James Addison’s rough hands were writhing to keep the ropes in place. The sweat from under his cap dripped down into his eyes and he had to take momentary breaks to wipe his brow. His muscles have been more sore than usual ever since he took over his buddy Tom’s shift after Tom was injured on the job. No one wants a worker who dislocated his shoulder. He’s better off staying home and losing the week’s pay. No one wants a slow worker. Especially not the foreman.
Pull. The foreman’s voice echoed throughout the dock, the timbre of his voice ricocheting off the titanium ships and soggy wooden planks. Pull, he shouted, his sick way of motivating workers, when really, James felt like cattle. Pull…
The stock market crash was hurting them all. Every average joe was after a physical job so they could feel some sense of pride and workmanship again. But this was James’ domain and always would be. New workers would be ripped to shreds and left to die on the docks of the harbor if they couldn’t keep up. You think the foreman gives a shit? Think again.
James’ repetitive motion of lifting and pulling, lifting and pulling was so tediously simple. But he could feel his biceps tensing and tearing with each new load. He looked down the gangway at the continuous array of workers lining the docks, fresh meat to tear apart. Each man was no longer a man, just a nameless pawn with no identity. They each had a part to play and no one was special. Cogs in a machine. Endlessly pulling and hefting until the day they die. James couldn’t help but think at least they weren’t cooped up in a muggy, smoky factory with stagnant air circulating as they worked on the assembly line. At least they had the cold dawn air and the cloudy sky to cool them. But then again, they weren’t that far off. You’re either working trapped in a factory or trapped in the outdoors, unable to go anywhere.
Pull, the foreman boomed again. Pull. James thought of home. His daughter whose fifth birthday he missed because of the extra shifts he took. She looked at her father with such sad eyes, Papa, you didn’t have cake with us. He could only apologize so many times. She wouldn’t understand that if he didn’t work, he couldn’t put food on the table. He missed spending time with her and the way her face lit up when he’d bought a new doll for her to play with. Pull. He thought of the poker games with the guys and the expensive cigars he could occasionally afford to buy. He thought of how he hadn’t seen his gambling friends in weeks and how he hadn’t read the paper or a book in months. He thought of how his muscles didn’t used to be this sore when he would pick his daughter up in his arms or arm wrestle with his gambling buds. Pull. And he thought of his wife. How beautiful she was and how he never tells her enough. How long it had been since he got to lay with her and look into her soft eyes instead of getting home late and rising early, never having said a word to her. Dinners she would prepare and he would be home just in time for and sitting by the fire, with the two most important girls in his life, and telling them stories of heroes and strength. Pull. He smelled the stench of rotting fish and human strife as he took a moment to draw in a deep breath only to fall behind in his labor.
He had better straighten up. He had better be thankful for the pay. He had better settle in for the long haul. Because after today’s work, he still had the night shift to work as well.