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    Contest Winner! Aled James Taylor, "The Speech" wins the Short Story Contest (142) - Theme "Descant"

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by GingerCoffee, Nov 3, 2013.

    Well done, Aled James Taylor! And thanks again to all the authors that entered and forum members that voted.

    The Speech [~2,089]


    Alex gazed at his screen. He wondered what to do next. The image was that of a mechanical part, shown as if in 3D. Alex was a design engineer. He worked in a small office with his boss who was on a wind-down to retirement, and had been for several years.

    "We're going to have some visitors", the manager said as he entered the room. "I'll be showing them around the factory and I'd like to bring them in here too. Could you say a few words about what you do?". There was nothing unusual in his request, but instead of the most senior person performing this duty, in this office, it fell to Alex.

    Alex was the expert in the new software and everyone knew he could put on a show. His boss was barely computer literate. "Oh, and there's a presentation too, so I need someone from Design to say a few words there too" added the manager casually. Alex realised that this was in fact the big request and he was just trying to slip it in to have agreed before anyone objected.

    Alex's boss thought that speaking at a presentation would be an ideal learning experience for a young designer. "It's another string to your bow" he said. This was one of his well worn expressions. Alex pondered his 'bow'. 'It must look like a harp now, with so many strings' he thought. He found himself duly volunteered.

    The company made artificial limbs for disabled people. In the past they'd made realistic looking body parts but somehow they were never quite realistic enough to pass as living human flesh. Unfortunately, they were often perceived as dead human flesh. Most people just thought them creepy but couldn't say why. Fashions had changed and the current preference was for very robotic looking devices which looked anything but human. The new products did have the advantage of not looking corpse-like. It seemed strange to Alex that the most socially acceptable replacement for a human limb was something that looked totally un-human. But he did feel a certain unease towards the old products.

    The company was now a registered charity. They'd persuaded a celebrity to be their patron and wanted local companies to raise money for them. They were all going to visit.

    Alex wondered what to say in the presentation. He thought he could talk about his job, explaining how it wasn't as easy as it looked. Most people thought he just made pretty pictures whereas his job was actually about solving problems. He'd often start from scratch and create things that no one had seen before. 'Suppose your manager came to you', he thought of saying, 'and said, I want a product that will allow a wheelchair user to stand up, without using their legs. And if that wasn't hard enough he might then ask, how long will it take and how much will it cost?' He thought the manager may not like this so perhaps he'd better think of something else.

    "Don't be too technical" the manager advised, "They won't understand it. And if they do, we might all look like idiots". This advice wasn't very encouraging. Alex would spend months developing a new product, taking into account many conflicting concerns and going through many possibilities, then when he was satisfied he had an ideal solution, they'd say, "It took you how long draw this!" He'd lost count of the times he'd explained what he actually did, it always seemed to fall on deaf ears.

    He decided to talk about the process of design. He could describe how new products were created, how old ones were updated and how teething troubles are resolved when things didn’t go so well the first time around. 'Yes, I'll give a general view of what it's like to be a designer. That's what I'll do', he concluded.

    Alex tidied his desk and prepared a few images to show the first visitor. He found a prototype artificial hand which he thought would be interesting and placed it on his desk.

    The celebrity, whom Alex had never heard of, was late. The staff and some of the companies customers were waiting for her. Several disabled people had been asked to attend so the visitor could see the products in use and to put a more human face to the whole endeavour.

    Alex heard the visiting party approaching. "I really didn't have any idea" said a woman, "Those people have really been through hell haven't they. They're so brave, they must have suffered so much. I never thought about it like that before. I really understand now, what you're all about." Alex knew what she meant. Many of their customers were ex-servicemen who'd suffered horrendous injuries and then endured many months of slow recovery, only to possess a portion of what they once had.

    "And this is our design office" said the manager as he and the visitor entered. He introduced Alex to her. The visitor gave Alex a broad and very fake smile. She picked up the artificial hand and held it tentatively as if it was very delicate.

    "This is a new product we're developing", He began.

    "Why is it so small?" she interrupted.

    "It's for a child." The visitor looked down at the hand. The smile dropped from her face. She stared at. Then she slowly lowered it and placed it back on the desk.

    "I'm sorry" she said as she looked down. And with her head still bowed, she turned and hastily left the room. The manager followed her.

    Alex thought about her reaction, 'Yes. Now you understand'.

    He wondered if it would be a good idea to include something like this in his speech. Instead of talking about the day to day tasks of design, he could talk about higher things, about motivations, the needs of the customers and the aims of the company. 'I could tell them about our dreams' he pondered.

    The presentation was two weeks later. The visitors toured the factory and were all impressed by the products on show. One item everyone was amazed by was a pair of callipers. They strapped to the legs and around the waist and in themselves looked fairly mundane. But these callipers could walk by themselves. And they didn't have that awkward mechanical looking movement that people expected. Their movement was smooth and graceful. They were very strange to watch. Their programming allowed them to learn and develop the most energy efficient movements and the result invoked an emotional response in everyone who saw them. 'They're alive!' they said.

    The time soon came for the presentation. Alex, a few others from the company and the visitors were seated around the table in the company's conference room. The manager spoke first, then it was the turn of the production supervisor. Then it was Alex's turn.

    Feeling very nervous, He stood up. He held a few sheets of paper, a printout of his speech. He'd practised it so many times he almost knew it by heart. 'It's OK, it doesn't matter', he told himself in an attempt to calm his nerves. 'If I make a mess of this, it makes no difference to anything'. He suspected that this wasn't exactly true but he was trying not to think about that.

    "Hello, I'm Alex from the design department" he began. "I hope everyone can hear me clearly" he was trying to speak loudly without shouting. There was a few nods and murmurs of agreement.

    "Every" he said. "It's not often you can use the word, 'every'. Usually you have to say 'most' or 'many' because there are always exceptions." He was relieved that he'd made a start and his speech was all going well. Speaking slowly and deliberately, he went on, "But I'm sure you'll all agree, that I'm justified, in using the word 'every' when I say: Every parent, of every disabled child, has a dream. They dream of their child running and playing and doing all the things the other children do. It is a beautiful dream. This may seem like a very big dream but you could also think of it as a modest dream, because it asks only for that which everyone else has, and takes for granted, every day." Alex paused and looked at the people in the room. Some looked thoughtful, others were looking back at him expectantly. He suspected that some at least would have children of their own. Able bodied children, who lived an ordinary lifestyle that others dreamt of living.

    "But it is an impossible dream, because it requires that which no one can give".

    Alex couldn't remember what came next. He looked at his notes and soon found the place. "Today, you have seem some wonderful things" he said. "Things that perhaps only this morning you would have thought impossible. But to create such things is not as easy as it looks. And it doesn't even look easy." Some of the people grinned. 'They've got the joke at least' he thought. "There's a big difference between a working prototype and a viable product. You may think we've climbed a mountain and can now stand triumphant on its summit. But the climbing hasn't really started yet. We're aiming to fulfil the dreams of all those parents of all those children. You may think we're on a fool's errand and such a thing will never happen. And you may be right. You may think that such a project is too difficult and destined for failure. And you may be right. You may think that what we hope to achieve is so close to impossible as makes no odds. And you may be right." The manager was looking at him doubtfully but Alex continued. "Or you may just forget. As you drive home today you may ask yourselves, 'What was that man talking about, some sort of dream was it?' and if so, then all... will...be... lost". Alex looked from face to face, from eyes to eyes.

    He stopped, he bowed his head, looked at his notes.

    Ales looked up. Everyone stared at him expectantly. Their attention was his. The room was his. The table, the walls, the people. They were all his.

    "But remember," he commanded. And his words sculpted the air and the air was his. "Remember. On this day, and in this place, you have seen impossible things. And in your heart of hearts you know, just because something seems impossible, doesn't mean it can't be done." Alex felt his audience was with him his delivery seemed to be working.

    "And we can do this. And although this dream may seem like no more than a distant aspiration, we know that it resides only at our fingertips. So I ask you all to have a little courage, to join us and together we can reach a little further. And we can all touch this impossible dream and make it real. Then, for so many, it will change the world." Alex thought of stopping there while it was going well, but he had a little more 'why not', he thought.

    "And then, one day, in years to come, you will see a disabled child, running and playing and doing all the things the other children do. And you will say to yourself, 'I was part of this. When that child needed me, I was there for them'. And you will know that you have done something good, something significant, something worthwhile.

    So raise some money for us and buy the dream. And this, can be your dream too."

    They all stared at him.

    "Thank you for listening" he said and sat down. 'It could have been worse', he thought as he looked at his notes avoiding eye contact with anyone.

    Someone started clapping. Alex thought they were being polite. The others joined in. He looked up. They were all looking at him.

    He nodded his acceptance of their applause and it soon died away. Now it was the managers turn to speak.

    "Well I didn't think it was possible for our design engineer to give such a performance", he began.

    "Impossible things, is what I do for a living", retorted Alex, feeling more than a little smug. He'd done it. He'd written and delivered a speech. He hadn't been ordinary, he hadn't spoken about the normal day to day things. He'd risen above them and 'played a different tune' and he'd been extra-ordinary.
     
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    "Postcards from far away" was written by Windreda.

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