The Manufacturing Of Sorrow
When the bell rang, signaling mid-morning break, the floors of the factory shook as workers scrambled away from their stations, rushing to vending machines or out exit doors for a smoke. Morning break was eight minutes. The men on the loading dock kept working. They kept working because they were blind and eight minutes was not enough time to navigate from one place to another.
Every day during the mid-morning break some of the women who didn't smoke or drink coffee because they were pregnant or still breastfeeding, or because they were sanctimonious goody-two-shoes, or simply too young, came down to the loading dock to watch the men load the trucks. The men knew when the women were watching because they could smell the fragrances, not as a mix but each individual scent. The men could almost taste each woman's proximity; through some enriched sense of smell they were able to separate the young from the old, the maidens from the mothers from the matrons.
Every time a man with or without a box in his hand stumbled or fell the women ooh-ed or ahh-ed with a trembling, hollow tone that sounded to the men like genuine concern, though sometimes one of the women giggled, then gasped to contain her laughter. Either way, the men kept working. They picked themselves up and continued loading the trucks because they could not stand and gaze at the women, only breathe the scent of their beauty.
Minutes went by. The bell sounded, signaling the end of mid-morning break. The men stopped working for a moment to sniff the air as the women moved off, whispering as they went, asking questions of one another. The younger women without husbands inquired about the blind men to the mature women who quickly set them straight. Sightless, bumbling fools were a dime a dozen.
The older women went back to the machines they operated to weave more sorrow and the younger women returned to the packing department where boxes were filled. The men on the loading dock kept working. What the women did not understand was that each load had to be moved by hand. One man to a load, one load to a man. Teaming up, though encouraged, and regularly applauded, was a waste of time. Two men working together merely doubled the weight of sadness. Three men tripled it. And so on.
Meanwhile, the trucks were waiting, their drivers anxious. Many of the drivers had been around since the beginning, running their routes, delivering the stuff, so they understood what they were dealing with. Such a heavy, intense sadness. Such condensed grief. Top quality stuff. Built to last. You could drop it, kick it, toss it from a moving truck into traffic, or off a bridge. Nothing fragile about it. According to the label, the density per pound was equal to the sorrow of a thousand broken birds flapping shattered wings, bumping into one another again and again.
Bob Thurber is an old, unschooled writer with a long list of literary awards and honors. This is the ninth time his work has appeared in The Cafe Irreal. “The Cat Who Waved,” appeared in Issue #5; “Shuteye” appeared in Issue #15; “The Bartender Story” appeared in Issue #32; “You Don’t Belong Here” appeared in Issue #34; “A Woman on the Bus” appeared in Issue #38; Crackers in Issue #40; Mister Fumble Bumble and The Merry Widow of The Shoemaker in Issue #43; and "Old Sharp Photo" in Issue #45. Bob is the author of four books, including Paperboy: A Dysfunctional Novel, a novel that depicts the unapologetically explicit reality of a boy growing up in an impoverished, dysfunctional family during the summer of the first moon landing. His latest story collection, Nothing But Trouble, was released in the spring of 2014. For more information visit www.bobthurber.net