A gentle cross breeze meanders in and out of doors and windows while I work this morning. Unseasonably warm, but none of us are complaining. I bend the paper, letting this tame air ease between the pages. The stack drops briefly to the table. Tap. Tap. Pages settle into alignment. I slide them into the machine and tap them in place once more.
“You ready, Toby?” I whisper to the machine.
His motor continues rumbling his monologue, which I carefully interpret to be an affirmative.
Leaning back from the safety sensors, I push both hands underneath the work surface, pressing twin buttons and holding them in place, while the blade of the machine slides down with a soft swoosh through the paper stack and thunk reaches its limit and thunk returns to starting position. I sweep the paper trimmings into the recycle bin beside me, thin ribbons of waste tumbling into their confinement. My process continues, repeating. Jog the paper into a neat stack. Tap. Tap. Register the paper in the cutter. Tap. Tap. A gentle but excited murmur. “Here we go, Toby!” Swoosh. Thunk thunk. Slivers of paper tipping over the edge and tumbling, tumbling down. Then gone, and I reach for the next section of paper, only to find I’ve finished already.
“Thank you, Toby. I’ll be back soon enough.”
My feet carry me across the press room floor along a weaving line between machines, paper stacks, and rolling tables to the bindery station, my own space in this planned chaos. Here, I perch on my rolling chair, old enough to have plastic wrap wrapped around and around and around the seat, trapping in the exposed orange foam. Here, I shape the brochures in careful thirds, pressing each fold into sharp lines with the tool in my hand. We call it a bone, and I cannot help but imagine the years of hands that have held it, tilted and pressed it into paper creases. The bones wrapped in their own skin strangely similar. In reality it is something akin to a tongue depressor but plastic and thicker in the middle because of the years of wear on the edges rubbing against paper. As I near the end of my brochure pile, I glance over to the clumsily made metal flower I taped upright on the desk weeks ago.
The shrink wrap system had partly broken that day. The metal wire that heats to melt the plastic together was hanging down, a limp and partly severed appendage, when I went to package a finished job. I stared at it, the broken wire. It twisted at an odd angle, no longer straight, strong, and shining. “You poor, baby.” I rub my hand against the metal blue casing surrounding most of the system in an attempt at comfort.
As a coworker clocked in for the day, I called her over. “Sarah, what do I do?”
My comrade in arms looked at the wire for a moment, frowned, considered pushing it into place with the end of a pen, and finally said, “Let’s ask Kyle. He usually fixes it.”
Kyle, a gentle man nearing retirement, smiled as he accompanied us to the heart rending scene, despite the inconvenience. “Sarah, could you unplug it?”
He reached under the device and retrieved a cardboard box, two sides of which were labeled Shrink Wrap Parts in bold swoops of a Sharpie pen. Talking to us as he did so, he unfastened the old wire, blackened and bent. “I don’t know what this could be used for now. Probably something.”
“We could make a flower out of it,” I offered.
He twisted the pliers to the left. “Sounds like an art major thing to say.”
I shrugged, watching him unspool the new wire while he continued in a conversation with Sarah which I can no longer recall. The shining strip of metal reached nearly from one anchor point to another, barely too short.
“Here. Make a flower out of this.” Kyle handed me the failed wire.
It rested with a gentle weight in my hands as so many sticks had throughout my childhood. I pressed and it bent without breaking, so I set about my task, bending and straightening, wrapping and twisting, until a flower as crude as a child’s fifth finger painting emerged, but a flower all the same.
I reach out and gently touch the edge of one wire petal. Smooth and cold, it contrasts to the stacks of paper I’ve been handling my entire shift today. My shift. I should get back to work. The job ticket, this lovely orange sheet of paper with the standard instructions from above (that is to say, Amanda’s office upstairs), dictates that the finished brochures be packaged in three groups of one hundred, so I count. I count in piles of ten until each stack is ready. I slip them into thin plastic and melt the ends together to seal them in. I place them on a blue table to my left. Before I’ve even turned on the heat gun, I’m singing ballads again, and while plastic tightens around paper in reaction to the hot air, the Lady of Shalott looks out her window to see the water lilies bloom.