‘Assembly’ by Clare Beams


Metropolis, Fritz Lang, 1927

From N+1:

At the factory, the truth is that we don’t know what we are making. We construct the parts of the unknown thing throughout the day, and we put them on the belts that take them through the far wall. Each of us knows the shape of her particular piece the way we know the dark behind our own eyelids. Mine is a long, flat strip of metal, three inches wide, that arrives to me straight as a bone. It looks strong, but between my hands it is flexible. I bend it into a blunt-nosed hook—a hanger without shoulders, on which nothing in the world could hang. When it moves past me, the next arrives. Of what the pieces become behind that far wall, we’ve seen not even a glimpse, we have not even an inkling. We don’t really talk about this. It doesn’t interest us. We are all women just recently too old to be called girls, used to not knowing things.

While we work, we talk to each other—our hands by now are separate from us and capable, and we have other things on our minds. We tell the kind of stories that bore everyone except the teller. “My husband broke the garbage disposal this weekend.” “My husband cut down that disgusting tree in the backyard.” We are most of us married, though not yet for very long, and the word husband is still sweet in our mouths, even when we are complaining. Hallie, who works the next belt over from me, has no husband. Every time the word gets said I see her small flinch, as if she would withdraw herself into the safety of that airless neat-as-a-pin one-bedroom where she lives (I know, I dropped her off once). I keep saying husband anyway.

Today, though, Emma has brought us a new word.

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