By Niamh Bagnell

I wake from nightmares—I was there and saved her or I was there and tried but couldn’t save her, just watched it all in slow motion, frozen in horror. I wake and there’s never that moment of forgetting I hear others talk about. It’s the remembering that wakes me most days, wondering what could have been different.

It’s frightening how quickly a six-pack collapses to flab. I’ve been sinking into sloth with the last half year, watching Friday night boxing matches from the couch, no longer a fighter myself, not bothering even with the local fights. So, I watch fellas far better than I’d ever been, strutting their muscle, making me sick. Mam’s cat curled beside me most nights with an “I suppose you’ll have to do” attitude, marmalade arse towards me. That particular Friday night, the cat was left alone, to rule over an empty house. I was in the factory, covering for the night cleaner.

Nights has advantages. Something soothing about starting at intake and working your way through the whole place. It’s not huge, so one person can cover the lot. I’m not all proud, trying to do everything perfect, the way the usual fella goes on—I just enjoy the process. Taking big toys apart and putting them back like glistening silvered Lego. Giants, they split before me with metallic groans, showing their filth in secret places; places that were dark for the day, and too dangerous to enter. I forgive the day’s sins of dirt, replacing them with all types of shiny.

The biggest plus is the lack of the boss-man. He smiles a crooked smile, almost gleeful, as he declares the work isn’t good enough, pretending to be pals, one of the lads. He came to Mam’s funeral with the same stupid smile. Told me to take as long as I want, just be sure to drop a text soon as possible, let him know when to expect me, he had to work out the rota. I swear, only the coffin was beside us.

He pulled me in for an awkward heart-to-heart in his hidey-hole office when I returned.

“Will you be alright, Murph,” he lifted an eyebrow “after what happened? Not being insensitive, but you’ve had your issues too, haven’t you?”

“What.. with Diago? That was just a bit of fun” Debbie, from HR way over-reacted, misunderstood the whole situation.

“Yes, well, in light of recent events,” with a nervous laugh he waved at the door, “I want to be sure you’re, like, stable. Keep the horse-play for boxing, yeah?” I focussed on his teeth as I nodded, thinking of shrapnel-ing them, a power shot leaving jagged clumps where they once sneered. I didn’t tell him I don’t box no more.

So, no boss-man. No other muppets either, talking too much or tip-toeing around me. Trying not to provoke my ire. A quiet one.

I realised, when I got there, I’d have company after all. The new girl, Sinead, had a mix on, her yellow labels plastered all over it. She’d surely arrive at some ungodly hour, to check on it. The things they make the graduates do. Her job’s nearly as bad as mine. Nearly, but not quite. At least she has a hope of moving on from being factory fodder. She will eventually escape from being forever in white coats, wellies, goggles and gloves, washing hands like an obsessive compulsive, watching clocks like a gom, living always for the next break.

Knowing she’d be in, I felt lighter. I didn’t know her well at the time, she was only in the door a few weeks, but I knew enough. She was different. When she’d been asked to be “the eyes”, (something bosses get their young to do from early days, to drive home the fact that the workers aren’t human, just something to be watched); she apologised for intruding, explained what she was looking for, mocked the absurdity of it with us.

“Hi Murph,” she called out brightly over the power-washer roar, like we were at the beach, and she looking for a nice spot for her towel. I felt a bubble of mirth rise inside at the sight of her, and her happy-go-lucky swing. I waved a hand and turned back to my task, holding myself a little straighter than before, maybe something of the usual guy’s attention to detail about me.

I heard an exclamation, like she was scolding the mix for misbehaving. The shouts continued, so I turned. Her hairnet was askew, her front soaked and she clutching a sample in one hand. The other hand frantic, trying to screw down the lid. Foam rioted over, torrential spilling down onto what had been my spotless floor. I felt a black scribble of electric anger, a college kid coming in and wrecking the place, bloody typical. I walked over, tapped the sides to settle the pot—shooing her off, didn’t blink as it gushed at me, closed it.

“Never open the lid while a mix is on, don’t ya see the tap?” I said, livid, despite myself.

“They said make sure and get some off the top.” She looked comically nervous, and I softened, understanding the mistake.

“They never said about the lever?”

She looked where I nodded, at a bar that pushes the tap to the desired depth.

“Oh my god, I’m such a Loo-lah!”

She asked if I’d have to report it, and I enjoyed her earnest green eyes, told her I wouldn’t. Maybe that was a mistake, letting her know I was soft on her. She’d likely heard from others what an asshole I could be about these things…

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Image by Harut Movsisyan from Pixabay