Sim Sala Bim by Gina Williams
“‘Is this all there is?’
The question caught me off guard for a split second, sucked a little bit of air from my gut…”
Where We Are by Jared Yates Sexton
“The thing that really got her was how I listened to records all hours of the night. She said she didn’t care about my moods, my general nihilism or ill temperament…”
Hunger, Not Tame by Sheila Lamb
“Brutal wind beat against the door of her camper. The cold didn’t bother her—Kate had only ever lived in cold and windy environments—but the sand did…”
Waiting for Flight by Michael Chin
“Carl Perkins spied his son’s ex, Lucy, in the airport terminal…”
Misfire by Joe Oestriech
“An hour after load-out, Biggie pulls the Econoline into the parking lot of the Raleigh Fairfield Inn…”
What of the Raven, What of the Dove by Randon Billings Noble
“A story was growing inside my neck but I didn’t yet know what it said…”
The Line by Amy Collini
“The week before I leave for freshman orientation at Ohio State, my father offers me a gift: an “in” at the plant where he works…”
Moth in the House by Jessica Greenbaum
“Skimming the wood floor like a bi-plane over the November fields,
might wonder where the breeze went, and all the chorus and lilt of the leaves…”
Bubble by Jessica Greenbaum
“Walking through the park, I saw a grackle ferrying a
bubble in its beak as it flew to the tree top where…”
Back Seat Event by Gabrielle Freeman
“I want to kiss you, but
I open the car door, and it is raining…”
Those Birds by Michael Colonnese
“Lined up on the wire,
Everything She Can’t See by Liz Ahl
“The little girl is full of questions
and asks them all, one after another…”
Waterfront Metro Station by Elizabeth Acevedo
“through the speakers
the conductor’s voice scratched
a stop away from mine…”
The week before I leave for freshman orientation at Ohio State, my father offers me a gift: an “in” at the plant where he works, on the XJ line. He has built XJs—Jeep Cherokees—at this plant since 1978. Every unemployed Toledoan wants a job here.
He will take me on a tour; I’ve never been inside the plant, but I’ve spent what feels like an entire childhood parked at the gate, peering through the window of our own black XJ. On nights when my father worked second shift, my mother took the three of us along to deliver dinner to him, a steaming covered plate of chicken paprikash and egg noodles handed through the window. I have watched men and women spilling from the gate at the end of countless shifts. I have gazed, wide-eyed, at the yellow CJ—the iconic Jeep Wrangler—spotlighted and perched atop the roof at a jaunty angle like a tipped hat.
When I get my first look inside, I am taken aback by the building’s decrepitude: built in 1910, the plant wears its infirmity like a neglected pensioner. Most of the windows are broken out. The humid summer air combined with the heat emitted by heavy machinery renders the temperature oppressive. The gouged hardwood floor is original: long, lean strips like beef jerky, blackened by car exhaust, motor oil, and the footfall of thousands of boots. The noise is so all-encompassing that there is no way to disassemble a singular sound from the cacophony.
The line workers gape openly at the pair of us. One woman stops working and stares at me, holding a hydraulic gun aloft. The long, coiled red tube of the gun quivers behind her like a disemboweled intestine.
“Why are they staring?” I ask.
My father waves his hand at me. “They’re a bunch of monkeys. They never see people from outside. Ignore it.”
We walk on, but I keep seeing the woman’s face, gawking.
“Watch your step,” Dad says, pointing downward as he lifts his feet. “Don’t trip on the line.”
Ah. So this is it: the line. It is no wider than my hand. My entire childhood, the line has been some mythical, intangible place where cars are not only built, but where the company loses $70,000 each minute it doesn’t run, or where people who work next to one another complain about the next guy’s stereo being too goddamned loud, or where workers sometimes lose limbs in the machinery. The narrow moving beam of metal that runs along the floor startles me; it is an actual incarnation that I could touch if I wanted to, so insignificant when placed against the metaphors it represents.
“You could make forty grand a year, take-home,” Dad says. This is an inconceivable amount of money for an eighteen-year-old in 1993. I have to decide soon—college or auto assembly—because the job opening will be given to someone else if I turn it down.
Later, I drive to Columbus with a friend and her father. I walk the campus with them at night along well-lighted lanes, staring up at the buildings blued by the shadows of sugar maples. I look inside the football stadium—the famed Horseshoe—and allow myself a daydream about sitting in the nosebleed section. During the day, I sit with hundreds of other future students in a cavernous lecture hall, penciling ID numbers onto the scheduling form for classes I’d like to take. I think about the plant back home: the noise, the heat, the stench of exhaust and oil and sweat. I think about my father’s weariness, his unending regret that he dropped out of high school six weeks before graduation, his pride in his job as a popular union steward.
Standing in the bookstore amidst the bright lights and clean-edged texts, the decision feels easier than it should be.
When I get home, I meet my father in the driveway after his shift ends and present him with a scarlet-and-gray ball cap scripted with Ohio State Dad. He holds it and smiles, but his face is hard to read. Is his smile tinged with relief? Or do I detect sadness? Both? He pops out the creases on the hat and puts it on his head, and we walk into the house.
I will leave Toledo a month after I tour the line, bound for Columbus, and I will not return.