Zeke Myers looked at the personnel sheet one more time. He hated that Maggie had to blow her cool like that, tell him off, and stomp off the job. But he had to send the clothes from the distribution center to the stores, and her frequent absenteeism, tardiness, and bad attitude sure didn't tip the scales in her favor. He then checked the name of the person that the temp agency was sending: Cherry Godwin. She was fairly new to them, but came with strong recommendations from her previous workplace, had passed the drug test, and it seemed that her good sense hadn't been ruined by her college education. As long as she can pick the orders and keep them straight, he'd be happy.
His phone buzzed. He picked up. Joyce was on the other end. She sounded somewhat unsure. “Uhm, Zeke? Cherry from the temp agency's here.”
“Thanks. On my way over,” he replied. And he left the office to head to the break room.
There, he saw a red haired girl sitting by the table next to the microwave oven. Seemed a bit full bodied, but her face showed she was pretty: no jowls or double chins here. He walked over with hand extended, “Cherry Godwin?” he said with a smile. “I'm Zeke Myers, the floor manager. Welcome to Newsome Garments and Hosiery.”
“Oh, hi,” she said tentatively sweetly as she stood up.
And Zeke couldn't stop staring. The top of his head barely made it to her bottom lip. And he was an even six feet tall. Cherry's hourglass figure was pleasantly flat, smooth and trim at the stomach, but her bust loomed out over it like twin balloons. Her upper arms had biceps that bulged without flexing, and her hips rounded out neatly into a couple of thick, egg-shaped thighs. She was no slight minion.
“Um... yes,” he said. “I believe we're ready to get you on the line to pick orders. Do you have your time sheet?”
“Right here,” she said, handing the papers over.
Later they walked through the large warehouse toward the conveyor line by the steel beam and wire racks with cardboard bins sliding town to the work crew. She felt the stares of the forklift drivers, the material handlers and the order picker ladies she'd work with soon. She spotted one in the far corner point and whisper to a workmate, not thinking Cherry saw her. She squelched her sigh; she faced this every day when she went outside and hit the street. She knew she could take it in stride, or get upset about it, which would help no one, especially herself. At least she had found work.
She did a pretty simple job: the forewoman had the orders for cartons that came down the line. Cherry got the style numbers, and put the packs of socks with each order into the right box. And when the bin she had was out, call for another one to be slid down her way. She was in charge of the women's athletic socks for teens and adults. She looked idly over at another line that did women's sweatshirts. “So,” she said to the older grandmotherly woman beside her on girls' socks, “any chance I could order anything my size straight from the factory?”
“Gotta be a permanent employee for that,” was the reply. “Temp agency sent you, right?”
“Yes, they did.”
“Who knows,” the older woman said, “if you do a good job, they might hire you after ten weeks.”
“I'll be back in college by then.”
“Ah well,” she said. “Name's Tamara, by the way.”
“Cherry. Cherry Godwin.” She smiled wanly. “They probably don't have my size anyway.”
“Oh, I don't know, we could check. Won't know if we don't look.”
“Thanks. Would you believe I was only five foot two and one-ten over a year ago?”
“Get out of here,” Tamara said incredulously.
And the chatting helped pass the time away. Tamara Grimes had been working with Newsome for about fifteen years now, and they were facing tight times, which had called for cut-backs. The company had to stop giving permanent employees their paycheck's eight percent incentive bonus for not arriving tardy or leaving early all week. The new incentive program was now “be on time or be fired.” And one employee really lost her temper yesterday because she had been chronically bad about tardiness, and the one week she chose for perfect attendance was the one after the bonus had stopped.
Well, Cherry enjoyed talking to Tamara about her grandchildren and what they were up to. It made her think about what kind of mommy she'd be one day. Though sometimes the conversation drifted to People Weekly magazine kind of stuff, Cherry was able to steer it to more uplifting topics like her volunteer time at Montana Negra.
Well, sooner than she expected, break time came. Tamara went out to the outer deck's picnic tables to get her smoke. Cherry elected to stay in the break room with her diet cola and fruit salad from home. But on the way, she idly noticed the notches setting up the racks were each an inch from each other. Wondering despite the bad news, she did a little math and marked her height by it. Ugh. She was now six feet, eight inches tall. Why wouldn't she stop growing?
On the way over, she passed by the industrial scales where they weighted pallets of cartons of clothes to measure the load put in the trucks. Despite knowing she'd probably depress herself, she knew her own scales gave an error message when she stepped on them. So she stood on the scales.
And she gasped. It actually went down! Way down! Just 263 pounds! She clapped her hands happily like a giddy school girl.
“Uhm, excuse me, honey?” an older man's apologetic voice said. She turned around and saw someone with glasses and a frosted beard. “I'm afraid that's the tare weight. It's lighter because we don't count the wood pallets as part of the truck's load.” And he pressed a button. Beep. The true weight read 308 pounds. Cherry's face fell in disappointment. She was deflated, as her body felt inflated.
“Well, gee,” another fellow said, “I thought you weighed MUCH less than that. You sure this scale don't need recalibratin', Clem?”
Cherry turned around. It was a shorter fat guy with bib overalls and a friendly grin. “You're in a lot better shape than I am, and that's the truth. I don't care what that scale says.”
“Why thanks kindly,” said Cherry. “What's your name?”
“Marlowe. I stack the boxes at the end of the line for the forklifts to pick up.”
“Well, gee, that must be tough work.”
“Naw, not really. Just take it one box at a ti--”
SMASH! Something sounding like a wrecking ball collided on the far end of the distribution center. “Uh-oh,” Clem said, “ that doesn't sound good.” And all three of them hustled over toward the racket.
It was Maggie. She'd sneaked in when no one else was looking, and had waited in the ladies' restroom until the coast was clear. She had grabbed a forklift and was driving it and deliberately ramming it into whatever she could find.
“Aw, shoot!” Clem said. “She must be trying to give payback for losing her job! Maggie! Stop that and get off that thing NOW!”
“Please, Mag!” Marlowe pleaded. “It ain't worth getting in more trouble! Stop and calm down before somebody calls the sheriff!”
If Maggie heard, she didn't show it. She knocked down a stack of cartons, banged and smashed a fire extinguisher off its wall mount, and veered wildly all over. Marlowe ran up to flag her down, and she made a reckless cornering turn too fast. With that, the forklift tilted, creaked, and fell over on its side, making Maggie scream, and knocking Marlowe face down into the concrete.
“Aaaagh!” Marlowe cried out. “I'm pinned!”
Maggie staggered up, climbed out of the overturned forklift, and saw what she had done. With eyes wide in panic, she simply dashed out the nearest exit and fled the scene. Clem gave chase as quickly as his years would allow. Cherry almost joined the pursuit but heard Marlowe trapped under the heavy machinery.
“Please! Get someone to help me!” he pleaded. “My legs are trapped and it hurts!”
Cherry bent down at the knees, staring, wondering what to do. “Hey! Someone come by and help him!” she shouted toward the break area. She nearly dashed for the picnic tables, but she didn't want to abandon him. Stooping, and purely out of reflex, she reached over and put her hands under the forklift. She didn't count on pushing it up at all, but maybe, just maybe, she could budge it just enough for Marlowe to get free. “Okay, Marlowe,” she said, “see if you can wiggle out.” And with her palms rounding the corner of the forklift's side, she pushed up with her legs and pressed away with her hands and arms. No noticeable give. Just Marlowe's whimpering. Breathing in and out, she tried again.
Come on, she thought, why won't you move!? She just wanted a precious fraction of an inch for poor Marlowe. She had to move it, she had to move it, she had to move it...
Then she imagined: what if it were her boyfriend Jack stuck under there?
A desperate engine in her then cranked up. She set her teeth. She dug in, she pushed back, she steadily kept up the pressure. She wanted to stand, she wanted to rise, she wanted to go up, she... she actually WANTED to get big.
She kept shoving and pressing, and as her muscles tensed and expanded, she noticed that the forklift had been lifted by about an inch. Encouraged, she kept pushing and pushing and pushing, and slowly the heavy machine ascended another inch. Then a third.
“Hey!” Zeke demanded from afar. “What are you doing?! Stop before you hurt yourself!” And she heard footsteps running up. She can't be stopped just now!
“Marlowe!” she grunted. “Crawl out while you can!” And she heard the shuffle and rustle of Marlowe's arms pulling himself forward. And with one last rush and a shout, she pumped as hard as she could and shoved against the forklift.
And amazingly, it actually creaked and flopped with a loud bang onto its four wheels again.
She looked down to Marlowe, who had rolled over face up. “Can you stand at all?” she asked.
Marlowe pushed himself up to sitting, and was about to try to pull himself up by the conveyor belt to standing, when Zeke said, “NO. Wait for the medics and the ambulance. We don't want you hurting yourself worse.”
Marlowe had tried to stand anyway, wobbled, and fell back to sitting. And he looked up to Cherry. “Honey,” he said, “thanks a lot. I owe you big.”
Cherry just smiled modestly. “Glad you made it out.”
And that's when she noticed all the workers who'd gathered around and given her a big round of applause.
“Uh, Cherry? In my office a second, please?”
Unsure, she followed Zeke through the door and with his beckon sat down on the budget office chair. It creaked under her weight, but didn't bend or buckle to her relief. She still had a lot of concern, though, and apparently so did he. “I didn't do something wrong or break a rule when I pushed that thing off of him, did I?”
“Honey,” Zeke said, “that's in the bottom forty of my worries right now. Though there might be an OSHA rule on waiting for the pros to come by for the rescue, I'm not going to chase it down on the books right now. I'm terribly sorry you had to be caught in the thick of this, and I'm really glad you saved Marlowe like that. I'm impressed. Do you work out?”
“No, as a matter of fact, I was way smaller than this over a year ago. I've just had this crazy growth spurt, and I've got no reason why it won't stop. I mean, my doctor is totally puzzled, and she figures my body should be caving in under its own weight, but no. I'm healthier and stronger than I've ever been.”
“Hmmm. So I noticed. Well, I'm afraid that thanks to Maggie's stunt, we're now not just out of an order picker but a material handler, too. We're hoping Marlowe will be healed before too long, but until he is, well, I got a major favor to ask you.”
“What's that? Take over for him?”
“Yes. There'll be boxes coming down the line, and we'll need someone to help sort them according to size and shape, stack them up and secure them to the pallets for the forklifts to pick up. You'd be repeatedly lifting and moving loads up to sixty pounds a box. Are you all right with doing that till Marlowe's back?”
Cherry blinked. “Well, I'd miss chatting with the girls in the order picking department, but I'm ready to work where you need me most. Pay's the same, I take it?”
“Yes. Same hours as your previous job, too.”
“Well,” she mused, “...okay.”
Zeke handed her the back brace. “Remember, you've got to wear that whenever you're lifting anything major. And if you think it might be to heavy, or if you see someone else about to move something and think they might need help, make it a team lift and carry. Don't hurt your back. And two more things: Be sure to bend at the knees when you lift something, not with the back. And when you turn with a load, always pivot on your heels. Do NOT twist in place with your feet planted. Twisting is a great way to injure yourself and get a trip to the chiropractor.” He smiled. “Any questions?”
“Uh... just one.” said Cherry. And she pointed to how the shoulder straps to the brace were shoved aside by her chest. “Do you have anything without suspenders?”
The cartons came down the line, and Cherry stopped them, picked the paperwork out from under the flaps, and sorted them in the apropriate in-boxes. Then she picked up each box, swung it around to its pallet. and stacked them up according to size, shape. She never dreamed she'd be doing a lot of heavy lifting like this for eight minutes, let alone eight hours a day. The platters at Italia! Italia! were a load, yes, but what she had carried from the kitchen to the table, she had to move over and over. At least boxes didn't treat her rudely, or stiff her on the tip. but they didn't leave the big tips or talk and joke with her. She didn't see how Marlowe did it with so few to talk to, hour after hour after hour, except during the breaks. She hoped he'd heal pretty quickly so he could join her, or at least so she could get back to order picking.
But the crazy thing was, it was the turning and repetitive movements that got to her, not the load. She guessed the boxes averaged 40 pounds each. She knew she'd have probably passed out by now a year, a foot and a half, and 198 pounds ago. But the boxes seemed much lighter than she believed. It was work, but she handled them handily.
The afternoon break came. Everyone went off for snacks, sodas and smokes. But this time she stayed behind by the conveyor. She had to see something without Zeke stopping her.
The pallet was 45 pounds or so. And there were six cartons on it. Quietly, she bent at the knees, grabbed each side of the pallet, and hefted. Yep. She brought it up to chest level... over 280 pounds of weight.
Setting it down gently, she grabbed six more boxes, stacked them on top, and wrapped them so they wouldn't topple in movement. And she lifted again.
It was a more serious strain, and it was a slower lift... but she pulled it off. The lifted the average shoulder-height, quarter-ton stack up to her waist level. She figured she could carry it over to the trucks if the forklifts were offline in a real emergency. She was thankful they had pallet jacks for this sort of thing.
Then it sunk in. She was lifting more than her own massive body weight. She... she really WAS strong!
Setting down the pallet, she simply leaned against a pillar and exhaled deeply. And it wasn't from the exertion.
To Be Continued...