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
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
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
"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
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
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
Georgio glared toward Chris, who
thought, "Yeah, I know, a whole hour's work down the
* * *
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
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?"
* * *
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
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
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
"I'm sorry to wake you, Smith,"
said Georgio, interrupting Chris's reverie, "but smoko ended five
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
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
"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."
* * *
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
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
Georgio pressed the green starter
button of the threading machine.
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
Chris stood beside his machine, not
knowing what else to do, as the two men argued inside the
* * *
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
The man began to thrash about with
both arms, screaming at his helpers, trying to push them away
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 crowd of would-be helpers
started after the injured man, however, they soon lagged well
behind, unable to match his furious pace between the
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
Chris, who had been at the very end
of the runners, suddenly found himself at the front, as the crowd
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
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
"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
Pointing toward the man lying upon
the desk, Chris said, "He's not exactly jumping for joy
"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,