My name is Constance. Connie for short, if anyone cares. The year is 1984; sun-bleached shipyards shrivel and cook along the south Hudson, invisible through the thick, heat-smeared walls of the factory. A rogue sprig of hair falls between my eyes as I haul the press down over heap after heap of unprimed steel, rivets of sweat catching in my brow. [I messed up the first one so I will be continuing the story here] Rated M for language.
“Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
o’er the land of the free
and the home of the brave?”
Music scrapes deep into the ear of the working man; his hands roll and reel through stone and steel, his back cranking like a loaded trebuchet on battered, bowing legs. It’s the same song every day. The same scraping, groaning tune churning out of the public announcement speakers like wasted butter, cold and clumped and pale. We know it by heart, by flesh, by bone. We know it by the scores on our wrists, the welts that run like bloody Alps across our shoulders.
All around me faces stretch like hide on tanning racks—dark as treated leather and pinched around tumbling coals of eyes and gasping Sahara lips. They rise and fall like eclipsed suns through the roiling plumes of ash; vivid and lifeless; present and fleeting. I give an almighty pull on the press and lick the ring of sweat from my mouth.
“C’mon, boys! Sing! Are you Americans, or what?”
I cast an eye over my shoulder, thickish brown grease daubing off my cheek and onto my shirt. The man behind me lets loose a thunderous laugh, one that shakes both his jowls and the earth—it rumbles over the grand grinding of the machines and ruffles the black pall of the factory like a hardy gust of wind.
“Land of the free, home of the brave!” he bellows, his own press stomping and hissing against each blow. “Ah-ha-ha!”
Against my will, my lips start murmuring the scraping words, “On the shore dimly seen, through the mists of the deep, where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes…”
My name is Constance. Connie for short, if anyone cares. The year is 1984; sun-bleached shipyards shrivel and cook along the south Hudson, invisible through the thick, heat-smeared walls of the factory. A rogue sprig of hair falls between my eyes as I haul the press down over heap after heap of unprimed steel, rivets of sweat catching in my brow.
“What is that which the breeze o’er the towering steep, as it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?”
I came to Steel River ten years ago.
As a child, I was put to work harvesting scrap from the battlefields until I was big enough to work the machines. It was an ugly job, where sooty little feet plucked through miles of iron carnage, small fingers slicing on ragged metal and toes occasionally triggering leftover landmines—that’s how I lost my right foot. Lucky for me, there’s a smith up in Ridgefield who takes pity on veterans and scrap urchins. He built me my current shank for less than two weeks’ pay.
“Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam, in full glory reflected now shines in the stream…”
These days I work as a common drudge, building the yokes of naval guns for the president’s fleet. I see the ships twice each day—they stand and loom, monumental sentries anchored in the steely riffs of the river, spanning as far as the eye can see both to the north and to the south, all the way out to the lip of Manhattan, where the skyscrapers shred the eastern skies.
“’tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave…”
It’s not pretty work, and it doesn’t pay pretty money; but it’s the best offer I got. My foster parents couldn’t afford to ship me south, where it was rumored that the agricultural grind was easier. So, here I am. A woman of Steel River, bleeding just as much as the men and earning just as little. ‘Couse, if you ask me, the rumors about the south are a load of shit. Everyone in America works. Everyone in America pays.
“O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!”