The cold steel in his hands feels awkward as he grips it. He pulls it up to his eyes and examines it. A good one. And he sends it down the assembly line. He watches it as moves down the conveyer belt. He did not know what the item was or what the item did. He knew what made the item function, and how to tell if it was good or not. That’s all he needed to know for his job, and that’s all he knew.
When the work day concludes, he hangs up his gloves, goggles, apron, and rubber boats into his locker. He walks outside with his hands in his pockets and makes travels home. He did not own a car and did not desire to. He did not travel often, only to work.
He enjoyed it most when he was inside or on the porch of his house with a book he saved. It was safer that way. A level of comfort lingered around his house.
"A bad one."
The next morning, he is watching one of his machines travel toward him. He gets ready to grab it and extends his hand toward it. He looks it over. Once. Twice. A bad one. He chucks it into the bin behind him. If he fills the bin, he will toss it into the oven and watch the bad ones burn. If he did not, he will wait for day that he did, which was probably coming soon. He generally gets to burn faulty machines every day. This is his favorite part. It helps to drown out the monotony of pick and look. Pick and lookToday is the anniversary of his first day of work. He realizes this as he finishes inspecting a good machine. He celebrates his tenth year of working in the factory. It’s a small celebration. One of agony and wasted time.
He thinks of his past ambitions. His promise. He wants to cry, but tears might rust the machine. That would be uncalled for and could result in his firing. He did not wish to be fired.
He hangs up his clothes. He walks home.
Two mornings afterward, he pulls up his boots and drops his dark pants over the rubber. He pulls his gloves onto his hands and pops the goggles against his eyes. It hurts but so would scrap metal in the pupil. He ties his apron around his back, smiles in the factory bathroom’s mirror, says hello to his fellow employees, and heads to inspect the machines.
The next night, he is washing the walls of his home. They were clean before he began, but he likes to be certain. He washes them thoroughly. Looking around his home, he strikes a triumphant pose. The walls smile at the tile who look with glee toward the glistening kitchen.
In his living room, a couch sits facing a blank wall with a book shelf on the wall near it. The book shelf is packed tight but neat. He is able to purchase books relatively cheap and find them on the ground and in trash cans. That is his silver lining.
A week from then, he hears screams as he picks one up. A bad one. He looks around. Blood. It leaks beneath the belt and touches his boot. A man in the assembly line had probably lost his finger. Finger. It rolls beside his other boot; he kicks it back under. These things happen in assembly. Rather often. Not in inspection. In inspection, the danger existed either in an explosive faulty machine or a trip into the machine oven. Those things happen too. Not to him. He maintains caution.
He walks out with his hands in his pocket. He sees a copy of 1984 on the pavement. He did not own that one yet. Lucky day.
A month prior, he is watching a large screen, heavily advertised, in the window of a grocery store. It’s a news report. It’s talking about a conflict in the desert. Apparently a rouge soldier droid flipped and took out a fleet of other droids. No concern to him. He builds machines. These things happen. He needs to go home.
"He looks around. Blood. It leaks beneath the belt and touches his boot. "
A day after the finger rolls up to his boot, he is listening to another scream. These things do not tend to happen two days in a row. The finger rolls by him and into the packaging line. He lets it go and continues to inspect. Good one. The man without the finger trips in agony and lands on his belt. Crushed machine. Bad one. He tosses it; he pushes the assembly man off of his belt. The bleeding man hits the concrete of the factory. He wants to help him, but the wound may be infected. Plus, he cannot stop working. Work is his priority until he gets home.
The next night, he is walking home from work. A man, possibly homeless, pulls up to him grabbing at his shirt. He pushes him off. The man fights back onto his clothes. He knocks him off and sprints away. He wishes to help him, but the man is clearly diseased.
He hears about the diseases going around. A person can find themselves with these things that crawl under your skin, feasting on your muscles. He hears that they can be seen crawling through flesh, like insects along wallpaper.
Perhaps, the man has been infested by that virus. He did not know, and he cannot risk it. He enjoys living. Though he is not sure why. He spends fifteen hours at work. Seven days. Pleasure is found only in his few hours at home. Reading. Cleaning. He does not sleep.
A week from then, he is bleeding all over the beautiful carpet of his living room. Oh no. Not the carpet. He tries to maneuver himself so that the blood will cease to stain, but the task is fruitless. He cringes in pain. Grabs tight to his wound. He shouts and shouts. He had been there for a day now. Help is not coming.
Three days prior, another accident. This time in packaging. A woman doses off into a box because of the gas suffocating the factory. As the box shuts, it decapitates her. She does not have time to scream.
He continues to inspect. A bad one.
Two days after that, he is reading on his couch. A noise echoes in from outside. Probably a child. Often times they trip on uncovered holes. Just as many times, they are hospitalized. It’s unfortunate they cannot enjoy themselves in these neighborhoods. But these things happen. Time moves on and forgets the youth. He understands this. Time forgets him too.
Another noise. Something flies in from his window. Hits his arm. Whatever it is, it’s not a ball. He begins to bleed. He puts his hand on it and stares down his stained palm. Something else comes in. Hits his lower back. He falls to the carpet as his eyes close.
A month later, he is in the factory wearing a cast on his arm and bandages around his other wound. He is in inspection. He can work in these conditions. Good one. Good one. Bad one. His arm hurts. He cringes. He moves on. Good one.
There is a scream in the factory.
Four days after his wounding, a man from the factory arrives at his door. He walks into his home. He helps him up and affirms this is the reason for his absence at work. He is excused for his three missed days. Thank goodness. He is informed a rouge droid found its way to the home front. The droid ran through his neighborhood. Has not yet been caught.
These things happen. At least he survived.
A couple of weeks after, he is in the factory— bandaged up. Chaos. Employees run frantically about the factory. He joins them, though he does not scream. He peeks around trying to catch a glimpse of what happened. A fire in inspection. A faulty machine must have exploded. He calms. These things happen. He thanks God it was not him.
The next day, he holds a photo in his hand. It is his mother. He puts it back in the photo file under “M”. Somehow it slipped out. He does not look at photos often, but he does occasionally. If he is bored.
The next year, he is in the factory. A machine moves toward him. So does his boss. He continues working, pretending not to notice. Curiosity forced him to glance sporadically, but he insisted on remaining head down, hands on machine. Good one. The boss stops his belt and captures his attention. The boss tells him he is being promoted. He is moving to shipping. He wonders what the dangers are in shipping.
He had gone from assembly, packaging, then inspection. Finally he makes it to shipping. Not very many do that. Most die or spend their life inspecting. He makes it to shipping.
The next week, he has plenty of free time during training. He rides with a woman who has been in shipping for two years now. He writes or reads while she drives. She wonders why he bothers wasting his time with forgotten relics. She shows him her portable screen. He puts it away and continues to write. He does not explain himself, and she does not interrogate any further than that point.
The day that follows, training is going well. There is not much to learn, but there is three months to learn it. The woman he rides with is knowledgeable about her job. She teaches with a disdained wisdom toward it. She seems like a smart girl, but most people, smart or not, end up in the factory. He wonders why she wastes her time with the screen. He did not own one. He could not afford it. He might have purchased one if the money was available. He may not have used it often, but he probably would have purchased one.
Two days later, he finds solace in the lack of screams in his new position. No fingers. He figures he could grow to like this.
He asks the woman if she knows what they were shipping. She says she does not know. She says she does not need to know to ship them. He agrees.
Three days afterwards, Chaos. Cars piled on top of cars. The flying vehicles laugh overhead. They are for the rich. The poor crash on the ground.
Flames surround them. He tries to escape, pushing his way through the window beside him. He sees her. He thinks he should help, but she has it just fine. They pull themselves out. The truck is flipped over. Cars across the bridge are in the same state. He watches as a three year old walks with her arm in her hand. He does not see where she is headed.
Ten minutes prior, the woman watches as car behind them is tipped over. A rouge droid stands in the road. Hollow eyes—molded from plastic. Rays on sunlight reflect off its steel frame. He squints. She speeds up but fails to avoid contact. Within in moments, they are tipping over just like the car behind them and those before it. Crash.
An hour ahead, Chaos. Police arrive and rescue those still alive. He sticks with the woman. They are placed into a van with many other people. Soon, they begin to drive, and a droid joins them in the back. He questions them. Why did they survive? He suspects them. Of what, they do not know.
They arrive at a base. Nobody can answer the droid. They are to be inspected further. They are taken into the base. Shoved in forcefully. It hurts. He sticks with the woman.
Two years pass; he is watching his child take his first steps toward his mother. He smiles as his child makes it to his wife. The child laughs when he arrives and is lifted up high by the woman. The child’s face is mirrored in the screen’s reflection, and his laughter provokes the laughter of his parents. He extends his arms, attempting to hold the intangible. He wishes to grasp this moment and preserve it, but he understands the impossibility. He watches as the two dance around the room. Smiling. He closes his eyes. He sees his son growing up. He sees his son adorned in the factory uniform. It is inevitable. No matter how smart a person is they end up in the factory. When his eyes open, the boy grovels at his feet. He hoists the boy onto his shoulders.
Nineteen years later, he is dead. His son watches as he is lowered into his resting place. His mother is beside him. He mourns alongside her but knows his departure is forthcoming. He misses his father, but these things happen. He needs to hurry. He has to clock in soon. The factory opens in half an hour.