Three Day Week

Entry by: jaguar

7th July 2016

I wouldn’t have taken the job but Duncan told me beggars couldn’t be choosers. Speak for yourself, I thought but he was very insistent. He kept saying we only had one drawer full in the freezer. I nearly counted the tins I’d squirrelled away in the cupboard but then I realised that was petty, Duncan was right. We didn’t have a lot between us and hunger.

I didn’t mind working nights, the pounding noise of the production line, the sheer inelegance of the place. What I hated was a smell like plastic cups not properly dried with rancid tea-towels. That smell wormed its way into my brain, I could see it wriggling away like maggots. I couldn’t clear my head of it. It prowled its way through my dreams and I wasn’t used to sleeping during the day so I didn’t get much rest.

In a normal situation that would have made me cranky at work but I couldn’t afford to be. I gave myself a good shake as I entered the building and left my personality at the door. I wanted to be the perfect employee, happy to do anything, questioning nothing. So maybe I ignored a few worrying things.

Those locked doors for a start. I walked past them for weeks not thinking about how I’d get out of the huge building if a fire started between me and the exit. Then, mopping the factory floor last thing, after the nightshift had finished, I couldn’t help but notice the doors had been opened quite recently. There was a circular sweep through the dust. When I bent down I could see the doorframe had expanded at the bottom and must scrape the floor if you opened it.

As I stood up I saw Mr. Barry watching me, his eyes narrowed, his arms folded across his chest. He often worked through the night and it didn’t do to attract his attention so I blanked my face and mind and mopped at an invisible stain on the floor until he turned away.

My neck prickled and I got the strangest feeling that my only role in life was to clear up after people, that I’d become a giant eraser of things people didn’t want to see. Mind you, that wasn’t far from the truth. You try two children under three and a husband who expects you to keep everything going while doing very little himself.

I asked Duncan one night if he’d mind coming to meet me when my shift ended. What for? I sighed and said I was scared walking home in the dark alone. Who’d look after the kids? You could ask Vera next door to keep an ear out and it would only be ten minutes. No, he said, it’s against the law, do you want them to take the kids away?

There didn’t seem to be any laws protecting me. There was nothing to say I shouldn’t have to scurry home, trying to stop peering over my shoulder every time I heard a noise. I shouldn’t have to work somewhere that saw me as a malfunctioning machine rather than a person. I shouldn’t have to keep putting myself at risk. What would happen to my babies if I didn’t come home or was I just part of a production line for them too? An easily replaced non-entity.

Surrounded by other non-entities. I couldn’t help but notice the nightshift workforce changed weekly. I didn’t exactly make friends but I’d start to recognise faces. Then Monday evening I’d recognise nobody. Was it me? Did I have dementia? I asked one of the flat-vowelled girls if she’d been there long. ‘Started this week,’ she said. I asked a different one every week and the answer was the same.

I told Duncan about it and he said they were paying me so I should put up with it. I’d have liked a friend though. Since having the kids my old mates have drifted away. I missed having a crack with someone, being a bit moany and rude about things, you know. Some days I felt as if I had something really important to say but no one wanted to listen.

I called my mum. She wanted to know what the factory made and I couldn’t answer, my mind had gone blank. She kept asking because she said there was so little manufacturing left. I told her all I did was clean but she said the machines were still working, people were making things I must be able to find out what was produced. I got off the phone and googled the company name. The website was one of those that takes you round in giant circles. There was nothing about their line of business.

Tonight one of the locked doors isn’t fully closed. There doesn’t seem to be a nightshift, I’m on my own with just a security guy out the front. I did Mr. Barry’s office first and he has one of those old-fashioned wall mounted calendars. The week was scored through saying trade fair. It still didn’t say what was being traded. I come back down to the factory floor and stand in front of the door, hesitating.

I know there will be no going back if I cross this boundary. I know I should be grateful for this job because, heaven knows, there are precious few three day week jobs left. Duncan tells me, often enough, how lucky I am to spend most of my time with my kids. Duncan tells me what good kids they are. I bite my lip thinking you only see them at night, of course they’re good, they’re asleep. It's a different matter during those long, long days when I'm also trying to catch up on my sleep.

I push the door open and sleepwalk through the doorway. There are steps down and I take them closing my mind as I go. I walk right down into the basement. Something in me isn’t surprised by the sound of the door closing behind me. I know what will happen to me but I’m so very tired of not mattering the end is almost welcome. All my minding’s done. I’m content to become one of these automatons, these rows and rows of workers stacked down here, no longer human, kept in the dark.