Paul sat at the kitchen table, porridge dripping from his chin, reading a rejection email from a literary agent regarding a novel he’d written. No ordinary, regurgitated copy and paste rejection. An exclusive rejection with soul and dignity. Almost felt like an acceptance. Gave him a foolish expectation. Like a girlfriend you love deeply calling time on your relationship, throwing a glimmer of hope into the air with an off the cuff ‘we could be back together in 6 months’ as she begins demonstrating all kinds of tricks using your heart as a yo-yo.
Outside, the strong morning sun had already soaked up the dew, removing the sparkle from the surrounding fields and lawns. The thought of working inside all day filled Paul with despair. He poured water over his dust covered windscreen, then filled the fluid bottle under his bonnet.
The drive in was quicker than he would’ve liked. After pulling into the yard and parking up, he stared at the decaying boats resting on breeze blocks and crushed timber, whilst pulling on his steel toe cap boots, sitting on the edge of the boot of his Saab. It was 8:05, only 7 hours 55 minutes to go. Once inside the warehouse he waved good morning to the three other employees, Ian, Jeff and Mark, who were dwarfed by precariously high-stacked towers of different wood such as Douglas Fir, Sapele, Ash, Paulownia and plywood sheets. He toyed with the idea of walking over, being sociable and joining in their conversation. But thought better of it when he heard them talking about Ian’s new shed. Four months of talking about Ian’s new shed first thing, every morning brew and every lunch. Paul walked over to the incinerator – his first job every morning. After emptying the ashes, he rolled up pages of newspaper into balls, not too tight, before breaking up pieces of off-cuts, trying to prop them up as best he could around the newspaper. Once lit and roaring, he took the bucket of ash outside and poured it into a wheelie bin. 08:22 – 7 hours and 38 minutes to go.
Back inside, Paul took his time switching on all the machinery in his cramped area of the workshop. Jeff had placed a list of all the boat kits that needed completing by day’s end, along with the specific individual instructions and measurements for each one. The names and types of boats he prepared meant nothing to him. He still had no idea what gunwales, daggerboards and quarter knees were. Nor had he any interest in learning. He placed the uncomfortable full face respirator mask over his head, followed by ear defenders and put on protective gloves that were slightly too big for his small hands and started up the thickness planer. He wrestled a 15ft plank of Sapele off the top shelf to his right, measuring the thickness – 29mm. The gunwales had to be 22mm thick and 19mm wide. He began the arduous task of planing the wood 2mm at a time, making sure the plank of wood stayed as level as possible going through the machine, straining his lower back. At 22mm thick, he then shut off the machine and started up the table saw. He double checked the sheet reading the width of the gunwales, making sure they had to be 19mm wide. He sent the Sapele through the saw, cutting to widths of 23mm. He managed to get 7 widths cut. Next, it was back to the thickness planer to send the wood through 1mm at a time because Sapele has a tendency to snap or split the finer it becomes. With the noise of the machinery churning away, along with the mundane task of feeding wood through one machine, to another, before finally going back to the first, not to mention the uncomfortable heat, it was easy to drift off thinking about anything but the job at hand. Time and time again he was forced to start over, not paying attention to the specific measurements of the kits.
Morning brew finally arrived. The first third of the day or thereabouts was finally over. The weather had changed dramatically and it was now raining down thick droplets you only encounter during summer months. Brew time was to be taken inside. Ian, Jeff, Mark and the boss, Simon, who usually arrived around nine, slunked off to the brew hut on the other side of the yard. Paul, who had begun distancing himself more and more over the last couple of weeks because he could no longer bear the dire conversations on sheds, stayed inside the dust filled warehouse, pulling up a chair, sipping an instant coffee and reading. The warehouse fell deadly silent. A few pages into his book, Paul heard a thwack. He looked over at a smaller stack of plywood, noticing a wasp wriggling on its back. He walked over, rolling it onto its legs. The wasp, looking groggy and stumbled as if drunk, must have fallen from the rafters. He watched it for a while as it seemed to gain composure and decided to help it exit the warehouse. He placed a small piece of paper under the wasp, walked it over to the door, opened it, trying to shake it off. The wasp wouldn’t budge. ‘Gone on, off you go.’ Paul whispered. The wasp wouldn’t budge. ‘Stupid thing.’ He said, walking away from the open door, placing the piece of paper on a shelf near it with the hope the wasp might fly out.
For the rest of the morning Paul sent Sapele through the thickness planer 1-2mm at a time. Each passing plank pulled and inflamed his back more and more. Come lunchtime his sweat-soaked t-shirt was a darker shade. He walked to his car for his pack lunch. It was still raining, although it had eased considerably. The day was muggy and felt like thunder. How Paul would’ve loved to have been standing in the middle of a thunderstorm. The others trudged to the brew hut. Paul pulled up his seat in the warehouse, eating his sandwiches and gulping down water. Whilst staring at nothing in particular, thinking of his rejection email from earlier, he heard another thwack. A wasp, perhaps the same one, had fallen once more from the rafters. He watched it again. This time it managed to roll over on its own. It attempted to fly, but struggled. Paul placed the wasp onto another piece of paper, walked it to the door, opened it and tried to shake it off. The wasp wouldn’t budge. Paul glanced over at the piece of paper from earlier – the wasp was gone. He placed the new piece of paper carrying the wasp on the ground outside. It had stopped raining by now and the clouds were beginning to part for the midday sun. The wasp didn’t move. Paul watched it for a moment, feeling vexed the wasp wouldn’t fly away.
At 4pm Paul closed down his station, switching off all the machinery at the mains. He walked over to his workmates, begrudgingly having a brief chat about nothing in particular, then left. At his car, he took off his t-shirt, ringing it through, changed into a cleaner one and drove home, forgetting to change out of his steel toe caps. Back home, Paul threw some filled pasta into a pan of boiling water. After eating and feeling exhausted he took a cold shower, before watching the repeat of a tv series he’d seen many times before. Around half eight he turned off the tv and opened up his laptop to begin writing. He woke up on the couch at 5:49am confused and with a stiff neck. ‘Might as well get up.’ He said aloud, twisting his neck from side to side. He’d forgotten to buy milk on his way home so cooked porridge using water instead, drowning out the obvious difference in taste by layering it in honey.
He arrived at work four minutes earlier than the day before, despite driving at the same speed and taking the same elongated route. ‘How is that possible?’ He muttered. By the time he changed into his steel toe cap boots, cleared the ashes from the incinerator, emptied them into the wheelie bin outside and relit the incinerator it was 08:17. ‘Today’s going to be a long one.’ He said aloud to no one.
His morning was spent in a tiny cupboard of a room with no ventilation, trying to cut and shape a pair of quarter knees to the exact specificity required. By the fifth set, after being told by Ian the other attempts weren’t up to scratch, with sweat pouring from his brow and into his eyes he shut off the sanding machine and threw the quarter knees across the room, taking milliseconds. ‘Fuck this fucking shit. I’m no carpenter, no fucking boat builder. I’m a writer. And I’m on nowhere near enough money to give a flying fuck about doing any of this shit.’ He screamed into his full-face respirator mask. Paul stormed downstairs, ripping his mask off and marched up to Ian. ‘Ian, someone else will have to do those quarter knees. I can’t do it. Don’t wanna do it.’ Said Paul, trying to remain calm whilst locking off his right knee to prevent it from shaking. ‘It’s your job though Paul. Everyone else has their own jobs to be getting on with.’ Replied Ian. ‘I understand that, but what I’m saying is I can’t do it. I’m no good at this kind of thing.’ ‘Well get good. Don’t just give up after falling at the first hurdle.’ ‘This isn’t the first hurdle. This is the hundredth hurdle and I’ve fallen at every one. I’ve been here for four months now, and I can’t sand and shape wood, the only reason I can plane and cut wood is because a monkey could do it. Hence why I’m paid peanuts.’ ‘That’s a very defeatist attitude.’ Said Ian. Paul looked at Ian. Particularly the toothpaste he’d failed to wipe off in the corners of his mouth. He flirted with the idea of making a flammable remark, but was now experienced enough in life to know that it wouldn’t lead to a satisfactory conclusion. ‘Ok, I reckon that’s lunch guys.’ Called out Jeff walking into the warehouse, causing an end to the uncomfortable stand-off.
The morning was hot without the closeness of the day before. Everyone sat outside with their brews. Paul sat just outside the circle of the others, happily reading. The rest listened to Ian talk about his idea of getting the foundations laid for his shed. ‘It won’t be easy getting the mixer down my road. It’s tight with blind bends and if a tractor comes it’s gonna cause problems. But I’m not one for letting a problem get the better of me.’ Paul, assuming the latter part of the sentence was aimed at him, tightened his grip on the book and attempted to continue reading, without success. Instead he placed the book on his lap and closed his eyes, facing toward the hot sun until he could no longer sit listening to the drivel to his right.
Back inside the quiet warehouse he pulled up a chair and kept reading, sipping at his coffee every once in a while. A few minutes went by when he was interrupted by a thwack. He walked over to the same stack of plywood as the day before and found laying there on its back a wasp, perhaps the same one. Once again he scooped it up onto a piece of paper, this time walking it across the yard with prying eyes watching him. He lay it down on a rusty metal drum and walked back towards the warehouse, unsure if he heard a snigger.
Once brew time was over, Paul walked into Simon’s office and explained his concerns about the quarter knees. Upon hearing how much wood was being wasted and thrown into the incinerator due to Paul’s inability to master this task, Simon assured Paul he would no longer have to make another set of quarter knees. As Paul made his way back to the warehouse, Simon called him back. ‘So Paul, your four month contract is coming to an end. I’m not sure how you feel, but I know that I’ve been happy with the way you’ve performed, so was wondering how you might feel about being offered a full-time contract? Same money of course.’ Paul paused. Everything inside of him recoiled at the offer handed to him. This wasn’t the life of an artist he’d always dreamed of. Just a stop gap. But he knew he wasn’t getting anywhere with his writing. And he knew he had a stack of bills piling up on his kitchen table. ‘Thanks Simon, I appreciate the offer. But can I think it over?’ Replied Paul. ‘Sure. Just don’t leave me pissing into the wind. Because if you don’t want to stay I’ll have to find someone to replace you, and quickly.’ Replied Simon. The thought of being replaced cemented the seriousness of Paul’s unpaid bills and lack of avenues.
A delivery of Douglas Fir being dropped off in the middle of the yard shortly after, had to be stacked in the tautliner. And with the forklift out of action and no one else available, the job fell to Paul, solely, to be the stacker. He didn’t mind too much though, it got him out of the warehouse and away from the unbearable noise of running machinery.
Once lunch came around the others headed outside to eat, whilst Paul went inside. Once again he pulled up a chair and tucked into his lunch, and once again a short time later he heard a thwack. He walked over, once again seeing a wasp, perhaps the same one, which was walking around on the same pallet of plywood. Convinced it was the same wasp, he bent down and whispered, ‘I don’t understand. What’s up on those rafters that’s so inviting?’ This time instead of scooping up the wasp, Paul left it and went back to his book.
At 4pm Paul’s back was aching and burning like never before. He’d shifted the whole stack of Douglas Fir on his own. He drove home wearing both his sweat soaked t-shirt and steel toe cap boots. That evening he could only muster making a few rounds of toast and couldn’t face any writing, instead choosing to get oiled up on half a bottle of whiskey before staggering to bed at around 9 without showering.
He woke at around 7:15am with a thick head. It was too late for both breakfast and a shower so opted for the shower – cold. He drove to work, arriving just after 8. Inside the warehouse he was greeted by Ian who was grinning from ear to ear. ‘Simon tells me you no longer have to make quarter knees.’ He said. ‘Yeah, I had a craic with him and he seemed happy.’ Replied Paul. ‘Great. Oh by the way, an order came in for seven kits worth of gunwales. Two straight days of standing by that planer sending through planks of wood two mil at a time. Rather you than me.’ Said Ian. Paul walked towards the incinerator without saying a word, stepping on a curled up dead wasp without noticing. He began clearing the ashes from the incinerator.