Memoirs of a Battering Ram

I had been working in the store about a year and was still somewhat of an odd duck to my co-workers. When we go out for beers as a group after our shift, the conversation always turns sombre. They talk about family, and what they think they should be doing, or hope to do, with their lives. Most of my co-workers found themselves with the position because of some government scheme or another- to give the parolee his first job since being released, helping recovering addicts or those who have been in psychiatric care. People with disabilities and health-complications. The afterwork mood is 'if only', and they often turn around and expect to hear mine. I'm the quiet one. "He's so shy!" they sometimes say (and pat me on the back, if they've had a few beers, or roll their eyes if they're still sober).

I like them all. And I'm intensely grateful to be working anywhere. I love my little job and can't believe life has turned out so fortunately for me. I have a lot to say, but not to my co-workers. I have a lot of experience, but none of it rightly fits on a resume. When I think of where I was a year ago, and sometimes when I want to open my mouth at the after-shift drinks, I think of how best to tell it so that it's not just a sequence of descriptions of all the graphic injuries I've suffered- but truth be told, there's nothing much in between them that I can remember, or notable enough to write about.

A year ago, I had found out that I had been made redundant in the company taxi on the way home from a job. I was already in a bad shape, so opening the text announcing the company's dissolvement really was kicking a man when he was down. I was in a pretty bad shape. I blinked away blood to make sure I was understanding what I was reading. Something something "ceasing all operations effective immediately," blink blink blink. The blood wouldn't have had a chance yet to coagulate as my face was still a fountain, so I assumed that the substance that was gumming up in my eyelashes was chunks of gristle.

I was out of a job. I put my hand to my face (this could not be happening), taking the message in as the company driver ran a red light in his efforts to get me to one of our medi-centres. When I took my hand away, half my face came with it in strings of red that connected my cheek to my palm. My cupped hand held a large red glob of unidentifiable viscera and the side of my face suddenly felt minty cold. I gave up trying to blink through it all and as soon as I'd made that decision the vision went pink in my left eye.

"Uhh," I said in confusion, looking up to meet the driver's gaze in his rear-view mirror. I held up what was in my hand to show him and he took a deep breath and put his foot down.

Lying in a bay in the medi-centre later on, my face was puckered tight with stitches underneath the bandages, and so numb that I was unable to open or close my jaw, so my mouth hung agape and I was drooling on my pillow. My whole head was one big bandage wrap, only one slit through which I could see with my right eye. I heard the scrape of a curtain being pulled back, and the guy in the bed next to mine, arm stuck through with an assortment of pins and metal bars, poked his head round and whistled appreciatively at the state I was in. "They really messed you up, huh?"

"Uhh," I was trying to say yeah.

"Did you hear? That we're shut down?" he asked.


He was like me- a mover. "We're gonna be the last patients to pass through here, apparently. Hell, you're lucky you even got here in time- cos they said to me that I was probably gonna be the last. They're moving all the stuff out on the floor below us right now. Say we've got two hours'n then they're kicking us out to fully clean house." I stayed silent, turning my head to look up at the ceiling. I was too out of my mind on painkillers to even think of what I was going to do when that time came. Would they wheel me out on the gurney and just dump me on the street?

"I'll bet the shakers were told ahead of time, man. Fuck the shakers. They'll have an out. Us? We're so completely fucked."

Usually, the medi-centre was full to the brim of movers. I attempted to crane my neck and get a look around, my brain moving two steps behind. There was no one. The sheets were stripped from the beds across from me. The place, now that I could hone in on the lack of sound, was quieter than usual. Not that the place was usually loud. I went to a hospital, a real one, recently, and was shocked by how loud everything was, the chaos and the shouts and the crying. Even when the medi-centres were full to capacity, all that could generally be heard was the rustle of sheets and the rhythm of morphine drips and stray coughs. I had once known a mover that was so used to dealing with pain that when his stomach was cut open, he didn't make a sound. There were no screams or gasps or begs. He didn't close his eyes or tense up and yell, he didn't flail. He went completely limp and flopped backwards, letting air exhale from between his teeth. Already working through it, he eyes waxed over and he simply looked to the sky as if raptured. I had seen this so many times that I hadn't thought that this was it, but as it turned out, he was dead before the taxi had come to get us. Silently to the grave, without a fuss. Even so, the medi-centre was too silent. There truly was no one else here.

I thought of all the movers who would be hastily thrown out of taxis, left to bleed out on roadsides somewhere. Some of them wouldn't even have seen the message, or been lucid enough to read it. Even worse, some would sit numbly, like my man with his guts hanging out, and stare at the sky and wait without complaint for taxis that would never come. Luck was my numb tongue. I was grateful to have been on time.

"My cousin's with a construction company up North, or at least, last I heard he was. I guess I'll head there, hope for the best. It'll be bad hauling bricks and planks with this, mind," my neighbour said to me, gesturing to his arm. "But I've worked through worse." He was silent for a moment. "Do you know what you're gonna do?"

"Nuhhh," I groaned, and by some miracle he understood me, and nodded sympathetically.

"All the luck to you, man."

In my old line of work, there were two types of people: movers and shakers. As a mover, I had donned a lot of roles and would have had an extensive resume if any of the stuff could be considered experience in the real world. Bodyguard, fall-guy, muscle for hire, stalker, protector, crime-scene-clearer. I was the everyman. The odd job-doer. The shakers pulled off the big jobs- assassinations, heists- but those operations were made possible by movers. I've played the distraction more times than I can count. I want it known that for every Bond-type in a suit that collects their own headline clippings ('chancellor assassinated in Vienna', 'art theft leaves officials clueless') there are ten of me in medi-centre bays recovering from life-altering injuries. My bed-mate was right, the shakers would likely have been informed ahead of time of the organisation's impending liquidation, and would have enough money to be set for life anyways. Where did that leave the movers? Sitting on a platform without a ticket, watching the trains go past.

I complain a lot now, but at the time, the job perks truly weren't awful: free healthcare was obviously a necessity and a plus. My company provided its own accommodation: a whole high-rise block of not-too-shabby apartments, sound-proof walls. I realise now that the flat I occupied was more an extension of the medi-centre than a home, as I was never there for extended periods of time apart from when recovering from an injury. I was always away on jobs (all travel expenses paid, of course), and had never really decorated, never collected the bric-a-brac that I now know accumulates in ones living space. At the time, thank God for that- when I left the medi-centre after the redundancy message, I found that the locks had been changed. A few movers milled around the entrance, heads in their hands. One told of how he had literally been turned out of bed and given five minutes to collect whatever he wanted to take with him in a plastic bag, before being escorted out. They were waiting for rides, or wondering what to do next, or hanging about to see if their neighbours were going to return. Someone had already put a stone through a window in an attempt at re-entry, only to find that all of the rooms had been quickly and uncannily stripped bare. The man with the plastic bag clutched his meagre belongings, again, one of the lucky ones.

So, all the stuff I did own had been disposed of too. The things I needed, also company provided. My left-hand duplicates for example. I had been involved in a bit of a mix-up in Paris years prior. Some sort of espionage thing that I never learned the full details of. Me and a team of movers were providing a distraction for a shaker. The Parisians captured three of us and spoke amongst themselves in panicked French. They weren't stupid, and probably knew that we had something to do with the larger picture in motion (whatever that was). They may have mistaken us for the shakers and assumed we were more important than we actually were. We had a cover-case with us: a bulky leather briefcase with a thumb print scanner that would unlock it. These are great- they serve only to heighten confusion and waste time. Most often, they are empty and the scanners are complete bogus. No one's print can open them. It didn't stop the Parisians from trying, so I guess it served its intended purpose. When they came to me after doing the other two, they tried to take my thumb off at the joint but I was struggling, and the cleaver they used imbedded itself halfway through my hand instead. Knowing I was rumbled and that there was nothing more I could do, I simply looked away and let them finish the job, hearing the dull wet thud of them retrieving my thumb and two fore-fingers. I was courteous as ever. Anyway, the clip-on prosthetics I wore to mask this injury were all in my apartment, save for the one I was wearing and which was now muddy with dried blood and gunk.

Prosthetics are important for movers. They give the appearance of banality. It is important for us to blend in and keep a low profile. It is because of this that I also lost, in my apartment, a sizeable number of custom-made latex strips. I was tasked with retrieving a shaker's belongings, once, from a burning building before firefighters swarmed the scene. I managed to shove must of the stuff under my shirt and delivered it unsinged, but the same could not be said for my jaw, chin, and right shoulder. For the burn scarring that could not be covered with clothing, the company provided me with latex adhesives. I paste the thin strips over the visible injuries, pat them down, and blend them in with thick stage make-up. Of course, up close, it looks awful, but at a glance, it gives the appearance of smooth, average skin. They couldn't really do anything to mask my limp, but I did, for a short-time, have an ankle brace which straightened out my gait.

So now, at the store, I work mostly in the warehouse, with my seven fingers and tissue-paper flesh on my neck. With my face that could only be described as brutal- ridged with scars and half blind in my left eye. With my limp and several teeth missing. Some shambling corpse with more scar tissue than pink skin- a constellation of holes and gaps and thick cursive lines. And yet, despite all this, no one cares. Eyes wander but my co-workers are mostly uninterested apart from at after-work drinks when they look at me, expectantly, and I suppose want me to divulge.

I've considered it, to them, but never contemplated doing so in a legal setting. For one, I had literally no proof that any of this happened. As you've probably realised, the details of most of my exploits remain a mystery even to me. I was told enough to give me an objective, but was never granted a peek behind the curtain. That's why there were so many of us- so that each mover could be given only one puzzle piece. In my darker moments I remember that I have no real clue who it was I even worked for, or if the injuries I sustained were for a good cause, or even helped further a cause. It was a life that cut ceaselessly away at me, and I didn't even understand, or dare to ask why. I had no identity, no name, and now I move boxes and stock shelves for a living.

"Robert!" my co-worker yells, but the warning came too late. The shelf shifted and the box hit me on the shoulder on the way down, crumpling me to the floor. A dislocation, maybe? A broken collar-bone. Maybe my back was fucked too, but I didn't want to move to test that theory, so I lay back slowly, and let out a hiss of air, and looked toward the ceiling.

"Shit! Is he-"

"Call an ambulance."

"Get the boss, bring him out-"

"Rob? Rob? Can you hear us?"

"I can hear you." My voice sounded far away but full of humour.

In the ambulance, they asked me to rate the pain on a scale of 1-10. I hummed appreciatively. "A 7 I think." The paramedics shared a look, and I couldn't figure out whether they thought I was making it up because of my complete lack of fuss, whether I should have been in more pain and they could see, for a moment, what a freak I was.

And even for this stint in the hospital, I am paid. And when I return to work there are cards and cake, and I wonder whether I can be proud of an injury like this or whether it is all the same.

"Are you gonna sue?" one of my co-workers asked at after-work drinks. I must have looked confused. Someone else cut in: "It's hard, like, with big companies like this. My sister- she works as a buffet waiter for a huge business. One of her jobs is literally to open a pot of soup for the customers, so that she'll get steam burns and they won't. She, like, gets paid to do that. She complained and they said she has no case."

"Its not the same, though. At all," They speak around me.

"It was truly an accident,"

"Nothing that could have been-"

"And he's already back."

"I'm fine." I said, and they all go quiet and look at me. "I'm just happy to be here," I say, quietly.