V-NECKS AND BEER
I took this job to buy v-neck t-shirts and beer. The plant starts at $16 an hour. To stay part-time, I’d lied and said I’m studying to become an x-ray technician. They stuck me in bacon. The temperature tops at thirty-six degrees. I wear short sleeves. I can hear my mom: “Do you think you’re cool or something?” Eight hours a day, three days a week I slide wax paper topped with pig guts into cardboard boxes.
To pass the time, I fantasize. Daydreams of Maxim pinups and chugging red Solo cups play in my head like Seinfeld reruns. I stare across the concrete room full of humming conveyor belts in a sort of frat-boy meditation.
I also talk to Suzan. She works next to me. She’s responsible for folding the boxes, for making sure I never run out of cardboard. She’s always worrying about how expensive milk is, about her two sons, about her husband’s unemployment running dry. She wants to know what I’m doing here. I tell her paying for school. She fires finger guns. She says to get my degree, to not do what she and her husband did. I promise I won’t. I ask what she and her husband did, and she tilts her head like I should already know. She yawns. She describes making her boys bowls of Cap'n Crunch this morning despite us being on second shift. Why can’t her husband cook breakfast? He’s out of work. That’s all she’ll say about him.
The clock ticks to midnight. I punch out and dump my greasy frock in the designated hamper. I walk past security and hop into my POS Sebring. I drive home. But I don’t drive home. I drive to Suzan’s house. Her husband’s sipping a Bud Heavy. I want one but don’t ask for one. Instead, I ask him about Suzan’s boys—no, my boys. Are they my boys? I ask what he fixed for supper. He says McDonald’s drive-thru. I count all those empty carbs and fats. He offhandedly mentions he caught our oldest smoking a cigarette. I ask what he did about it. He shrugs and says: “Calm down, we’re all young once.”
What’s after once?
I check on the boys. They’re asleep or pretending to be asleep. I smell like pig shit and can’t stop thinking about that kid at work, about me. One day he’ll be an x-ray technician. Why radiology? Does he like seeing people’s insides? What did I use to tell people I wanted to be? Oh yeah, a meteorologist. We have a cold front hitting us from the north, folks. Get your gloves and sleds ready, kids, because tomorrow’s going to be a snow day.
Once. Once. Once.
My youngest stirs. He whispers: “Mommy?” I kiss his forehead and whisper back: “Don’t do what mommy and daddy did, honey. Become an x-ray technician, become an x-ray technician.”
Will Musgrove is a writer and journalist from Northwest Iowa. He received an MFA from Minnesota State University, Mankato. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in trampset, Versification, Unstamatic, (mac)ro(mic), Ghost Parachute, Serotonin, Overheard, Rabid Oak, Flash Frontier, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter at @Will_Musgrove.