Sunday, August 30, 2009

THE LAST DAY OF WORK

Excerpt from Mohawk Electric

At four-thirty P.M. the workers file out of the Mohawk Electric for the last time. A few men holler, a few men curse. Some raise fists. A man in a red plaid shirt is stoic. Another man's half smile bears a trace of doubt. Women appear as lifetimes washed away. They stream toward their cars lining the three block parking lot to the East. They stop suddenly. Their shouts fall off in the afternoon. They seem to hear something. It appears to be getting cold. Now the men and women look around at each other. They gaze upon the long brick buildings. They see the wires and the transistors whirring through the years. They see capacitors and radio tubes and ohm meters and scraps of metal and brooms and an ever ending whirr, now silent. They listen. They stand for a long time listening; they stand for such a longtime they begin to feel uneasy.

Now they shake each other's hands. The women hug each other and begin to cry. Some are big women in slacks, other's short with close cropped hair and glasses. Sometimes it's hard to tell the men from the women. Before long the men and women set down their lunch pails, stick car keys back in pants or purses. They hug, they kiss, they begin to tell each other how they'll miss each other after all these years. We'll see each other all the time someone laughs within a cry.

At the North end of the lot, behind the small cyclone fence, George Lassiter emerges from the little white door laid back in brick. He walks swiftly to his car looking neither right nor left. He gets in the black Chrysler Imperial and closes the door. He hears nothing. His face appears rested, as if experiencing some sort of awakening; as if a million racing thoughts run on behind. He starts the car and inches forward. For a second he feels nervous, wondering if he can get through. When he reaches the gate, he sees clearly through the tinted glass. No one looks at him. They're all shaking hands and hugging. As he noses the big car out, they part. They let the car run right up to their thighs. Lassiter can't really tell if he's brushed anyone or not. He feels closed in, claustrophobic, inching the car out through the jam of workers. Lassiter feels strange pushing the workers without them acknowledging his presence. He's known them for years. My God what will they do? Toward the end of the lot, the thought leaves him. Lassiter hears himself sigh. The car dips at the curb. Lassiter drives south.

The workers remain in the parking lot for hours. Along about six forty-two at night, Perch Watson drives north on Beldon Street and he is amazed to see the workers standing in the dark. They hold hands. He blinks. Yes, he sees they're holding hands and swaying, swaying so imperceptivity he has to stop the blue cruiser and roll the window down. He feels the cool September wind rush in. It smells like cold and it smells like the Richland 's bubbling stink running behind the plant. A faint heated odor emanates from the men and women holding hands. It smells like old blood and tree bark. It smells like elm and falling leaves and cool sweat. The smell sways gently and the dark figures in the parking lot turn purple and chalky and brown. They seem to begin to possess a dotted orange caste to the purple that Perch can't fathom. They hold hands.

Officer Perch Watson sits in his baby blue cruiser across the street in front of Zukor's Variety. He thinks he hears a Spanish accent. He listens. He can't locate it. He rolls the car windows down. Finally he sees Mario Perez talking to Wingo inside Zukor's Variety Store. Even in the evening murmur of the closing factory workers He hears Wingo grunt. He smiles. He's a cop. He knows things. He hears things. He squints across the seat and down the aisle inside, past the Wonder Bread and Twinkees and donuts on the left and the soft drinks and chips on the right, to the pinball machine. Wingo leans in. The machine bangs and bells and bonks. Perch sees Wingo has balanced the back legs of the machine on his loafers. Perch shakes his head thinking Wingo is a hopeless loser. Mario Perez stands next to Wingo waiting to play. Mario is the same height as Wingo, but he is younger so he doesn't look as squat.

Perch remembers Wingo used to look like a round bullet blasting off tackle. He saw Wingo's skin through the thin black crewcut back in high school. Now he sees a black curly mop Wingo reportedly bought somewhere near Boston. It's rumored Wingo has a whole set of wigs, but no one can prove it. His wife Candy doesn't socialize much. Candy is a strange woman. Wingo bangs the pinball machine.

Mario Perez, the last person hired by Richland Electric, is the first person to be let go and the first, and only Cuban, to ever work for George Lassiter. Mario Perez rocks back and forth on his heels. His head seems to follow the steel ball under the glass, bonking here, banking, flipped up, shot down, across, back along the side. Perch Watson cannot see the ball from the street. He imagines the ball whacking off a light and disappearing down the hole.

Mario seems to be getting the hang of it. He seems to know what the ball feels like. His body rocks a beat, maybe a half beat ahead of Wingo. Perch thinks Mario Perez is singing or humming or something and he hopes it doesn't set Wingo off, but Wingo is intent. Wingo leans over the pinball machine and now he has the whole front end wrapped inside his short arms. For a second it seems like the pinball machine is growing out of Wingo's belly and that Wingo is wrestling it to the ground.
Perch dismisses the image and turns his attention to the parking lot. The workers sway in the September wind. It is dark now. Perch worries. What if they don't go home? He tries to imagine what they will do if they don't go home.

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