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Someone was first. I mean, we all knew the story of how old man Collier come and dammed the creek and built the plant and the town and convinced everyone to move here. I don’t mean him. Someone was before him, some other white men, trying to farm. Before them were Indians. Some man was the first to stand on this hill and look down. It’s beautiful.
They clear cut for an expansion that they never built. It exposed the town rooftops, out to the Collier mansion, and trees all in between. I’d be the last to see it that exact view. Eventually, someone would be back. A guard, maybe. Then the next rich man who would make something else out of this place.
It took them a long time to let everyone go. It held steady for a time. First, they just didn’t hire anyone new. Then they let old guys go. Then they moved out some machines. Then it all happened at once. Through it all, we’d joke about who would turn out the lights when all was said and done. We never bet any actual money. By then we were all clinging to every dollar.
I never thought it would be me. Short straw, I guess, or maybe the long straw. They took out all the office furniture, all that people hadn’t already stolen. The file cabinets shuffled into locked storage. They dismantled the machines dismantled and carried them off. Rumor was somewhere going south to another factory and some were just scrap. The guys who took them away said they had no idea. They were just doing their jobs, loading them.
And me? I’m cleaning up. Sweeping this huge floor, the shiny places where the machines were, over the exposed holes, and over the dull places where we used to walk. I’m all alone. The door will lock behind me when I leave. It seems strange to sweep it since I can’t see the point, but it’s paid work and beggars can’t be choosers. And maybe with no people, no new dust will fall.
I finish the whole place. I make myself laugh about being trusted to be here since there’s nothing left to steal. I sweep everything into this corner by the door. I brush the last of the dust into a pile, then into one line, then another, then finally onto a piece of stained cardboard. The room is empty, the floor deserted, the whole building hollowed. I don’t suppose anyone saw it coming. I pour the dust into the metal trashcan and then stand there with the broom in my hand. Where should it go? I drop it in the can, handle down.
Through the hazy glass, I could see snow falling outside. When I walk out, I’ll leave footprints, which the snow will cover up. The end.
Jeff McLaughlin grew up in the Carolinas but lives and works in Minnesota. He is published in Kenyon Review Online and in december magazine.