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M. A. De Neve
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Art by K. J. Hannah Greenberg 2018



By M.A. De Neve


       “I've figured out a way out of this job,” Ron told me.

       “You're quitting.”

       “I didn't say that.”  

       “Ron, get over here. I thought I told you to...” Jack, our boss shouted above the noise of the presses and the huge guillotine paper cutters. 

       As I watched Ron hurry over to where Jack stood, I wondered what he had in mind. He could pretend he hurt his back and collect disability.  Here in rural Michigan, tree cutting and paper-mill factory jobs offered opportunities for disabling injuries, real or imagined.  Ron wouldn't be the first person I knew who took the easy way out of a boring, low-paying job.

       If Ron got fired, he'd get unemployment checks for 26 weeks. Jack often threatened to fire Rowan, but despite Jack's gripes, Ron was a good worker. Jack was NOT going to make good on the threat, and Ron needed this job. 

       I went back to work. Jack didn't pick on me as much as he picked on Ron, but that didn't mean he wouldn't call me on the carpet or dock my pay or give me the worst job in the plant. The worst job usually belonged to Ron.  Sometimes he had to run the fearsome gigantic electronic guillotine paper cutters. These machines are as big as a small  bathroom. The wicked blades come down with the power of thousands of pounds.

       Later that day at the punch-clock, I asked Ron, “What did you mean when you said you found a way out of this job?  Are you quitting?”

       “I don't know.  I didn't say that. Did I?”

       “You need a ride home?” I asked. Waiting for the bus could take up to half an hour, and Ron took the bus.  On our wages, I was lucky I could afford a car, but then my wife works. Ron is a bachelor.

       He shook his head. He was upset. Jack had been extra mean that day, and as usual Ron got the worst of Jack's ugly moods.

       I drove to the bar down the road and ordered a beer. I wished Ron had come with me. I was worried about him. All that abuse he'd been taking from Jack was bound to hurt.  I was finishing my second beer when I heard the sirens. Looking put the window, I watched police cars and fire engines head toward the plant.

       I followed.

       Rowan stood in the parking lot. “Was the bus late?”

       “I went for a walk. There'll be another bus.”

       “What happened?” I nodded toward the plant. An ambulance had followed the police cars and emergency workers hurried inside.

       Rowan shrugged. I noticed some red stains on his shirt. Ketchup? Red ink that might have leaked from one of the presses?

       Other workers crowded around us. The parking lot was blocked off, but they found parking spaces on side streets.

       “What happened?” we asked each other.

       “We didn't have a night shift.”

       “Who's in the plant?”

       “Didn't everybody check out?

       “Jack stays late.”

       Kyle, Jack's assistant foreman, approached the building and talked to an officer. I walked up closer, so I could hear what they were saying.

       “Got us a messy accident. The guy somehow got caught in the guillotine cutter. It cut his upper body in two.”

       Other workers heard the news the same time, I did.  I heard their nervous murmurs. Our guillotine cutters used to have dozens of safeguards. Since Jack became foreman, he cared more for production than safety. Many of those safeguards had been discarded.

       “Who was it?” I asked loud enough for the officer to hear.

       “Name's Jack...” the officer took a stab at pronouncing Jack's long foreign name.

       Murmurs ran through the crowd. None of us liked Jack very much, but no one deserved to be cut in half in a guillotine paper cutter. When I turned to look at Ron, he grimaced. Was that a grimace? It looked more like a smile.


       The crime lab cleaned up, and all of us workers got a week of unemployment insurance while they cleaned. Back at the plant, on our next workday, Kyle called us all together.

       “First, the machine that killed Jack is gone,”  he told us.  “All the other guillotines have been serviced and they've now got safeguards on top of safeguards. If you think there's anything to be concerned about, call me over. I'll make sure the machine is closely checked out.”

       He paused and let us murmur about machine problems. “I've put in for five percent raises for everyone,” he said.

       We hurrayed and applauded and a few of us patted Kyle on the back. We'd missed chances at raises over the years because Jack didn't think we were worth squat.

       “And I want everyone to say 'hello' to the new assistant foreman. Ron.”

       Ron nodded at all of us.  He'd get an even bigger raise than the rest of us because he had the new job. And Jack was gone. He wouldn't be harassed anymore. As the others made their way to their work stations. I watched Kyle and Ron. I hadn't realized they were such good friends before.

       I remembered the day of the accident. Ron had been in the parking lot waiting for the bus, and Kyle had been in the plant with Jack. What if Ron had gone back in. What if Ron and Kyle held Jack down and...

       “How are the police handling Jack's... How are they handling what happened?” I asked.

       “They don't know how it happened. Machine probably malfunctioned,” Kyle told me.

       “Jack never ran that machine. What was he doing stretched inside it when the blade came down?”

       Kyle turned away. He didn't want to answer the question.

       “Let's get back to work,” Ron told me. “And, Buddy, forget what I said about finding a way out of the old job.  I didn't mean anything.”


The End

M. A. De Neve holds a master’s degree in English and taught college-level writing for over twenty years. M. A. wrote two novels, both available on Amazon, and has published articles in many newspapers and magazines, including Over My Dead Body and Mysterical-E.  M. A.  volunteers with an animal rescue group in Michigan. 

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