by by Aaron Cutler

i work day and night in a tennis ball factory. i glue the fur onto the tennis balls. i stand in front of a table holding the glue. one man hands me the ball and another hands me the fur. on my best days when i work well i can glue one hundred tennis balls.

one day a man in a suit walked into the factory. hey edgar he said.
i ignored him.
he said something i didn't hear because i had gone back to the tennis balls. there were people in front of and behind me who needed them. gluing the tennis balls took a long time. i didn't look at him. i can't remember what he said while i glued.
he pushed me. i'm talking to you he said.
you are.
my boss mr. jorgas came over to us. is there a problem? he said.
no mr. jorgas.
mr. jorgas touched the man on the arm. he said can we help you with anything sir?
the man looked at me. he walked out of the factory.
i went to work again. at eleven i had a cup of coffee in front of the table. at three i sat on a bench outside the factory and ate a cold roast beef sandwich with american and mayo.
that night after seven i punched in my time card. i was walking out from work. the man in the suit appeared in front of me. he was wearing a winter jacket. i've been trying to talk to you he said. it's important.
good i said. i kept walking.
do you have a minute?
i need to go home. i need to wake up early.
just a minute.
i need to go home. i need to wake up early.
there's a bar across the street i saw. we could
i need to go home. i need to wake up early.
come on let's just go.
i don't want to get drunk.
i won't get you drunk. he grabbed me by the shoulders. he smiled. he walked me across the street into the crackerjack daniel. the bartender michael used to work at the factory. we're friends. he gets me free drinks. i didn't say anything to the man in the suit.
the man in the suit said a ginger ale and gin and tonic please. michael asked for seven dollars. the man in the suit left a twenty-dollar bill on the counter. he picked up both of the drinks.
guess which one's yours he said.
i said nothing.
he handed me the gin and tonic. i let it drop to the floor. the gin spilled all over. it got on our shoes. the man stepped back and looked down. jesus christ he said what'd you do that for?
because i don't like you i said. because you put a drink in my hand when you know i don't drink. because you want to get me drunk even though i don't want to. get me a fucking ginger ale.
he held out his hand to me.
no i said get me a fucking coke.
he ordered a coke from the bar and another gin and tonic. michael asked for seven dollars. he put down fifteen. he stuffed the coke into my hand. he pointed to a table in the corner near a pinball machine. some men from the factory were gathered around it. i wanted to join them.
i won't sit down i said.
i didn't ask you to the man in the suit said. he sat down. the men played pinball more loudly. the machine laughed. i drank my drink.
you need to stop playing games he said. face things.
don't shit me.
i'm not shitting you. i don't know what that means.
fuck you i said and i left.


the next day i came to work wanting music. i asked mr. jorgas if he would be ok if i wore headphones. he said it was fine so long as i worked well. i borrowed headphones from a coworker who was new at the factory.
do you like the job? he asked.
yes i said. i do.
that's nice.
do you get lonesome gluing tennis balls?
that's a stupid question.
the man in the suit walked into the factory. i put down my tennis ball and walked away.
wait he yelled. he waved. you can't escape me. you know that you can't run forever.
mr. jorgas came out of the office. is there a problem here? he asked.
no mr. jorgas.
mr. jorgas said fine. he turned to the man in the suit. he said if you've got business could you settle it later? we're working.


we sat in the bar at the crackerjack daniel.
how's work? he asked.
do you like it?
you're not very talkative.
i didn't speak.
he was holding a drink that he spat into. he slammed the glass down onto the table. why do you hate me? he asked.
i don't.
then what do you think of me?
i don't.
michael walked over to us. the man in the suit said sorry. he asked for another drink. michael looked at me. i shrugged. michael shrugged too. he poured the man in the suit another drink.
it must have been hard for you when mom died he said.
i drank my coke.
i'm sorry i didn't make it for the funeral. how'd you deal?
i drank my coke.
you deal. you do what you have to. you do it and then you go back to work. i know you were working.
i was.
i finished my coke and put the empty glass on the table. michael poured me a new one. the man in the suit pulled some money out of his pocket. i grabbed his wrist. i said i'll pay myself.
i was fired from my job.
i let go of him.
i made fun of my boss without meaning to. i called him fat. he fired me, but i didn't know where to go. i kept going back to work. it got to be too much for me. i need help.
i said nothing.
you won't understand. my wife sleeps all day.
i was quiet.
i couldn't tell her. it would break her. you understand what i mean?
i was quiet.
do you?
i got tight inside.
please answer me.
yes i said now get on with your story.
i got home after i'd been fired and told her work was fine. i went back the next day and hung around the office. you know. just in case. eventually they hired me as a janitor. i was good at it. i know how to whistle. it's nice to have something that you can slip into without people noticing you. then somebody did. an old friend at work who wasn't really a friend. he called my name saying hey edmund, nice costume. so i ran. back home. but my wife was asleep. you don't have anybody, do you? at home, i mean.
why not? it's nice. you could get someone to make you peanut butter and butter sandwiches like mom used to make. you could get fat again.
don't talk about that.
i'm sorry. hey. i'm flying back to the city tomorrow. will you come home with me?
i said nothing.
it must seem random to you. i don't know who else to ask. i was a shit to you when we were kids. but hey. you're all i've got.
i can't i said. i have work tomorrow.
i asked about you at the factory. they say you haven't taken a sick day in four years. you've built up vacation time. say your brother's sick.
he smiled. he put his hand on my shoulder. please help me he said.
i can't i said. i have work tomorrow.