A new story. A fun one, me thinks. Short and sweet.
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Gustavo worked the press on the 20th floor. Cold light slanted into the room from the overhead windows mixing with the dust and the smell of machine oil, and the sound of cars passing on the snow outside. The other machines lay still, the operators home with their families celebrating with lighted trees and fancy dinners.
Gustavo didn’t mind. Without the distractions of their constant chatter he could loose himself in the work. Press here, fold there, cut here, stitch there. It was the mindlessness of it, the way his hands took over and did all the thinking. It was deeply relaxing for him. His hands flew across the machine, pushing and pulling the fabric, sometimes surprising him by their deftness, and surety. Never in a million years could he do this work, his mind was too busy, too unsure, too afraid, but his hands, his hands had no problem. It was one of the things Gustavo liked most about working here, letting his hands go, watching them work the heavy machine creating something out of nothing. It was always a surprise to him., like looking into raw space and suddenly seeing a planet coalesce around a cloud of dust. Pants, shirts, coats, they formed themselves out of flat cloth, and thin thread, changing from raw materials into the something marvelous to wear. To him it was a miracle, every time.
Gustavo’s hands finished up a jacket, and pulled his eyes to the list, forcing him to see what was next on the special holiday rush. A part of his mind was wondering how much his boss made from such an order. Probably thousands of dollars, none of which would come to Gustavo. He didn’t mind though, he had his hands, and a small studio apartment two blocks away. Sure he lived alone, but really what more did he need? He had food, he had a place to sleep, and he had his work. Let the others be distracted by their families and their friends. His was enough.
Then he heard the sound of the workshop door opening, and without turning around knew it was Clarissa who had entered. Clarissa with her long dark hair, and her critical eye, and her stupid little gloves. She was the only one in the shop who did not like his work, the only one who was always critical of him, who could never be satisfied. He had been enjoying himself so much working by himself, but the thought of being trapped all day in the workshop with her made his shoulders slump. They slumped only a little, so little that no one would have noticed. No one, that is, except Clarissa.
“It’s good to see you too, Gustavo,” she said to his back, her biting sarcasm making him slump even more.
He heard the machine behind him start up, the computer opening and closing the valves, letting the steam work it’s way though the system, checking all the tolerances. Clarissa spent the time looking at the order and humming in her off key way. He could hear the sound of her gloves on the keys, the little rasping sound they made with each contact was like a knife to his back.
Gustavo looked to his own sheet, and went to the rack to pull more fabric. The order called for damask so he went through the storage room, his hands gliding over the row after row of draped fabric, sensing their warp and their wave with his finger tips, letting his hands chose the right cloth. They halted on bolt or damask that was light brown in color, and beautiful to the eye. A subtile but lovely pattern worked it’s way thought the weave that was faint to the eye. You had to look hard to see it, but it was there. This particular bolt held very little fabric. Gustavo knew without looking it was expensive. But his hands were insistent, so he pulled it out and carried it to his machine.
Just as he started entering the fabric into the back of his press he heard Clarissa’s voice. “You’re going to use that?”
Without turning, Gustavo shrugged his shoulders. This wasn’t enough of a reply for Clarissa. She stepped around her machine and walked right up to his order, reading the words out loud as if speaking them gave a different meaning. As she read she pointed at the words with her little gloves. The tip of her finger harsh and accusing.
Gustavo continued loading. Truth be told, he didn’t remember what kind of fabric was on the order. He had read it, and his hands had chosen. It was enough for him.
“That stuff is $50 a yard. Are you sure you want to use it?”
Gustavo turned, looking at Clarissa for the first time. She stared at him imperiously, her lips always ready to frown. Gustavo opened his mouth to say yes, his hands had chosen, but caught in her glare his resolve wilted. Wordlessly he waked over to the the front of his machine and read the order for a second time. All it said was damask slacks, with the measurements. Dully he looked at the matching coat he had already created, trying to capture the thoughts that had lead his hands to reach for exactly this type of damask, but under the sharp eye of Clarissa he felt his thoughts fall to pieces, like trying to put on a coat held loosely together with pins but no thread.
Slowly he walked to the back of his machine, and reversed the cloth out of the loading chute. As he carried it back to the storage room he could feel her cold smile. He hated working with Clarissa.
All morning and into the afternoon they worked together. Gustavo sewed, and Clarissa complained. “Are you sure you want to cut it that way?” she said. “Don’t you want a darker thread for that?” she said. “That’s not a good fabric choice,” she said. Nothing his hands did that day pleased her. Every complaint she spoke made his hands a little harder to hear, until finally at 4:00, the order almost complete, his hands gave out. Gustavo found himself standing before his great machine, completely still. He had no idea how long he had been standing there. All he knew is he couldn’t hear his hands. They were mute, they could not speak.
Clarissa came up behind him. He knew because he could hear her soft tread. “If you’re on the clock you need to work,” she said bitterly. Gustavo felt the words sting. There had never been a day where he didn’t work hard for the boss. He loved to work. He loved his hands. No one ever said different.
Then Clarissa placed a hand on his machine, right on top of the fabric he was supposed to be sewing. Gustavo felt the violation to his core. No one put their hands on another’s machine, especially when it was active. A machine could cut a hand to pieces, crush it until it was flat, and sew it into the fabric. All of these things and more. It was a dangerous place for anyone’s hands, even the operator’s. It simply was not done. Gustavo could not have felt more uncomfortable if she had pulled down his pants on a busy street corner, and shouted out loud.
He felt the anger and frustration boil up inside, rising up like the steam in his machine, but just as he was about to speak his eyes looked down. There was something about her hands that drew his eye. Always Clarissa wore her gloves. Always. It was a thing with her. She never touched anything with her hands, claiming they were too delicate. This time, however, he saw her hand was bare, and seeing her bare hand somehow stopped his rising anger like a hammer.
One glance and he could see the problem. Her hands were locked up, controlled, unhappy. No one spoke to them, they weren’t allowed to sing. Her hands were so unhappy they chapped, they bleed.
Without thinking Gustavo let his hands move. They reached out and landed like birds, gently onto the back of her hand. He heard Clarissa let out a gasp at the touch. He heard her inhale preparing to complain, but before she could say the words his fingers moved, they touched, they stroked. They said words to her hand in the unspoken language of caress, they spoke to her hand in the lost language of stroke, they flattered, they teased, they smiled, they loved.
Behind him Gustavo heard Clarissa make a sound. It was a sigh. Not a word, not a comment, just a sigh. It was the nicest thing she had ever said to him.
Then before he could think he had turned and she was in his arms, and his hands were doing things, and her hands were doing things, and he realized she had the most marvelous hands in the world.
After a moment their hands forced them apart. They stood there looking at each other in shock. Gustavo had never known how much his lips were like his hands. He felt a great desire to use them again, on her. To cover her face with his kisses–her face, and everything else.
But his hands, no their hands, were insistent. There was work to do and they were on the clock. They turned to their machines, and worked–she without her gloves, and he without a care. The fabric flew through their machines, the coats and pants came out the other side, perfect and without blemish, their hands doing all the work, their minds completely at ease. Until in very little time the special holiday rush was done and hanging on the rack ready to go out the next morning.
Then with nothing else to do they clocked out. Suddenly they found themselves standing next to each other at the back door, unsure what to do or what to say. Fortunately Gustavo’s hands knew what to do. They always did. Reaching out, they took Clarissa’s poor hands, still naked and uncovered, and guided her to his apartment. There his hands made her a simple dinner, and after both their stomachs were full, they let his lips take over. His lips and her lips. His hands and her hands. And when they were done, when the sun had come up the next morning, his hands fashioned for her hands a set of rings out of thread, one for each finger.
She cried, then he cried, then they went to work. Never again did she wear her gloves, and never again did he live alone. And always, through work, and tears, children, and sickness, their hands were happy.