Photo by Obi Onyeador on Unsplash

The White, Hot, Chemical Box

He walked into his operating room of lacquer and wood, with cabinets strategically placed in unaesthetic rows throughout the 15x25 box that always stayed 10 degrees hotter or colder than outside depending on the season, but rarely a comfortable temperature. The smell of twenty years’ paint stabbed his eyes and invaded his skin. Even with a respirator on, he could feel the damage being dealt. Even though he hadn’t started spraying yet, even though these were merely fumes from the day before, he could feel his body fighting the toxicity of the room. And looking around, at the floor, on top of cabinets and tables, he could see the spiders and wasps and flies seduced by the sweet scent of lacquer lying dead in their new, sticky sarcophagi of dust. That would be him one day, no less naïve. No other place to fly. So, he walks another foot into the room, another second into his blue collar day.

He opens the garage door to let in some fresh air, turns on the industrial fan that loudly exhales the poison from the room onto the grass and trees like an environment terrorizing dragon. He feels guilty, but at least he’s a little more free. After all, pretty work is always done at the expense of someone, or something, else. Simple work, too, some would say. After all, his only job is sand, paint, sand, paint, sand, paint. Proud work, too, some would say things like, “Nothing like working with your hands,” and “You’re helping to complete someone else’s home,” and “I wish I had your job instead of my boring office job.” And he smiles at their naiveté, but yes, there truly is something like working with your hands for $17 an hour, and that’s breaking rocks in prison for commissary cash, except inmates get healthcare. There are many other things better than working with your hands to barely afford life, many other things that don’t leave your hands clinically dry and red and burning. So, instead of compliments, he longs for silence, but he’s lucky if he gets any from the overjoyed clients who can’t stay away from their cool purchase.

As for helping to complete someone’s home, “Please,” he thinks. He’s seen the cabinets after a couple years, destroyed with apathetic water stains and after dinner laziness. Every type of food caked on the surface. “Is a refurbishment free?” they always ask. “Is our irresponsibility and your time and health free?”

“Of course it is,” he says. “But the second time we have to come back here a fix your slovenly habits it’ll cost you.” And he thinks, “but no more than it’ll cost me.”

And for the people who tell him they’d like to switch jobs, well, “Let’s,” he thinks. “You give me your boring, 6-figure salary and I’ll give you my credit card debt, my leaking house, my cheap car, my non-existent health insurance and my anxiety…No? Didn’t think so.”

He’s a minute into the day. The mornings are always the easiest, unless it’s winter of course, in which case the easiest part of the day varies, but for now it’s summer and the mornings are cool enough to bare, so he decides to pull the cabinets out onto the concrete slab between the spray house and the shop, where the cabinets are actually built, to sand them with a fine grit.

The sanding process is easy. He simply contorts his body in unnatural directions for anywhere between one and five minutes at a time depending on how big the cabinet is. His spine bends 45 degrees left, 90 degrees right, and when he stands upright it’s 50/50 there’ll be a lumbar disc slippage that’ll cause pain for days. Of course, it’ll have to be self-remedied with extension stretches and sleeping in the fetal position, which he oddly likes…

Sand, paint, sand, paint…lunch.

Sand, paint, sand, paint…it’s only Monday.

But, the day’s over. One day out of five and he can already feel his skin shriveling, his lungs collapsing, the tumors considering birth, his eyes contemplating blindness. He shouldn’t have dropped out of college, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Experimental Fiction Novelist. Check out my work on Amazon. “Okay, Sweet Universe” and “The Blind Planet Start-Up.”

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