ONE NIGHT IN A NAMELESS TOWN
by Matthew Abuelo
It was another sleepless night in a long line of sleepless nights for Jimmy Miles. He was kept awake by a sharp pain that started in his rib cage before radiating to his back, making every break labored. No matter the position he could find no comfort. The weight of lying down only made the pain worse and as it was he was already sweating while fighting for each breath. The sweat drenched his tea shirt which clung to his slight but muscular frame and mated his dark brown hair. His shorts also were soaked through as the sweat dripped from his legs giving him the look of a junkie in the middle of withdraw.
The doctors had given him Delauded which sat on the night stand next to his bed. His fear of becoming a junkie kept him from taking it until the headaches from being up for too long started coming in waves, forcing his eyes shut and filled with tears, then there was no choice his body had made its demands that would not be denied despite any trepidation on being an opium addict. This night his jaw was clenched, and the bed was soaked from the beads that came pouring down. Mile’s body was forced into a fetal position as every sound around him seemed to make every moment a reminder of what happens when the body breaks down. He soon gave in and reached over to grab the brown bottle. His hands shook but he was able to get the lid off and swallow the pills without any water. Fifteen minutes later he felt a warm glow take over him. The source of his torment had finally drifted away while his muscles relaxed, and the tears and sweat dried. Sleep was finally coming at last.
The dreams had yet to come when the silence gave way to a woman’s scream. At first Miles thought nothing of it. It was not uncommon for his neighbors to get drunk to numb themselves since the nameless town’s only factory had closed down after the fire. When the money and the alcohol dried up, the DTs left the meanest drunks screaming in the throughs of hallucinations and pissed stained trousers. They yelled vulgarities into the endless mornings and afternoons while the spiders crawled up and down their legs. When they looked at their limbs though, nothing crawled at all. Others had started mainlining anything that could be cooked down in a spoon or bottle cap and shot through a syringe. It was a usual thing for the local drug store to be broken into at night and all the pain killers cleaned out of the pharmacy. The foreman who was on duty that fateful day gave out a child’s cry hours before he was found hanging in the tree behind his house with a chair tipped over underneath him.
The images of a metal press came into focus. A large simple figure stood in front of one of the presses, working methodically. Miles knew him. He was born with an imbecilic nature who was oblivious to what happened around him as if he was just one of the machines. He had a strong body but a short bus mind. His brain was made for the repetition of his work not unlike an ox in the fields. The smell of hot grease was thick in the air, but no one seemed to notice. It was Jim who first smelled the press overheating when he rushed over to keep the fool from blowing himself up. Miles started yelling for him to stop that the machine was overheating. But he kept on working unaware that anyone was saying anything. It was then that Jim tapped him on the shoulder. The figure quickly turned to Jim, staring with a dumb founded look on his face.
“Hey, don’t ya realize that your press is overheating?! That goddam machine is about to blow what is wrong with you? You’re going to get someone killed.”
Willard stood their looking confused that it was not yet five o’clock and he was being told that it was time to stop working. The confused expression on his face lacked any sign of understanding that there was a problem and what a blown press could do to the man standing in front of it.
“I have to press this metal. The boss will get mad at me if don’t finish. He tells me that I work too slow. Don’t want to make him angry.”
“Willard, you are going to get yourself or some else killed if you don’t let that thing cool off plus those things are really expensive. The boss will understand, I promise. Just take a break, get some coffee do some goddam thing! The boss will be really pissed if you cost the company money by doing something stupid.”
The oversized simpleton shook his head that he understood the orders being yelled at him. Jim turned to walk back to his own press mumbling something about how man can teach apes sign language, but you can’t teach some people common sense. He soon felt guilty about yelling knowing Willard was someone that he and rest of the workers had grown protective of and made sure he had what was needed to survive. He was forty-five and still lived at home with his mother who couldn’t work because she would fly off for no reason into a manic rage and yell about how “those sneaking Jews are running this country and trying to replace us good Christians.” The old lady spent much of her adult life in an out of the town’s mental ward and had so much electricity shot through her that some of her neighbors joked that she could light up the whole state. When she wasn’t ranting and raving, she spent long hours staring at the walls, into a world all her own. Willard never seemed to notice her fits, he just went on in his dull fog with his routine of waking up, having breakfast, going to work followed by dinner which meant feeding his mother and himself, bathing her before showering himself then placing her in bed before he went to sleep. There were always the whispers around the factory about the “poor bastard” but always in the tone of concerned parents. From time to time, one of the neighbors would visit Willard some lonely weekend afternoon, knowing every well that he would be watching the television while his mother sat next time him staring off into a blank spot on the wall. Through it all, Willard rarely shown signs of anger, confusion and frustration yes but rage was un-natural.
Miles soon forgot about the incident and got back into the rhythm of his job. He listened the workers around him cursing about how the boss was screwing them, that there was no raise in ten years. The loudest of the voices was Tyrone, the only worker from across the tracks who was welcomed in the factory
“I don’t know why we are busting our asses, they’re only going to replace us with robots. I heard that in Spring Field the factory the bosses there brought in some mechanical arms or something. Laid off three hundred men.”
Another voice rang out,
“Ya because them cheap bastards don’t want to pay us. They got more money than God and still want to sit their fat asses on all that cash.”
Still another voice,
“Where the hell is the union they suppose to be stopping this bull shit.”
Tyrone: “The union is all we got. It ain’t their fault. Its them water boys for our bosses in public office. Taken all that goddam money so they can screw us.”
And yet another voice:
“Well if you niggers got off your lazy asses and laid off welfare maybe the union would have more money to pay off them politicians.”
Tyrone: “Fuck you cracker! Every time they want to hire us you selfish mothers bitch about how we are taking your jobs. As if we don’t have any rights to no jobs. We get a little something and you go off crying to your Governor.”
The foremen stepped in with a bellowing voice. He was a huge man who towered over Jim and most of the other works in the factory. His long blond hair which was giving way to gray strands sat limp on his back. He was a company man through and through. Any money taken from the company was also taken from him somehow.
“If it was up to me I’d replace you all with Mexicans they don’t stand around complainen about who gets what and who don’t get hired. They work their asses off for shit pay and I wouldn’t have to listen to you ladies going off all the time. The robots would be better, we wouldn’t have to pay anyone.”
“Hey foreman you don’t pay us shit. Its your owners who pay us. You know, the one’s who hold your leash.”
“They hold all our leashes. I’m with Tyrone. If they bring in them robots then we are all screwed. What do think any of us are go to do for money.”
“Ya if we are out on ours asses, then what? Ain’t no jobs around for us to go to.”
“It would be just like them Mexicans to take our jobs to, not giving a shit who they are screwing.”
“They don’t screw us its them fat bastards in the fancy offices who own this place.”
Despite his efforts to quiet the complaining, daggers were still thrown and injustices were voiced bitterly. Instead of engaging any further he walked over to Willard and told him to get back to work. Willard in his usual flat manner told him what Jim had said that the machine needed to cool down.
“Listen you get back to work, don’t worry about Jim I’ll take care of him. If you don’t want to get fired stop standing around and do some work. You’re costing our factory money. You work like a slug anyway. Now speed it up.”
From somewhere in the room someone yelled,
“Hey you can’t talk to Willard like that!”
Miles turned around and ran after the Foreman. When he reached him, having to look up at the monster of a man, and spoke loudly over the clanging of the machines and the yelling of the other men:
“Are you crazy, if Willard uses that machine it’s going to blow! You’re risking our lives letting him use his press! I know you don’t give a shit about us but Christ at least think of the money that you are going to cost the company if anything happens to these machines!”
“Aint nothing going to happen. Besides I don’t worry about the cost of them machines. I do care about that metal that needs pressing.”
No sooner did the foreman turn away to walk off an explosion echoed throughout the factory. Jim turned around in time to see the dull brute fly half way across the room and slammed into a concrete wall, slowly sliding down onto the floor. His head rested on the divide between the metal presses and the smelters, while the rest of his body looked as if he was trying to make a snow angel. A single line of blood ran from his mouth and nose. Though his eyes were open, only the whites shown while his pupils rolled up behind their lids. Willard just lay there motionless. The grease used to lubricate the machine burned around the iron of the press. A spark from the explosion landed into a pile of card board boxes which caught fire. The foreman ran to get the fire extinguisher, but it was too late. The flames from the first pile jumped over to another, and then another. The workers looked for anything to put the fire out but no heavy cloth could be found. Soon the flames roared, filling the factory with smoke. The workers began to rush out of the building but Jim tried to reach Willard, didn’t want his mother to have to give a closed casket funeral. There seemed something degrading about such a ceremony. The grease from another press which Jim was passing caught fire and blew causing him to stumble backwards into something he never could remember.
The woman’s scream rang out again, waking Miles. He sat straight up with a freight. The noise sounded more desperate and clearer than the first time. There seemed to be a sorrow in it somehow which he couldn’t figure then grew silent again. The ach in his pain back was still lying dormant which allowed him to move easily. Jim left his bed then walked over to the window but saw nothing outside but a heavy mist which white washed all the other houses on his street. Jim walked back to his bed and sat on its edge and closed his eyes but any chance of sleep was now far away as if it was carried away on some nocturnal ship headed for a distant shore. His clock showed that it was one in the morning and day light wouldn’t break for another five hours. He got up again and walked to the living room to watch the television, as he did, the woman’s scream rang out only this time it was a long drawn out cry of desperation then stopped. He had to know that the poor woman was going to be alright if it meant driving her to the hospital himself. Jim quickly dressed then raced out the door. Even though his calendar said it was almost November, the weather outside suggested that it was early September. The fall winds were just coming off the prairies late in the season. The mist dampened his cloths, weighing them down. The mist hung over the street like a fog over black water.
Jim realized that he had no idea which direction the screams came from. When he first heard them, they echoed making any attempt to find them a fool’s errand. He stood in the middle of the road listening for any sign of where he should head. He felt the panic building. He saw too many of his neighbors hand their lot a nearby church with a Janis faced preacher at its head. The congregation heard many a sermon from this great performer about the cost of excess, gluttony and the evils of drink, often shooting arms straight up propositioning God to forgive the sins of these lowly and weak souls. But Jim many a Sunday in the front row of the church and the stale smell of whisky was heavy on the con’s breath. What the preacher was best known for was getting everyone to hand over their money, even those who could only donate food stamps. Yet he drove around town in the nicest of cars one could buy in those parts.
A few times out of the year, he held revivalist meetings a large tenant on the fair grounds. The preacher would come on stage in his electric blue suit and shined white shoes, along with a wide white smile and orange spray on tan. Before he laid down his schtick, he did a little jig which ended with one of his hands in the air reaching out to God. The crowd went wild and the hook was set. With an earplug in one ear and someone on the other name feeding him names from the chosen ones from the crowd, he called cancer patients or anyone with this or that illness onto the stage with him and gently la id his hand on top of their heads.
“I say to you Satan; Jesus almighty has given me the authority to cast you out. Now leave this poor soul’s body.”
The believer would then go into spasms as if possessed and was carried off stage by ushers. This performance often made Jim feel ill that such a scam could be performed on the most desperate of the lot, and the charlatan on stage would never be frog walked to the upstate prison. He would soon stop going to the shows often spitting at the thought of someone like the preacher. The most vile of insults by the preacher was that he had a show on the local community channel where he and his wife, a woman whose teased up hair, thick eye show and blush and plastic sugary gave her the look of an aged doll, would stare into the camera with a smile and caped teeth urging the watchers to give money to the church, “the lord’s house.” Such a sight made the spite in the back of Jim’s throat rise and he would spit in disgust.
Those who were able to keep their heads on straight, they took to holding onto their families in their fight to keep some semblance of normalcy. They said grace every meal, for the offerings which became less every few weeks and often came from a local food bank. When there was work to be had, which was rare, they went to the movies for a few hours of escape or held a barbeque where everyone was invited. Sometimes they held different events on the fairgrounds. They were the ones who held the PTA meetings for the schools and even cheered the loudest during the local football games. And it was their voices who yelled the loudest during community board meetings. They were the hardest fighters in a time where hard times hung over the county, the state, this part of the country like the heavy mist hung over this night.
The suburb which was like any other suburb in the country during the day, where they still pined for a past that never truly existed but was sold on black and white television screens by moneyed men with the best con that sold well, no matter how vulgar the lie. And they all transmitted their promises of white futures, from a thousand miles out of town. But at night it became a kind of wilderness, void of street noise, only the hooting, of an owl, the rusting of the leaves or the barking of a dog could be heard. The only sounds by the modern world came with the occasional passing train.
The scream sounded out again only this time Jim now could place where it was coming from and followed. The windows of the houses showed as black canvasses with the exception for a few where the blue flicker of tv sets could be seen. Several of the houses had foreclosures signs on the front lawn. And some of those sat empty for so long that the wood had begun to rot and the paint peeled and the windows were broken from weather rocks thrown by the local teenagers who grew so bored that they took to drinking themselves into ever deeper stupors. Many had dropped out of school and either worked in a garage or slept the sleep of the forgotten in an OxyContin haze. Jim walked on as the screams began to come in short broken bursts.
He eventually made it to the end of the row of houses where even the mist didn’t reach, and he walked on until he was in front of a farmhouse and off in the field he saw the silhouette of something moving around a short wooden structure. Jim moved closer. The figure let out a woman’s cry. When he got into view he could see the creature clearly under the moonlight. It was to his utter amazement not a woman at all, addicted, beaten or other-wise, it was a goat which had been accidently locked out of its stable. Jim started to laugh at the scene. Here he was an insomniac expecting to see the aftermath of addiction or a murder and it was a goat. A fantastic goat separated from those he loved. And inside the wooden structure he could hear the muffled cries of one of its kin calling. The goat scratched at the door with its hoof before gently banging its head against the locked entrance. It let out a long scream which led to more rumbling from inside the wooden pen. Cries started coming from the other goats now. Jim gave out a sigh at the scene in relief.
A light from the farmhouse came on and the tall blackened silhouette of the owner came stumbling out cursing something Jim was unable to make out. The farmer passed Jim with no acknowledgement of anyone being around. The farmer opened the door to the stable and the goat ran in and the crying stopped, silence rang out once more. Under the moonlight which was present outside the cover of the mist, Jim saw that the farmer resembled a scarecrow. His overalls hung off he thin frame, a long white beard was the only hair on an otherwise bald head. The skin was tight around a skull that seemed to be breaking out its confinement. He walked back toward his house and disappeared.
Jim could hear the light rustling in the goats’ pen. He stood against the fence, staring out onto the field of the last farm in town. All the others had long been buried under concrete and black top for parking lots of now dead strip malls, where fliers yellowed by age and weather swirled in eddies and were the last reminders of sales and lost fashions. The parking lots were now rubble of black top.
The wind began to pick up and the mist which had ended at the last house in the row of houses, washed over the farm until even the farmhouse, along with the pen where the sleeping goats lay, was out of view. Thunder broke in distance. Jim was no fool who refused to get out of the rain. He walked home as the need for sleep came rushing back and disappeared into the thick mist.
About the Author:
Matthew Abuelo is a writer, professional blogger and award-winning poet. He has four books out, Last American Roar and Organic Hotels, His third book “The News Factory” and “Forever Turn the Midnight Carousel” have just been released by Plain view Press, the first two can be found at lulu.com. He is a former journalist for the online news site Examiner and he most recently worked for the Times Square Chronicles as a housing rights journalist and political commentator. Matthew Abuelo has performed around Manhattan including at the forum The Poetry Project’s marathon, which also featured, Pattie Smith Susan Vega, Lenny K, Steve Earle and many other icons. You can check out his other books and works at his website, https://joerussia3.wixsite.com/thenewsfactory