by Bryan Russell
For Matt Rush (ask and you shall receive...)
The young man blinked tiredly, his hands sorting carrots. He no longer heard the bang and crash of machinery, and when he fell it was like a glide in a dream, weightless and against the grain of reality.
The cutters went schnick schnick and everybody screamed. There was a lot of blood, and one arm was flung back up to the sorting tables.
People rushed about.
“Damn, damn, damn!” said the plant manager. “Production is really going to be slowed down.”
The foreman grunted. “Shit. Now we’re down a man. Can we hire someone for tomorrow?”
One of the graders pointed shakily at the arm. It was moving.
Everyone watched. The arm moved slowly at first, but it picked up speed quickly. Muscle memory, it appeared, was a wonderful thing.
“Look at that,” the foreman said.
The body was carted away in the background. A sanitation chap lazily mopped around on the floor beneath the catwalks.
“It’s going pretty good,” the plant manager said. He looked at the other graders. “See that? It’s going faster than all of you. You can learn something here.”
“Um,” one of the pale graders said. “There’s a lot of blood on it…”
“Well, that’s what the plastic gloves are for, right?” the plant manager said. “Slide some on there.”
“Back to work, everyone, back to work!” the foreman said, waving his hand in a little circular motion.
The severed arm whizzed over the carrots, plucking and tossing. It was very quick.
The management team gathered. They were all very happy with the arm.
Look at it go! they said. Everyone was very pleased.
“Maybe we should give it a raise,” someone said.
“It hasn’t asked for a raise,” the plant manager said, and the others nodded sagely.
“It’s working right through break.”
“What does it need a break for?” the foreman said. “Doesn’t need lunch, either. No stomach, see.”
“Excellent,” the plant manager said.
“We’ll have to pay it for working through lunch, at least. Right?” the administration assistant said.
“We’re already paying for eight hours,” the plant manager said. “If this is how it wants to spend its lunch period, well, that’s its choice. That’s a worker’s right.”
“Yessiree,” the foreman said.
They all watched the arm as it glided over the grading table, selecting and casting aside carrots. No bad carrots would get through. None of the other graders got too close to the arm. They tried to recall, vaguely, the young man’s name. His face was already a shadow.
“An example to us all,” the plant manager said.