Dense cloud smothered the town, drizzling on the predawn pavements and blurring the streetlight. In damp hands cupped against biting wind I lit a cigarette and exhaled a cloud that whipped away before it could form. Over the eastern hills a cold line of sun filtered through the cloud.
“Get on with it,” shouted Gary from the warehouse. “You can smoke on your break.”
I flicked the butt away, lowered the visor and picked up the hose. Gary laughed and disappeared inside. I was wearing overalls too thin for the season and rain was running down my collar. I took a negative from the pile, thick acetate sheets two foot by three used to print images on plastic boxes, leaned it against the warehouse wall and turned on the pressure hose. Water thundered, wind blowing spray back in my face, turning the visor to a kaleidoscope. I moved the jet across the surface, erasing an image of flowers, yellow peonies. It had been for a consignment of cosmetics, not one box of which would have been opened, I was sure, with a single thought for how it had been produced, for me…
Could life, I wondered, get any worse.
Inside the machines would be grinding on, over and over, picking up the sheets of hand-fanned plastic, heating them, folding them, gluing them, spewing them onto tables to be stacked and then boxed and then, when each box was filled, to be stacked in its turn. The only relief was a jam, two sheets going through instead of one and the plastics piling up, melting on the hot plates. Quick, hit the button, open the cage, pull them out, fingers red with burns. The noise of machines beat a syncopated rhythm that echoed on the walls. Radio 1 played behind it all, a mad cacophony. The air was fuzzy with static, fat bluebottles cruised, strangely slow, through chasms of stacked boxes, high on the fumes of heated plastic and glue. Lids and boxes would come on and on, concertinaed into stacks, into boxes, more and more, into boxes, more, more, tape the box, stack the box, get back to the table, the lids are piling, the lids are piling, get it under control.
The alarm woke me and I slammed it off with an outstretched hand. It was dark and I could hear rain on the window. I had been dreaming of the factory, I had been there, stacking boxes, over and over. I’d worked there the evening before, a ten hour shift; it had wormed in my head. How long had I dreamed it? All six hours? And I hadn’t even been paid… And now another ten.
Gary came into the tea room where we sat drinking instant coffee from plastic cups. “Right,” he said, clapping his hands, smiling. “Who wants machines and which lucky bastard wants the hose?”
I raised my hand. Anything but the machines.
Matthew Roy Davey lives in Bristol, England. He has won the Dark Tales and The Observer short story competitions and been long-listed for the Bath Flash Fiction award and the Reflex Flash Fiction competition. He has recently been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His poetry and fiction have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies. His short story ‘Waving at Trains’ has been translated into Mandarin and Slovenian. Matthew is also an occasional lyricist for prog-rock weirdos Schnauser. He has no hobbies.