Sonata Macabre – Sixteen Tons

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Though it’s his first day, Trainee has no problem following Boss throughout the warehouse. Boss’ slick suit stands out among the blue coveralls of the workers, and all of them, busy moving boxes or operating machinery, stop to make a path for the two to pass.

In front of an active conveyor belt, Boss removes his earplugs and motions for Trainee to do the same. “This is you, I’ll get -” Is all Trainee can understand, the rest of the sentence decimated by the din of the warehouse.

Finished speaking, Boss adjusts his unblemished hard hat then rounds a corner. Trainee reinserts earplugs then watches the nearby machine operate in silence.

Twisted bits of scrap metal saunter by, their casual pace betraying ignorance to their furnace fate. Trainee wonders if salvage even thinks of itself as such, then realizes no, it doesn’t, even isolated and broken the bits stubbornly cling to their original purpose, maintain a semblance of usefulness –

A hand on shoulder interrupts the thought. Trainee turns and finds it belongs to a Worker, who, wearing the same blue jumpsuit and a similarly scuffed hard hat, looks like an older, bearded version of Trainee.

Worker begins to speak – Trainee points to his earplugs – Worker takes them out for him. “I know training said it’s loud enough in here to cause permanent hearing damage,” Worker yells to be heard over the constant chaotic noise, “But you rather be deaf or dead? Only safe way to work here is to hear what’s going on.”

Trainee laughs. “That’s a good one.”

“I can’t hear you.”

“Very funny.” Trainee enunciates loud and clear.

Worker’s head tilts to the side. “I didn’t make a joke.” He shrugs. “This way.”

They follow the conveyor belt to its beginning at the edge of the warehouse, where scrap filled shipping containers line the wall. A hydraulic grab, clenching metal between its teethed steel scoops, sits inactive, abandoned above the container nearest the belt.

“Our heavy-liftin’s been dahn for weeks now. Management says they’re gonna get it fixed but…” Worker shrugs.

“So, what,” Trainee remembers to yell, “From here to there?”

Worker nods. “Normally this ain’t a one man job, we’re just behind today. Had to move the crew to cover call-offs – I don’t have to teach you how to wear gloves, do I?”

“I think I can handle that.”

Worker watches Trainee put gloves on. “Perfect. Remember, all you gotta do is move shit from here to there.”

For eight hours Trainee does exactly that, and at the end of his shift he’s managed to empty the entire shipping container by himself.

Worker finds Trainee in the locker-room. “You did a lot out there.”

Trainee flinches at Worker’s permanently loud voice, but self-conscious, quickly transitions the scare into a stretch. “Left me pretty sore, but it’s all in a good day’s work.”

“Well tomorrow I’ll have someone helping you. Bet yinz get two containers done.”


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