There’s a comfort to the sameness. Working on the line, processing thousands upon thousands of units every minute. In better times, I’d be making mental plans for trips and fancy purchases. Those were long gone, crushed under a wave of cheap labor and diminishing need for skilled artisans.
I used to have a shop. Small one on the corner of a sleepy street. Not quite downtown, but close enough I could see the shiny towerblocks and remember a time spent in sterile offices and stern conference rooms. Working amongst people who wanted advancement over friendship, grinding me down.
Like a stone being smoothed in the rushing water, edges of character made into similar shapes to those around me. My productivity took a dive from overly-invested to cynical observer. Final days spent looking out fourth-floor windows at graying buildings across the river, not wanting to be at my desk.
I got my wish.
Pushed out on to the bustling sidewalk, pat on the back and empty promises about possible futures. I knew it was ending, but I didn’t see the message written on the wall with my own dissatisfaction. I dove into mundane details, buying a shop and fixing whatever crossed my path.
That too ended in a circular fashion, I found that when turning a screw or replacing a part I would get a flash of its history. Threads of fate tangling in a hardened knot. Sensing more than touching, images and emotions would flood me and I’d have to put the object down.
Not every piece would reveal a story, but soon it happened with alarming regularity. I couldn’t tell if my ability was being honed by handling things steeped in history, or gradual exercise of latent ability. Most of what I repaired had been languishing on a shelf or was a stop-gap before buying a replacement.
It was almost as if what was being repaired was a witness to history, soaking in the sounds and sights to later be retold through my trembling touch. I started to wear gloves, but even then it wouldn’t stop. The flashes of history worming through cotton layers. Even leather gloves weren’t enough to block it out.
There was no hiding from time, or a place.
I hated to sell my shop, but I had to. One night, I was putting away my tools. My hand brushed an old chisel brought in by a white-haired retiree. Jolt of realization, pure horror as the images flashed before my mind’s eye. It had been used to mutilate someone. I could see the victims face tightened in fear, pleading. The old man laughing as he gripped the handle.
I dropped the chisel on the floor, startled. Called the police and told them where they could find it, putting it in the mailbox outside, wrapped in cloth. Locking up, holding a bundle of belongings. Never looked back. I’d like to think its been remade into a book store or a daycare.
I ran all the way home.
Following weeks spent poring over ads, visiting papered-over offices and sitting in dingy temp agencies. I was matched to a night shift factory job. The pay was meager, but the position promised a vital requirement – lack of human contact. It was an assembly line, mostly automated.
It was just me during the night shift. Sometimes a technician would appear, adjust something on one of the swinging robotic arms and then disappear. The oiled precision of the line gave me peace. My job, monitoring output. I was the biological backstop for unblinking eyes scanning the conveyor.
A blast of air would knock out any defective parts from the stream. For those that didn’t succumb to micro-second huffs and puffs, I marked with a tool on the screen. Sometimes I’d pluck one out of the line, a sample for quality. If it passed, I’d pitch it back into the throng. Those that failed were labeled and saved for evaluation.
My mood was steady, like the thrumming of the line. Swinging arms, brightly colored and multi-jointed. Red striped borders on the floor serving as a warning. With the line at full speed the clacking and whirr would drown out my heartbeat. All I felt was the thud of the stamper, the huge machine shook on every down-stroke.
A mechanical heart beating with a singular purpose.
Press a key on the virtual menu, select part.
Highlighted, choose for closer inspection.
I deftly plucked the part out of mid-air, holding it under a magnifying glass. Then the feeling. A sensation like back in the shop, but stronger. Like plucking a conversation out of the crowd, all the murmurs flowing into a tapestry of voices until your name is called.
The electric shock of knowing.
I dropped it to the floor, skittering off the toe of my boot. I sat down on my work stool, peeling off the gloves. Rubbing my face, playing the images back in my mind. The part was one voice in a symphony. Yet I saw the end result. Like moving your hands to catch a ball in flight, not thinking but just doing.
I was going to die.
I sat staring as the line tumbled past in organized chaos.
Every piece had its place, packed in tight with others of its kind.
Like graves on a hillside.