We Are Rozier

Before each shift, Neal combed the Monte Carlo for loose change. Coins, even bills, slipped out of his friends’ pockets, and sometimes he would find these items lodged between the passenger seat and eight-track console. He used the money to buy packaged ham and cheese sandwiches, and chocolate pudding cups in the vending machines at Rozier Metal and Fixtures.

Neal thought about his friends often. He missed their company, but he did not regret his decision to work at Rozier that summer instead of bailing hay for Mr. Wilson. Neal had done that for three summers, and though he had to admit that it probably helped him win the scholarship—his arms were lean and muscular—he vowed last summer that he would not return for a fourth.

And now this summer, at Rozier, while shoving his friends’ quarters and dimes into vending machines, Neal imagined them hustling, tossing the plugs of hay onto the slow-moving flatbed. All that dust and dander, stuck to the back of their necks. He almost laughed. He saw coins flying out of their pockets.

“Hey college boy, how’s life in the penthouse?” 

“Hey Karl,” said Neal.

Karl was a heavyset man with facial hair in various stages of growth. Today, a dribble of tobacco juice had settled on his chin. 

“Sit down here with us regular folk.” 

“Okay,” said Neal.

“Listen, I’ve been meanin’ to ask you. Why do you need this job, anyway?”

“Same as you,” said Neal. “Money.” 

Karl laughed and slapped the table. “That’s where you’re wrong,” he said. “I don’t need money. I’m independently wealthy. I just do this for fun, something to get me out of the house.”

“Okay,” said Neal.

“Boy,” said Karl, “what do you need money for?”

“To live,” said Neal. “Pay the bills.”  

“'Live’?” said Karl. “I heard you got a scholarship to play ball. Like I said, what do you need money for?”

Neal started to explain to Karl that he had to pay for his own room and food at Labette County Junior College, but they were interrupted by Kenny and Dutch and some of the other boys.

After a few minutes of small talk, Neal pointed to a large banner on the breakroom wall: WE ARE ROZIER. “What does that mean?” he asked Kenny.

“Just a little reminder…”

“Of what?”

“The master.” 

“The master?”

“He really cares about you,” said Kenny. “A benevolent king.” 

The men chuckled. Neal felt even more confused.

“It’s the safety campaign,” said Kenny. “You know, ‘We Are Rozier.’ Twelve minutes since the last gouged eye.”

The men were laughing, and Kenny grinned. “More or less,” he shrugged. "All right, maybe it’s been twelve days.” 

More laughing. 

“It’s just their way of saying don’t operate these machines stoned,” said Kenny. “But we all know it’s bullshit.” 

He thumped his forefinger on the table. “They harp about safety, while they suck every last drop of life out of these World War II presses.” 

“Ah,” said Neal.

“When they rolled it out, they showed us a video. Had all these terrible actors, dudes with bushy mustaches, made-up women with phony smiles. It looked like ‘70s porn. And it had this awful folk music, some kind of Judy Collins knockoff. The whole thing just sucked. Had us all looking at each other thinking, ‘What the fuck?’”  

Kenny was interrupted by the two-minute bell. “See what I mean,” he said. “Don’t ever forget who’s the master.”

That night, after the final bell, everyone gathered around Dick’s Silverado and drank beer in the parking lot. The front office was dark except for one hallway light. The janitor had finished vacuuming and gone home. The night was dark, too. No stars. Low clouds. 

Kenny had handed him a beer, and when Neal finished it, he felt a hard regret settling at the bottom of his sternum. No way, he thought. No way I can do this every night. If I do, I’ll wake up tomorrow an old man. 

Kenny was saying he liked the evening shift. His wife and baby were asleep hours before it ended, so he didn’t have to worry about rushing home. He like it, too, because it gave him freedom to take care of things during the day, run errands and such during regular business hours. Lately, he’d been thinking about doing something else during the day. 

“You registered for classes yet?” he asked Neal.

“Next month,” said Neal.

“Is that when everyone registers?” 

“I’m not sure.”

“Can you find out?”

Neal said he would and then started toward the trees to take a leak. When he returned, the men were laughing about Floyd, the evening-shift foreman. Floyd wore Coke-bottle glasses and the same dirty brown uniform every day. His hands were perpetually grease-stained, and his coarse, wiry hair stuck straight up. He was always in a state of crisis, walking around the shop like an obstetrician late for delivery.

Dealing with Floyd was hard. He was cross and rude. It didn’t matter what you’d stopped him for. It was always the operator’s fault. You had to hurry up and explain why you were wasting his time.

The men were laughing because Floyd had locked himself inside his “office,” a dimly lit area where he and the engineers pored over blueprints spread out on long tables. This space provided zero privacy because it was nothing more than a half-walled loft, a landing on the way to the second floor and management. Yet Floyd insisted on calling it his office. The door to this space was only three feet tall, the kind of gate that keeps toddlers from falling down stairs. Still, the door had a lock, which, if engaged, required a key on both sides.

Earlier that day, Floyd locked the door to get away from Jerry, an operator who had followed him up the stairs complaining about an enormous hydraulic press near the loading dock. Everyone hated that dinosaur, because the parts were heavy and cumbersome and the machine frequently malfunctioned. There stood Floyd, in the refuge of his office, pretending to read documents, while Jerry, stationed on the other side of the door, continued to complain about the machine.

“We jest,” said Bill, a veteran of the press floor. “But mark my words, that piece of shit’s gonna hurt somebody someday.”

The men mumbled in agreement. 

Neal elbowed Kenny. “Hey,” he said, “finish your story from earlier.”

Kenny frowned, straining to remember.

“You know, the safety video.”

The men groaned. “Oh god,” said one, “talk about a piece of shit.” 

Kenny grabbed his beer and walked to the end of the truck. He stepped over the curb, onto higher ground, and looked at Neal. 
“You remember the Mickey Mouse song, right? When they signed off?” 

Neal nodded. His little brother still watched the show.

“All right, then…” said Kenny, now addressing the others. “Let’s do it one more time. For the college boy.”

The men jostled around and then bunched up together in a semi-circle at the end of the tailgate. They cleared their throats and playfully warmed their vocal chords. 

“Now,” said Kenny. “Follow me.” He drew his hands together in front of his forehead and then separated them, like an orchestra conductor. “One… two… a one, two, three...”

“R…O…Z…,” the men crooned in baritone. Then falsetto, like Minnie Mouse: “Zee ya real soon.” Baritone: “I…E…R…” Falsetto: “We are Rozier...” Baritone: “S…U…C…K…S.” 

The men burst out laughing, slapping each other on the back and swigging their beers.

Kenny smiled at Neal. “That’s it,” he said. “That’s what I was going to tell you. It worked out better this way.”  

As summer help, Neal was low on the totem pole. Though his base was the press room, Floyd and other foremen moved him around plant, most often to chrome plating. Neal didn’t mind. Anything to get away from the mind-numbing repetition of the presses. Grab part, shove into machine, step on pedal, wait for die to puncture part, pull part out of machine, set part on cart full of identical parts. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Some of the men, especially Karl, thought seniority meant something, that it gave them power. They teased Neal when he was sent to a different department.

In chrome plating, Neal spotted Kenny tight-roping between tanks of liquid cadmium and nickel chloride. He was wearing bulky boots, yet his feet were nimble and he seemed to dance along the edges of the tanks. 

“What’re you doing here?” he asked Neal. 

“Floyd sent me.”

“What am I supposed to do with you?”

“I don’t know.”

Kenny grabbed his safety goggles and jumped down. The crane system groaned above him, and steam billowed out of the tanks. Besides Kenny, there were three other men in the room. They were huddled at the end of the tanks and hadn’t seen Neal, because they were focused on a giant board of nobs and lights, trying to get the right combination of chemicals in one of the tanks. 

“You ever used one of these?” said Kenny, reaching for a motorized cart. 

“No,” said Neal. 

The crane rattled behind them and Kenny had to yell instructions. “This is the gas,” he said, holding on to a rubber-coated handle. 

“It’s just like a mini-bike. Pull it back to go. It doesn’t have a brake… you just have to go slow and let off the gas.”

“Okay,” said Neal. 

“You go it?” 

“I got it,” said Neal.

Kenny pointed to a different cart, loaded with finished parts. “Take these down to packaging… You know where that is, right?”

Neal nodded. 

“Then come back here,” said Kenny.  

“Okay,” said Neal, and then he frowned.  

“What?” said Kenny. 

“I forgot… Why’d you ask me about classes?”

“What classes?”

“The other night, before you all sang the Mickey Mouse song. You asked me about registration.”

“Oh yeah,” said Kenny. “Can you find out?” 

“If you can register?” 

“Yeah,” yelled Kenny, bolting up the catwalk stairs to receive a dripping rack and guide it into the next tank.

For the rest of his shift, Neal operated the little cart. He delivered finished pieces to packaging and picked up raw parts from the press room.

On one run, he nearly ran into Karl coming down the stairs that led up to Floyd’s office. Karl looked mad, like a child who’d just been scolded. 

“Hey Karl,” said Neal. Karl glared as Neal motored by.

The next day, Neal didn’t know where to report. They hadn’t given him instructions, so he showed up at the press room. Floyd looked at him like he was crazy. “I thought I told you to go to plating.”

“Well, yeah,” said Neal. “But that was yesterday.” 

“Doesn’t matter,” said Floyd. “Get outta here.”

Neal reported to chrome plating every day after that. He finished the week there and worked the whole next week driving the cart to packaging and the press room. His skills improved steadily. Before long, he felt comfortable giving attention to other things while operating the cart. Cruising through the plant, he nodded at the forklift driver and waved at Tony, his older brother’s classmate.

At the end of his second week in plating, Neal felt loose and upbeat. He’d been nagged by a recurring fear that college wasn’t going to work out and that he’d end up stuck in this place. By Friday, however, the fear was gone, and Neal was in a groove. The cart felt like an extension of his body, like two more legs. He waved at people and whistled to himself as he operated the cart. The men would be hanging out in the parking lot later, and he looked forward to hearing their stories. 

At 10:30, an hour before quitting time, Neal made a run to the press room. The boys there loaded the cart down with foundations, support frames, L-shaped arms, brackets, rings, and a dozen other miscellaneous pieces. On the way back to plating, the cart swayed on the corners and dragged on the straightaways.

While Neal was in the press room, the crane system in plating had malfunctioned. A load of parts dropped abruptly into a tank, sloshing and splashing liquid over the edge. Kenny and the other guys sopped up the spill in less than ten minutes, but it was impossible to remove all the moisture, because the room was too humid.

Neal entered plating without letting off the gas. He decided, perhaps a second too late, to position the cart for a quick exit, so he wouldn’t have to turn it around later. 

While circling—still going too fast—Neal hit a slick spot. The wheels spun out and the cart slid sideways. There was nothing he could do. 

The men yelled. Some of them reached for the cart, but they too were helpless.  

Still sliding, the cart’s tires then made contact with dry floor. It was like a giant hook had snagged the cart and pulled it back. The impeded momentum pitched Neal and the parts. Metal pieces flew everywhere, crashing and clanging against the floor like forty drummers hammering a hi-hat. (Later that night, someone all the way down in packaging said he heard the crash.)

On his knees, Neal watched the parts slide across the floor and slam into a support beam, piling up there like debris after a flood. He hopped to his feet, placed both hands on his head and paced.

“What…” he said. “Oh no! What’d I do?”

Two workers came over and started picking up parts. They were laughing, enjoying Neal’s panic. Despite their mirth at his expense, Neal felt calmed by their presence. He stopped pacing and helped pick up the pieces. 

When the last part was put away, Neal spotted Kenny watching him from high on the catwalk. “Bravo!” Kenny yelled. “Well done!"

The next week Neal was back in the press room. While mindlessly feeding parts into machines, he wondered if the move had anything to do with his blunder in the plating department. He decided not to ask. Which was smart because later he heard Rozier had just secured a big contract. There were orders from management to crank out an impossible quantity of racks. Floyd and the day-shift foreman were freaking out. “All hands on deck,” they said, and they kept saying it until the men were sick of hearing it. 

Everyone felt the pressure. The men discussed the new quotas and concluded they were impossible to fulfill. They could run tests all day. No one could process 640 parts per shift. This had nothing to do with their ability to feed the beasts; the beasts themselves couldn’t eat that fast.

On Wednesday, Neal’s card told him to report to No. 13, an antique hulk on the main aisle near the conference room. For three hours, he hustled to maintain a pace that would at least put him in the ballpark of the quota.

An hour before lunch, the machine started to act up. Neal knew that Floyd was meeting with the engineers to discuss orders and problems with machines, so he consulted Mose, an older man he trusted.  

“What’s it doin’?” yelled Mose, removing an earplug. 

“Dragging,” returned Neal. “It punches all right, but then it pulls the part in and doesn’t wanna let go.”

Mose was nodding his head. None of this was a surprise. 

“I have to shake it loose,” said Neal.

Mose looked at his watch. 7:35. “You haven’t seen him?” he asked, meaning Floyd. 

“No,” said Neal. 

Mose pulled off his gloves and told Neal to unplug the machine. When Neal returned to the front of the press, Mose was removing the mesh grid that protected the operator’s hand.  

“I didn’t know you could do that,” said Neal.

Mose grunted. “You still don’t.”

He reached into the opening and felt the downward-facing die, touching the surface like a blind person reading Braille. Reaching farther, Mose wrapped his fingers around the edge of the die and tugged, trying to shake it loose. Nothing budged. He tried again. Nothing.

“What’s wrong with it?” asked Neal. 

“Don’t know,” said Mose, wiping grease off his hands. “I guess Floyd’ll have to look at it. Really, we need someone in maintenance.”

Neal waited until Mose was gone before returning to the press. After plugging it back in, he went through the process again, the same, repetitive motions, and the press worked right three times in a row. On the fourth go, Neal punched the press too soon, but by only a fraction of a second. The die clanged against the moving part, causing it to wobble in his hand. On the next attempt, the hydraulic column hissed as it lowered. After slowly puncturing the part, the machine then came to life and sucked the metal shaft into the press, like someone on the other side had turned on a powerful vacuum. 

Neal jumped. The part slipped out of his hands. He grabbed it and hung on until his hands slammed into the mesh guard. When he let go, his hands were stinging and vibrating the way they do when a metal bat makes poor contact with a hard-thrown ball. 

The machine stalled. This time, the hydraulic column did not retract. Neal looked inside and saw the die stuck to the part, its far end poking out of the back side of the machine.  

There was nothing to do now but wait for Floyd. Neal saw the foreman at the end of the hallway, but he didn’t walk to him. He knew that would only annoy Floyd. So he unplugged the machine again and waited.

When Floyd finally got there, Neal tried to play it cool. He didn’t speak a word. Instead, he simply pointed at the press.

“What?” said Floyd.

“It’s been acting weird all day,” said Neal.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I haven’t had a chance.”

“What’s it doing?”

Floyd didn’t wait for an answer. He turned away from Neal, bent over, and peered into the mouth of the press. He reached in with one arm, like he was noodling for catfish.

Floyd strained and pulled, and when that didn’t work, he looked up at Neal. “You know Jay? In maintenance?” 
Neal nodded. 

“Go find him,” said Floyd. 

Floyd and Jay took the machine apart and worked on it for hours. Neal hung around, expecting them to fix it and put him back to work. Or not fix it and fire him.

Floyd grew more frustrated by the minute. He and Jay hunkered down, focusing on the stuck die, twisting and wringing and hammering and tugging. When that didn’t work, they’d take a break and cool off before talking about it some more and coming up with a new plan.

Neal listened and participated to a limited extent—handing them tools, running errands, and, when asked, explaining the machine’s behavior. Finally, after a few hours, Floyd looked at Neal like he was seeing him for the first time. 

“Go get Mose,” he said. “Have him put you on a different press.”

But there wasn’t a different press. Neal spent the rest of his shift sanding metal with an eight-inch disk. He had no idea what was going on around him because he had to wear a welding helmet and mask. Learning the new task, getting used to the sparks flying everywhere, Neal forgot about his fear of getting fired.

At 9:40, their last break, Neal saw that Floyd and the maintenance guys had managed to get the part out of the press. The die was there too. Floyd was holding it with both hands, studying it through those Coke-bottle glasses. Jay was reassembling the machine. Neal thought about asking Floyd if he’d done something wrong. He decided not to. If they wanted to fire him, they knew where to find him. 

Later, toward the end of their shift, Neal saw Floyd and Jay testing the machine, feeding parts into it and punching the pedal. The press sounded the same, like it was choking, but it appeared to be functioning properly. While gathering his keys and other personal belongings in the conference room, Neal watched the big column drop down, hammer the part, and then retract, going back up to the starting position. 

He knew what that meant. No. 13 would be back in service tomorrow. He hoped he wouldn’t be assigned to it.

He wasn’t. The next day, when he read the roster tacked to the bulletin board outside the conference room, Neal had forgotten about the machine, even though it stood only fifteen feet behind him. He grabbed his gloves and earplugs and reported to a press near the loading dock.

For two hours, he worked without interruption. The loud hum of the press motors and the rhythmic ka-PUNCK of their hydraulics lulled Neal into a trance. He toiled responsibly, yet detached at times, lost in thought. How many days until the start of the semester? His high school classes had been easy. Would he be able to handle the demands of college? Next spring—the end of winter, actually—when baseball season started, would he be a starter or reliever? Though he preferred starting, it didn’t matter; he’d work hard and prove himself, show the coaches he was the guy they wanted on the mound, regardless of the inning.

During the first break, most of the men went outside to smoke. Neal found them at Dick’s truck. They were drinking water from a cooler he’d left there after last night’s fishing trip. Neal asked if he could have some. Dick said he didn’t need to ask.

The men were restless and surly. They complained about the heat, the new quotas, and the machines. Three men had drifted away from Dick’s truck. They were standing on the median, for no reason other than kicking the turf.

Rising up out of this simmering discontent was Karl, cursing his press. Something about a glitch, the die hitting the part twice. 

“...like a Double D penny,” he said.

“Which one?” asked Neal.

Karl glared at Neal. “Piece a shit by the stairs.”

“I was on it yesterday,” said Neal. “It acted up the whole time. Eventually broke down.”

Karl snorted. “Like I said, piece of shit.”

The two-minute bell sounded. The men grumbled as they headed back to the doors. Neal waited for opening to speak to Karl again, but Karl kept his head down while working the last of his cigarette.

Neal hustled inside and made it to his station seconds before the final bell rang.

The next day’s work orders assigned everyone to the same presses. Neal’s said he would have to process 275 parts per hour, fifty more per hour than yesterday. Impossible. With no distractions and nothing but concentrated attention to the task, Neal had processed only 150 per hour yesterday.

Still, he kept his head down and worked. Demoralization would only complicate his life and make things go much slower. The shift was already insufferably long.

He’d fallen into a numb rhythm and did not notice Tony waving a towel at him from across the aisle.

Neal took out his earplugs. “What?” he shouted over the roar of the motors. 

“Something’s going on,” yelled Tony. “The bigs’re over there.”

Neal stepped back from his machine. He saw the swirling red light of one of the forklifts. “I can’t see anything.” 

“Go find out,” said Tony. 

“I don’t want the attention,” said Neal. “I’m sure we’ll hear about it later.” 

“Come on,” said Tony. 

“No,” said Neal. “You do it.” 

Neal reinserted his earplugs and returned to his machine. He’d run through a dozen parts, punching holes and stacking them neatly, when Tony flagged him again. 

“Somethin’ bad,” he yelled. 

“What?” said Neal.

“I don’t know. Everyone’s down there by the conference room. Floyd told me to get back.”

Neal shrugged. Stepping out into the aisle, he saw nothing but the swirling light. 

“I bet it was a fight,” said Tony.

“Really,” said Neal. “You think?” 

“You saw them outside. They were pissed.” 

“Yeah, but who?” said Neal. “The only person I can see them fighting is Floyd.”

“I guess,” said Tony.

“Come on,” said Neal. “Let’s work. We’ll find out later.”

At lunchtime, in the breakroom downstairs, Kenny and Dutch and some of the other guys were standing in a circle at the back wall, near the banner. Neal saw them when he reached the bottom of the stairs. He could tell they’d been there awhile, even before the bell sounded. They were having some kind of meeting.

On his way to a vending machine, Neal made eye contact with Kenny. Kenny held up his finger, as if to say, “Hang on a sec.” Neal bought strawberry Pop-Tarts. After microwaving them, he met Kenny at a table in the middle of the room. Crumbs covered the table. Kenny swiped them off with his arm. 

“Slobs,” he said. 

Neal smiled. His mouth was full.

“Did you hear about your buddy Karl?” said Kenny.

“No,” said Neal. “What about him?”

“He lost a finger last night.”

“What?” said Neal. “What do you mean?”

“Just that,” said Kenny. “Yesterday he had ten fingers. Now he’s got nine.” 

Neal set his Pop-Tart on the table. “What happened?” he said.

“A press,” said Kenny. “Somehow he got his finger in there.”

Neal turned and looked across the room. Kenny didn’t say anything. The others were waiting, watching. 

“You all right?” asked Kenny. 

Neal said he was, but he felt sick. He shoved the other Pop-Tart aside. “Where is he? Is he okay?”

“He’s all right. Dutch talked to his wife. He’s at the hospital…”

Neal’s throat burned, and blood filled his temples. “I was on that machine two days ago,” he said.

“I know,” said Kenny. He pointed at the guys. “We’re talking to the union rep right now.”

“What about?” said Neal. 

“We’re probably gonna file a grievance.” 

“Oh…” said Neal.

“All right,” said Kenny. “I just wanted you to know.”

“Thanks,” said Neal. 

Kenny walked toward the men but then stopped and turned around. “Hey,” he said. “You know they’re gonna want to talk to you, right?” 

“Who?” said Neal. 

“The union.” 

“Okay,” said Neal. 

“Which means you probably ought to join.”

Neal nodded. He didn’t know what that entailed. He hoped it didn’t mean he had to keep the job forever.

“Okay,” said Kenny. “We’ll talk about it later.” 

Neal returned to his station long before the bell rang. When it did, he moved slowly, fumbling through the motions of his work. The sick feeling would not go away.

The tipping point came when he saw Floyd out of the corner of his eye. He was walking faster than usual, cutting through two presses on the edge of the work area. Now what? Tracking him, Neal moved his head too quickly. His stomach was on top of him then, pushing up through his throat. He bolted across the aisle to a trash can. Reaching it, Neal retched once and then vomited into the container. 

For weeks, Neal heard nothing about Karl. He didn’t think about him, unless he walked by the press that ate Karl’s finger. This made Nick feel sick again. And hopeless.

Then, in late July, when the heat was unbearable and the overworked presses started breaking down one after another, Dutch intercepted Neal on his way to the plate room. “Did you talk to Kenny?”

“What about?” 

“The union.”

“I filled out the paperwork,” said Neal.

“And you haven’t heard anything?”


“Okay,” said Dutch. “I’ll find out what’s going on. Talk to me at lunch.” 

Neal found himself suddenly desperate to tell Dutch he had no intention of staying at Rozier. But he didn’t. He knew he’d be disappointed. 

Two days later, Karl was back at work. Neal saw him in the breakroom. He was sitting alone, eating a Twinkie and reading the comics. His skin was pale, and he hadn’t shaved in several days.

Neal bought a sandwich and sat down at Karl’s table. Karl was holding the paper in front of his face and didn’t see Neal. When he turned the page, Neal saw the maimed hand, wrapped in gauze and dirty athletic tape. 

Karl folded the paper and set it down on the table. “What’s up, kid?” 

“Hey,” said Neal.

“How’s it goin’?”

“Pretty good,” said Neal. “I’m sorry about your finger.” 

Karl lifted his hand and turned it back and forth, as if to remind himself that the finger no longer existed. “Yeah well,” he said. “Whaddya gonna do?”

“It’s stupid,” said Neal.

“What is?” 

“These old machines. They suck.”

Karl grinned. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. 

Neal looked at him inquisitively, and Karl slapped his good hand on the table. “Once we reach a settlement,” he said, “I’m outta here.”

After a few weeks, Neal was invited to join the union. A rep came by and talked to him, said his job was protected, no matter what Neal said to the lawyers.

But they never called. 

In late August, Neal started college. He was taking freshman comp, biology, algebra, intro to sociology and American history from the Revolution to the Civil War.

The latter was taught by Dr. Markham, an austere man who wore brown corduroys and rolled his shirtsleeves up above his elbows. 

Neal showed up early for the first class. When he walked into the room, Markham was writing on the chalkboard. After making his way past the professor, he looked up and saw Kenny, sitting in the back row. 

“I heard this guy’s a real ball buster,” said Kenny. 

Neal dropped his backpack and took a seat next to his friend. Then, as if on cue, Markham said, “When you’re writing a paper for me, never use the expression ‘more or less.’ You shouldn’t have to ponder this worthless combination of words too long to realize it means nothing.”

“Jesus,” said Kenny. “That’s how we’re startin’ out?”

“Twelve minutes,” said Neal.

“What?” said Kenny.

“Since he gave his last F.”

Kenny laughed. “Yeah, but that’s better than a severed finger.”

Neal smiled, and thought of Karl. "More or less."

MATT McGOWAN grew up in southwest Missouri and attended the University of Missouri. He was a newspaper reporter, and for many years now he has worked as a science and research writer at the University of Arkansas. His stories have appeared in Deep South Magazine, Concho River Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, Arkansas Review and others. He lives with his wife and children in Fayetteville, Arkansas. 

ISSN: 1533 2063