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More Than They Could Know

In today's world, caring about recycling is important.

But is it as important as caring about your fellow man? 

More Than They Could Know by Beau Johnson

*—to be fair, I think I have always been like this.

Cycling down, compressing, I watch as the arms and legs hanging outside the machine snap off like muted branches.  Thick and bleeding, they fall to the concrete floor, no longer a part of what once made them whole.  Occasionally—perhaps one in five—these appendages roll towards me, but most times they do not.  Inert, they remain still about my feet, each piece but a rearranged fragment of something which will never again be.

It is Sunday, pre-church, and before the morning rush.

Did I care that they made fun of me?  Yes.  More than they would ever know.  Did I show it?  Never—not once.  I am good at things like this, at holding them in.  I let them stew, boil.  It’s how I’ve come to cook; how the man inside me rolls.  In the mirror, naked, I repeat:  I am Rage.

At seventeen I am hit by a car.  Scars come, many, and to this day I still limp because of it.  My right hand turns inward as well, up and towards my chest.  It resembles a claw, but one which has lost the will to live.  I’d like to say chicks dig this, but no, this has never been the case.

Mr. Gray, the manager here at Mister Food, keeps me on even though corporate had suggested otherwise.  I give the man credit for that.  I really, truly do, even though I have been told this more times than I care to count.  Mr. Gray—he of the tall, the bald, and the very bad breath—shouldn’t have done what he did though, and only because of what it produced.  Truth be told, he should of given me severance; just ensured I went away.  He didn’t however, and soon after is when I find out that Mr. Gray is no better than all the others talking behind my back.  Mr. Gray never yells at me, nothing as vulgar as that.  But he whispers along with the rest of them, and at times I have seen him laugh.
It is this which has caused me to do the things I’ve done.
Why I rage.  Why I seethe.  Why I formed big goddamnable habits. 

Done, the final straw is the baler, and the day that Mr. Gray takes me aside.  He tells me the machine is only meant to house cardboard and plastic—that only a bale of each could be made at a time.  I say I understand this; that it hadn't been me who’d mixed the two.  It is here that Mr. Gray chooses to call me a liar, and his voice, had it been raised?  I can’t recall, not really—all I do see is my fellow employees; that they have stopped in their tracks, there to glare and stare.  One of them had been Cara, a girl I had at one time wished to call my own.  She would never fuck me though, and I have never held any delusions concerning that.

“And Ronald, seriously, you need to be washing your uniform more than once a week.” 

I nod, take what has been given, and then watch as Mr. Gray begins to walk away.  From the side I see him roll his eyes as he passes Patrick, Bill and Mark.  They smile in return, the secret shared and understood.  The rage comes forward then, leaping, but I smash it down, my wide and toothy grin fighting to contain that which no longer wanted to be contained.  This is a skill, something I’d come to excel at—the fuel which has filled me these last few years.
It’s only later that the staff meeting at the end of the month goes and enters my mind.
They are always held on Sundays, before store opening, and out back where Mister Food keeps all of its excess stock.  Mr. Gray rents folding chairs and everyone gets a seat.  To the right, beside these seats, looms the baler.  Industrial grade and painted brown, it possesses a mouth I had come to dream of—six feet long, three feet wide, and five feet deep.  Plastic and cardboard Mr. Gray had said, saying it as though I were someone new.
Producing rectangle kids, you fed the baler until you no longer could.  Full, you pressed the button which activated the plunger, three thousand pounds of pressure then compacting recyclables the only way it could.  Needless to say, I was far from wondering about cardboard and plastic as I spasmed into my hand.  I was thinking about bodies; about stacking them high.  Could it be done, I thought, and suddenly realized I had asked the question aloud.
“Mr. Gray?”
“What is it now, Ronald?”
“At the staff meeting, if it’s not too much trouble … I was wondering … I mean, would it be okay if I was in charge of refreshments?” 
Pausing, Mr. Gray finally swivels in his chair.  He is elated, I see, just as I thought he’d be.  All told, it’s shit like this that makes me want to heave.  Fact is, it proves what I’d come to understand—that people like Mr. Gray don’t just call the kettle black, they fucking well paint it.
The dosage I drum up is enough, more than, and all but Florence has taken a glass.  It doesn’t take much to persuade her however, not once I put the full force of my limp on display.  She takes the glass, sips—comments on how peachy it tastes.  Thirty minutes later all thirty-seven employees lay prone before me. 

Where to begin, I think, and suddenly notice how hard it has become to breathe; how hard my heart is now knocking inside my chest.  “I am Rage,” I say and take each of them in at a time.  I will be stacking you, I think, and then go on towards Mr. Gray.  In time—stupid fucking hand—I get the big man up, rolling him up and over the baler’s top lip.  Easier, I take the cashiers next, each of them half the weight of Mr. Gray.  Eleven of them inside, I close the safety gate and then push the big green button on the side of the machine.  With a start and then a screech the plunger descends, crushing breath and bone alike.  They never wake, not one of them.  They only bleed, forming a lake like the syrup we kept in isle 9.
The buggie boys come next, followed by the ladies who ran Floral.  Of them all, it’s Sheila the office girl who proves the most difficult.  Over three hundred pounds, she is more than I can lift.  Using empty milk crates, I stack them like steps and create the leverage I believe I will need.  In, she sinks halfway down, her face coming to rest next to George from Frozen Food.  Amanda is beside them, her brain exposed and grey. 

Finished, I look around at the empty chairs, at the skids full overstock and beyond.  I take in the blood that continues to seep from the bottom of the baler and the arms and legs that rest within.  Should I leave them, I think, but realize I have been trained too well; that a job is not complete until you have cleaned up after yourself.  Smiling, I make a bale using twine that will never again be white.  It does not turn out as I hoped, not as rectangular, nor as solidly built.

From skin that runs in flaps to muscle that hangs and drips, I stand in front of the baler’s open door, squint into the chamber for all the faces I can still make out.  There in the corner is Stacy and Beth, both of them covered in a twit that had gone by the name of Steve.  Below them I see Richard, the man finally making his way inside Peggy-Sue.  And there at the bottom lay Mr. Gray, his bright eyes now dull, his nose beneath his mouth.

To reiterate:  Did I care that they made fun of me?  Yes.

More than they could know.

In Canada, with his wife and three boys, Beau Johnson lives, writes and breathes. He has been published before, on the darker side of town. Such places might include Underground Voices, the Molotov Cocktail, and Shotgun Honey. He would like it to be known that it is an honor to be here, down in the Gutter