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George of Cincinnati, Ohio, an unassuming co-worker at the plant, is known for his obsessive compulsion to clean the cracked cement floors of our break room.
He’s there nearly every night, yellow gloves secured over his fragile hands with rubber bands snapped to his wrists, knee deep in liquid soap, scrubbing fanatically.
He reminds me of the factory worker in William Faulkner’s novel, Light in August, last name Christmas, wearing the same coveralls to work everyday without much to say. He hadn’t quit yet, but his disposition to our workplace seems infectious, cause week after week somebody else disappears, quitting without notice.
George eats lunch by himself, silently slaving away at his salami sandwich most likely prepared in depressed haste, cause Lord knows that this job isn’t going to make anybody a bread winner of any household.
But every damn night, when everybody else has clocked out, George stays late cleaning up our break room for some odd reason. Like he has something to prove to the rest of us, as if he were to say, “I’m gonna go the extra mile here and make sure while we are all catatonic and jaded, we can at least enjoy our coffees for the five minutes we’re allotted in the day.
On Wednesdays, in ritualistic fashion, he pulls a coworker aside and chats him up over cold coffee as the rest of us are on our merry way home. I’m sure George conspires and says things to get everyone out because each colleague he has talked to never showed up the next day. No notice, no goodbyes, they don’t even bother to clean out their lockers.
And then George pulled me aside one day and started to press my buttons, interrogating me like he was the review board.
“How do you like this gig?” he asks.
I tell him that it’s not the most glamorous job but work is work.
“This is not the place for you. You’re shouldn’t be working as a stiff in a joint like this.”
“There’s not much else out there, George. I mean, unless you can offer me something better, I’m pretty much stuck here for the rest of my life.”
By now everybody has left the building and the lights have turned out.
“Obviously you’re just as stuck as I am,” I continue, “or else you wouldn’t be here, right?”
“You see, I’m in the process of recruiting. I just need the man power.”
“All those guys that left, Sam, Harold, Johnny, they work for you now?”
“They’re alright. But I need somebody with a little more ambition, who can help me weed out the competition.”
“You won’t find anyone like that here.”
“I’m looking at him.”
“You got the wrong guy. I don’t know what you’re up to, but I don’t want any part of it. Seems like horseshit to me.”
George proceeds to walk over to the custodial closet, dragging out a mop, the soap bucket, and a bag of rags.
“That’s a shame, cause you’re really a hard worker,” George snaps on his infamous yellow gloves, “talented and determined.”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m starting my own company.”
“No, I mean, why do you clean the break room every night? Why don’t you just go home like the rest of us? Don’t you have a family?”
“If I don’t do it who will?”
“Yeah, and we’ve all seen how great of a job he does.”
George loads the bucket with water and starts to stir the soap, churning the mop inside.
“I can’t say I get you, but whatever you told Harold and them guys doesn’t concern me. Leave me out of it. They might be stupid enough to believe your pyramid scheme or whatever you’re running but I’m going home.”
“Michael, why the hostility?”
“I don’t trust guys like you. See you tomorrow.”
As I reach the door, the power must have went out cause I couldn’t see a sliver of light anywhere.
I usually have migraines very often but this one that kicked in just now, it takes the cake. Excruciating pressure and pain and it feels like my brain has swollen fifteen times the normal size.
I’ve been always afraid of the dark, yet the smell that started to deep into my nostrils started to overwhelm any other sense I had.
Finally some light. Everything’s a bit blurry but I’m sure that’s just my retinas resetting.
And I see George. He’s scrubbing away at the concrete vigorously, and the soapy suds are an odd crimson color, must be some special bleach.
I realize I am on the floor, face kicked off to the side.
George knocked me out. Bastard. I muster up all my anger and prepare to tackle him except my limbs don’t respond. I look down and see nothing but garbage bags and concrete.
I can’t feel my body.
I have no body. It’s dissolving in a bucket of acid near George.
My eyes start to droop and my vision fades… and George continues to scrub away.