This is another flash fiction piece, along with “My Father’s Hands”, “My Father’s Ghost”, “Tuesday Evening in a Small Southern Town”, and others that was at least partially inspired by my father’s life as a factory worker. “On the Line” is actually a significantly shorter rewrite of a (really pretty terrible) story called “Scraps” that was published in 2009 in a literary magazine called Metal Scratches.
Originally published in Word Riot, September, 2012.
On the Line
By Lee Wright
My night is an eight-hour blur of warp and woof, shuttle and loom, coffee and cigarettes. It is a dull ache in the legs and a stiff lower back. And, always, the oily stench of the machines—forty year old, greasy green monsters with clever acronyms for names. After less than six months on the line, my heart pumps in time with the thrum, thump, scrape; with the clank of one particular beast. My hands, not yet properly callused, split and bleed in its service.
At other machines, people talk, laugh, bitch, commiserate—anything to soften the hours. Their mandatory earplugs hang around their necks on bright blue cords, the orange foam tips bright against the dull gray of poly/cotton workshirts.
In more lucid moments, I recall the not-so-long-ago days of freedom, air conditioning, books, and endless talk. Now there are always spools to change and lines to tie. No longer able to afford ambition, I will always be here, or someplace similar.
I heft a pair of forty-pound spindles and slide them onto dull steel shafts flecked with rust. Blood drips from my knuckles onto the thread and I wonder how much of my blood people around the world are wearing right now. I look down the aisle to the machine where my father was working the day of his heart attack. How much of his blood and sweat was sold along with socks, tee shirts, underwear, and blankets? How much of him did this place take before he finally broke at fifty-five? And how much did he hate me for it?
A red light flashes, a buzzer screams, the spools are empty. This roll will be short and I’ll get written up—again. My grace period is over.
As I reload, I glance at my watch. A little over an hour from now, I’ll sit slope-shouldered and drained on a wooden bench and stare at two photographs taped to the inside of my locker door. One is a picture of a man; the other of a boy. Both look an awful lot like me.
© 2012 Lee Wright