Herd

Monday, December 14th, 2015

     Soap, I make soap, well more the machines make the soap and I monitor the machines.

     I walked to work. The Scottish countryside rolling like waves. Eventually the endless sheep farms melted into a small town. Most of the town was employed by the factory, save for a few odd store clerks and the other jobs it takes to keep a town alive, and of course the farmers. There weren't many others that walked though, especially not on the graveyard shift. Yet, I was addicted to the sunrise, and the smell of fresh bread in the bakery.

 

     She smiled at me with those sharp hazel eyes, all I could do was smile back. The smell of fresh bread mingled with the wine. She leaned into me and lightly brushed my mouth with hers. The smell of her hair replaced the smell of bread and wine. There was only her.

 

     The drone of the factory horn was deafening, yet hardly noticed. The machines slowed to a stop. My ever soft hands deftly switched the flips on the labeling machine, fully powering down for lunch, or whatever you call the mid-shift meal in the early morning hours.

     The locker room was filled with the brusque laughter of hardy working men and the clattering of cheap metal lockers. I kept my distance from them by keeping my mouth shut. I hung up my jacket in my locker and grabbed my cooler. I headed towards the lunch room. I sat in my usual spot and ate my usual lunch. I listened to the usual conversations about the usual happenings of the small town.

     The day droned on. The soap seemed to make itself. Two bars at a time, the elegantly wrapped brown paper went in blank and came out stickered Quarter's Inn, then underneath in smaller letters hand soap. 500 bars a day, two at a time. The soap slid in, I pulled the lever, the soap slides out. Tomorrow would be wrapping, the next day molding, the next cutting. Each week the schedule was posted, each week the assignments were randomized. By the end of the week I would work all five stations.

 

     I sat on the curb and looked at my phone, my fingers curled around the electronic brick. For the first time in four years I didn't have anyone to call. Who do you talk to when the person you loved most in the world isn't a part of your life anymore? I opened my contact list and scrolled to the M's. I stared at her name for a long time. I didn't know what to say or how to say it. I doubt that I would have ever figured it out, but it didn't matter because she called me.

     "Hello?" I said softly.

     "Hey son, how are you?"

     The cars rolled by so loudly that I didn't hear my own answer.

 

     The sheep seemed to stare at me. Their beady black eyes cutting through my skin and into the fiber of my soul. They seemed to understand me better than I understood myself. You're one of us, their bleating called to me.  The last picket of the last fence eased past as I reached the main road. I checked both ways and meandered towards the town. The morning sun began to melt the dew off of the grass. The light licked at my skin. The sheep stared.

     I walked into the bakery, lingering in the door frame. The thick smell of fresh bread and blueberry muffins wafted through the air like dust in the morning sun. I felt the warmth of the oven in my chest. She stood behind the counter and wrapped up a loaf of wheat bread.

     "Same as always?" She said with a smile.

     I smiled back and payed, then dropped my usual tip in the jar; I took in the smell once more and headed home.

           

     I lay on the floor of my room. Nothing had changed since I left for college some years ago. The bedspread was the same dark blue, the walls were still covered in odd knick knacks from days long past. The room served as my own personal time capsule. My mother was downstairs in the kitchen, my father was at work. I was lost in thought. Tracing back the steps from my sudden drive home, to when I first met her. What was the event, or series of events, that led to our separation? When had the never ending love finally run out? I still loved her, right?

     The warm stew seemed to melt my insides. I smiled and laughed with my family for the first time in what felt like years. My sister was nearly done with another year of school. It felt good to be home at home again. My heart was no longer with her, and it had seemed to return to its roots. I think my mom was happier than I had seen her in ages, ten years slipped off of her as she laughed with the rest of us.

 

     I sat down in the foreman's office. It was clean and cluttered, very befitting of a soap factory worker. The barrage of questions began after hollow pleasantries. How was I handling the move? How did I think my work quality was on a scale of one to ten? Was I handling the equipment with respect? Was I fitting in with my coworkers? Was the graveyard shift putting too much stress on my life? Would I perform better or worse during other shifts? I don't think he knew my name before he opened my file, and I don't think he knew it when I walked out of the room.

     I'd never missed quota, never caused an accident. Not that the job took any skill. It was easy to think about other things and to still focus on the task at hand. Now it seemed to be muscle memory. Pull lever, check edges, place on conveyor, pull lever, check edges, place on conveyor, pull lever...soap.

     I stood in the vast expanse of grass. The woolen beasts swam around me, seemingly immune to my presence. Their bleating rang in my ears and echoed in my head. Their soft fur bounced against my legs and my hands. I felt at home on their pasture, my life bound by wooden pickets and my schedule consisting of eating and breathing. I was one of them.

 

     The intercom alerted me to another delay. I sighed and settled back into my chair. I reopened my laptop and plugged my headphones into my ears. The ripped movie started up where I had left off and I began to burn through a few more hours. Then the song came on, like a soldier wracked with PTSD I was tormented with her memory. The way she moved, the way she would light up the room just by walking in. A warm drop of water rolled down my face, it got stuck on my cheek. My chest rose and fell with a deep rattle. I stood and my laptop dropped to the floor, my earphones ripped out of my ears. I stumbled to the bathroom and fell on the floor of a stall. My lunch made a swift exit, then my breakfast, then nothing. The bathroom echoed with the sounds of my dry heaves.

     I stumbled out of the stall. An older man stood at the urinal, I recognized him from the terminal. "You ok mate?" He asked. I looked at him in the eyes. I stared into his soul with fire in my eyes. His struggle not to be uncomfortable with the situation was palpable. I walked to the sink and rinsed my mouth out. I dried off my face and hands, then I walked back to my chair and put my laptop away. The intercom informed us that we would be boarding in fifteen minutes.

 

     The bakery's warm smell filled my nostrils again. The woman behind the counter greeted me with a smile. My heart was pounding, the sound of my blood swelled in my ears, my knuckles white. I could feel the weight of the flower petals, drooping ever so slightly on their stems. My body blocked the flowers from her view. I held them snugly in the small of my back. I didn't think I'd make it this far, twice already I had attempted to throw them away, and twice they had stuck to my hand. I prayed that when the time came to give them to her that my fingers would finally relax.

     "Same as always?"

     I opened my mouth in an attempt to speak and instead of with words I filled the silence with flowers. I thrust them out at her, their sweet scent interwoven with the smell of the fresh bread. My breath caught in my throat and the sickening smell lodged in my nostrils. I heard her say something, but it never processed. I dropped the flowers and watched as they drifted through the air, landing softly on the wooden floor. I coughed once, then turned on my heel and walked out.

 

     The sheep's eyes were filled with ignorant darkness. Its black muzzle almost invisible in the darkness. The wool was soft against my bare thighs. There had been minimal struggle, a soft bleat, then a silence as heavy as my own acceptance. I was apart of their herd. Their incessant call had finally sank its razor teeth into my soul. I was finally apart of something again. Again I was accepted, if involuntarily, by something bigger than myself. In the distance beyond the wooden pickets a shadow stood out darker than its surroundings. Then, just as soon as it had appeared, slipped away into the mist.

 

     The foreman, again, requested that I join him in his office. My attire was disheveled at best, yet my production rate was as solid as ever. The axe fell swiftly. He explained that as far as work ethic went I was top shelf, however, in a company like this one there needs to be a community and that despite the efforts of my coworkers and supervisors I had not seemed to conform to their community. 
     "Do you disagree?" I suppose silence was all the answer that was needed. He gathered up my severance papers and I signed my life away into my hands again. I stood and left his office calmly, I gathered my belongings and booked the first flight back the states.

 

     When mom had told me to get away I didn't think she expected me to go so far away. To be fair I didn't expect to go so far away myself. The idea just kept growing until it felt right. First it had just been a few days at the local beach, then that didn't seem like enough added on with the fact that she and I had a lot of memories there. Then I debated a trip to a nearby city to start over, maybe get a job for a couple months to take my mind off things. I decided that if I was going to go that far I might as well go all out. I made plans to go to the west coast. Live by the pacific for a while. Then I got a flyer in the mail with a sheep on it amongst the other pieces of junk mail. Visit Scotland. Thus it was decided.

     "Do you think you'll be alright all by yourself in a different country?" Mom had asked me when I told her my plan. I shrugged my shoulders and told her I wasn't sure. I wasn't sure if anything was fine, or if they ever would be again. I wasn't alright or fine. I was alone.