His dad never warned him about this. He told him everything about the job. He told him how to find a rhythm, how to keep his mind on a favorite song, it would drown out the mechanical whir. He told him how to let his mind wander but keep mindful of his fingers. His father told him so many lessons to make him a productive member of the crew. But his father spoke nothing of love and for that, everything had to burn.
He saw her a week into his tenure. She was over three lines. He couldn’t see anyone else in her crew, there were just too many machines in the way. The gears and mechanisms were everywhere. Their purposes were lost on him. He refused to learn, another thing his dad told him to do. But in a small space between one whirlygig and thingamajig her face was framed perfectly. There was nothing pretty about her. But she was there.
Days went by, and then months. She was a diligent worker. She never missed a day and her eyes were focused on her tasks. He learned how to do his job blind. Something his dad didn’t teach him. His eyes never left her. He always arrived to his post five minutes before she did to hers. Those few moments were always soul shaking. He would shuffle in his shoes nervously waiting for her to appear. He would convince himself that she had been moved. Forced into something new because she was ruining the productivity of a single employee three lines over. But she always showed.
One day he forgot one of his father’s lessons. He spoke to a coworker. He told the person next to him about the girl. He gave no context, no preface, just bluntly announced the presence of the woman. He received silence at first. But day after day he would signal his fellow crewmembers to her arrival by bold proclamation. It seemed like an unusual amount of time before someone suggested that he should try and meet her. He couldn’t deny that it was a good idea. His father’s lessons were slipping away from him quickly.
It didn’t take long for his courage to get to the point where he was willing to meet her. He decided that after their shifts were done he would find her outside. His father had told him that he should always stay late. It showed those above him that he was a good and faithful worker. It was those actions that could propel him upwards in the job. Although his father never received a single promotion.
The sound a bells rang out through the machinery, ricocheting off every gear and sprocket. At first he remained still. It was only when his memory was able to overcome his habits that he remembered he had a plan. He followed his co-workers out in a single file line. He had never taken part in the exodus before. When he reached outside he was immediately heartbroken. Before him was a sea of grey jumpsuits and he was merely a small droplet. He looked furiously for the girl. But her face, as clear as it was in his mind, failed to break through the masses. Eventually the tide disappeared, leaving him alone.
The next few years passed by like a syrup. She arrived everyday, just like he did. But the sight of her was now only a way to gauge the time. The workers on his line had changed over the years. Some remained but most had been replaced by younger faces. He told each new comer of the girl. Of his longing for her. His story was met with equal parts interest and annoyance. Then a particular rookie made a suggestion that terrified him. He should simply go over to her, right there while on the job.
His father gave him no lesson about the idea of leaving one’s post. It was a thought that just didn’t exist. The next day, he wanted to ask the new worker to elaborate on his suggestion. But the face of the young worker, free of lines and grit that refused to was away, never showed.
He grew to hate his father and the fleeting appearance of the young worker. Neither one offered up the words that he needed. For the first time, he was left to his own voice. It cracked and stuttered as it ran freely in his mind. His thoughts were racing too fast, he couldn’t keep track of them. They varied in length, some lasted seconds and some remained for weeks. He was thankful for the steadiness of his hands. They managed to continue his work, without the guidance of his consciousness. But the same couldn’t be said for his feet.
One day, while his mind was pounding away any hint of his father or the young worker, his feet began to walk. He had never ventured into the reaches of the factory that his feet were taking them. They navigated the floor perfectly as if they had escaped his body regularly. He could feel the eyes of the other workers turning towards him. A few of them even stopped their work to watch him on his trek, before he disappeared behind another machine. His feet only ceased when they were met with another pair, smaller but covered in the same black leather. He for the first time was able to see her face in all its detail. He was relieved that all his longing had not been wasted.
He spoke to her. His words flowed from his frenzied mind, passed through no filter and then out his mouth in a similar fashion. Her hands continued her work, but her ears were wide and attentive. A murmur then rose in the factory that reached over the machines and the buzz of work being done. Across the factory, the news of his actions were passed from lip to lobe. Not a single soul was spared from the tale.
His father had told him all of his lessons in order to spare his son from a specific threat. His father spoke of a group that observed everything, and only moved to action when someone forced their hand. But they were always moving in the spaces that couldn’t be seen to make sure the work continued. No one in many, many, years had seen them. But that day, they were on parade.
They emerged from doors that didn’t exist. They were adorned in red and moved through the the grey of the workers swiftly. He didn’t see them at first. He just kept on talking. He spoke of all his thoughts, the lessons that he had ignored, he told her of all the feelings he had no label for. All the while the ones in red came closer.
Finally they arrived to her line. They began to move in on him, ready to grab and remove. The other workers on the line saw their arrival before he or she did. They had been blessed. They had been able to hear him speak and have his words touch their minds without the need of a messenger as everyone else had. And, just like he had walked to her without much control, so did they act. They removed their hands from their work and placed them on the ones in red. They held them back, and then began to push them away.
More red clothed foes emerged. The workers in grey pushed them further back until more and more lines saw what was happening. One by one their control left them and they too entered the fray. The red and grey spent the remainder of the day pushing back and forth. People were hurt and some died, but the fight continued. The bells to end the day rang, but like he had remained in the factory, so did the ones in red and the workers. He continues to speak.
By the time the bells that signaled the beginning of the day rang, the ones in red were defeated and the workers set out to complete new jobs. They tore the machines down one by one. Each one disassembled what was in front of them and when one reached a piece of machine that they couldn’t handle, they were joined by a mass of others and together they accomplished the destruction.
As the day pressed on, more machines fell and ones that had already been destroyed were set on again to ensure the job was complete. The bells rang once more. This time the workers did begin to leave. Flames had been born along the walls and smoke filled the factory. He continued to speak. It was only when the threat of death from the fires became very real did she lead him away, but not before he asked her a question.
The details of his question were varied, depending on who was retelling the words. But one thing always remained.
She said yes.