a short-short story by Frank Diamond
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This short-short story originally appeared in my short story collection Damage Control, which was published in 2005.
Reynold’s Bubble Gum factory. It wouldn’t be so bad if me and Farley worked on an assembly line that turned out cars or air conditioners or refrigerators.
You wouldn’t believe the noise. I have to wear earplugs. And there’s cornstarch everywhere – clouds of it – so the gum won’t stick. After work, you pat yourself on the thigh or shoulder and raise a little ghost.
We joked about it, Farley and me did, the first half-day on the job. But those clocks get the last laugh.
I tell girls I meet that I’m something that makes sense – like a plumber. That’s what I plan on being but it’s a long waiting list to take the test. Farley wants to take the cops exam. We both got another year, at least, before our lives start. We’re 19.
We discuss all this on Friday night when we’re sitting in a bar called “Iffy’s” and we’re bullshitting, knowing we don’t have to see that damn factory for two whole days.
Me and Farley get there after our shift, drink, eat a couple of meatball sandwiches and fries, drink, play darts, drink, and bullshit. You look up and suddenly it’s midnight. Maybe some girls have joined us and maybe they didn’t. And maybe we score and maybe we don’t. Usually, we don’t. It’s a neighborhood bar. Fifty-cent mugs of beer.
Most Friday nights, that’s where you’ll find me and Farley.
Neither of us can afford a car so we’re not really seeing any special girl. I’m not into dating on buses. My old man says it’s OK to use his car but it’s like you’re borrowing Air Force One. I’m saving for my own wheels. So’s Farley. Then we’ll be dating fools. (We tell ourselves that anyway.)
Until then, we chug some brew and talk about what we’re going to do if we ever get the hell out of Reynold’s. We were both hired at the same time – a year and seven months ago. It’s dick work but it’s money: $9.75 an hour.
And with the way things are going – it’s something we have to hold on to. There aren’t many jobs out there that pay as well. Waloflex – in South Philly – just laid off 500 people. The city might go belly-up. The mayor himself – the son-of-a-bitch – said so.
These are the things me and Farley discuss over our first beers – talking above the sound of the pinball machines. It’s like we need to chew up the frustration of the assembly line by dwelling on problems. As if me and Farley can solve the budget deficit, right?
Sometimes, after a few, Farley turns to me and says, “I feel the bug coming on, Gene.”
“Too obvious. No, I think it will really hit me next Wednesday.”
To call out sick you leave a message on a machine early in the morning. Talk about easy. That’s the best part of the job. The company doesn’t pay you for the day, so they don’t give a shit unless somebody really takes advantage – like calls in sick every Monday or Friday or something. Me and Farley keep it down to one sick day every two weeks and nobody’s said anything yet.
Once in a while, say every two months, we take the same day off. But that’s flaunting it so we don’t do it too often.
I know this sounds like were fuckups but, really, you can’t take that job too seriously. Eight hours just drag. Crawls. Clocks all around. You look up after what had to have been a half hour and see that only four minutes went by. We hate it. We’re starting to feel like lifers.
There’s an old guy on our floor who’s been working there since he was our age. He’s got a bald head and limps. He always wears these shirts that are hanging out at the sides. Just an old fart.
When we see him, Farley nudges me and says, “The future.”
“Get bent,” I say. But while I’m laughing, I’m also thinking about some of the lives I know and how it would kill me to be boxed in. And I get a little pissed off at Farley for making me think about this.