“See? It just doesn’t work! No matter what I try, it’s a failure.” The young designer pushed his glasses higher on his nose, and sat back on his chair. On the table in front of him lay a model of the Sistine Chapel.
“I don’t really see the problem, Harvey.” Across the table from him was a much larger man squeezed into a identically sized chair. He picked up the model and held it in his pudgy hands, examining it from multiple angles. “I mean, look at it. It’s fantastic. A perfect model.”
The model, despite its small size, was perfect. Every line and detail of the chapel was reproduced faithfully in miniature. Even the ceiling – one of the most complex and well-known artworks in the entire world – was somehow caught exactly, down to the facial expressions. Looking at the model brought all of the same emotions and feelings – awe, wonder, slight neck pain – as looking at the real thing.
“How have you even done this? We have the best blocks in the business, granted, but I still can’t work out how you’ve managed to make God’s robe look like it’s actually made of cloth! It’s less than a centimetre wide – that’s a three block maximum, even if you use our smallest size. And it’s got details, gradients. It looks like it’s textured! I can’t see the lines between the bricks at all. You’re a genius.”
“I’m not a genius. It’s not me.” Harvey took his model back, tossing it carelessly back onto the table. The other man let out an involuntary gasp, hands reaching out too late to catch the model. It bounced, once, then settled on its side. “I didn’t really make it.”
“Who then? Because you’re the best designer I’ve ever met, and I’d love to meet the guy – or girl – who made this. Is it one of the trainees?”
“No, Todd. It’s not one of the trainees; that’s not what I meant. No one else was involved. You know that trip I took to Rome?”
“Yes. Trip of a lifetime, etc. Well, ever since I got back, this is all I can make.”
“And it’s brilliant! If going to Rome gets our designers working at this level, then we’ll send them all. This isn’t just a step ahead of the competition, this has blown them out of the water! We’re going to make a fortune, once we make the instruction manual.”
Harvey picked up the model again, holding it out in front of him. “No, you still don’t understand. This – this model here, the Sistine Chapel – this is all I can make. Every time I make a model, I make the Sistine Chapel.”
Todd smiled uncertainly. “You’ve made loads of models. You have over eighty different designs in production right now. I had to do all the paperwork. That model over there on the bookshelf – the Gypsy Moth – you designed that.”
“I did. Before Rome. Ever since then, everything’s the Sistine Chapel.”
“Are you feeling alright?” Todd heaved his chair closer to the table, lowering his voice in an attempt to be soothing. “You sound a little under pressure. If there’s an issue with stress or workload, we can help with that. Tough time at home?”
“It’s nothing like that. I’m sleeping fine, eating well, everything’s fine with Gina. I’m not going to have a nervous breakdown. I just can’t make any other models.”
“Good. That’s good. The last thing we want is another designer having a nervous breakdown. You remember Evans – started insisting on putting the same Roman Centurion figure into every model, regardless of whether or not it belonged. Bad business.”
“I’m fine, seriously. Not going to crack. I just can’t make models at the moment. It’s not working.”
“Have you tried working on something else? I know you want to make the best version of the chapel possible, but maybe a break would do you good? Get you thinking along different lines? I know we want someone to take on the swamp hut model, for that new “Jumbo Gumbo” film. The one with the little frog?”
“I know the film. But you still aren’t getting it. I’m happy with the model – I don’t think it needs further revisions. I’ve been trying other projects. I just keep on making the Sistine Chapel. No matter what I try to do – buildings, vehicles, even just character figures – it ends up as the Sistine Chapel.”
Todd sighed. “I’m sorry, Harvey. I just don’t get what you mean.”
“Look, I’ll show you.” Harvey turned to the shelves behind him and took down a blue plastic tray with steep sides. He placed it on the table in front of him. Inside were thousands of differently-sized and differently-coloured building blocks, sorted into stacks and divided by clear plastic separators.
Harvey’s hands were a blur as he began building, selecting block after block almost without looking at the tray. On the table in front of him, a shape began to form. “Can you see what I’m building?”
“No, not yet.” Todd leant closer, watching the model as it grew in size. “Oh – now I see; it’s a cottage.” Harvey kept building, adding more and more detail – yellow and brown bricks formed the thatch, smaller green and pink ones made up the flowerbeds outside the door.
“Exactly: a cottage. But watch what happens when I add the final piece.” Harvey picked up one last brick – a squat off-white piece that would complete the chimney. It clicked onto the rest of the model with finality.
“It’s still a cottage. It’s fine. Nothing like the Chapel. Wrong shape, wrong size, everything.”
“Now look at it from this angle.” Harvey turned the model minutely, shifting it by less than a millimetre.
“Ah. It’s the Sistine Chapel.”
The two models now lay next to each other on the table. They were identical. “You see? No matter what I do, it ends up as the Sistine chapel. I have no idea what’s going on here.”
“Try something else. Build a tank – we need one of those for the “World at War” range.”
Again, Harvey’s hands sped between the tray and the emerging model. Everything was in black and grey as he built up the rectangular base, the caterpillar tracks, the long barrel of the main gun. It was, they both agreed. definitely a tank. Not anything else, and certainly not a historic church containing Renaissance frescoes. The final piece was placed.
“This time it’s worked! It’s not a chapel at all – no one could think it was anything other than a tank. See – you’ve got the access hatch, and the armour-plating, the triangular spandrels, the temptation of Eve, the-” Todd paused. “It’s happened again, hasn’t it?”
Three perfect replicas of the Sistine Chapel now stood on the table.
Harvey slumped forwards onto the table, pushing the models away. For a long time, he did not speak. “Everything I try. Every time I sit down to build anything. I tried to bake Gina’s birthday cake at the weekend, and ended up having to buy one from a store. No matter what, anything I make turns into the Sistine Chapel.” His voice was slow and tired.
“This is bizarre. I have no idea how it’s doing that. This can’t be real.”
“That’s what I said, at first. But it kept happening. I don’t know what’s gone wrong, but it’s definitely real. I’ve been cursed, or something.”
“Did you do anything to get cursed? Offend a gypsy, desecrate a burial ground? Anything like that?”
“No. Nothing like that. Not that I recall. I don’t make a habit of doing cursable things.”
“Don’t bother. I’ve spent almost the whole of this month trying to think of causes and cures. Nothing I’ve tried or researched has been helpful at all. I think I’m stuck with it. I’m a model designer who can only make the Sistine Chapel. And unless there’s a market for countless identical plastic models of an Italian church, then I’m useless to the company, and these bricks are useless to me.” Wearily, almost delicately, Harvey reached out and pushed the blue tray off the table.
Instead of the expected scattering sound of thousands of plastic blocks raining down on the carpet, there was a single “thunk”. As one, Harvey and Todd leant to the side, looking down at the upturned tray. Next to it, instead of a mess of disordered bricks, was a perfect replica of the Sistine Chapel.