Howard and Charles at the Factory

January 21, 2017

Howard parks the Lincoln in the familiar spot. He takes a moment to savor this feeling, so long in coming. He looks at the factory in the distance, at his own grizzled hands on the wheel, and he feels it again, the swell of pride and relief and validation. And then, like so many days in the past, he puts sentiment behind him, swallows the emotion like a bite of meatloaf, and goes about his business. He picks up the thermos and lunch bucket and his camp chair, and walks the familiar path. They have let the whole thing go to hell, of course: the sidewalk is cracked and broken and the lawn, always so carefully tended, is nothing more than a weedy field.

He is a little surprised that the new people in charge would have let it stay this way, but it is just the first day, and even He can’t do everything, Howard supposes, when all is said and done. They have made a real mess of things and it will take time to clean it all up.

He walks the broken sidewalk and turns the corner to the entrance and pauses at what he sees: Charles, here already and waiting in his own camp chair, sipping coffee and reading the Post-Gazette. He smiles. Of course. He wonders who else will show up today.

“Charles,” he says, as he settles the camp chair and pours himself a cup of coffee.

“Thought I might see you here,” Charles says. He nods and tips the coffee cup and hands over the sports page. “Penguins won again,” he says. “Things are looking up.”

“You can say that again,” Howard says. He realizes he is nervous, the first time in years, but it’s much better than the anger that had been swelling in his gut for the past decade or so, better than the boredom and the futility and the embarrassment. “You think they’ll have us on the same jobs?” he says.

“I suppose it would be best to get us back to what we know,” Charles says.

This makes sense. He was almost worried that they would be sitting at computers now, or that this would feel more like the job interviews he has shown up for and left before they started, cattle calls where they herded him into a room with fat teenagers and Mexicans and dead-eyed losers who were twenty years younger than him and looked like they had given up on anything before they hit forty. “Time is it?” he says.

Charles adjusts in his chair and checks his watch. Now he is remembering that Charles has his ways about him, a certain set of airs. “Eight,” Charles said. “Should be starting up here soon.”

“You think they…” Howard starts, and then he remembers everything that happened already. “Never mind,” he says.

“Yeah, maybe because it’s the first day,” Charles says. “You done with that sports?”

Howard hands the section over and accepts the front page. “Thanks,” he says. On the cover, a giant picture of Donald with his hand on the Bible, accepting his proper position. Howard looks around. It is a little weird that nobody else is here yet. It is somehow unnerving that the lawn has not been mowed. He puts it out of his mind. They have been in charge for a long time. He can’t possibly expect all the details of the transition to be worked out yet. He watches a jet sail over his head and away into the clear blue sky. He watches the trail left behind. He remembers something about those trails, how they are really part of a weapons program or messages to the Soviets. Thankfully all of this nonsense will be over soon. Is over. He looks at his watch again. 8:15. Fifteen minutes late. This is not normal. He stands and tries to act casual. “I might…” he says, and walks to the door.

“Locked,” Charles says. Something about his tone is annoying, arrogant.

“Just thought I’d try,” Howard says. “Guess I’m ready to get back to it.”

“Hear you there, guy,” Charles says. He crosses his legs. “Sure they’ll be here soon. Maybe just…I don’t know.”

“Yeah, sure, definitely,” Howard says. He sits back down in his chair and looks at the sky. The chemtrail is still there.

That is another one of the signs, he remembers: the chemtrails, they just stay there like graffiti in the goddamn beautiful blue American sky. Soon all of this will be over and the sky will be clear and clean again, the way he remembers it. He looks at the locked door, at their two cars sitting in the parking lot, all the empty spaces and the weeds and the broken sidewalk, at the dark windows of the factory behind them. “They’ll definitely be here soon,” he says. “Definitely.”