Morning Joe



“Morning Joe!  Got your cup!”  Joe smiles at me and I sip the rich, spiced brew.  I like spice in my Joe. Don’t want to leave him bland.  “Ready to punch in?  Gonna punch the man in the face?”

Joe smiles again as he picks up his timecard and the shiny metal fixtures smash through the paper like metal smashing through paper.  Joe flinches.  He always does that.

“Say Joe, you always flinch when you punch in.  Why do you do that?  You’re not made of paper.  No hole puncher for you!”

“I am a paper man,” Joe says.  “A paper doll cut-out.”

Joe always says the funniest things.  “You’re no doll, Joe!  Ha, maybe you could dress up in a blouse and skirt, eh Joe?  And pretty pink goggles, stead of these.  Would you wear pretty doll goggles?”


“Stop your chattering!”  I stop.  Mr. Foreman doesn’t much like Joe.  He takes Joe into his office all the time, and Joe always comes out looking angry.

“Say Joe,” I shout.  I always have to shout when the machines start hooting and screeching.  When I took Emily to the zoo, I thought I was back at work.  The monkeys bounced up and down and hurled themselves against their cages, their hairy knuckles scraping the plastic made the same shriek as the big cutter machine. Except the cutter makes bright red drills.  The monkeys made bright red bloody knuckles.  “Do you think they’ll cancel bring your daughter to work day?”  The shiny red drill covers look just like Emily’s toys.  I snap the first one of the day into place, and I breathe out with the click.

“They never have before.  It’s always been the same here.”

“No, that’s wrong,” I tell Joe.  “Things are different now.  Mel is driving the trucks instead of working the fastener.  And we couldn’t get a cake for Lynn’s birthday.”

“You can’t use company money to buy birthday cakes.”

“But Mr. Foreman used to say it boosts company morale!  I feel happy when I eat cake.  I work faster.”

“Let them eat cake.”

“Exactly Joe!  Let us eat cake!”

“Stop your jabbering!”  Mr. Foreman jabbers as he clomped by in his big boots and his big briefcase.  Mr. Foreman’s briefcase always has too many papers spilling out of it, but I’ve never seen him read any of them.  Joe likes to read them though.  He tells me what they say when he goes into Mr. Foreman’s office.  Sometimes, they are funny.  Once, Joe found a bill to Al’s Adult Emporium.  I tried imagining Mr. Foreman watching a porno in his big boots.  Joe and I laughed.  Joe doesn’t laugh very often, even though he says funny things all the time.

I am so busy thinking of the funny things Joe says that I miss the conveyor belt and the drill case falls to the floor and sneaks under Mr. Foreman’s big boot.

“Graaagh!”  Mr. Foreman yells as he and his papers and suitcase fall to the cement floor.  “You imbecile! You worthless—”

“Calm down, Jerry.”  Joe starts picking up the papers.  “It’s not a big deal.  Don’t get your boxers in a bunch.”  Joe could always think of something funny to say.

Mr. Foreman picks up the drill and waves it around.  “Wasted resources is what it is!  I cannot tolerate any more waste!”  And he wastefully throws the drill back down.

“Don’t worry, Jerry.  I’ll work through lunch for a few days.  By this time next week we’ll have half a dozen extra cartons.”

“By this time next week it won’t matter.”  He squishes the rest of his papers in his suitcases a tries to snap it shut.  It doesn’t close.  Mr. Foreman’s ears turn the same color as the drill case on the floor.  He presses the suitcase against his chest the way Emily clutches her dolls and storms back into his office.

“Wait!  He forgot this paper!”  I call as I pick up a crisp white piece.  It is still warm, like it had just come out of the oven.

“Don’t worry about it.  Jerry’s unorganized enough as it is.”  Joe takes the papers from me, and, like usual, looks at them.  Then, a funny thing happens.  All of the pink in his face turns the same color white as the extra-healthy milk Emily has to drink in the morning.  It’s almost gray, and tastes like sand.  Joe looks at the paper, then looks at me, then back at the paper, then back at me.  Then, he folds it up and puts it in his pocket.

“What’d the paper say, Joe?”  Joe always shows me Mr. Foreman’s papers.  Sometimes they’re funny.

“Nothing.  Go back to work.”  He turns back to the conveyor belt.  He still has no pink in him.

“Come on, Joe.  Is it another movie?”  I smile at him sneakily.

“No.  Go back to work.”  That is a weird thing for him to say because he is just standing over the conveyor belt, his hands squeezing the metal so tight, his shoulders hunched, and his head drooping down so his hair falls in his eyes.

“Is it something dirtier than Saturday Night BonerMaybe it was…Forrest Hump!  Get it?  Forrest Hump?”

“Damn it!  Get to work!”

I drop another drill case.  The clatter it makes as it falls to the floor is the only sound in the warehouse because Martin has stopped the cutter.  Everybody stares at Joe.  I stare at the drill case.  It is as red as blood.

Joe doesn’t look at me, but he bends down really fast and picks up the drill case and screws it in place. I’ve never seen anyone screw a drill case on that fast.  Joe still doesn’t look at me.

He does talk though, in a voice so quiet. I almost can’t hear him when the cutter turns back on.  “How is Emily doing?”

I love talking about Emily.  I could talk about Emily for every minute of every day.

“This funny thing happened when she came home from school yesterday!  I was making her favorite dinner—peanut butter and fluff.  And she was showing me a picture she drew in school of a real monkey!  Did you know that people come to school now with real monkeys and owls and snakes and teach kids about them? She said she got to touch a snake!  Well, we were so excited, I forgot what I was doing and I smeared paste all over the sandwich instead of fluff!  And Emily said, ‘Daddy, do I talk too much?’  And I said ‘No!’  And she said ‘I thought you were trying to glue my teeth together!’  And I looked down, and I saw it was a peanut butter and glue sandwich!  Isn’t that funny?”

Joe doesn’t smile.  He doesn’t say anything for a bit.  I listen to the “snap” as I put the drill covers in place.  I try to sing a song to the rhythm.

“I wish we had music in here,” Joe says finally.

“Yeah!  Some rock and roll!”  I like rock and roll.

“Or something.  Something to distract us.”

“From what?”

He stops talking again for a bit.  “I hate the noise.  Every day, I walk in here and I hear that saw, clanging, smashing, sawing away.  And I feel like it’s nagging at me, reminding me of something I need to do but really don’t want to.  And then I go home, and I turn on the TV and the radio and my CD player, but no matter how much music there is, all I here is that damn machine!  Like it’s sawing at my intestines, and I have to sit there doing nothing while it eats me alive.”

Joe says the funniest things sometimes.  The cutter doesn’t eat anything.  It just cuts.

For the first time in a while, he looks at me.  “Have you seen Natasha recently?”

I don’t want to talk about Natasha.  She hates me, but she loves Emily and I love people who love Emily. But when Natasha is with Emily, she yells and Emily cries.  And sometimes Natasha forgets to come home and tuck Emily in, and Emily needs someone to check under her bed for monsters or she can’t sleep.

“I don’t want to talk about Natasha.”

“I know, I’m sorry.”  I’m glad Joe understands.  “Does she still send checks, at least?”

“No.”  I don’t want to talk about money either.

“Oh.  Sorry.”  I’m starting to see what Joe says about the cutting machine.  It sounds like the monsters Emily is afraid of.

“Do you still love her?”

Snap.  Clang.  Scream.

“I’m sorry.”  Joe is quiet again.  “You know, it might sound strange but… but I’ve never loved anybody before.”

“Wait till you meet Emily!  Everyone who meets her loves her!”  I could talk about Emily all day.

Joe almost smiles.  “That’s because she loves you so much.”

“She does.”  I snap a drill case into place.  “Maybe somebody else loves you.”

Joe frowns.  His voice is low and steady and blends into the whir of the conveyor belt.  “I haven’t spoken to my parents in ten years.  I’ve never looked a woman in the eye.  And children….  They have so much potential, a huge unspoiled future, and I’m afraid to get near something so pure.  Just a touch,” he looks at his hand, “and they catch the disease.  And it festers and grows until all they hear is clanging and all they see is gray and red.”

“Joe…are you sick?”  I was sick last year.  It was terrible.  I threw up four times in one day.

“Hmm….maybe I am.”

“As long as you’re not sick like Fred.”


“Remember Fred?”  He stood too close to the furnace in the back, and the smoke went up his nose and he couldn’t breathe at all anymore.  He doesn’t come to work now.”

Joe stops moving.  He stares at the drill cases as if he is trying very hard to hear them speak.  I wonder what drill cases would say if they could talk.  I don’t think they would be very friendly.  They are cold and hard and they smell like my bathroom sink.

“I need to talk to Jerry,” Joe says, and he walks up to Mr. Foreman’s office.  He doesn’t knock.  He just opens the door and goes in.

I can’t see inside Mr. Foreman’s office when I work at the conveyor belt.  There is a window in the office, but you can’t see most of the warehouse when you look out of it.  All you can see is the big, red, glowy numbers that tells Mr. Foreman how many drills we’ve made.  Now we’ve made 3113408.  And right next to that counter-machine is the cutter.  Mr. Foreman says he needs to see the cutter for safety reasons.  I think he’s scared it’ll get up and cut him if he isn’t looking.

Suddenly, I hear something that isn’t me snapping the drill cases on, or the cutter machine, or the furnace fan, or my heartbeat thudding away.  It’s coming from Mr. Foreman’s office.  It’s Joe.  He’s yelling.  He never yells.  Ever.  Mr. Foreman yells, and Joe gets angry and talks loudly, but he doesn’t scream like this.  He’s screaming louder than the cutter.

Everyone can hear him.  They look up, as shocked as I am.  As soon as it started, the yelling stops, and Joe comes out, his face red.  He marches back to the conveyor belt and stands behind it.  He picks up a drill case and it shakes and rattles.  He can’t hold still, like I couldn’t hold still that baby bird Emily found in the backyard.  It leapt from my hands and fell on the ground.  It landed in a pile of little bent bones and soft feathers.  I wouldn’t let Emily touch the feathers.

Joe snaps the drill case in place.  He holds the finished drill in his hands.

“I’ve never used one of these.”  He says.  “I’ve always wondered how well they work.”

Before I can answer, Joe puts the drill down on the floor and walks away.  As he walks, he keeps looking over his shoulder, and I figure out he’s looking into Mr. Foreman’s window.  And Mr. Foreman is looking back, his arms crossed, his head bent low.

Joe walks up to the cutter.  He glares at Martin, who works the cutter today.  I see Joe’s mouth form the word “move.”  Martin moves.

Joe looks up at the cutter.  It’s huge.  The saw blade spins so quickly, it looks like a great gray cloud, misty and soft.  But I know it isn’t.  Joe knows it isn’t.

Martin and his friend say something.  Nobody hears.  Joe doesn’t stop moving.  He must only hear the cutter’s scream.  His hand is on his side, and then it is holding his heart, then his head, then the blade.

Screams screams screams!

All I see is gray and red, all I hear is noise!  Screeching, grinding, wailing, crushing.  It sprays on me, the red.  Sticky, warm.  Loud, so loud.  My heart is screaming.  My blood is screaming.  I am screaming.

Joe’s mouth is open.  His eyes are big.  The cutter slams into silence.

There is no more noise.  Joe bends down.  One hand is red and shiny.  The other isn’t there.

It fell on the floor.  The fingers are bent.  The nails are immaculately trimmed.  Joe picks it up.  He gets bloody fingerprints on his hand.  All I smell is metal.  Liquid metal pours into my nose and burns my throat and makes my eyes water.

Joe comes over to the conveyor belt.  I want to close my eyes.  I can’t.

“Do you mind holding my hand?”  Joe says to me.  “Ha!  Isn’t that funny?  Hold my hand?”

His hand is still warm.  This hand held a steering wheel, bought coffee, helped me up.  And now, it needed me to keep it from flopping onto the conveyor belt.

“I can take it back now.”  Joe has a drill squeezed under his shoulder.  I hand it to him.  He looks at it, but the shiny wet lump of bone and flesh isn’t much to look at.  For a second he looks around, takes in a big breath, and smiles.  The red specks on his face move like dust sparkles on a sunny day.  “It’s finally quiet,” he says.  I don’t know what he’s talking about.  All I hear is screaming.

“I won’t be coming back to work again,” he continues. “ Tell Emily I said hello on bring your daughter to work day.”

“But, Joe—you can’t…you shouldn’t….”

“Don’t worry.”  Joe pats my back with two hands at once.  “I won’t be back, but….”  He looks up and stares into Mr. Foreman’s office.  Mr. Foreman’s nose is flat against the window.  “You’ll be able to see me every day.”

He walks back over to the cutter, and I’m afraid he’s going to cut off a foot this time.  He isn’t.  He doesn’t even go to the cutter, and Martin looks relieved.  He goes to the counter-machine with the big glowy red numbers.  It reads 3113460 now.  He takes the oozing mass of hand from his hand and holds it on the wall with the dripping lump of his other arm.  He holds the shiny red drill in his other hand, and puts the cloudy gray tip against the shiny red palm.  He pulls the trigger.  The drill works.

My shoulders squeeze together as I hear the whir, and then the squish and creak and crunch of flesh and bone and muscle spinning in circles with the drill, ripping and tearing from the rest.  The drill goes in deeper, and digs into the mass, then it stops.  Joe moves away, and the hand stays on the wall.  Everyone stares at him as he turns around, and places one red-splashed foot in front of the other until he reaches the giant gray double doors.  He doesn’t look at us as he opens them.  He doesn’t look as he walks out.  We all look at the big red stain on the door.  Red like the drills.  Red like the numbers.  I am the only one who looks back.  The counter now reads 3113465.