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Today's Story by Lisa Solier

At one point, a gang of tuxedo-clad rubber ducks came down the pike, and Opal burst into unbridled laughter.

Lucky Opal

It’s 4 a.m., and Opal just came back to bed after a visit to the bathroom.  She fell asleep about five hours ago, only to be awakened by an annoying twinge.  Now, as she nervously anticipates the first fade of the stars, she’s having trouble getting back to sleep.  This happens to her most nights.  She always sets her alarm, but rarely needs it to wake up.  After about 10 minutes of listening to the ring of her own ears cut through that just-before-dawn silence, she decided to permanently open her eyes wide for the day.  They’ll stay wide too, wide and grey and alert.  Opal remains stiff and vigilant most days, in case she misses anything at the factory.  She wants to make sure she does a great job there.  The other girls don’t care for her much because she gets to work so early in the morning, before everyone else.  Opal suspects they feel threatened by her.  They think she’s sucking up to the bosses, but she really doesn’t intend to, she just wants to do the best job possible.  Even if it means coming in early to get started on inspections, or telling the boss he’s looking a little thinner these days since he’s been on that NutriSystem diet.

Opal works at the Toy Lot – where an array of children’s toys are molded and dyed with bright candy colors by loud, noisy machines.  Opal’s job is to inspect toys for any defects.  All day, from about five in the morning to two in the afternoon, Opal picks up toys, searches over their smooth, plastic surface, and either sends them down the conveyer belt, or chucks them aside in a cardboard box at her feet.  There was something about this routine that calmed her down.  The job was easy and monotonous.  There were no tricks or gimmicks, not a lot of politics in her little world.  Toys are either suitable for sale or not suitable for sale.  Black or white.  Yes or no.  So few things in the world are this simple.

But she got to make the call over which toys went to the stores and which didn’t, and that small bit of power excited her.  Sometimes, she would pretend to be God letting bath tub toys into heaven.  She liked working with toys.  They made her feel like a kid again, and sometimes she would stop to play with them when the bosses weren’t looking.  Rubber ducks were her favorite toy to inspect.  Nothing made her laugh more than rubber ducks that were dressed like things other than rubber ducks.  At one point, a gang of tuxedo-clad rubber ducks came down the pike, and Opal burst into unbridled laughter.  The other workers didn’t bother to notice, the machines were too loud anyway.

Every day at noon, Opal would stop for lunch, even if she was in the middle of inspecting a toy.  She would just abandon her task, because it was her right to do so and the schedule commanded it.  She was entitled to a one hour lunch, beginning at 12:00.  At first, the bosses tried to stop her from doing this, but she complained so much they gave in and allowed it.   She was afraid if she ate any later than that she would be too sluggish to properly carry out her inspections.   Sometimes, the factory machines that housed the molten plastic would go wonky, and production would stop momentarily.  Workers would be asked to put in extra time at the end of their shift.  Opal refused.  She had to get home to feed her African meerkat, Timon – he had a special diet of live African ants.  If the ants stayed in the fridge too long, they’d start to get a little less lively, and Timon wouldn’t eat them.  So she had to get home as soon as possible.

It didn’t matter that Timon was actually a ferret who ate regular ferret food (she figured that at least his name was actually Timon, so it wasn’t a total lie).   But if she got home too late, she would miss her favorite shows, and then would have to eat later than normal.  If Opal ate any later than 6:00 her belly would rumble on and she would surely not get to sleep. So she told a little fib, but the bosses wouldn’t know the difference.  No one would.   Not a single soul had been inside Opal’s apartment in seven years.  Little Timon was her only company.  Opal would come home to hear him rattling inside of his cage, and at night, they would sleep together.  It was nice to hear another heartbeat in the dark.

One morning, Opal was inspecting purple octopus bath toys.  They each had stupid grins plastered across their big, purple heads.  The boss asked her into his office, which never happens.  She dropped one of the octopi onto the conveyer belt, stupid face down.  She was worried she’d done something wrong.  Had the other girls sabotaged her?  Was her boss angry?  Her palms were sweating as she waited for him to get off the phone.  When he did, he looked up to find her leaning towards him, almost out of her chair.  He told her he was bumping her up to a new position, that she would now be operating machinery.  She’d been there for almost five years now, and she deserved a promotion, he said.  It was an extra $5 an hour, nothing to sneeze at in the factory business, and she would fit right in.

Opal stared at him as he spoke, watching his lips move to make sure she understood everything he said.  She was terrified.  Running the machines was different from passing ducks along a belt.  What if something went wrong?  She imagined herself hitting the wrong button, or pulling the wrong lever, and effectively flooding the entire factory with boiling red, blue, and yellow plastic.  Then she thought otherwise, because those three colors would make a rather nasty brownish grey.  Just red plastic, it looks more ghoulish, like blood.

She pleaded with her boss to keep her on the assembly line, but he insisted.  They needed more people working the new machines that had just been installed, and less people on inspection.  More machines running meant more toys being made.  The boss became aggravated as Opal pled with him, but she barely noticed.  She was inside of her own head now, and all that mattered to her was that she was terrified.  Most of her life, Opal was concerned solely with Opal, which is why there weren’t many folks around her.  Timon didn’t mind, he just liked to hide in socks and leave droppings behind.

It wasn’t until her boss raised his voice and threatened to fire her if she didn’t comply, that she stopped begging.

All Opal could think about the night before her first day on the machines was her inevitable failure.  She held Timon close to her that night, fear of the unknown shoving sleep aside for the time being.  She lay there, wishing something would happen, a wild snow storm in the middle of June, or maybe she could fall down the stairs and break her neck.  Anything to keep herself from having to go into the factory the next day.  As she closed her eyes to try to sleep, they burned from being plastered open for so long.  She could hear her heart beating quickly with stress, and she could feel her eyelids twitching.

She stayed awake the entire night, and got to work at four in the morning instead of five.  She needed to study the levers and buttons on the machines before she could properly do her job.  On the way there, a young man ran a stop light and hit the side of Opal’s grey Saturn.   She was pushed to the other side of the car, and felt the impact deep within her back.   Opal stayed silent and still, waiting for someone to save her.  And when they did, she couldn’t remember her own name for a bit.

No one came to visit her in the hospital, but one of the girls at work named Tammy did stop by her apartment to feed Timon.  Tammy used to try to get Opal out of the house, but Opal didn’t have the desire to go out.  “I’m happy just to stay at home,” she would say.

The injuries Opal sustained were serious enough that she was unable to stand for long periods of time, or her back would start to hurt.  Running the machinery required a lot of standing.   So her boss had no choice but to let her sit down and inspect toys.

This made Opal exceedingly happy.  She was in terrible pain and could barely walk some days, but she didn’t mind all that much.  Her coworkers marveled at her strength.   Sometimes, the bosses would let her leave early with full pay.  More time to watch television and more time to play with Timon.  Who would have thought that an accident could actually bring positivity to someone’s life?

Opal slept straight through to her alarm every morning after the accident.  On some days, she would even lie in bed a little longer, eyes half open, Timon breathing shallow on the pillow next to her.  The ringing in her ears seemed quieter now.  She now understood what it was like to feel lucky.


Lisa Solier lives in Pittsburgh, PA.  She loves writing, music, a great film, and walking her beautiful dog.


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