If you never glance up Away from your screen You'll never notice The whimsical and the practical Ideas that people have To make you laugh.
So today’s a bit of wash-out.
A good day for reading, writing and dreaming “what if?”
But in my mind blue skies frame the future
Broad and full with light and grace.
She felt raggedy, unraveled. She looked it, too. But once she started working she couldn’t stop; wouldn’t stop. Didn’t matter if she couldn’t finish in just one sitting she wanted to get as far as she could. Maybe it was her obsessive, excessively competitive nature that made her count the rows of stitches? Or perhaps she just liked to see the thing materialize, soft between her fingers.
Too much coffee and a restless leg made her stop around three thirty. She rubbed her neck and then her eyes as she looked at the pieces. Knitting is creation — there’s a reason it’s used to describe healing for broken bones — making something new exist in an open, fractured place.
So she knits all night to fill up the broken, empty place. Thinking about the sweater, socks, blanket, hat takes up the loose yarn and energy she would spend on thinking and crying. Mourning is for the daytime and knitting is for the night.
One of my first jobs was working in a phonograph needle factory. And, no, this is NOT a piece of flash fiction set in the distant past. Before you get too far ahead of yourself in guessing my age, I was a “kid.” I worked with a couple of other “kids” on a part-time basis and we worked alongside a group of full-timers, all women, called respectfully, “the ladies.”
These were not highly skilled, specialized jobs. I think I worked fifteen hours a week, for five bucks an hour doing a menial, low-tech assembly line type of job involving little pieces of plastic, glue and a machine scientifically called “the squeezer.” The Ladies performed only slightly more sophisticated processes full-time, for eight hours, five days a week. When school was out we kids could work eight hour days, too. Thankfully we had a cap on our weekly hours because it was mind-numbing work. The glue would stick to my fingers creating weird bumps and the fumes would sometimes give me headaches. One of the ladies also did pink-collar admin work for the factory owner, a guy who bore a striking resemblance to Pop-Eye, except instead of a pipe he bobbled a burning cigarette between his lips. Clearly OSHA wasn’t very interested in monitoring suburban phonograph needle factories, because the place was one spark and a bucket away from an arson investigation.
I got the phonograph needle factory job from networking (before that was even considered a thing). My good friend worked there and she recommended me. It was a pretty easy job, it was local, and it gave us something to talk about other than school. We were sixteen years old and marking time until our futures arrived. Or rather, until we left town to meet up with Future at college. And we were accomplished, eager eavesdroppers. We knew when the Ladies dropped their voices low that they were gossiping about the owner. However, there were three main topics of general conversation:
These women were earthy realists. Of the five, only one was married. The others were divorced. Two had children, and clearly the single women were self- supporting. The Factory Ladies were very nurturing, proud and protective of us kids. We kids treated them with respect and found out more about their lives — how different they were from ours and how hard they were. Even though they didn’t expect that their work lives were going to change very much, they knew that we were on the edge of a transition we were still too dumb to comprehend. Maybe they remembered themselves, fresh at their own thresholds, wondering what they would have done differently? Or maybe they were just cheering us on.
The bulk of my spending scratch and college funding had been raised from some cushy and steady babysitting gigs ~ a stroke of financial good fortune brought on by a deficient teen social life. All of the women I met growing up were either mothers or teachers. I didn’t know any lawyers or doctors who were women, and most of my friends’ moms worked at part time jobs during school hours, if they worked outside the home at all. I did get a subscription to Ms. Magazine as a Christmas gift from the progressive family I babysat for, and my parents insisted on personal independence for me and my sister, but I had little frame of reference about my career options. Although I watched TV, went to movies and read books I just never internalized that I could make a living creating any of those things. And I venture to add that neither did my parents. But working alongside these women gave me some insight to the meaning of work, of camaraderie and how to navigate a difference of opinion, that respect is due to all types of work. They may have asked us to refer to them as “ladies,” but they were working women. To this day I cringe (and then say something. I aim for humorous, yet pointed) when I hear anybody say in any work-related context, “Have the girls do it.” Or, “I’ll assign it to my girl.” I’ve heard both men and women refer to their associates this way, and in the recent past.
The baby was up all night, poor thing. Poor new mother, her night clothes covered in snot and sour milk, standing over the sink. Too tired even to decide if she wanted a shower or a cup of coffee. And nobody around to care.
They were new settlers in a new suburb. Great big house with no furniture in it yet, only one baby (so far), now standing on a patch of cold brown sod. It was so nice when they moved in last August. A ticklish breeze and the smell of fresh grass made them feel like adults — or maybe it was the mortgage and the big-ticket lawn mower? They closed the season with a Labor Day barbecue for their friends. It was right before her last trimester and she felt so happy, ready for their life to really begin.
Now the winter was ragged and rough. He forgot to cover the grill the last time they made steaks back in November. Then snows covered the yard and grill covering wasn’t as much of a priority as being a new father and revving up his new snow blower. She sighed and chewed at her chapped lips. The baby’s crackling snores came out of the nursery monitor and she stiffened just a bit.
She wasn’t sure what she saw. It was just a sensation of movement outside, maybe a bird? She watched. It was a fat squirrel squeezing out of the side vent of the grill. Its bushy tail made a flourish as it hopped on the rounded stainless steel top. Its eyes were bright and it moved with the agility of a creature used to the luxury of deep and uninterrupted sleep.
She looked down at her mismatched, dirty pajamas and noticed her clinging, greasy hair. She wondered if that squirrel was a mother, leaving her babies to get a breath of fresh air and something to eat. Or maybe to just be a squirrel again for a little while. A warm tear rolled down her cheek. This wasn’t how she thought it was going to be. No, not at all.
The dough is still tough, cold but in a little while it will be elastic, warm. My hands will pull, throw, twist and fold until it glistens and obeys my commands. I’ll make sure it will look forward to its rest in the warm buttered bowl.
But now I focus on the work and anticipate the earthy smell of the yeast, the chewy crust and the warm crumb. A story turns itself over in my mind as I knead. Words are like bread. They rise and sometimes they turn out tasty. Sometimes they don’t, but like my less-than-perfect loaves, I’ll enjoy them anyway.
The stacks feel so close. They stretch so high that they appear to meet. It feels more like a cathedral than a library. The colors of the books are so bright, and the sunlight pours down on Ruby though there are no windows in the stacks.
Ruby is looking for a book to hide the money and she feels irritated, rushed to complete this task though she doesn’t know why. She pulls a blue book off the shelf, is it Moby Dick? Even in her dream she thinks this is a poor choice. The book is old and some of the pages have been mended with yellowing tape that’s making them stick together. It smells funny, too. Not musty like old paper, but antiseptic, like a hospital. There are pictures in the book, drawings, really. An old, tired classic long forgotten on the shelf.
She presses the bill into the center of a page, closing it with finality and pushing it back onto the shelf — squeezing it a bit because the shelf is so crowded and the books are so tight together.
A warm breeze brings a sweet, yeasty smell, like bread rising and Ruby turns to see Artie, her late husband standing next to her. He’s twenty-five years old, his face sunburned like the first time they met. He’s holding his old, sun-bleached Red Sox cap in his hand. Ruby’s frozen to the spot, hand to her throat, afraid that her slightest movement will make him shimmer away.
“Ruby, my jewel.” He slides the cap through his fingers. A small motion, unguarded and odd for a ghost. “Always with your head in a book. Too smart to end up with the likes of me, and yet….”
Ruby knows she’s dreaming. Artie died five years ago and despite all her lonely nights of wishing this is his first appearance in her dreams.
“Artie, why now?”
“Just wanted to keep you on your toes, but you don’t need me anymore, Ruby.” He smiles. Light pulsates around him. Ruby struggles to keep from squinting.
“Have you been playing ball, Artie?” This is all she could think to ask. She’s so much older, does he see?
“No ball playing, but we watch. We watch over, and I watch over you, too. You’ve always been good, Ruby. They’ll never see, and they’ll never know, but that’s the point, isn’t it? Life can be hard sometimes — even in the little ways”
Ruby wakes to the grey pre-dawn, hears the sound of rain against the window, feels Pinsky’s light cat-weight warming the bed’s edge. She pulls the covers close around her and says quietly, “Artie, love of my life, you have no idea.”
Looking to catch up with Ruby, Viv and their friends of Benjamin? Links below.
Chapter 1 Introducing Ruby, Viv and St. Benjamin
Chapter 2 Boychik Luis and Bubbe Bev
Chapter 3 Bright Lights and Big Bev City
Chapter 4 Ruby and Viv Find Their Big Girl Panties
Chapter 5 Mother’s Little Helper — Part 1
Chapter 6 Mother’s Little Helper — Part 2
Chapter 7 Rich or Poor, It’s Nice To Have Money