by Teresa Berkowitz
A few places die quick deaths. Places like Chernobyl and Fukushima.
But most places are like this town. They die slowly. The young find jobs in other cities. Houses take longer to sell. Old eyes stare out through dusty panes of glass. Few people talk about the changes. Who could blame them?
Molly was in the middle of everything: middle aged, middle manager living in her modest middle-class home.
She wanted people to think it was her sense of duty just kept her at the mill until the very last day. But her last days were like every other day. She was not one of the hourly workers and not one of the bosses. While the executives planned, she was left out of the discussions, yet she knew of the closing months before the shift workers. She kept their secrets until the announcement was public. So of course, she would work until the last day.
The executives left first with bonuses so large that they would never need to sell their mansions by the river.
The mill took on a haunted quality as the rounds of layoffs reduced the numbers from more than a hundred workers to just the final two. Her ears strained to discover sound in growing silence. At first, it would be distant conversations and the clank of metal as the giant presses were secured into immobility. Then another production room would be closed off and the darkness would move closer.
She was no lonelier now than she had been before.
Occasionally one of the executives would call in for an update and Molly would run through the checklist. She searched for signs that they considered her indispensable. At the end of every conversation she hoped someone would cry out, "Molly we need you at the corporate headquarters. What can we do to woo you away from your home town?" Instead, each conversation ended with a cordial but distant goodbye.
On the very last day, Molly walked the plant with Alan, the facilities manager. Their footsteps echoed as they walked down each darkened hall.
Molly had offered to make a final call, but the executives said that would not be necessary. She carried the final closing checklist. Alan inspected each piece of equipment and Molly initialed the list. Alan carried a metal box. After they locked the door of each room, he dropped the corresponding key in the box. Finally, they walked down the long hallway where men and women would rush quickly to clock in before the shift. Now the only sound was the clinking of the keys.
At the end of the hall, by the security shack, a courier leaned against his minivan.
Alan closed the chain link gate and slipped on the padlock. He dropped the final key in the lock box. They walked over to the courier.
"Is that everything?" He asked.
"Alright then." The courier took the box and drove off.
"Well, what next Alan?"
"Going to enjoy my retirement. Maybe do an odd job here and there. "
He smiled and Molly believed him. It made her feel sad not for him but for herself. She was too young to settle in without the mill.
"How about you Molly?"
Molly hesitated. "I'm relocating. They want me to join them at the home office. Don't even have time to pack up properly."
Alan gave her a pat on her hand.
"You were always indispensable Molly. They're smart to bring you along with them."
"You are too kind Alan. My best to your wife."
Molly climbed into her car. She waved goodbye to Alan, to the factory, to the town. Perhaps once she settled in a new place, she would send her key to Alan and hire him to pack up her things.
She took the long way out of town and drove by the abandoned mansions on her way to the highway. She waved goodbye to them too.
Creative writing is her passion. Teresa Berkowitz has attended creative writing workshops through The Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance and won a fellowship to attend and has attended writing workshops through Wayward Writers.