Hardly Workin’

by | Dec 12, 2023 | Fiction, Issue Thirty-Six

It was a company town. Nearly everybody worked at The Company warehouse. The Company owned almost all the property in town, including the motor lodge where I stayed. Smokestacks billowed out overcast from the factory next town over, such that it was always dark within the town limits. Everybody had respiratory issues, but what could you do about it? The Company was beyond accountability.

Like I said, I stayed at the motor lodge. I got paid $300 a week, and rent was $200 a week. There wasn’t much to the room. There was a twin bed full of bedbugs, a table and chair, a bathroom, and a television that got one channel: TCC, The Church Channel. 

I wasn’t religious. Hell, I didn’t believe in much of anything. I believed in keeping my head down and not making a ruckus. I believed in minding my own business, and working hard. That’s about it. So I kept the TV off.

I didn’t know my neighbors. Their names and motivations were unknown. When I saw a face I had seen before, one of us would say, “Workin’ hard or hardly workin’?” Then the other would be obliged to either chuckle or say, “A little of both.” Nothing more would be said.

I wanted to say more. I wanted to say that I am incredibly lonesome, and alienated from everything. I could tell that others wanted to say this too. But that’s not what we said. That’s never to be said. Workin’ hard or hardly workin’ was the cry in the night that was heard by everyone and addressed by no one.

Working at the warehouse was tiring and stressful work. I pushed a cart through the warehouse that seemed to have no beginning or end. It was god’s warehouse and the computer told me what aisle and what bin from which to pull product. I moved as fast as I could but it never was fast enough for the algorithm on the computer. It was always urging me on to faster and faster pull times. 

I worked in the warehouse 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. On Sundays I bought groceries: loaf of bread, pack of bologna, handle of bourbon, and a carton of Company brand cigarettes. My only possessions were my clothes, which were Company jumpsuits, an old nudie mag, a Company brand lighter my father passed on to me, and a postcard from somebody long gone. The latter having a picture of leisurely people taking in the stunning view of a sunset on the beach. “Wish you were here,” it said in faded scrawl.

After work every day, I rode the shuttle back to the motor lodge in the clouded darkness of the town. People on the shuttle didn’t talk. There was only coughing and sadness. On some days there might be a crease of sky where the smoke abated and I could see a brilliant knife of sunset. 

One day such as these, when I saw the red-orange hue carve out the horizon, I got back to the motor lodge with an idea. I was going to take the chair out of my room and watch the sunset with a glass of whiskey. I would take a picture of it in my mind and write “Wish you were here.”

I unlocked the door to my room quickly. I knew there wasn’t much time before the sunset found itself smothered in smog. I grabbed my Old Timers whiskey and poured it into a glass with The Company logo on the bottom. I dragged the chair outside and sat in the direction of the sliver of paradise I saw out there.

It didn’t come all at once, the relief. At first I felt anxious like some vermin just let out of a cage. I didn’t know how to relax. The people in the postcard seemed to have it all figured out. All their muscles were toned and slack. My muscles didn’t know how to release the stooped posture of my warehouse gait. 

Soon the whiskey made its way through my circulatory, and tenderized my meat. All the while I stared at that thin glimmer of refracted sun as if there was something important about it. As if it meant something. I wanted to follow that light wherever it went. And I felt it well up in me–this feeling of love for all that was lost in this dark soup of struggle. And for a moment the lonesomeness cleared from the sky inside.

“You can’t be out here with that chair.” The voice startled me. It was the voice of the desk clerk at the motor lodge. 

“What?” I was surprised to find my face was wet with tears.

“The chair needs to stay inside the room. I’ll let it go this time if you take it inside now. But if I catch you again, it’s a $25 fine.”

I couldn’t afford that. ”I didn’t know. I apologize. It won’t happen again.”

I dragged the chair back to my room and took one last glance at the horizon. Smoke had overtaken my respite once again. I went inside.

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