Maxine is Head Timekeeper at Westward Printing. She arranges timecards in the rack and retrieves them from the slotted box. The workers fill out the cards with numbers indicating what they did and how long it took. There is a blank space on the back for Comments. Maxine is also in charge of Payroll. She copies down information from the timecards into a ledger book. This information determines what each worker will be paid for that week.
Westward Printing is a union shop. Everything goes according to the contract.
There are different pay scales for different job classifications. Highest is FIRST CLASS MACHINE OPERATOR, followed by SECOND CLASS MACHINE OPERATOR, and then HELPER. The lowest pay scale is WOMAN. Men start as HELPER, and can work their way up, based on performance and seniority, to SECOND CLASS MACHINE OPERATOR, and finally, FIRST CLASS MACHINE OPERATOR. Women start as WOMAN and remain WOMAN for as long as they are employed at Westward Printing.
Maxine is not in the union. She does not punch a time clock, but she is expected to be at her desk by 7 AM, and to remain there until at least 4 PM. Often she is there much later than that. She is not paid overtime.
Part of Maxine’s job is to walk the factory floor tracking down workers who turn in incorrect, incomplete, or illegible timecards. Maxine is required by management to wear a dress and stockings. When she walks the factory floor the men shout and make lewd gestures. A few of these men are in the habit of leaving sexually explicit messages in the COMMENTS section on the backs of their timecards.
At the end of this particular day, Maxine brings a selection of these offensive timecards to Dave Mortenson, the Plant Manager, who has a good laugh and explains to Maxine that nothing can be done unless there is direct and inappropriate physical contact.
“So what you’re saying, Dave,” Maxine says, “is that I need to be raped.”
Rather than return to her office, Maxine stuffs the timecards into her coat pocket and walks to the bus stop. When she arrives at their apartment, her husband Raymond is watching a ballgame on TV and drinking beer. He says hello without looking up. Maxine drapes her coat over a kitchen chair and puts TV Dinners into the oven. She grabs a beer for herself and joins Raymond on the couch. They watch in silence until the oven’s timer bell rings.
In the morning, Maxine makes Raymond’s breakfast and packs his lunch, and then showers and dresses for work.
She is surprised to find her husband, who should have left for the carwash by then, still seated at the kitchen table. The timecards are spread out in front of him. He is visibly upset. He stands. He takes a step toward his wife. His fists are clenched. His face twists into a crazy smile.
“Your boyfriends write really nice love letters,” Raymond says, and takes another step toward his wife.
Dan Nielsen lives alone in a three-bedroom house a short walk from Lake Michigan. He’s been writing, making music, and doing art for half a century. Old credits include Random House and University of Iowa Press anthologies. Most recently his work has appeared in The Bicycle Review, New Pop Lit, Lamplit Underground, Smashed Cake Review, Bird’s Thumb, and Lockjaw Magazine. Dan is amazing at ping-pong. He has a website called Preponderous.