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Short story By: Philip Roberts
Literary fiction

Second of my unemployment stories, based in my own experiences. The incident with the hand is true!

Submitted:Dec 20, 2010    Reads: 37    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   

Early Morning
THIS SECTION HAS NOW GONE 32 DAYS SINCE ITS LAST MAJOR ACCIDENT! stated the notice on the large blackboard near one side of the thick, rubber double-doors leading from the adjoining section.
Chris Smith stood beside the Greek foreman, Georgio, just inside the canning and bottle capping section of the factory.
Along one wall, just inside the large double-doors, stood the foreman's office. The double-glazed walls of the office shut out most of the factory noise, while allowing Georgio to keep an eye on the workers without having to step outside. The rest of the vast building was covered almost from wall to wall with machinery, with barely room enough to squeeze between the machines. Chris thought, "I could just imagine Lou Costello trying to squeeze through the few centimetres between these machines in a hurry. 'Abbott and Costello meet The Mangler' would be a good name for the movie".
The section produced aluminium cans and bottle tops. The outlines of the cans or tops were painted onto large aluminium templates, which were stacked by hand onto a pressing machine, which literally punched out the complete can or top, leaving the scrap sheet metal behind. The tops were then transferred via a small conveyer belt to an overhead hopper upon a second machine. The hopper rotated continuously, keeping the tops in motion as they tumbled single file down an open runnel, made of four thick wires, to a threader to have a thread imprinted, then through a second runnel to drop into a large cardboard box on the ground. They were then carried across to a gumming machine where they passed through a bath of warm rubber, which set inside the tops to act as a sealant.
As Chris stood near the doorway, his head was already throbbing from the sound of the machines, which were all open, without metal guards or outer walls. Which not only meant there was a danger of falling into a machine as Chris noted from the blackboard near the door -- but also that the decibel level of the factory noise could probably never be believed by anyone who did not hear it for himself.
Rubbing the right side of his head, Chris thought it was ironic that teachers and parents warn you against the danger of loud rock-and-roll music, then send you out to work in a factory like this one, where the noise level is many times greater than the loudest rock concert possible. "Stop bludging, get a job and go deaf and mad!" thought Chris.
They had promised him earmuffs at the personnel office, when he had first applied for the job, however, when he had raised the matter with the foreman, Georgio had said, "Wait a few days to see if you need them, you'll probably get used to the noise." And Chris noticed that none of the more than a hundred machinists in the section wore earmuffs. "Perhaps you really do get used to the noise ... eventually?" thought Chris as he raised his left hand to rub at his left temple also.
Feeling a hand tapping his back, Chris turned round and saw a forklift, stacked high with templates, parked just behind him. Unable to make him hear the forklift's horn above the din of the factory, the driver had alighted from his seat to tap Chris on the shoulder.
Chris stepped aside to allow the forklift to pass, then noticed the foreman standing in the doorway of his office, gesticulating furiously. Georgio's mouth was opening and shutting wildly, however, no words were reaching Chris.
"Wonder how long he's been calling?" thought Chris as he hurried across to the foreman to ask him to repeat what he had been saying. However, Chris could not hear himself speak, so he knew that Georgio had not heard either. Chris moved closer to the foreman, yet still could not hear what he was saying, although the man was shouting at the top of his lungs, with his mouth almost against Chris' left ear.
In frustration Georgio took Chris by one arm and led him over to the office.
Shutting the glass door behind him, the foreman said, "It's a relief to get out of that ... Although you get used to it after a while. Namely once you get good at reading hand signals."
* * *
An Hour Later
Chris looked down to where the tops ran down the runnel to fall into the large cardboard box near his feet. The box was almost full and Chris thought, "I'd better get Rita to take it across to the gummer." Then quickly emended it to, "Take them across," looking to where two other full boxes stood beside the machine.
Chris sensed a movement behind him, and turning he saw Georgio watching him. The foreman stooped to take a handful of tops from one of the full boxes. He held the tops up to his face for a few seconds, then held them out toward Chris.
Although the factory noise drowned out Georgio's angry words, Chris could see that the threads were running diagonally up the sides of the tops, instead of circling the base as they were supposed to do.
Without bothering to switch off the machine, Georgio took a large screwdriver from the bib pocket of his overalls and began to tap away at the gears of the threading wheel. A tiny scrap of metal fell away and the tops began threading properly.
Georgio glared toward Chris, who thought, "Yeah, I know, a whole hour's work down the drain!"
* * *
After taking away the three boxes of useless tops, Chris returned to work determined to take greater care to watch the tops as they fell into the cardboard box, in a bid to make up for the lost time.
He had hardly returned to work, however, when the flow of tops ran out completely. Chris looked toward the cement-mixer shaped hopper above the threading wheel, and saw that it was almost full. Yet for some unknown reason none of the tops ran down the runnel to the threading wheel.
For ten minutes Chris experimented with the machine, turning it on and off and tapping at the wire runnel with the screwdriver which Georgio had left with him.
Chris yelped as his wrist was twisted violently as the screwdriver stuck in a cog of the threading wheel. The wheel wrenched the screwdriver out of Chris' hand and span the screwdriver hard back at him. He jumped quickly to the left and was hit hard in the hip by the butt of the screwdriver, which then raced across the factory floor, stopping almost at the feet of Georgio, who had walked across from his office to see what was causing the hold up.
Chris rubbed at his hip with one hand and thought, "A few more centimetres to the left and I'd be singing soprano in the church choir!"
Georgio shrugged his contempt at Chris' inefficiency. He took Chris by the arm and led him around to the back of the threading machine.
Chris saw that there was a small flap in the stationary base of the overhead hopper, through which, as Georgio demonstrated, scrap metal could be hooked out of the hopper with the screwdriver.
When Chris moved around to switch off the threading machine, Georgio waved a hand frantically to stop him. An hour later, after the machines had been shut down for morning tea, Georgio explained, "The machinery must never be shut down, except for ten minutes for morning smoko and twenty minutes for lunch."
When Chris questioned the safety of picking scrap metal out of the hopper while it was operating -- since there would be no one within reach of the red emergency shut-off button at the front of the machine -- he was told, "You're being paid to do a job, so just shut up and do it! You don't hear anyone else complaining, do you?"
* * *
Morning Smoko
Chris sat by himself in the small tea room. At the beginning of the break he had tried to strike up a conversation with three Greek youths, however, they had soon realised the futility of the effort and had moved to another table.
He took a sip of coffee and looked toward the front of the room, where the union representative -- a tall, deathly thin, grey-haired, grey-skinned old man, who looked at least a decade beyond retirement age -- stood, waving his arms around wildly, talking to the workers in Greek.
Chris could not decide whether the old man were giving a progress report on talks with the management, or trying to stir the workers up for strike action.
Either way it was of no interest to Chris, who had no intention of going out on strike after less than a day's work, after nearly three years on the dole. "It might not be a great job," thought Chris, "but at least the money is all right: $400 a week before tax." So he supposed that he could put up with the working conditions, din and all.
Finally the old man finished his monologue and walked out of the tea room.
As the others stood up, noisily pushing in their stools, Chris was almost relieved to be returning to work. Almost, but not quite, because after the ten minute tea break his ears were still throbbing from the roar of the machinery. He wondered how he could explain the noise of the machines to his father and stepmother, Jack and Norma, that night. There really were no similes powerful enough to describe the diabolical factory noise. Chris thought, "Perhaps I could say that it makes the screams of Dante's damned sound like moans of sexual pleasure?Or the obscene voice of H.P.Lovecraft's Nyarlathotep seem like the purring of a kitten? Or the sound of a...?"
"I'm sorry to wake you, Smith," said Georgio, interrupting Chris's reverie, "but smoko ended five minutes ago."
Chris pushed back his chair and headed back out into the work area.
"Hey, before you go back to work," called out Georgio, "we'd better get you kitted out properly. I've just had a complaint from the union rep., about you working in your own gear. As he pointed out, we're supposed to provide you with overalls so that if your machine decides to coat you with oil it'll be our loss, not yours."
* * *
Georgio led Chris out of the canning and bottle top pressing section, into the printing and casting section. The two men walked for about five minutes before they arrived at a small bungalow, which looked like a corrugated iron gardening shed.
Chris was amazed by the size of the "wardrobe", which housed rack upon rack of folded overalls and heavy duty work boots.
"Take your time," advised Georgio, "we only provide you with three pairs of coveralls and two pairs of boots gratis each year.After that you pay for them. So you don't want to be squeezed into tight ones or falling out of loose ones."
It took about ten minutes for Chris to find the right sized clothes, then Georgio said, "I'll take you to the changing room and while you're swapping over your clothes, I'll see if I can find you a locker."
* * *
The changing room was in another section a further five minutes' walk away.
While Chris started changing his clothing, Georgio began to work his way through the metal lockers that lined all four walls of the room.
"Normally you're supposed to reach your machine by the starting bell and stay there till the next shift worker comes to relieve you," said Georgio. "So you have to change in your own time."
"What if the next worker doesn't show up to relieve me at the end of the day?" asked Chris, sitting on a slim, wooden seat in front of one of the lockers.
"Then you stay at your machine until he does. If he's more than an hour late you can put in for overtime. If you have to work two shifts straight, you get time-and-a-half for the second shift, as well as two breaks, smoko and one meal, same as always."
"What if I work two shifts straight, then the next bloke doesn't turn up?" asked Chris, as he took down his Lee Cooper jeans.He folded them neatly, then picked up the green, denim overalls.
"You can't be made to work more than two shifts straight," said Georgio, to Chris' relief, "but if two blokes in a row don't turn up to work, without notifying us in advance, they had better both have broken legs or dead mothers, else they'll both be pitched out on their backsides. Which could be a break for you, since it's mean you could put in for another shift."
"What's the diff.?" asked Chris, starting to button up his overalls.
"Afternoon shift pays more than morning shift, night shift pays more again," said Georgio. "So it's worth getting onto the latest shift you can. Also, till they find replacements, you can work double shifts for a while, which means you're tired as buggery, but pick up a bloody good wage. Not that any job around here is likely to stay vacant for too long, there are too damn many people out of work."
* * *
Early Afternoon
For more than fifteen minutes Chris' machine had been out of operation, much to Georgio's disgust. At first Chris had tapped away at the threading wheel with the screwdriver, however, the runnels of the machine had stayed empty. Next he dutifully poked around at the peephole at the back of the overhead hopper, flicking out deformed tops and scrap pieces of template.
Finally, however, Georgio said, "It's not going to work," and, reluctantly, he switched off the machine.
For a few moments Chris stood staring in the direction that Georgio pointed. Finally understanding, Chris shouted a silent refusal. Still Georgio continued to use hand signals to indicate that he wanted Chris to climb onto the threading machine, lean out into space to reach up into the overhead hopper, then pluck out by hand any broken tops or scrap metal that was clogging up the entrance hole to the upper metal runnel.
* * *
For twelve or thirteen minutes Chris groped around on top of the machine with a screwdriver in one hand, holding on for dear life with the other until finally Georgio signalled for Chris to descend to the ground again.
Georgio pressed the green starter button of the threading machine.
Nothing happened.
He pressed the red stop button, then the starter button in quick succession.
Still nothing happened.
Georgio repeated the off-on manoeuvre a second, third, then fourth time, and was finally rewarded.
A single bottle top ran down from the hopper, through the first runnel to the threading wheel, where it threaded perfectly, then continued down the second runnel and landed in the bottom of the empty cardboard box on the ground.
"Only 1,999,999 to go and it'll be full!" thought Chris caustically.
Georgio switched the machine off then on another half a dozen or so times, before being rewarded by another three bottle tops.
The foreman shrugged in frustration, switched off the machine again, then gestured for Chris to climb back onto the machine. When he did not rush to comply, Georgio tapped the face of his wristwatch with a finger.
"Yeah, yeah, I know, time is money, money is time and never the twain shall meet!" thought Chris as he climbed back onto the threading machine.
Looking back over his left shoulder, Chris saw Georgio walking back toward the glass-walled office at the front of the building.
* * *
For a few minutes Chris tinkered away with the screwdriver, hooking small pieces of metal out of the hopper and dropping them toward a small metal bin on the floor about a metre behind the threading machine.
After a while he began to tire. Instinctively he stood back a half a pace to relax his aching frame and felt his feet beginning to slip on the greasy metal.
Realising that he was in trouble, Chris dropped the screwdriver onto the floor and clutched at the rim of the hopper with both hands, struggling desperately to hold on, as his feet continued to slip out from under him.
He tried to locate a firm footing, however, the soles of his work boots were coated with grease, so that even when he found a flat, dry surface, they refused to grip.
"Why the hell did I ever climb up here in the first place?" wondered Chris. Though he continued to struggle for a foothold, he began to realise that there was little hope.
The roaring factory machinery drowned out everything except Chris' terror and he thought, "No point even yelling, who'd hear me over Dante's hell in sound?"
Giving up all hope as his feet began to slip even further, he thought, "I only hope I don't break too many bones when I fall!" However, the thought of even a single broken bone in his body filled Chris with dread.
As a child Chris had occasionally spent Christmas or Easter holidays visiting with cousins in the Victorian countryside around East Gippsland. One year, one of Chris' cousins, Janine, had fallen from a horse that she had been riding, and had been shattered like a rag doll against one of the metal pylons which they had been using as fencing posts for three years, since it had become too expensive and time consuming to replace the old-fashioned wooden fence posts every year after they were burnt out in the annual brush fires. Although Chris had not been the one to find Janine, he had been distraught to see her condition: broken limbs had dangled uselessly from her body as her two brothers carried her into the farmhouse, blood gushed from a gaping wound in her right flat, and from a second wound, in her head. Surprisingly Janine had been up and around again in a few months and had shown no signs of the terrible-looking injuries after her bones had knitted. Instead it had been Chris who had been left carrying the emotional scars of viewing what contact with unyielding metal could do to human flesh and bone.
Chris had wondered at the time how he would have felt, had Janine died from her injuries. He wondered now what Jack and Norma would feel, if he were to die on his first day at work after three years on the dole straight from school?
"No point even holding on!" thought Chris, "I might as well let go and get it over with!" Yet instinctively he held on for as long as he could, although his hands had gradually slipped down along the cold steel rim of the hopper, until his fingers only clung on up to the first knuckle joint.
Chris had already resigned himself to death, or at the very least terrible injuries and a lengthy stay in hospital, when he felt the vice-like grip of a pair of hands upon his ankles.
Looking down, he saw the wizened face of the old union representative looking up at him. Although he had only that day decided not to take part in any industrial action the old man might arrange, Chris had never felt happier in his entire life to see anyone, than he felt right then to see the grey-haired old man.
The union rep. was a lot stronger than he looked, and with his help Chris managed to descend to safety again. He heaved a sigh of relief that he was still alive, and thought, "And no broken bones either!"
Having seen the last of the incident, Georgio hurried out of his office and ran, as best he could, weaving his way between the machinery, over to where Chris and the old man stood.
For nearly five minutes Georgio and the union representative shouted silently at each other, gesticulating wildly, before going across to Georgio's office.
Chris stood beside his machine, not knowing what else to do, as the two men argued inside the glass-walled office.
* * *
Finally, after more than ten minutes, the two men returned to where Chris stood. The union rep. handed Chris a small yellow card, which he saw was an application card to join the union. The old man pointed to a line at the bottom of the card which said: FILL THIS CARD OUT AND RETURN IT TO YOUR REPRESENTATIVE PROMPTLY!
As the old man walked away, Georgio led Chris across to a machine which produced much larger tops, for bottles of exotic liqueurs. Chris took control of the machine and Georgio led the operator he had replaced over to tinker away at Chris' old machine.
At the end of the day, Chris heaved a sigh of relief as he left the factory. He was tempted not to return the next day, but, of course, having spent the last three years on unemployment relief straight from school, he had no money to support himself on if he quit. His father and stepmother certainly couldn't afford to support him. And in Australia you cannot get unemployment benefits if you give up a job voluntarily, no matter how obnoxious it is. So he had no choice but to struggle on and hope that things started to get better.
Mid Morning
THIS SECTION HAS NOW GONE 36 DAYS SINCE ITS LAST MAJOR ACCIDENT! stated the blackboard near Georgio's office as Chris returned to work after morning tea. Chris had hardly restarted his machine, when he noticed the other machinists were all heading toward the rubber doors at the front of the section.
Chris looked toward Rita Ginelli -- whose job it was to keep the machinists supplied in empty cardboard boxes -- and saw her signalling for him to follow her. "Pay!" she managed to say -- although she only spoke a dozen words or so in English.
Chris was amazed to find that it was dark as evening outside the building; rain clouds filled the sky, unleashing torrents of rain onto the street. For all he had known inside the factory, it was a bright, sunny day. The red brick building was windowless, to keep in the sound of the machinery, to protect against raising the hackles of the neighbouring householders. And no amount of rain, no matter how determinedly it pelted against the corrugated-iron roof, could possibly make itself heard above the hellish, force-field of sound generated by the one hundred or more machines.
Using a mixture of broken English and hand signals, Rita indicated that the pay office was the large, burnt-red brick building directly across the road.
Chris stood just inside the entranceway of the factory, hoping for a break in the rain. While he watched, other workers sped across the road, slipping and sliding upon the wet bitumen, narrowly being missed by the stream of cars and trucks that raced past the factory building.
Chris stood under cover, unsure whether or not he wanted to risk the weather and traffic.However, the other workers continued to race across the street, collect their pay, then race back again, until only Rita and Chris remained in the doorway.
"Come," said Rita. Clutching Chris by one arm, she tried to drag him out into the stream of passing traffic.
When he refused, she released his arm then raced across the road. In a few seconds she was standing under cover again, in a small alcove outside the door of the burnt-red brick building.
"Come," repeated Rita, before turning to race inside the building.
"What have I got to lose?" thought Chris. "Except for my life or a few years' growth!"
After waiting a moment longer for a break in the seemingly endless flow of traffic, Chris raced out onto the rain-slickened road.
He managed to reach the middle of the road, then found himself standing on the double white lines, as lanes of traffic zoomed passed him on both sides, preventing Chris from either continuing on to the pay office, or retreating to the safety of the factory doorway.
Doing his best to keep within the bounds of the white lines, Chris stood in the pouring rain, feeling as though he were trapped in a loony tune, like Sylvester the cat trapped in the traffic after chasing Tweety Pie. Except that if Chris was to be hit by a car, he would not be able to look up after the departing vehicle to ask, "Anybody get the number of that truck?"
Returning from the pay office, pay packet in hand, Rita saw Chris's plight and raced out into the middle of the road. Seemingly magically avoiding the cars that streamed past, she grabbed Chris by the left hand and equally magically led him across to the red brick building. Then before Chris could even thank her, Rita turned and sped back across the road to disappear into the factory.
* * *
Inside the building, a long corridor led down to the paymaster's office at the other end.
Chris' first thought was that the building had been converted from an old school building. Some of the rooms, which were along the left-hand side looking down the corridor from the door, still had long, masonite-topped metal-framed benches, which perhaps had once been used as school desks. The bright yellow wall on the right-hand side, and the seemingly one-hundred-year-old linoleum on the floor, only confirmed Chris' suspicions. About one and a half metres up from the floor, a jagged trail, five or six centimetres wide, ran along the yellow wall, indicating where a small rail had once been. Possibly an old-fashioned picture rail, but equally likely a row of coat hooks for school blazers.
"Lucky last," said the paymaster as he handed over Chris' pay packet, after confirming who he was.
Chris tore the top off his pay packet and started to count his money while walking back down the corridor toward the door to the outside world. He had almost reached the door, when he stopped in mid step, reversed direction and scurried back to the pay window before the paymaster could lock up.
He placed his pay packet and payment advice slip onto the small sill outside the window and said, "Excuse me, I've got a query about my pay."
"What's the trouble sport?" asked the paymaster.
"I was told I'd get paid $400 a week," said Chris, "but there's only about half that. Surely they can't have slugged me nearly $200 in tax?"
"If you'd like to hold onto your money for now, you can sit over there," said the paymaster, pointing toward three ancient, high-back, wooden chairs against the yellow wall opposite the pay window, "and I'll take a decko at the payroll records to see what's going on."
"All right," agreed Chris. He scooped up his money, but held it in his hands, not wanting to do anything so final as placing it in his pockets, until he knew exactly what was going to happen. It was as though Chris thought that the act of disowning the small amount of money could somehow prevent some horrible mistake from becoming not a mistake, like Shirley Jackson's Merricat uttering her magical words in a bid to prevent unwanted inevitabilities from coming to pass.
* * *
A few minutes later the paymaster returned and said, "It looks as though your age is the problem."
"My age?" asked Chris, walking back across to the window.
"They didn't realise you're only twenty when you were hired. The adult wage is $382 even after tax et cetera, but the junior wage is only $201.48¢."
"But I gave them my date of birth when I applied for the job."
"Did you work it out for them in days, months, and years?" asked the paymaster. "The boys in personnel aren't all that bright."
The paymaster burst into laughter at his own joke, however, Chris kept a straight face as he asked, "Does that mean I'm stuck with a lousy $201.48¢ a week, until any next birthday?"
"No, from next week it's $195.98¢. You'll lose five dollars fifty a week in union dues. Your card came in too late for it to be deducted this week."
Head hung, Chris slunk back down the corridor.
"Bureaucracy one, Merricat zero!" thought Chris as he opened the door to the outside world.
"At least it's not raining anymore," said Chris as he stepped outside the pay office door. Instead hailstones the size of large marbles fell from the sky, coating the footpaths and the road that Chris had to cross. Whereas before the cars had zoomed along in the rain, they now crawled along in first gear. "At least I don't have to worry about being hit by a speeding car," thought Chris. "Now all I have to worry about is losing my footing and slipping under one of the cars!"
THIS SECTION HAS NOW GONE 38 DAYS SINCE ITS LAST MAJOR ACCIDENT! stated the message on the blackboard as Chris returned to work after lunch.
Chris pressed the green starter button on his machine and as though the other machinists had all moved in synchronisation with Chris, one hundred odd machines came on at once, and the section went from near total silence to near total madness in a split second.
Chris had hardly restarted his machine, when he noticed that the cardboard box was almost full. So, cursing, he left the machine running and wended his way across to collect an empty box.
He squeezed between the machinery to reach a thin aisle at one end of the section, where Rita was sitting upon a small stack of wooden pallets, about one metre off the ground, surrounded by piles of empty cardboard boxes. Chris collected three boxes then signalled for Rita to follow him over to his machine.
* * *
Although he had only been gone from his machine for a couple of minutes, the tops were now flowing over the top of the cardboard box and onto the greasy, concrete floor, around the threading machine. Chris looked in disgust toward the machinists on either side of him, however, they both shrugged as if to say, "It's your machine!"
Reluctantly Chris shut down the machine and, with Rita's help, began to pick up the spilt tops. Rita retrieved an ancient straw broom which had been leaning against another machine, and began to sweep the bottle tops into a large pile beside the three cardboard boxes.
Chris gestured toward Rita to ask where to dump the soiled tops. She indicated toward the nearest box. Clearly she thought that there was nothing wrong with the bottle tops, other than a little dirt, and what harm could a little dirt do? "Breed with the yeast in the beer to create botulism bacilli!" thought Chris. "But then I suppose that's the risk you have to take, every time you have a drink of beer or lemonade! I'll just have to remember never to drink beer or lemonade ever again!"
* * *
As Rita carried one of the full boxes across to the gumming machine, Chris pressed the green starter button. However, he had hardly restarted his machine, when he was deluged from behind.
Chris turned to see if he had been splashed with oil by the machine behind him, and was belted hard on the jaw. Knocked off his feet, he sprawled against the remaining two full boxes of bottle tops, sending thousands of beer bottle tops scattering across the floor for the second time.
At first Chris thought that he had been attacked from behind, however, looking up, he saw that there was no one anywhere near him. So, he decided that he must have been hit by something that had fallen from the ceiling, and thought, "I'm probably lucky to still be alive!"
But then, pulling himself painfully to his feet again, he noticed the eerie silence as the other machines had been switched off, and saw the other machinists running to the aid of the man on the threading machine behind Chris'.
The man, whose face was as white as a sheet, was still standing, although he was rocking slightly from side to side. Holding the stump of his right hand up to eye level, he pursed his lips as though asking Chris what had happened. Blood poured from the stump like water from a faucet.
One of the machinists switched off the man's machine, while someone else began to tie a tourniquet, torn from someone's shirt, above the man's elbow, in an attempt to staunch the flow of blood.
However, while the tourniquet was still being tied, the initial shock of the accident wore off, to be replaced by an almost unimaginable level of pain: the living agony of dozens of severed ligaments and shattered nerve endings.
The man began to thrash about with both arms, screaming at his helpers, trying to push them away from him.
Astonished, the crowd stepped back for only a moment. However, that was long enough for the injured man, maddened with agony, to dash headlong through an opening and run full pelt toward the front of the section, streaming blood across the machinery on his right-hand side as he ran.
Chris was shocked at the thought of the man's injury, yet at the same time he marvelled at the big man's ability to run full pelt through the slender gaps between the machinery.
The crowd of would-be helpers started after the injured man, however, they soon lagged well behind, unable to match his furious pace between the machines.
The injured man reached the front of the section and was almost hit by a forklift that pushed its way through the thick rubber double doors as the injured machinist approached them.
The driver slammed his foot onto the brake, causing the forklift to rock wildly, sending hundreds of metal templates skating across the greasy concrete floor, miraculously just missing the injured machinist, as they skimmed past him on both sides.
Chris thought that the man were going to collapse from loss of blood. However, after a quick look at the blades of the forklift, one of which had stopped only centimetres from his chest, then at the templates at his feet, the man reversed direction and raced past Georgio's glass-walled office only seconds before the foreman stepped out into the work area to see what was going on.
Deftly squeezing between stacks of metal templates on wooden pallets, and through narrow gaps between the machinery, the injured man raced back toward the other end of the building.
The crowd of runners, already close to exhaustion, now had to turn and run back the way that they had just come.
Chris, who had been at the very end of the runners, suddenly found himself at the front, as the crowd reversed direction.
Running with all of his might, as best as he could through the tangle of machinery, Chris hoped against hope that he would not be the first person to reached the injured man.
After a moment's hesitation, watching the strange happenings, Georgio raced after the injured man, around the side of the factory building.
Chris reached the rear of the factory at last and began to draw near to the injured man who was running straight toward him. Blood still poured from the man's jagged stump, leaving splashes of red across the walls and floor, and across the machinery and bottle tops as he ran.
Seeing Chris, the man reversed on his heals, cut around one machine, to neatly skirt Georgio who had been about a metre behind him, then ran back around the side of the building.
Rita, the only person in the section who had not joined in the chase, stepped down from her seat of pallets and found herself face to face with the injured machinist, who was running straight at her.
"Grab him!" Georgio shouted to the young girl in Greek.
Rita, however, was in almost as great a state of shock as the man baring down on her, and so, she fainted onto the floor in front of him.
For a moment it looked as though the injured man were going to run straight across the blonde girl, however, Georgio put on an extra burst of speed and managed to overtake the man in the very nick of time.
Expecting to see the man struggle with the foreman, and possibly injure himself even more, Chris was relieved to see the man collapse into Georgio's arms.
Two of the crowd lifted Rita out of the way, then Georgio instructed Chris, "Grab his legs, we'll take him to my office."
* * *
Georgio scattered papers onto the floor with one arm, then, with Chris' help, placed the injured man on top of the large desk in his office.
Turning toward the crowd, which had followed them from the other end of the building, Georgio said in Greek, "Someone go get his hand out of his machine. They'll want it in case they can stitch it back on."
"You want us to touch it?" asked the forklift driver in horror, seeming more shocked at the thought of picking up the severed hand, than by the accident itself.
"For God's sake, it isn't going to bite you!" said Georgio. "It's a hand, not a mouth! If you're afraid, you can scrape it into a cardboard box."
The forklift driver headed off, then Georgio said in Greek, "Someone get a hose to spray down the machines. The buyers wouldn't like getting assignments of blood-stained tops." As an afterthought he added, "Wash down the tops too, they're still all right."
Georgio tied a tourniquet around the man's damaged arm, although it had virtually stopped bleeding anyway, then said to Chris in English, "The shit'll really hit the fan when management finds out how much time we've lost over this."
Pointing toward the man lying upon the desk, Chris said, "He's not exactly jumping for joy either!"
"There's no need to be bloody sarcastic about it!" Georgio shouted as Chris started to walk back out into the work area.
On the right-hand side, beside the rubber doors leading to the next section, stood the blackboard announcing the number of days since the section's last major accident. At the bottom of the blackboard was a ledge on which sat a small duster and a few trailings of chalk.
Chris ran the duster along the message, then used a small piece of red chalk to correct the message so that it said: "THIS SECTION HAS NOW GONE 0 DAYS SINCE ITS LAST MAJOR ACCIDENT!
© Copyright 2011
Philip Roberts, Melbourne, Australia


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