maintain its hue and luminosity even at night, and would give off a lemony smell while drying. Or a powerful tonic that induced profound feelings of dissatisfaction in the drinker. Or a small figurine, vaguely in the shape of a man in a top hat, also yellow in color, that – hypothetically – could pass through blocks of solid matter. The figurine might also have a rudimentary intelligence in it that would allow it to navigate a prescribed path, to deliver a message. Or a data file. Or a small explosive device rendered from a four year old boy’s temper tantrum in a different vat by the same patented process. Hypothetically.

“It all depends on how you turn the knobs.”

I threw out my arm, pointing at the woman standing next to my guide, the source of the furious scribbling. “Did she come out of a vat?” I barked. She was dressed like my guide, ornate white lab coat with a high neck, and black pants. Her auburn hair was severe and tight and close to her head, with a chalkline part. She never took her eyes off me, and her expression never changed, and she never stopped writing on the papers on her clipboard. Not even now, as I attempted to confront her.

My guide looked amused. The right corner of his mouth was clearly higher than the left. “No. Don’t be silly,” he said. “Her hair’s all wrong. Besides, I thought she was with you.”

The woman stared, and wrote.

to be continued…

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