by Jessie Atkin
All the people of the upper crust – the managers, medics, executives, engineers, and everyone else who had a window by their desk – sent their children to the factory. Having no faith in their offspring the parents established the future on the bones of their own babies, and their babies were the lucky ones.
They pushed their children through factory doors to see them squeezed out again on the other side into the window paneled offices that their parents were preparing to leave behind.
It used to be that when a child turned fifteen or sixteen their parents took the growing youth to a professional for some small advice about what they would grow up to be, but the factories began as parents started taking a child, at five or six, to begin their education early. These sad small creatures were abandoned to a process that, while stealing from them their play and their time, promised the gift of high wage and influential standing when they were released some seventeen years later.
In the souls of these puny starved creatives dwelt a future of change that was stamped out by their betters at the earliest possible moment. What was a future worth if it didn’t include capital, clout, and complete devotion to the productive cause? Nothing. That is what my father told me when it was my turn to enter the factory. I was told I would enter its doors, observe its customs, or I could work in food production for the rest of my days, and wouldn’t I hate to do that?
The first thing I noticed about the factory was that there were no windows. Windows, views, that is what we were working to earn, one was not merely allowed to stare, and to dream, and to wonder. We were weighed down with sheets of paper, sheets, upon sheets, upon sheets, all asking us succinct questions many that came with explicit answers. We did not need to make up our own, only choose from those that were already set before us. And every night we were sent away with even more sheets, to keep us inside, to keep us hunched, and busy so we could not savor the windows in our own homes.
Yet, it never occurred to my father, or anyone’s father, to track them to the factory’s doors once they had been permitted inside. The path was set and no one considered anyone would decide not to follow it. My problems began a few years into my confinement on the day I glanced skyward and picked out a butterfly. Instead of the track to the factory, I followed the butterfly as it traversed the sky and wove between people, buildings, and cars. How could I not? When the wings worked so clearly with the wind instead of against it. My feet could no more ignore it than fall off my legs of their own accord.
The butterfly got away, the day flew by in an instant, my eyes trained almost completely on the sky. My liberation was at hand. It was my ears, rather than my eyes, that brought me back to earth. The rhythm, the beat, reverberating up through the soles of my shoes brought my eyes down to what was right in front of me. A man, his beard a tangle of brown and gray, but mostly gray, sat astride a pickle tub, wearing a jacket that was too big for him and a hat that was too small. Despite his layers, he looked cold, and perhaps that is why his hands kept moving.
It was his rhythm that had drawn me, and my eyes, as he hammered at the tub between his legs, making a music I didn’t know one could raise without the aid of an instrument far beyond mere percussion. This was nothing, and it was also everything. Even beneath his beard, I could tell the man was smiling. I could not remember being smiled at.
My face fell as I looked at him because the music stopped. Our eyes met.
“Change.” He said.
Change? Who? Me? How?
“Change,” he said again, this time pointing a finger.
His meaning was clear. I could only shake my head. I had nothing with me but sheets. Worthless sheets.
I feared his anger but, instead, he began his music again. And I could listen. And that was enough. But it wasn’t the end.
The end came later, though not much later. It was dinner and, despite the fact that I kept my mouth shut as was expected I could not keep my foot from shaking. I could not fight the wind. And as the beat rose not just from within me, but outside me, my hands making a melody upon my chair, there was nowhere to hide my new secret knowledge.
This music, as I knew it, and the “noise” as my father called it, brought the man to his feet, though he was not so tall as he’d once been when he had first brought me to the factory. His words were a terror, a shout more than coherent reprimand, they brought me to my feet as well. I could not tell him where I had learned such a thing though I insisted it was something I did know, not only a tick or a trifle. He responded by searching my bag for the day’s sheets, the day’s questions, because he did not understand that he was already asking one.
I knew better than to stand still and instead moved to the lavatory, locking the door at my back, understanding that my father would not find what he sought in my things. He would know that I had followed a different path and arrived at home with nothing to show for it. And, as he pounded on the door, demanding an explanation, and to be let inside, he did not understand that he too was making music.
Jessie Atkin writes fiction, essays, and plays. Her short work has appeared in The Rumpus, Writers Resist, Daily Science Fiction, Space and Time Magazine, and elsewhere. She is the author of the full-length play “Generation Pan.” You can find her online at jessieatkin.com