The Last Hour of the Last Day of Work


I wish you'd been there for the last hour of the last day of work. Bradfield and the management guys, the office staff and Seemrun from the cafeteria all trudged across the steel mezzanine down to the manufacturing floor. You remember Linda from accounts? Yeah, fat Linda, she cried. Tao, Fisher, all the night shift guys came back in, even though we haven't run nights for weeks. They looked spent, tried to tell me they were doing fine through cracked lips and whisky breath.

There were others I didn't recognise. Maybe you knew them. It's weird; you work at a place for years and see people for the first time the day it closes. Like when you look at an old school photo and spot some kid's pudgy little face and think, who the fuck was that guy?

Bradfield delivered the plant's eulogy standing on the edge of the loading bay. The royal-blue roller doors were open wide, the sunset behind him. That melodramatic son of a bitch.

I'm sleeping with Michelle. I want to tell you that straight up.

Bradfield said the usual stuff, I guess. Said we'd all worked our arses off, there was nothing we could do. We should all be proud. Said we were family, that he'd let us down. It was fucking awkward. I just stared over his shoulder. An empty McDonalds paper bag tumbled across the parking lot and snagged in the wire fence.

After his speech, Bradfield  hit the red stop button on Line-One. It was bullshit. We'd done a full shut-down and clean the day before. We only started the line again so he could stop it. Most of the tooling had already been packed by the engineers. Wiser and his team scored an extra two weeks’ work, at triple time, dismantling and packing.

Some of the robots are being shipped to the overseas plants, everything else is for sale. I heard a rumour the Chinese came down on a shopping trip a few weeks back. Heard that from Nichols though. You know he's a racist.

HR took your memorial plaque off the entrance wall and sent it to Michelle. I don't think she knows what to do with it. It's lying on the work bench in your shed.

The rest of the plant is headed for scrap. They'll probably use the money to pay our last pay-cheques. They say we won't be out of pocket. I guess that's something. You remember when they closed Stanhope? My brother-in-law worked there. Those poor bastards got nothing. The liquidators just came in one day with security guards, told everyone to get out, and chained the gates closed.

Jarrod's playing footy this year. He's so excited. We've been going to the park every afternoon. He asks about you sometimes.

Line-One stopped. The pneumatic reservoirs emptied with a rush of air. The robots came to rest; the conveyors slid to still. Everyone just stood there, staring at the walls, fingering their hard hats. The scratch of slowing bearings skittered across the shop floor. The yellow shut-down lights spun one last time.

I'm looking after them. We're making a new life. They'll always love you, you know that.

I looked around at the faces, the grease stained high-vis vests, the old yellow ear muffs slung around tanned necks. It was fucking depressing. The same look on every face. All shit scared. All thinking the same thing; what the fuck am I going to do tomorrow?