(Recollection of job at Nevins printing company 1969)
I watched the clock, her words clanking around in my brain like mice on a wheel.
All I wanted was for the presses to stop at the end of their run, and yet, at the same time, hoping they never stopped so I didn’t have to deal with the silence and the devilish thoughts always scampering around in my head, the always stirring, always painful thoughts working through me, climbing down my spine, or up this arm.
I watched the clock because in this dim place with long-sooted-over-windows, I had no sun to tell me what time of day it was. It always seemed like night.
Sometimes, I could tell the time by the sound of the machines, the whispered swish of hose spraying ink or cleaner, or the humping banging of the presses as they went through their ritual.
But regardless of the time, or what other panicked thoughts scampered through my head, I always thought of her, and the first words she spoke the first time she saw me during that first tour of the plant, each ticking off with the tick of the clock towards some inevitable conclusion: “You’ll be sorry,” later translated by the mice in my head to mean, “I’m a fool” or “I’m an ass,” words reverberating in echoes inside this hollowed self I felt I was.
And the clock ticked and I watched the heavy arms drag across the pale face on the wall beyond the aisles of machines.
I hated the job for keeping me a prisoner, while she waited in another part of the plant, passing me notes, determining a future she saw but I could not.
Sledge Hammer Harry, my boss, warned me against her because she slept around, his calloused continence growing soft when he looked at me as if he saw me as a son, his heavy hand patting me on the shoulder as he said, and “watch you don’t get hurt.”
I wasn’t listening. I already felt hurt in a way I could not explain, a walking-talking bundle of jangling nerves, jumping at every noise I didn’t recognize, jumping when the machines started or stopped, when the hiss of the ink lasted too long, or shut off too soon, or even when the lunch horn hooted and everything fell to an unnatural quiet – the moment I had waited for the whole time watching the clock, the moment that terrified me when it came.
I thought of her sitting at the sorting table, waiting, and inside me, the mouse finally settling into the wheel that set my legs into motion as I stroke out towards the lunch room where I knew she would be waiting, out under the big face of the still ticking clock, whose ticks like the beats of my heart had suddenly grown wildly fast, and I was as helpless to slow them as I was to hurry them when they dragged, out, out into the real world where I knew I would be sorry, and in some ways, already was, but not sorry enough to stop.