The Line

**Something went wrong**

They made a mistake and for a split second it became obvious to me that they were no more than I. They didn’t know either.

Nothing would be the same after that.

I dared to lift my head for a moment… the whip cracked. “Head Down!”. I didn’t. I couldn’t see much. A fleeting glimpse in the half light. Fellow bodies working. Passing, chopping and rolling materials from one place to another. “HEAD DOWN!” I obeyed. But the thought lingered… “what are we building sir?”. “HEAD DOWN!” He screamed through the rain.

“HEADS DOWN!”.

 

I could see the man cursing as he slipped and stumbled down from his perch. Getting angrier step by step as he stumbled towards me. He grabbed my arm, trying to drag and force me, but I had no real reason to resist. I was taken to a small hut, the man’s attitude changed. He wasn’t so certain anymore. A woman was waiting for me, she was dressed smartly, not like us. She carried a confidence, a superiority, but it might have been an illusion. After all, she was out here with us. She was definitely shorter than me, but somehow she was still looking down on me. “What seems to be the problem?”

Her eyes were cold and hard, unflinching. She seemed to be relishing this opportunity, I could see a flicker of sadistic excitement behind the insincere sympathy. I felt uncomfortable. My question seemed stupid, I wanted to be back in work. What would happen, what about my home? What about my family?

I offered my question with a pathetic softening smile… “I just wondered what we are doing?”… “We are building a better world, a fairer more equal world.” She returned. “Oh…” I said. There was a pause, I tried to be friendly, but it may have come out wrong, “That would be nice. I would like to see that?”

“Hm, wouldn’t we all. If you keep doing your job maybe we can get there.” Her attitude was hardening and she was becoming irritated, but it was too late, I was exposed I couldn’t just leave or walk away. I wasn’t sure what to do, maybe this was the script all along. There was a silence that seemed to stretch on too long. I felt I had to offer something. I was part of the exchange now. She waited for me to finalise the exchange, to say something  stupid so that she could reassert her authority and my compliance. A small flicker of defiance welled up inside me, I don’t know why. Perhaps this was my chance… but…

“I just wanted to see what we were doing? I felt I might be able to help in some way… I mean… couldn’t we do things differently?” I offered weakly. “Its just that I noticed…” she cut me off. I looked at her, pleading with my eyes to be merciful and end it swiftly…

“Who do you think you are? Why you!” She calmed her tone and continued with a placating sympathy for my stupidity. “Don’t you think that that is a bit arrogant? People have dedicated their whole lives to this project, better people than you. Do you have the arrogance to think you know better? Could you do MY job? Are you better than me… and everyone else here?” She waved her hand across the scene. “Is that what you think?”

“No mam, sorry mam”. I muttered, defeated.

“Get back to work” she barked.

I was walked back to the line still feeling exposed. I didn’t look back, but somehow I knew she was still staring at me. I could feel her instructing the men without hearing or seeing it and all the while her stare stripping me bare, making me thinner… colder.

I reached the line. The man gave me a last shove and struggled back up the hill. My emotions were raw. Conflicting sensations of anger, embarrassment, shame and hurt swirled around my body. I tried to think it through. She was just doing her job. It was my fault. She’s never worked the line. Why doesnt she care? Why should she? Have I messed things up? What will happen next? Why did I do that? Bitch. Why am I so stupid? I hurt. Why? I hate her. Why did no one else help? I hate everyone. I deserved it. I’m an arrogant idiot. She did it for the greater good. Did I say the wrong things? Why am I broken? She was taking her anger out on me. Maybe I am better? I need to stop thinking. Why do I feel this way? Bastards. It was their fault. What could I have done different? I didn’t do anything wrong. I was trying to help. Why did I think I could? Whats wrong with me? Why me?

My thoughts were rushing in on me faster and faster, but I had no answers. The world shrunk around me. I swear I could begin to see the curvature of the Earth through the rain. I clung onto the rocks next to me. Digging my fingers in. My heart beat faster. The world continued to shrink. Soon I was clinging onto the surface, every muscle tense as the earth began to rotate and spin through space. I could feel myself about to fall off…

Crack

The lightning and a fresh surge of rain brought me back. I was standing on a rocky hillside in the dark, in the line. I muttered “That way madness lies”. The man next to me shot me a worried glance. I reached for the hammer, my hand closing around the familiar wooden shaft. Without really seeing it I immediately visioned the warm smooth handle with its pin pricks of wood worm. My hammer. An extension of me. A co-operative, a team, a reassuring thing. The first strike was unsatisfactory, chipping an unnoticeable fraction from the side of the rock, but it was enough to bring back the familiarity. My body tuned to the hammer and the rocks. The second was perfect, catching the rock in just the right way, pulverising it. I settled into the game. How to get the perfect strike. An inane smile even crept over my face. For just a second I relaxed. It was over… but even that recognition threatened to release the doubts again. I new I would never be trusted. I knew I had let my family down. I quickly raised the hammer to escape the madness and subjugated myself to the rhythm .

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About Phil Lambert

Visual artist based in Cardiff
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