David Kern, in these three days, had felt himself become pulplike – shapeless, lost and swallowed somehow, and helplessly open to impression, as though he had no eyelids. Everything seemed abysmal or towering: the brick factory wall, springing right off the sidewalk, as he entered in the morning; its many wide-stretched floors, flickeringly lit, stuffed with the noise and tremor of the machines; even the space of dirt and weeds behind the factory, where the other workers ate and played quoits for the half-hour allowed, felt huge to him, and he huge and swollen with momentary relief, as he crossed the diagonal line of shadow into the sunshine where Eddie already sat on a bench made of a plank and cement blocks. He felt swollen with relief at these minutes of intermittence from tending his machine, but not completely, the inflation was imperfect, there was a pocket of limp dread within him that he must carry back to the job and even into sleep and out the other side. It made him feel lopsided, this sense of being plucked at by nervousness and dread.
‘How goes it?’ Eddie asked him, as David presumed to sit beside him. Eddie had been here several years, since dropping out of high school, and David supposed the older boy must have many friends at the factory. But the bench was empty, and Eddie’s friendly interest in him seemed unfeigned. When David reported to work three days ago – a Monday, and this was only Wednesday – Eddie had been assigned by the foreman of that part of the floor to show him how to mount the caps of sunglass lenses on the pivots, how to stack them on the cart when their twenty minutes in ‘the mud’ – the liquid abrasive in its long trough – was over, and how to keep track of their numbers on the wire overhead. The work seemed simple, yet it was a terrible race to keep the machine from getting ahead; and then the inspector came around once every morning and afternoon with his chalk, marking dozens of lenses ruined, through some error of David’s. The timing had to be exact – too little, they weren’t polished, and too much, they were ‘cooked’.
‘I guess better,’ David said, unfolding his paper bag and taking out the sandwich of Lebanon baloney his mother had made. She had tucked in an apple, which made him want to cry, somehow – its naïveté, its embarrassing redness, its country smell. The apple seemed something he could never get back to, from this abyss he felt he was in, here behind the factory.