Harley is simple man, he likes, rather, he wants his life to be that simple.
No complexities, no unnecessary frills to eat away at the edges of that quiet simmering and easy pleasure.
His life, that has become habit; habits.
He got up in the morning, showered and shaved and then dressed himself in the usual work clothes, hardy and ruggedly made for his job at the mill. All the sme colored green work clothes. This morning he took time, and picked the best and newest shirt and trousers, from a rack of clean work clothes; pressed and in their place. Each one lovenly placed like a piece of art. Each hanging and resting in the place that it should.
Harley walked down the same staircase, and entered his same kitchen, shuffling across the kitchen floor to the stove were his wife stood frying his eggs, as she had fried so many of them; the synchronicity of that one real moment in time, at the same hour at the same few minutes on the hour of six o’clock. Between her cracking an egg on the edge of the pan, to the flip of the second egg to make them easy…. over, was actually quite remarkable over the course of thirty some odd years, that Harley had worked at the mill. This was their morning ritual.
He would kiss his wife, Frankie, on the cheek as she moved her face ever so gracefully towards him, a split second glance away from the pan in intense acknowledgement, showed all that she felt for him, but quickly back to the contents, and the importance of the frying pan…Harley’s eggs.
Francis Waters; Frankie as Harley loved to call her, was the simple wife of mill worker. She asked no more of herself, and excepted no less. She was getting old now and getting tired of all this, but always found enough of herself to put in that pan with those eggs. Aways found enough for the day.
Dedicated to her husband and his job, the job she knew he hated, but that they both needed to keep the wolves away from their simple and quiet door.
She took to this morning chore like a monk, a meditation practiced like a prayer to an unkown God. And as sacred. Week after week she fried two eggs and bacon and buttered toast washed down with two cups of black coffee.
The same old way, at the same time; quiet, simple and a beauty in the uncomplicated. Was it pleasure was their life pleasure?
Harley would sit down at the table, and Frankie, sat across and watched quietly, her elbows on the table, cup in her hands close to her mouth, leaning in drinking the coffee in short sips, and watching Harley eat. Watching him eat, was pleasure for her, a pleasure in seeing him eat the eggs like he had so many yesterdays ago. She would smile as he ate the white from around the yolk first, and then wait a second, like he was waiting for the world to breathe, and quickly scoop up the yellow sun fom his plate, and put it in his mouth. She would smile as his face would light at his success. It was the boy in him, noticeable at corners of those old eyes of his…
Waiting for the occasional glance up her, and his smile. Or his wink. Sometimes a word or two, as the morning was allowed to take it time. He would say something about fixing something, or she would talk about her sister was coming over this afternoon. But she always enjoying those eggs more than he did.
He would rise and take his cup and plate, and rinse them in a charity so as not to allow the egg yolk to dry to the plate and cause Frankie more than enough work. They both were in the habit of placing love in everything they did for each other. They were devoted and timeless.
When he finished he would go to the back door and put his boots and coat on, look carefully at Frankie, and tell her how much he loved her, always and forever, and then pick up the cooler with lunch inside and leave through the back door, with a clatter of a screen door.
Today was like any other day, no difference than the day before, except he was older. And now it taking it toll on his body.
He felt tired, and achy and something was amiss in his gut, he could feel it. It had gone on for at least a year now. It felt fatal, it felt like it was never going to leave. It had moved in there, and he knew in his heart, it was final.
He had hidden it and knew deep inside of himself that it would cost him dearly. One of those things that comes along and would take everything that he had worked for all his life away from him and Frankie. A few months of illness and without any real medical benefits, it would break them like dry tinder.
He crossed the back lawn to his truck and slid onto the front seat. It was cool this morning, and the truck groaned into life. He allowed it a few moments to warm up. He looked towards the back kitchen window of the house, and there she was looking at him. As always. He smiled and waved, she waved back, he turned his head and put his arm behind the passenger seat and backed out of the drive and into the alley. A glance back at the window to Frankie, and he blew her a lovers kiss.
A few minutes later and he was on the highway heading north to the Big River Mill.
The drive was quiet at this time of the morning, no traffic, just the occasional deer, or coyote in the ditch. The crows gobbling up the insects that bounced of the passing vehicles. They knew exactly were to stand, and timed jumping out-of-the-way perfectly, when it came to rushing out into the driving lane after an injured dragonfly. Harley loved to watch them, he thought them wise beyond their making.
Harley liked this time of the morning it was the only peace and quiet he’d get all day, until shift-end at four o’clock, when he made the return trip back home to Frankie and the surprise of what she had cooked and was baking during the day.
He thought about her again, as the white lines flicked by him. She was his life. What would happen to her if he got sick, real sick and died. This pain he had was never gonna leave.
He couldn’t see an illness and doctors and tests steal what they had built together. He had an insurance policy that covered him at work against accidental death. It paid of the mortgage and his debts and he had bumped up the coverage over the years and so she would stand to make upwards of $400,000 upon accidental death.. They had saved a little bit for years, and she would get a modest pension from his thirty years. There were no real debts to worry about he had kept on top that, never allowing it to slide more than a few dollars.
Harley never smoked or drank much. The odd shot of good whiskey, here and there, or at the holidays. His pocket-money went into a saving account, he never spent it; and he had roughly $18,000 saved now. He was not into buying much, he had no need of anything or desired anything for that fact.
The miles clicked by, and Harley reached to his truck radio and turned it on. A country music song twanged on to its ending and the voice of the broadcaster broke the air, “And now for the KSPX early morning weather folks…
Harley listen to the weather as white lines fled behind him. He grabbed his side again, as a stabbing pain broke into his quiet time. It subsided, in time for him to glance in the mirror an see Skinny’s truck close the distance behind him. That dam kid he thought, aways in a rush. He looked to his left a moment later to see skinny roar past him, with the snotty kid’s usual morning salute. Harley smiled, and relaxed back into the seat for that last few miles of his trip, seeing skinny’s truck fade into the distance in front of him.
Five miles on and the noise and traffic, jump up out of nowhere. The image of the mill suddenly loomed high up and above him, dominate the whole scene; the smell, exhaust, trucks, his windshield was filled with employees entering the parking lots, and semi’s leaving full of lumber for distance places.
Harley pulled slowly into his usual spot abruptly stopping and throwing the shifter into park. His truck went silent, and he sighed and took a breath….he entered the employee entrance to the noise of the morning. Men standing in the long hallway, chatting and drinking coffee. He was half an hour early as always, and walked up and plugged five quarters into a coffee machine, and pushed the black only button. He stood there watching the cup fill, looking up he saw the approaching shift supervisor, Mel Thompson.
Michael Burns Oil and acrylic Painting canvas 24 X 36 inches
“Morning Harley, how you feeling.”
“Fine Mel, and yer self?”
“Good, yeah I’m good Harley. Listen…we’re looking at a possible lay-off at the end of the month. Not to worry though, your job is secure Harley. You being one of our best guys. Skinny’s gone, an Moyd Samson…Elmer Strabner and that whole afternoon shift. Those boys have it comin, always smokin dope and not doin a stitch. When they all come back on the freeze-up, I’ll be moving upstairs to management. Finished my grade three, materials handling, and got my grade higher for first aid. I can save your life now, learned how to work the defibrillator. Listen I recommended you as shift supervisor, thad be another fifty-four cents an hour Harley, you and Frankie could use that…plus I’d getcha of the planer. Noisy fucking thing, eh. How thad be Harley?”
“Yeah, I’d have ta speak to Frankie about it…so for sure the lay-off huh Mel?
Skinny Lawrence slapped Harley on the back, on his way to chipping-on-shift, “You gettin slower every morning old man, how old is that dam truck of yours anyway?”
Mel stared at skinny passing by saying, “Yeah, Harley. That’s a definite…he’s gone fer sure Harley; idiot. Anyway, have a good one buddy, later.” Mel moved on down the hall to another.
During his conversation with Mel, Harley had felt the pain in his side rise to the unbearable again, he had difficulty making it not known to Mel that he was in pain. The bouts were coming more often now, he knew that tomorrow or the next day the pain would come and stay for good and not leave.
He moved to the time-punch and pick the chip hanging on the board with his name on it, and waved in front of the machine. The high-pitched wee-luu sound signaled he was on shift. Placing the chip back on the board he entered the main door while putting his ear protection on, and strode towards the large industrial planer at the end of the building. Waving to fellow employees on his morning walk, the mouthed hellos deafened by the loudness of the plant. Whining saws, and clacking conveyors, the beeping of forklifts and sound of planking falling off the fresh sawn logs.
The smell of spruce sap was always satisfying, it calmed him. Made him think of the forests all that wood came from. He didn’t like the destruction of forests.
He reached the planer and gently touched the shoulder of the man he came to replace. Sam Wisen turned and smiled and said “Harley.” The sound never reached Harley’s ears, it was swallowed by the din of the mill.
Harley pointed to his ear and then to the booth at the side of the planer, as a signal he wished to speak with Sam. Sam nodded and stuck one finger in the air and mouth “One minute.” Harley walk over to the small room and entered and sat down, the automatic door closed behind him, and the sound dropped to become a vibration on the metal floor.
He looked around at the centerfold nudes pinned and taped to the walls. Black felt marker penises drawn beside mouths agape in the sexual vogue of the models in the pictures. Oversized dicks drawn close to exposed vaginas. Harley looked back to the door and saw Sam open the booth door. The rush of noise like water quickly filling the room and the quiet filling just as quick when the door closed.
Sam Wisen slipped his ear protection down on his neck and said, “Morning Harley, how are ya man?”
Harley said “I good Sammy, how was it?”
“Well, they put twenty-thousand board feet through…we had a jam up at about nine thousand. I went up on the widow peak and checked to see, it’s clogging up that exit door to the burners. Watch the safety rail, the bolt is real loose Harley. I told the safety officer, he said someone will get to it on your shift. Be careful though.”
Harley looked at Sam, and said “That dam rail has been broke for months, I have told them a couple of time about it. Twenty-thousand eh. Are the kilns loaded?”
“I don’t know, I think so. I don’t know what they’re pushing for…”
Harley interrupted him “I do, they gonna be a lay-off at the end of the month Sam.”
“What, That kinda short notice, isn’t it. We need to organize, get a fucking Union. This is ridiculous, a big rush and then a lay-off. Fucking ass-holes are doing this all the time.”
“I know Sam…Mel said I would be okay. I don’t know about you Sammy. Skinny, and Elmer Strabner and that afternoon crowd are gone. Keep it under your hat though. They will keep you, you’re a good worker. You got no worries, Mel has always had a kind word about ya. Anything I need to know?”
“No, it’s all good. You might run up the cat-walk and check that top conveyor, before start-up. I greased everything about an hour ago. Moisture is up, so it is building up a bit around things. Okay I’m outta here Harley.”
Painting on heavy rag paper. Mixed media. 16 X 20 inches
The both men rose and exited the booth, into the noise, and the dust and the heat. Harley stopped at the control panel and pushed the large green button on the feed. The conveyor started and the wood moved slowly to the planer mouth. He looked back in the direction of Sam and moved towards the stairs leading to the cat walk. He hesitated a moment and then climbed the steep stairs, he reached the cat-walk and moved slowly towards the end. Towards the exit door to the burners and the faulty guard rail. The cat-walk was steep and the hand rails on the side were needed to help in the climbing. After a few moments Harley reached the end of the cat-walk. Grabbing the faulty rail he shook it a bit, the main three-quarter inch bolt was loosen almost completely. This was his chance, a golden opportunity, it wouldn’t come again. He unscrewed the nut the last few threads, the bolt popped out into his hand. He looked down at the work floor far below him he could see Sam Wisen, a small figure exit the main doors on his way to punch off shift. Harley looked out ahead of himself, felt the familiar twinge at his side. He thought about Frankie, her face lit up in his mind; he pushed the safety rail and it swung open exposing him to the danger. He looked to the plant floor far below, he let go of the nut and bolt in his hand; Harley took a step and dropped hard and fast. He heard the sound of Frankie voice above the noise, he saw her face, she smiled and then there was silence.