Jim Meirose

On the Packing Line

               So what’s new with Fred, asked Carmen, as she pulled trays of pills off the conveyor belt.
               Not much, said Paula, as she pushed a box off onto the rollers to the side and wiped her forehead with her hand. I just know it’s damned hot in here—don’t you think it’s hot in here?
               —he’s saying It would be good to bring more money into the house after all they offer you the overtime you might as well take it we need more money coming into the house after all I can’t work with this disability and I think I would love to marry this man we’re common law now but I would love to have a real marriage, a real wedding, maybe if I make him happy by bringing some more money into the house he’ll see what I’m worth, he’ll see I’m a real good—
               It’s hot out—usually is in August.
               I don’t see why they can’t run their air conditioners in here—I know they’ve got air conditioning in this place. Got to have it for the drugs we’re packing.
               I guess Panko’s too cheap, said Carmen. He’s always talking about having to do things cheap.
               —catch and maybe just maybe he’ll want to marry me it’s too bad he can’t work but it’s his nerves, his nerves, his nerves are shot that must be horrible he can’t take the stress of having a job of having to do what he’s told for a buck it always makes me think back to when I just met him he was such a sweet thing down at that bar that day when he was sitting there all alone with a book in front of him he’s always liked books I like books too I sat down one stool—
               Yeah—like these ancient tape machines we have to work with. Mine has jammed a half dozen times today.
               Carmen formed up the box she would pack the tray of pills in as Paula pulled a tray of syrup bottles onto her bench. She reached around behind her for a box as she spoke.
               So what’s up for tonight? she asked Carmen. Got anything planned for tonight?
               —away from him and asked him excuse me do you have change for a ten and he pulled out a battered black wallet and shuffled through it and said No the first time I spoke to him it was about money money’s always been important to him after he said No I figured I would find another way to start a conversation with him so I said what’s that book you’re reading he said It’s called Kaltenburg—I asked him what it was about and he said You wouldn’t be interested—
               Huh. No time for anything tonight when we’re working overtime until eight.
               I guess that’s true.
               The women worked steadily packing orders as the conveyors all around them hissed loudly bringing them more orders of drugs to pack and ship.
               Busy today, said Carmen. Business must be good.
               —like he couldn’t be bothered to expend the energy to tell me what the book is about but I said Yes I would and he said It’s about people studying birds and I said Oh that sounds interesting and he said Yes it is so it is and you ordered a screwdriver from the bartender and you turned to him and asked What’re you drinking and he put down the book apparently realizing he was being drawn into a conversation and to your surprise he asked you if he could pay for your—
               Yeah—well it’s drugs you know. Business is always good.
               Carmen tacked the paper order on top of the box she had just sealed and pushed the box off onto the line that led back to the shipping dock.
               They should be paying us a lot more, said Paula. They rake in the millions—they could afford to pay us a little more.
               —drink and you said Of course you may, and you smiled at him and the book lay spine up on the bar and he turned slightly to you and said I haven’t seen you in here before and you said I just came in to get a drink—kind of an impulse kind of thing and he said Oh, I get it—and he asked you what your name was and you said Paula and he said I’m Fred, actually Frederick but my friends all just call me Fred and you said Oh, and your drink came and you had a quick sip—
               Well, that’s what happens in a union shop—they try and pay as little as possible.
               Yeah sometimes I wonder why we have this union—
               You mean you’re not turned on by our little fat union guy who comes around to see us once a month? said Carmen, smiling, as she pulled the next tray from the line.
               Please, said Paula as she taped a box shut and marked her initials on the order paperwork.
               —and one thing led to another and he finally said How would you like to join me for dinner, and you were surprised because it was just said so suddenly, and you said Sure why not but it’s a little early for dinner and he said Well we can sit here and have a few and you said Yes and he told you about how he was a Manager in a large corporation and you asked him What do you manage, and he said Men—that was all he said and he asked you what you did and you told him—
               I know what you mean about the union though, said Carmen, forming up her next box. They could fight a little harder for us.
               They could—and they ought to—hey listen Carmen—how long have you and Ben been married now?
               It’ll be twenty years. Why?
               —I work in a plastics factory—it’s not much of a job but it pays the bills and you added I bet you make a load of money in that Manager’s job and he said I suppose I do, but it’s really not too important to me and it’s funny that’s the first thing he said to me about money it seems like after that all he talked about was how he needed money like he talks about it now—and you remember the day he finally had had it at his job and got a doctor to certify that his nerves were shot and he—
               I think that’s amazing—does it seem like it’s been that long?
               Carmen pushed a button on her tape machine and a long strip of tape pushed out. She waved the tape before her as she spoke.
               Time always flies when you’re having fun, you know that Paula.
               —wasn’t fit to do any kind of job and he sat on the edge of the couch with his face buried in his hands and you couldn’t tell if he was crying or not but you said Don’t worry, I can bring in enough money to keep us afloat and he said God bless you thank God I have you and for some odd reason you blushed even though by that time you’d been together ten years and at the bar that day so long ago it never seemed like you would end up together twenty full years and then—
               Carmen taped shut the box before her and pushed it off onto the line. She picked up her coffee cup and leaned her hip against the steel packing table as she drank.
               Yeah—has it been fun Carmen?
               What? Of course it has been fun. It’s as much fun as a barrel full of donkeys—
               You mean monkeys—
               —you thought how odd—and you remembered how last night he said Do they offer you overtime on that warehouse job and you said Yes and he said You ought to work all of it we need the money money’s getting too tight and you said No problem and he smiled and you didn’t want to remind him that he had said that same thing to you at least a dozen times before but he must be getting soft in the head it seems like all the things he says are the same things over and over—
               Nope. Donkeys. Wanted to make sure you were listening to me.
               I always listen to you, said Paula.
               Carmen put down her coffee cup and pulled the next three trays off the line to be packed. As she formed up the necessary box she spoke quickly.
               So anyway Paula—you never answered me before.
               Never answered what?
               —like he asked you Do they ever promote anybody where you work and you said sure, I could probably qualify for a level ten position but I like the packing job I do now, I enjoy the job just like it is but he said No, no, and he wagged his finger at me and said you need to try and get ahead, we need more money so I started to figure after hearing this kind of thing over and over for years already that if I could bring in more money and more money and more he could end up—
               How’s Fred? He still out of work?
               He’s on disability, said Paula. His nerves—remember?
               Oh yes I remember that—I was just hoping he’s doing okay.
               He’s okay. He’s content to be retired.
               What does he do with himself all day?
               —so impressed that he would marry me—like I said we only had a common law relationship and I wanted more, I wanted it to be all legal and like that and one night I brought this up to him and he said What’s to be gained by that, things are fine just the way they are now and you said Well, the fact is that when you pass away I won’t inherit the house that’s in your name and paid off or the accounts of money that are in your name and he said Yes, that’s right, that’s probably—
               He takes it easy.
               What does that mean—who does the cooking?
               I do.
               But you work all day. He ought to do the cooking.
               Nah, it’s okay. I enjoy cooking. It relaxes me.
               —true and he said he would marry you someday but he never brought it up again and you never did either, but you ought to now, you ought to sit down with him right after dinner tonight and say over some wine you know I work hard and am bringing in quite a bit of money, and I wait on you hand and foot and take care of you and try not to be a drain on your nerves so I think it’s about time you showed me how much you appreciate me and we should be married once and—
               Carmen tacked the order onto the top of the box she just sealed with a crack and pushed the box off onto the line.
               I like to cook too, she said, pulling off the next order to pack.
               Do you?
               —for all, and when this occurs to you you think back When was the last time he told you he loved you, and you can’t really remember when the last time was but he loves you he does you’re sure he does he doesn’t have to go around saying it all the time for it to be true and you feel that tonight when you talk about marriage you should talk about love too—like you should say You know, when two people are in love like we are and have been living together as long as—
               Yes—but I don’t get to too much, with all this overtime—
               So who does your cooking?
               Ben does most of it. Just easy stuff. We’re not gourmets.
               How’s business been for Ben? said Paula, taping up a box.
               Business is great. Lots of people getting divorced out there need a good lawyer. Ben works hard.
               —we have they should really start to think about making it legal and you will watch his face for the look he gives you when you say the part about love will he make a sour face or will he smile or will it be something in between and of course, it will be that he will smile he does love you, you know that, he doesn’t have to tell you every five minutes and then your stomach drops when you realize you don’t think you’ve told him you love him for quite a while, as a matter of—
               I bet you don’t really need this job Carmen. Ben makes big bucks—
               Oh yeah, said Carmen, examining the next order to pack.
               So why do you work then?
               I like to pull my end of things, said Carmen—hey you know what I think this order is wrong—
               —fact you can’t remember that last time you told him, and you shudder to think it is quite possible that you’ve never ever told him that even once, and how dare you be talking about marriage to a man you’ve never even said I love you to—you’ve told him you love him in other ways like by going to work every day and putting in the overtime and working the midnight shift job at the plastics factory as a second job a few summers ago while he just sits in the house—
               It says there should be three bottles of Noctec—and there’s only two in the tray.
               Let’s see—
               Paula looked at the tray and the order sheet and looked up at Carmen.
               You’re right—it is wrong.
               —and does nothing all day except watch TV and play games on the computer and takes his afternoon naps, he doesn’t even have to mow the lawn or spray the yard, your good money all goes toward that and you start to think that this is all a bit one sided, like you’ll be working today until eight o’clock for four hours’ overtime, and you’ll be keeping your fingers crossed that there’ll be Saturday overtime this week like there was last week and it seems like this is all a—
               Should I bring it up to the checkers?
               No—we don’t get paid to look at what’s on the orders—that’s the checker’s job.
               I guess that’s true—oh well—
               Carmen put the tray into the box she had formed up and taped it shut, tacked on the order sheet, and pushed it off onto the line.
               —bit one sided you think That’s something I should bring up to him sometime—how I work and work and never falter and keep him afloat and keep him in food and thank God the house is paid off you don’t know what you’d do if you had to pay a mortgage too, and then you think of the accounts he has—the ones full of money that he never taps into—the ones that you’ll not be able to inherit because of this common law relationship, and you don’t even know how much—
               There, she said. What’s done is done.
               That’s right. Hey listen Carmen—you know what you and me and Ben and Fred ought to get together for a drink sometime after work.
               I know—we really ought to—but I’m so tired after a shift and a half of this—I’d probably fall asleep at the bar.
               —money is there, there might be a million dollars in there for all you know but that’s his money it’s all his precious money, and you think to tell him when you talk to him tonight like you said you would, what about if you die all your money will go to the state and he probably will come back and say something like I could get a will drawn up for you to get the house and the money, and he won’t add that this is a good reason why the need for marriage to make it—
               Yeah, but it would be fun.
               That’s true. Hey, said Carmen as she motioned to the large clock hung on the concrete block wall—thank God it’s almost break time.
               The time drags so here in the afternoon. I feel really sleepy—
               —legal doesn’t quite hold water, and you will ask him All right when will this will be drawn up and he will sit with his mouth a straight with that blank look like he does when he gets stressed out and this look always tells you it’s time to back off, say no more, let the day run its course drain the wine and get up and without a word go to the sink to wash the dinner dishes left from the meal that you prepared, yes that’s right, you think, I not only pull in all the money we—
               Well you’ve got your coffee there.
               Yes, I know. But it’s cold by now.
               You should go get yourself another one—
               I will. At break time. Panko watches us like a hawk. If I went to get coffee now, he’d think I was starting break early.
               —live on but I make dinner every night—I make dinner and when there’s overtime going on late at the warehouse I even go back to work after dinner, after I wash the dishes of course, because he can’t do such things—he musn’t be given too much to do else he might have an attack and the ambulance might have to come like it did that one Christmas Eve some years back when he went all catatonic on you because you were decorating the tree and it was too much for—
               Yeah I know. What’s his problem anyway?
               I don’t know—but yes. There is something I do know. I heard from Olga that Panko’s wife wants a divorce.
               Yes—Olga never says anything she doesn’t know to be true.
               —him to put up the lights—you can’t believe what a joke that was, but it is true, and you don’t ever want to see him again like that because you love him—there it is again that word that awful word—no no don’t think that way, it’s not an awful word—after all it applies to what you and Fred have all of this other stuff is just extraneous bullshit he will react well when you tell him tonight you want to know if he’s been thinking about marriage, and if he says that thing—
               She and Panko are pretty tight aren’t they?
               Yeah. Her and Huey and Carl—the clique. They can do no wrong, for Panko.
               Olga’s getting up there—she’s retiring next year—but anyway, tell me more about Panko and this divorce—what’s it all about? asked Paula.
               I don’t know. Except Olga told me his wife has moved out and is living with another man.
               —about drawing up a will again you will say When two people love each other they should want to get married and he will agree with you—you’re sure he will—he will agree and then you two will embrace, and you suddenly think how unnatural that will be because like you can’t remember when you last said you loved him you also can’t remember when the last time was that you embraced him and you wonder if he could stand the stress of that closeness—feeling—
               Well—that explains why he’s been so cranky lately.
               No—Panko was always cranky.
               That’s true.
               Paula looked over the next few trays which had come down the line for packing.
               Hm—this next one is a big order—wonder if I can finish it by break time?
               —the warmth of the other person come around you and dissolve you two together for those few instants that could mean so much if repeated from time to time, like I love you should be spoken and repeated from time to time—but you realize you haven’t been doing that and suddenly you ask yourself What right do I have to ask him about marriage—what right—just because he lives with you means nothing by itself—maybe you should start to tell him you love—
               What difference does it make?
               Oh. I guess none.
               Sometimes you talk odd, Paula.
               Well—I suppose I’ve got things on my mind.
               What kind of things, said Carmen, pulling the first few trays of the large order onto her side of the packing line.
               —him and embrace him a lot for a few weeks and then bring up marriage maybe that would be more appropriate but no, no, it’s a two-way street, he needs to be telling you he loves you too, and when was the last time you heard that out of him—it’s so long ago it’s lost in the memory it might as well be that he has never told you he loved you because you have no memory of it and oh no could it be true that he doesn’t really love you well you should ask him tonight yes asks—
               As she formed up the necessary boxes Paula pulled a tray off and spoke.
               I wonder sometimes why we go on from day to day—do you ever wonder that Carmen?
               No—I just figure we’re here because God put us here and that’s why.
               Do you go to Church Carmen?
               No, said Carmen, jabbing a finger at her tape machine—as she taped up a box she said I believe it’s enough to be a good person and God will reward you—
               —him tonight, and don’t be shy about asking about marriage, no don’t put it off, there’s no reason to put it off, don’t be silly—you two have been together long enough that you ought to be able to tell him anything or talk about anything with him like sex you should ask him when the next time is he could have sex with you it’s not been possible because of his condition, but is that really true either or is it he just doesn’t want to have sex with you maybe he doesn’t see you that—
               You believe in God then?
               Oh—of course, said Carmen, forming up the next box. I was brought up to. You?
               I wonder sometimes—I wonder why God would have us lead such pointless lives—work, eat, sleep, work, eat sleep, you know, over and over again. I sometimes wonder why.
               That’s deep stuff, Paula.
               —way maybe he can’t see anyone that way you know he’s far gone he’s a nervous wreck, the effort required for sex might be too much for him but you do recall at least having had sex with him once in a while a long time ago, when you first met him, as a matter of fact on the second night you were together you went behind the Jewish center and got in the back seat and had sex together and you asks yourself after you did that why did you have to do it in the car like two—
               Carmen pulled a tray off the line and began forming up the next box as Paula spoke.
               I don’t know if it’s so deep—it seems just like a good question to me.
               Maybe you should go ask a priest.
               Oh, I don’t know if I’d bother with all that—but I do sometimes wonder what it’s all about—you know what I mean.
               —school kids when you could have gone to his house or to his apartment and done it in a nice clean white bed like two grownups but things were different back then that was why you did it that way things were different but no this thinking is off the wall and too weird, just snap out of it and get back into the present and talk to him tonight and see what he says about marriage you can ease into it you can say just casually—Fred—what do you think about marriage and—
               Yeah, said Carmen, pushing the sealed boxes off onto the line to the back.
               You probably think it’s silly of me to be talking like this—
               No, I don’t. You’ve got a right to want to know answers—hey—I wonder if Panko goes to church.
               My guess would be no.
               —you can see how he answers you and then depending on what he says you can say maybe we should think about marriage it’s been a long time since we talked about it and he would probably say I know, we should think about it after all we’re not getting any younger and you will say yes I know people will talk ill of us and the two of us will laugh at how silly that is, in this day and age anybody would care that two people are living together you know I bet there are—
               I can’t imagine what Panko would be like off the job, said Carmen.
               I heard he’s a drunk.
               Yeah—I heard that too.
               Maybe that’s why his wife left him, said Paula.
               Maybe—oh, said Carmen, yawning—when will that break bell ring?
               —a lot of people who think we are married and then you think I wonder who those people might be and then you think nobody probably gives a damn enough about us to have an opinion on it so that’s not a good reason for getting married either, that is its not a good reason that it matters what people think that we are living together like this but they don’t know—they can’t say—what kind of life it is or what we have together it really seems like we don’t have much no—
               There’s five more minutes.
               I wonder how we get through the days here—the minutes go by so slow.
               I know they do. That’s why it’s best to keep working steady. Makes the time pass.
               Carmen said Yes, that’s true, as she pulled the next order off of the line.
               Just then Carl rolled by down the aisle past them on his fork truck. He wore a wifebeater undershirt and needed a shave badly.
               —I love you’s no warm embraces no sex no nothing why do we really stay together the idea of getting married seems like an even better one in light of all that, getting married might spark us up again get the old juices flowing it would certainly be different more so than just being able to be each other’s heirs legally but to just know, inside, that that kind of a commitment has been made so you resolved yourself to ask him tonight, can we get married, will we get married—
               See that Carl go by? said Carmen.
               What about him.
               He smells bad—you ever get close to him? He smells really really bad.
               He looks like he smells bad—no I’ve never been particularly close to him.
               Well I have, said Carmen, taping a box shut.
               —should we get married should we should we and you think back again to that first night and you think I should have played harder to get—I should have made it plain I needed marriage before I agreed to move in with him—maybe I appeared to be someone with no standards and no morals and he thought he could just move in on you just like that and use you and maybe all this life together for all these years has just been a way of being used, he’s not alone he’s got—
               I heard he’s got a really nice house, and a good-looking wife, and three kids. And I also heard his wife doesn’t work!
               How does he get by on the salary here then? asked Carmen.
               I haven’t the slightest. He’s like Bill Miller, that checker up there. He’s got ten kids and his wife doesn’t work.
               —someone to eat his meals with to sleep with at night to wake up with in the morning and maybe just maybe those reasons are not good enough reasons to be together but you made it too easy for him right from the start but tonight will be critical tonight we will talk tonight we will get it all out in the open I will tell him I show my love by working so hard and pulling so much money into this household just like you want just like you said and I never asked you for a thing—
               How do they do it.
               I don’t know—why do we care anyway?
               I don’t know—something to talk about.
               They smiled at each other.
               They packed quietly for about a minute.
               —other than to be there for me and it’s all been one sided that way so yes—yes, you should insist on his marrying you if that’s the way you feel about it if this is really the only thing you’ve ever asked from him it shouldn’t be that it is asking too much so ask him tonight yes ask him to marry you don’t be afraid don’t think so much just ask him ask him ask him—yes ask him already why does it have to be such a big decision it’s something I want I have a right to ask—
               I heard Panko’s wife wouldn’t sleep in the same bed with him for about a year already before she left, said Carmen.
               Oh? Who told you that? Olga?
               No. It’s just around.
               If it’s just around, why didn’t I hear it?
               —for something I want so but wait, wait, wait what would marriage really bring except legality what if you ask him tonight and he says no what will you say back to him is it something worth arguing about is it worth it for you to push back hard on him when he tells you no, no, I’ll just draw up a will and he will lie there seeming to be so tired like he does and he will sit up and put his hand on his chest like he does and he might ask you why you are bringing this up now—
               I don’t know.
               I’ll tell you what—I can’t imagine how she ever did sleep with him at all. He’s so disgusting—
               Well, speak of the devil.
               Panko made his way past the racks toward Paula and Carmen, waving a clipboard. His belly strained against his shirt and his short wide tie swung stiffly.
               —after so many years, why is it suddenly so damned important and will he ask you that that way, in a snotty tone of voice, like he gets sometimes when he’s telling this or that that you should be doing—yes he tells you a lot what you should be doing about this or that and why do you put up with it why are you afraid of him are you afraid like you said that he will say no and you will have nothing to say to that, no is like a door closed in your face and you will sit there—
               Ladies, he said, reaching them—ladies how about four hours overtime tonight and tomorrow?
               He stood poised with pencil in hand as he waited for an answer.
               I’m in, said Carmen.
               Me too, said Paula.
               —stunned by this rudeness, it would in fact be very rude for him to say no just like that maybe he will say instead let’s wait a while, let’s do it next year, something like that what will your answer be what will you say too that what could you say back that would make sense you could just say all right, dear, whatever you say—next year would be fine but inside you wouldn’t be thinking that—why can’t you tell him right out what you’re carrying inside why is it so hard—
               Great! he said, as he wrote on the clipboard. You guys should be swimming in money come next payday with all the overtime you’ve been working—
               Yes, Tom—and we’ve got you to thank for all of it, said Carmen.
               Don’t thank me—thank the American health care system and the economy. Business is booming. I might even be getting a bonus this year.
               —to picture yourself standing up to him and saying I’m asking you about marriage because that’s what I want I want it more than anything but don’t plead don’t beg just say Then I must leave you—yes that’s what you should tell him Then I must leave you because I no longer am comfortable with how things are but then you think what is really wrong with how things are and you answer yourself saying Because it’s something I want, this marriage, and I’m tired of going—
               Wow, said Paula. Why should you get a bonus Panko—you already are making the big bucks—
               Right, chuckled Panko.
               The three laughed together. Then Panko left for the loading docks to ask for overtime back there. The women watched him go, then looked at each other.
               Isn’t he a disgusting lout, said Carmen.
               —on and on about it I want action sooner or later it has to move from thought into action and that is what’s going to happen tonight—tonight when you ask him what about marriage and you will wait ears wide open for what he will say and you can’t imagine it—you can’t really face it, you fear what he might say because it might mean that deep down, he really doesn’t love you, that deep down he really doesn’t need you, and that tonight could be the end of things as they—
               I don’t know—I suppose so—
               He is! Hey look—it’s about two minutes before break—I say we take it easy until the bell rings, said Carmen.
               Okay—no problem.
               Let’s sit down.
               —were and the beginning of things as they will be for better or for worse you don’t really know which is which anymore which is which please tell me you you standing there across from me you might have the answer why don’t I ask you why don’t I say Do you think I should ask my Fred to marry me and then you could have a conversation about it yes go ahead run it past her ask her what she thinks after all you spend eight hours a day five days a week and more—
               Yes let’s.
               To hell with what Panko thinks, said Carmen.
               That’s the spirit!
               They sat down on the piles of folded boxes behind them and looked around.
               This is really an ugly place, said Carmen.
               —together, you spend more time together than you do with Fred not counting the time you spend asleep, it’s something when you think about it what she thinks might be important what she says to you might be wise should you confide in her—you never have said to her you’re just living with a man, that makes it sound so small and unimportant living together living together just a couple of roomies is all, it’s no more than if you were a couple of roomies but Carmen—
               What do you want for a warehouse?
               I don’t know. Hey look back there—Boka’s working like a dog.
               They looked down toward the direction of the loading docks at skinny balding Joe Boka, about fifty feet away, working hard at the UPS stamper and strapping machine.
               I wonder about that guy too, said Carmen.
               —would understand Carmen would have some good advice so go ahead ask Carmen go ahead and ask—but what if she says no it wouldn’t be proper for you to ask him to marry you—he’s the one who should be asking that—yes that is probably what she will say so don’t ask Carmen no just resolve to ask him tonight—how would it sound if you asked Carmen—you would sound like a weak little limp wristed woman who’s afraid to say anything to a man—a man—is Fred a—
               What do you wonder about Joe Boka?
               He’s got a big family too—and I heard he’s the only one who works—
               No, no—I heard his wife works in a dollar store. As a matter of fact, I think she might own the place, said Paula.
               Really! I hadn’t heard that—
               —true man, think about it think about it would a real man say to his—wife—there’s that word again—would a real man say to his partner, maybe it would be a good idea for you to get a second job what do you think hey what do you think oh no, no, it’s just an idea, don’t take it wrong, I just thought that I could tell you anything I had on my mind and what—
               Sure. But the place isn’t doing that great. That’s why Joe works here.
               It’s a damned shame you know, said Carmen.
               What’s a damn shame?
               It’s a damn shame we need money to live. It’s a damn shame we have to have these crappy jobs.
               —I’ve had on my mind lately is money—my disability isn’t enough and my accounts—yes what about my accounts no I can’t tap into my accounts they’re for retirement just think about it Paula, think about it good—he told you that and you thought nothing of it, so why should he think anything of you asking him about marriage, don’t be afraid Paula, don’t be so afraid he asked you something just as demanding—
               Oh, they’re not so bad. Just think—if it wasn’t for this crappy job, we wouldn’t know each other—
               Yes that’s true, said Carmen, looking up at the clock. Hey look—look—any second now.
               The clock said two P.M. on the dot.
               We’ll see how late the break bell is—it gets later and later every day—
               —marriage is not anything demanding you would be asking for, marriage is something that you should both want that he wants just as much as you want it so ask him—he will say yes—you know he will Paula—just get up the nerve—no it isn’t even something you should need nerve to do—if he loves you he will be glad to hear it it probably would be asked by him sooner or later anyway so go ahead ask him he will take it well ask him now it’s time for a break yes—
               All at once, a loud bell ran through the P.A. system, and Paula and Carmen got up.
               At last—
               Me, too—I need some more coffee—
               —time for a break—that was the break bell so yes—you will ask him—ask him—what harm is there in asking him after all he might love you—but now it’s break time what will I have to eat and to drink who will I talk to and what will I talk about—he just might love you—
               Paula and Carmen walked to the break room around the corner disappearing behind the stacks of boxes separating their packing station from the door.
               —he just might.

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