Current Occupation: Writing Assistant
Former Occupation: Mosquito Control Specialist
Contact Information: Nathan Floom graduated in May 2011 with a BFA in Creative Writing from Bowling Green State University. He’s served as an intern and assistant editor for Mid-American Review. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Contemporary Haibun Online, Seattle Review and has been nominated for the AWP Intro Journal Awards. His monthly creative column can be found at Buried Letter Press. He is Co-Founding Editor of Heavy Feather Review.
New American Betsy Ross
I fold the flags one by one as they come off the line. I like to pretend that they’re little blankets.
Debbie is next to me. She’s slow as fuck but I don’t care. She’s supposed to put the flags I fold into boxes for shipping. She’s tired and sore and only stares up at the TV humming quietly above us. Her old face still shows the mark of a rough adolescence below her beehive hair where the colony has abandoned ship.
She never says a word.
On MUTE—a shady flickering barrage of images float across the TV screen. It gives us something to look at, even though it’s usually nothing anyway.
I watch it while I do my memorized task. One fold down the middle, another fold down that middle and then the middle again. Always the middle. If you don’t get them right in the center then they sometimes won’t fit into the boxes that Debbie forms slowly with her arthritic hands, her veins running like vines to tree bark around puffed joints.
Above, the TV turns to news reports and some towers are burning. I have not heard of them before. Never been to New York, never will. We’re in Alabama and always will be.
I see smoke coming from the sky scrapers and see people jumping and wish that I could jump with them. I see faces soaked in dust and it reminds me of the people in the cutting section of the factory after long days. The towers fall and I look at the flags that pass beneath my hands.
The screen hums to a new newscast. It shows hundreds of people in the street waving flags. Some are sad, some are happy. Their eyes intense and focused on the events of a future that has yet to come. They are proud once again, if only for a last summer breeze.
My hands work faster as the flags come off the belt in a magical flurry. The quota increased for the day. One fold down the middle, another fold down that middle and then the middle again. Again and again. Taking it right down the middle.
Debbie falls behind and the flags lay in a sad haphazard pile waiting for her to catch up. I have never seen her smile. Not once in all our shared time in the flag factory. Today, as little children inside the television wave the flag and smile in their mothers trembling arms, oblivious to what is happening, Debbie smiles and adjusts the black braces around her gnarled wrists.