“If we allow him to keep breathing the same air as all of us, we’ll all catch the coronavirus before our next coffee break,” said Tilly. She was our new girl who worked closest to the coughing Emmet.
“I doubt the masks they gave us are legit. Can still smell the cow shit so I’m sure whatever virus this is, it’s getting through,” grunted Steve.
Marie scanned the line. It would be so easy. Tie up Emmet to the hook. The group was in consensus. He was still hungover anyway and always slowed them down. He’d go become someone else’s problem. Someone else’s mistake. In here, there were no security cameras. And the company would never want an incident like this to infect the minds of the public. But Emmet’s cough was sure to infect the steaks and hamburger patties of thousands in the Midwest, not to mention the rest of the team in the room.
“Look, we don’t know when he’s gonna come back from the bathroom after puking out last night’s PBR and half a lung. Let’s hurry this along all right?” Dolly pressed. She had no real compunctions of getting shit done. She just wanted to make sure she got to her hair and nail appointment after the shift was over.
If You Have It, You Can Make Anything Look Good
Still, Marie found the group’s quick decision quite odd. They always covered for each other. They were thick as thieves. Had to be on this line. There were unrealistic demands sent by management and the only way to survive was to cut corners and be bound by loyalty to your fellow shift partners. It didn’t matter if there was a recall in a few months for E. coli or food poisoning because some schmuck didn’t cook the meat thoroughly. But this choice to put Emmet on the outs was made so quickly.
Steve kept his man hands quickly moving over the meat as it moved past him. “Serves him right. He’s been jeopardizing us all with his drinking lately. And going out to the bar during a pandemic was the last straw for me. It’s not just his life you know?”
“Besides, I heard he was buttering up the operations director at a brown bag lunch the other day. You think he’s double crossing us?” said Dolly as she cocked her peroxided hair over her shoulder even though it was tight in a bun. Must be muscle memory and habit. She thinks she’s in full hair and wardrobe even at the meat factory.
“Well, if we’re gonna do it we better do it. And quietly,” Marie said. She pulled on her shirt to straighten out the front. “It’s hot in these masks.”
“Not as hot as those ventilator things in the hospital if you’re even lucky to get one of those after you get sick,” said Tilly.
Marie stared at Emmet’s lunch box, a vintage back workman’s that belonged to his dad. “But we don’t even know if he’s got it.”
The rest of the crew just looked at her silently. Emmet stumbled in at that moment. It was one of those days when he was again in no position to work. The tequila still swirled in his head. He stumbled to his station. Steve silently followed behind and with one tap on the shoulder, Emmet turned around and Steve’s left foot tripped Emmet. During the fall on the conveyer belt with the rest of the cow carcasses, Steve swung Emmet’s legs up and Tilly attached the hook to his shirt.
Emmet half hacked and shrieked. The adrenaline pierced his hangover only for a second to allow a really good coughing sequence to echo through the whole room. The sounds got fainter as the conveyer carried him down the line and out to the next section.
Dolly just stared and focused on the carcass with her caked eyeshadow creasing just ever more severely. Steve made a hail Mary and got back to massaging the beef. Mary took a pause – letting her breath calm down. She resumed her spot, erect and alert. But her eyes swelled with wells of regret. For Emmet.