A Place In Time is a short story written by Tim Clark and shared with The Ugly Writers under the theme Contrition for the month of August
A Place In Time
Moving to Columbus, Ohio from a small town in Nebraska gashed holes in my sense of self. There were so many people, it was easy to believe I didn’t exist, it worried me that I was losing my ability to find myself in the crowd. My edges were getting soft and indistinct. It was the oddest sensation; my wave form was beginning to collapse.
Fate intervened, and landing what was left of me in a job at a small screen-printing plant on the outskirts of the suburbs. Since it was a suburb, the traffic wasn’t so terrifying, and since the facility was small, I could begin to take shape again.
It didn’t take long to understand screen-printing plants are the final refuge for frustrated artists, oddballs, and refuges from real employment. I fit right in. Though, I didn’t really fit in at all. My height, I was the tallest person in the building, was viewed as a handicap, I was single, one of a very few, I had no artistic ability or ambitions. And I was a foreigner. At least to my co-workers.
I worked at a large table standing at an intersection of two long aisles. They both led to the restrooms and water coolers. One came from the small shipping department, and one from the room where all the screen presses were. Everybody walked past my table several times a day. They would smile and nod their heads. But nobody said much, turnover was high, and people were reluctant to be too welcoming, and I was still trying to reattach all the loose parts of me that were drifting around.
A bell would ring five minutes before lunch and quitting time. Everybody would line up to clock out, Pavlov would have been proud.
The conversation was mostly cheerful. Sometimes, though, it would turn, get louder, travel from front to back, wrapping around everyone, swallowing all the other conversations. Everybody would be talking, it got loud, boisterous. I let it wash over me, awash in anonymity.
“You’re from Nebraska?” It caught me off guard. The question came from a short, round woman. She had big, hexagonal glasses that magnified her eyes, making them look larger than her face. Her short brown hair was combed straight back and had thin streaks of gray. She was one of the employees whose job was to gather the finished sheets from the end of the conveyer and carry them over to be inspected. She looked at me, unblinking and intense. Later, I learned she had a disability, today, they would say she was on the autism spectrum.
“Yes, yes, I am.” I answered.
“People still wear cowboy hats, and those pointy boots there?” she asked, pointedly, demanding. I was a little surprised by her intensity.
“Sure, some people.” I answered.
“Do they ride in rodeos?” She seemed to be warming to the subject, she stepped back and smiled, a little.
“Some people, some of the time.”
“Did you ride in rodeos?” As if that had been the question, she wanted to ask all along.
I thought about the only time I had been on a horse. A car drove past, and the horse took off. I had no idea where it was going. Terrible thoughts ran through my mind; the horse would run forever, we would both perish on the empty plains of central South Dakota, or it would run to the barn, and I would be smashed against the wall over the door, a few coats of paint would have erased my embarrassing, unfortunate end. I swore if I got off that horse alive, I would never climb on an animal again. I didn’t want to admit that, though, it sounded so weak, so inconsequential.
I turned away and noticed everybody had stopped talking. They were all looking at me, waiting to find out if I was a rodeo rider.
I thought about lying. Nobody knew anything about me. I could have told them anything I wanted, and they would have never known better, this was before the internet, and I was a long way from Nebraska. It didn’t take long to overrule that instinct, some of these people might have been to a rodeo. Being on the outskirts of town there might have been some people who owned some land and had some livestock. I could look like a fool, again.
What choices did I have? admit that while I was from a small town in Nebraska I was as close as you could get to being a city boy. Or lie about being a rodeo cowboy. Neither seemed good.
“I know one end of a horse from another. If that’s what you’re asking.” It was true, I did. It was about all I knew about horses. It seemed enough for most of the crowd, they went back to their regularly scheduled conversation.
It didn’t seem to satisfy the person who asked, though. She looked at me, you could see the skepticism. I don’t know what she wanted. I thought about making a break for the coffee maker. The bell rang, and the line moved, and I was saved.
I settled into my job, everybody learned my name, and nobody cared where I was from or what I did. It was one of the few times in my life I felt like a part of something. After a couple of years, the owners came and announced they were closing the business. Thirty days later we were all gone. I’ve never seen any of them since. I’m glad I told the truth, sort of.