Life on the Line
Cliff tells us that it's not all about fishing, some people have to work ..... and how!
The advance was unstoppable and endless, almost literally; only improbable financial collapse, a huge bomb or natural catastrophe could halt the nightmare-stream of mean, grey, soul-less cast-iron blocks, each demanding and dutifully receiving attention.
Derek looked along the line to its vanishing-point every minute of every hour vainly hoping to see a gap – but such a treat was rare, avoided at all cost by those who daily answered to America. The picture never changed: unit after identical unit inching ever-forward, impatient individuals swaying restlessly, urging the procession to get a move-on like sheep corralled for dipping. They had the upper-hand; they fed his family; they kept the roof over their heads – and they seemed to know it but, unlike Derek, they didn't bleed, cry or tire.
His indignity was to nourish and nurture them, to give them life, yet he loathed each and every engine-block that dragged his soul a little deeper into despair. Sure, he was paid for his plight, but then so were soldiers, and most days he’d willingly have opted for a warrior's lot: he'd see the sky and feel the breeze and make foot-prints in the earth. He might die in action, but at least it wasn’t predictable. There was camaraderie in the forces, and so would there be in raucous, fume-filled 'H' Building if his task-masters – blessed by a new government - possessed a grain of humanity. And you could trust a soldier – he wouldn't drop you in it; miss an engine though and it'd have the management barking at you within a minute, throwing insults and reminding you of that big mortgage, your commitment to the company, your allegiance no less.
Some believed it: green-coats with clip-boards and stop-watches; suits on buggies pointing and nodding, overlooking, ignoring; never a hint of good will or cognition; eager young dead-heads, keen to impress, soon to be foremen, trapped for life. 'Upwardly Mobile' they called themselves! A three-bed end-terrace near the factory, within ear-shot of the hooter? Upwardly mobile? They'd rise to the heights of a four-bed detached....and rarely see the bloody thing: they'd have mortgaged their life away.
Derek air-gunned his ten millionth head-bolt and battled upstream to the square of sunlight, giver of life; he thought of a prison and looked at his watch; they'd be having lunch about now – meat and two veg followed by jam roly-poly and custard. And tea. Made with freshly-boiled water. He'd gone wrong somewhere. Ok, he thought, so I get to go home in the evenings, but meanwhile? Worker No. LD6773 driving-home head-bolts all day with Tool No. LD6782?
Derek knew all about 'doing time' – One hundred and twenty minutes to the hour – plus overtime:
'All day Saturday, Derek?'
'W..ell, it's Lucy's seventh birthd...'
'You need the dosh don't you, Del? Big ol' mortgage you've got nowadays...'
He'd set his sights on Friday evening; he'd planned it well and made his bait, pictured the perfect sunset. But now clouds marred his vision of cane rods and rushes. His chest swelled with the nostril-breath of resentment, and he nodded.
Saturday evening: comatose on the sofa. Wife resentful: bed reserved for sleeping. Sunday: too precious. Forced, frantic fun and games with little 'un. A quick-fix. Macdonalds. Daddy loves you – have a burger.
It was tea-time. The quickest ten minutes of the day, thirty seconds in each: mere punctuation – not so much a full-stop, more a comma in a badly-written, grammarless, workshop manual. Derek swiftly spread a table-cloth over an upturned 'Delco' box, plonked his mug on Jordan's tits and inserted a pre-rolled fag between his lips; Drag, slurp, drag, slurp; he'd smoke that fag and finish that tea if it killed him. It was Wednesday, 12.30. As the hooter swung the engines back into life Derek probed his boiler-suit pockets for coins: he'd get a lottery ticket on the way home...
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