This week, the narrator describes an odd experience making a delivery to a factory in Florida.
We begin with the narrator describing her surroundings as she drives away from the factory:
The sea is crystalline. It’s seductive. But the land feels angry and lost. There is no harmony here. The tranquility of the lapping waves sputters out and the land slumps into place. It’s buggy as hell, too.
She swears as one of the aforementioned bugs smacks into her windshield. She then begins to go into a description of what had happened at her last stop, starting by describing the factory and wondering why anyone would allow for a factory to be built the way that it was, right up against the ocean:
It was right on the beach, a huge block rectangle of metal pipes and tanks and three towering stacks, black smoke out over the water. One side of the building went into the high tide line, water just lapping up against the concrete foundation, the gentle white slope of the sand on either side. Weird, right? Why would anyone build a factory like that? Why would they be allowed to, with the environmental hazards alone?
The narrator then goes on to say “Is this the world you left me, leaderless and spinning?” before apologizing for going off topic and going back to the factory. She describes meeting a young there, no older than 18, wearing a gray factory jumpsuit with the company logo (a cringing dog) and the company’s name: Praxis Industries.
She then goes off on another tangent, complaining about the drivers around her and yelling as one of them cuts her off:
The farther south you go on this coast, the worse the drivers get. They’re old, and they’re mad down here. Why are they so mad? Why are they in my lane? WHY ARE YOU IN MY– Shit. Sorry, Alice. I know you hated it when I yelled. Hate it. You hate it when I yell.
Then back to the factory. The young man introduces himself as Jackie, and asks the narrator if she has his shipment. She says “yeah”, and tells him it’s in the back of the truck. Then she muses over the radio as to why they would have needed a truck as big as hers, as the shipment in question is not very big, being an assortment of wood pieces of varying sizes. She helps Jackie unload them from the truck and load them onto a conveyer belt. She notices that the factory doesn’t seem to even have a paring lot, and that is seems to be completely deserted except for Jackie and herself. He asks her to follow him inside so he can sign for the delivery and follows.
There is another interruption as the narrator is distracted by a man in a black van, selling crabs and clams by the roadside, as well as a store selling popcorn. I totally get the aside about the popcorn store and how that would be distracting, as popcorn is amazing. She states that she’s not going to stop, though, and continues on her way. She then describes the suburb that she’s passing through, notably a church “with the same architecture as a Taco Bell.”
Back to the factory: the narrator follows Jackie through to another room, describing it thusly:
Inside the factory, the air didn’t feel like air but some…artificial replication. It felt hot and tight in my lungs. The hallway was the wrong shade of green, if you know what I mean. You know that green that isn’t right, that is off from what it should be? It was that green.
She catches up to Jackie, but there’s something different about him. He appears to be older, in his thirties at least, and the logo on his jumpsuit is now a picture of a man drowning. After pinching herself to make sure she’s not actually dreaming, she signs the paperwork and Jackie asks her to help him unpack the wood. She nods, and follows him out.
The narrator then muses about the pizza nights she and Alice used to share, describing how they would make the dough and sauce from scratch, then drink wine and watch TV while eating the pizza. She then gives some of her thoughts on love:
I think love is cooking together. I think it’s making something with each other, that’s what I think, Alice. I don’t know what you think. Turns out that I didn’t know what you were thinking at all
We then go back to the factory. The narrator catches up to Jackie again, except this time he appears to be in his sixties. He’s using the wood pieces to build some sort of structure, which the narrator describes as “a cube, but missing some bits, maybe.” She refers to him as Jackie, to which he chuckles a bit and says that no one’s called him that in a long time, and that he prefers Jack now. They put the cube on a conveyer belt, and Jack states that there’s one more stop before leading the narrator out.
There’s another interlude where the narrator passes through a swamp, and watches a cow drinking from a stream. She wonders briefly if there’s such a thing as wild cows before going back to talking about the factory.
Jack leads her out to a concrete ledge looking out over the water. He is now in his seventies or eighties, and the two finish building the structure that Jack was working on: a coffin. They place it in the water, and the narrator helps Jack into it:
And I helped him with those last few pieces, and as they locked into place, I understood. And when he gestured I didn’t ask questions. I helped him carry the coffin we had built to the edge of the factory, and dropped it into the water. And when he reached for my hand, I didn’t hesitate. I eased him into the coffin as it floated. He nodded. He didn’t seem scared. My hands shook, but his were steady. “Just push me out, then,” he said. The coffin bobbed in the water. He laid his head back and put his eyes up to the sky.
While she’s helping Jack into the coffin, she notices a new logo: two people lowering a coffin into the sea. She watches the coffin float on the tide for a while, then goes back to her truck and drives away.
And that’s where I am now. Driving, as I always am when we talk. “We?”Of course “we” don’t talk. I do. You vanish. You aren’t. You are a – a gap, a nothing. And I talk into that nothing. I let my words float away, like Jackie on the waves, like…like Jack on the waves. I let my words vanish, and I just keep driving.
Flour on our hands, sauce on our hands, our hands on our hands, something forgettable on the television, leg upon leg. That was a life! Alice, that’s what it’s made of! Hand upon hand upon leg upon heart upon couch upon a day where we made bread together. And now, a coffin floating away on water as blue as anything under a sky, as blue as anything away from the factory. Away from the factory by the sea.
This episode isn’t as suspenseful as the previous ones, or as creepy as the previous episodes were. It was certainly unsettling, but it was more contemplative and melancholy than it was terrifying. It was, as usual however, still very well written and well performed.
The next episode will be airing on May 3.