by Peter Murkett

I had long run my own company, but business was changing. Up walked Otherwise, darkening my door. He was a big man with a ripple effect, a force with a field. But he carried himself well, sigh. He entered, we shook hands, and got down to work. He was at ease with acronyms and algorithms, the ether, his future.

Ether! That’s what they used to put me under for my tonsillectomy, 1952. The wet cloth on my face, my weightless body vaulting through space, beyond pain. Mommy, what happened?

My company made things. On the assembly floor, workers moved parts on rolling carts, walkways were clear, and completed work glided along the conveyor between the bench-rows. Workers were close enough to chat, and far enough apart not to. They sat on metal stools or stood before their benches, working. It was not a lab-coat place; at the end of the day the floor was swept, not scrubbed.

My office was in a corner, and three of its walls had windows. There were storerooms, of course, and the woodshop, also packing and shipping, but those had their own floors. Workers had benches; I had my desk. My one to their many.

Jane knocked. She was three months on the floor, her work deft, her product perfect. She had a stellar effect on her coworkers. I would have wanted my bench next to hers. I waved her in, and she sat down to talk, nothing particular, her work-life, the company. She arched her back, adjusted her jeans. She fingered her top button, smiled directly at me. I let my head down onto my desk with a deliberate, gentle thunk. Jane went out.

Had I seen what I saw? My thoughts were never pure, but I managed them. I always managed.

My oblong factory building (wooden frame, old but not classic) lay northeast to southwest, with two rows of workbenches at an angle down the center, a giant chevron. Big windows marched up one side of the building and down the other. Morning and afternoon sunlight slanted across the bench-tops. The east-side windows looked out onto fields, a distant tree-line, and, beyond that, low, round-topped mountains. West-side windows faced rolling, open land, and a river that glinted in winter.

The timeline at my desk was vague. I looked back on my survival, occasional prosperity; I looked forward into dense fog. The timeline on the floor was short, and wasn’t that sweet? Place six to eight products, ready for finish, on the belt every day. But maybe the workers’ timeline was too short, mine too long. Rewards for repetitive work are elusive, despite the many cycles of life itself, the days which soon make seasons, then years. Plant, grow, harvest – over and over again, no?

There was Otherwise, talking to Jane at her bench. She leaned into him, and he into her. He might indeed be wise. If merely clever, just another buck, I would not be around to find out.

""Peter Murkett is a writer and woodworker living in the Berkshire hills.

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