When Paullywog enters the bathroom, Nigger Cain pulls out his pocketknife and says, “I been lookin for somebody to cut.”
“Make it lethal cuz I don’t wanna wake up tomorrow and hafta come in here,” Paullywog says.
“I hear that,” Nigger Cain says.
Me, I’m behind Paullywog. We’re waiting for the others to make room so we can close the door. There’s a tornado watch for half an hour, and even though I don’t wanna be working, I also don’t wanna lose the production time. Around here the orders set our schedule. If we get behind, we’ll lose our weekend.
When all the guys are in, I sit on the floor. I think about how oily it is, but my shorts are dirty and I’m sticky from sweat, so I figure it won’t hurt. There’s a dead beetle and a dead wasp by the opposite wall.
Nigger Cain’s scratching his back by rubbing against the corner of the wall that separates the lockers from the toilets. The women call him Sugar, but the men call him Nigger. He seems OK with it. Usually he wears a brown cowboy hat to cover his bald head, although he’s not wearing it now. The man’s got no teeth, is in his seventies, and works in the hottest part of the factory. I don’t know how he does it.
“While you’re down there,” Nigger Cain says to David, who’s sitting a couple feet away from me. He loosens his belt and David just laughs. David, a thin guy who talks fast and works in my department occasionally, says he’s known Nigger Cain for years. I’m curious to know how they met, especially because David’s only in his twenties, but I don’t ask.
“I got struck by lightning once,” David tells me and Jayson.
“How’d that happen?” I say.
“I was doin some work for my uncle in a pole barn, and it started stormin, right, so we hurried up and got done. Well, I was leanin against the barn when lightning struck it. Burned through the back of my shirt and threw me twenty feet.” He drinks from a can of Big Red.
“Were you all right?” I ask.
“Oh yeah. I didn’t know what happened until after it was over. My shirt was burnt to hell. Similar thing happened to a buddy of mine—a tornado picked him up and he landed on his ass. Didn’t know what happened till later.”
“He go to the hospital?” I say.
“They said he was fine.”
“Wow.” I bring in my legs and sit Indian style. The weather’s bad, but I can’t hear it because of the talking.
“Man, I wish it was Thursday,” Jayson says.
“Why?” David asks.
“I should have a big box of porn on my doorstep.” He smiles. “I ordered that new Spider-Man porn.”
For the first time since we got in here, the storm drowns out the talking. I hear the building creak, taking a beating from the wind and rain. The lights flicker. This silences everyone. We might joke about a tornado leveling this place to the fucking ground, but these white walls aren’t the last thing we wanna see.
“This building’ll collapse on me,” Nigger Cain says, “and my dick’ll be down his throat.” He points at David. David shakes his head. “I’ll be crushed to death and he’ll choke to death.” Nigger Cain cackles, a shrill loud laugh.
I don’t like running into Nigger Cain because he’s unpredictable. Sometimes he’ll say: “How you doin, young man?” Others: “You a fuckin queer? You wanna suck my dick?” He’s Jekyll and Hyde, and I’m glad he’s picking on David this time.
“I’m sick of these fuckin storms,” Jayson says. He leans against the opposite wall. “I can’t lay out with it stormin every two hours. But I wish these storms would take out my neighbor’s oak. I hate that tree. It’s always blockin the sun from my yard.”
“The branches cross your property line?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he says.
“You can cut them straight up the line if you want,” I tell him, having heard this from my dad, who was dealing with the same scenario a couple years ago.
“That’s true,” David says.
The racket gets louder and the lights go out.
“Who touched my dick?!” Nigger Cain screams.
“Fuck yeah!” Paullywog yells, knowing they’ll have to send us home if there’s no power. I don’t wanna go home, because if we lose half a day’s work, that means we’ll be here Friday for overtime. Sure, the money’s good, but after workin ten-hour days Monday through Thursday, I’m ready for a long weekend. The lights come on to a collective groan.
“So what do you like to do?” Jayson asks me.
“I like to read—mostly about space. I wanted to be the first man to walk on Mars. And who knows, maybe I could’ve been had I studied harder in school. I spent most of my time partyin,” I say. I uncross my legs and extend them because they’re falling asleep.
“Doesn’t it take, like, months to get to Mars?” David asks.
“It depends on where Earth and Mars are in their orbits. Ideally, the trip would take six months. But to get back, it’d be best to wait until the planets are close again, which would take about a year and a half. That way the trip home would be six months, too.”
We’re quiet for a while and I think about how some of us dread coming in tomorrow. But what we all dread is the bossman opening the door and saying: “All right, back to work.”
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