The Cog and the Crank

The Cog and the Crank

The winding of the crank was maddening at first. The way the machine ticked and whirred synced with his motion. Or perhaps he synced with its motion. It didn’t bother him any more. This old factory had become like a home to him, though he was the only one still here.

The place smelled of oil and cold machinery, though most of the machines had been taken when the owner had died. A good man, Adam had been told, but he’d only ever spoken to the man once when he’d been hired. Adam had never really known for sure what the owner had built the place for, only he assumed it was car manufacturing. He had never once seen a car built from the parts that were created here, but he could imagine that the crank he wound would serve to start all of the machines up from their slumber, they would lift the parts together and wind in the bolts, assembling thousands of cars a day.

The bell rang, signaling the change of the shift.

Adam released the crank, wiping sweat from his head and removing his gloves.

He ate his lunch alone these days. Today it was a sandwich made from the leftovers of a trout he’d caught for dinner. It was cold and overcooked.

When the bell rang again, Adam found that the crank was stuck. It was often difficult for him to get the machine started, but now he found it impossible. Something was wrong. There was no mechanic anymore, so he would have to fix it himself. He’d seen the way that the mechanic entered the machine to clean or make repairs. It was a hatch that swung up when you pushed a pry bar into the gap.

Adam found a lamp and a bar in the mechanic’s room, and he went into the belly of the factory.

A whole line of pulleys and machinery was there, clear as day. He could see it all and knew what each cluster must correlate to on the factory floor above. There were roots in some places, rats nests in others.

The ceiling was low, and being a tall man, he had to duck to fit. He followed the map to find the place just below where he stood to wind the crank. Adam pressed his hand into the empty place where a gear should have been, and wondered what purpose it had served.

It wasn’t his problem, he told himself.

Many of the gears were small here. Much smaller than he’d ever imagined they could be. The air was thick with dust and rust, and also something else. Something earthy and wet.

He raised the lamp, illuminating his line of gears and springs. There was a line of five that were coated in rust. The oil ran a muddy brown with dirt and rust in a puddle at his feet.

He crawled back to his crank, and he wound, finding it easier to start the motion. The machine found his rhythm, and followed his lead. The exertion was a comfort to him. The monotony of the familiar motion was like a song stuck in his head, never ending. He wound the crank knowing that the gear was missing. He wound the crank not knowing if it was working. He wound the crank not knowing if it ever mattered. The winding of the crank was like a gentle lullaby.

Jordan Hawes

Jordan Hawes

Spokane, WA