Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
Mother F***ing Glove
by Joan Zerrien
Nearly fifty years later, I'm still not going to spell it out for you. That was the first time I'd ever heard those first two words spoken and I was shocked that they were spoken by the sweet mamacita beside me who barely came up to my shoulder, her jet black hair encased in industrial net, her coppery arms wiry-muscled, her voice dulled by fatigue.
Deafened by the incessant clatter of unlabeled tin cans on narrow conveyor belts overhead, we stared woodenly at the industrial rubber glove lying at our feet. It had slipped from her hand as we stood propped like drooping mannequins against a wall during the 2:45am break, too tired to bother taking off our gloves. Clearly, what it would cost her to bend over seemed more trouble that it was worth. If ever the words were fairly spoken, this could have been it.
We were halfway through the graveyard shift at Tilly Lewis Foods, Stockton, CA in the scorching August of 1967 and this was the best-paying summer job I could get. This was probably her best-paying job, period. Nobody pulled graveyard at the cannery because they liked it.
Fruit dumpers were rushing the line workers that night; too many end-of-season peaches coming too fast down the belt. My job was dangerous: flipping peach halves over and feeding them into the slicer. If I let my hand follow through on that motion I'd lose it to the blades. I was whipped; I'd already fallen off my packing crate twice, the second time raising a big scrape on my shin. Every cell in my body was in sympathy with the woman beside me.
I knew that come morning I would go to bed in my dingy studio apartment while most likely she would be going home to care for a couple kids, with little rest before the following night.
I picked up her glove. She smiled. "Eres amable." You are kind.
I nodded. "De nada." You're welcome.
I thought with longing of my couch bed on the ground floor of a dilapidated house just half a block from the cemetery in the old part of town. If the neighbors were quiet during the day I slept well. The trains running along the far edge of the cemetery were never quiet, but I got used to them. A wailing whistle went off at 10 every morning, after I'd gotten home and showered the syrup slime off my body, eaten a meal I never knew to call breakfast or dinner, and fallen like a log into bed.
Maybe someone told me this, or maybe I made it up, but I believed the whistle blower was an engineer on his way home, letting his wife know the long night was over. Each time it woke me, it also reassured me. I went right back to sleep. I knew that when peach season was over I was going off to college, getting myself an education, and never working graveyard again.
Joan Zerrien is pleased to report that other than brief periods when her daughters were young or ill she has never again worked the 11pm-7am shift. She lives in Woodland Hills, CA and sincerely appreciates her good fortune in having been included in Tiny Lights over the past decade or so.
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