Fruit of the Loom
This story contains sensitive subject matter. It was inspired by the #MeToo movement and I hope I've accurately reflected the horror and complexity of similar crimes.
Leena remembered the first time she’d noticed Uncle Harry peering over the change room stall. He’d taken her shopping at the GAP, the kid’s version. She wasn’t sure how old she’d been, but she remembered craning her neck to see him. He’d put his finger to his lips and winked.
“It’s a game,” he whispered, “we mustn’t get caught.”
She hadn’t thought about that in a long time, but as she watched the cork drop ceiling above her jerk up and down with his furious movements it replayed in her head. They were in his office, the green and yellow landscaper’s logo popping in and out of vision above his bald spot. Out the sunny window she could see the industrial wood chipping machine she was ostensibly here to help fix. Uncle Harry said there was something wrong with the safety.
Of course, she didn’t know much about the mechanics of it, they only covered lawn mower engines in her auto shop class, but in theory she was here to learn. She’d be lucky for the opportunity, her dad had said, it was a good step towards engineering.
Uncle Harry was almost finished, sweat beading on his red face. His breath was ragged and Leena idly wondered if he should have his heart checked. She was about the only exercise he got since taking over the paperwork side of the business, and he was bulging a little around the waist. Didn’t heart failure run in Dad’s side of the family?
He squeezed her hips too hard as he finished and she winced, holding back a grunt. They only encouraged him. He let his weight crush her for a few moments, trying to steal her breath, before easing himself out and onto his feet. Tucking himself away he did up his belt, staring into the corner with wrinkles across his brow.
“You haven’t mentioned anything to anyone have you?” he asked, “about this little game of ours?”
“No, of course not,” Leena frowned, shaking her head, “why would I want anyone to know about this?”
Uncle Harry was distracted, not looking at her, and he grunted his agreement. “Good. Because you don’t want anyone finding out about what you’ve done. They wouldn’t understand. They’d think you were a slut.”
Leena’s teeth tightened. She hated that word. He insisted on reminding her of it every time he visited, reminding her of the consequences if her silence faltered. Slowly, she nodded.
As normal feeling returned to her legs Leena stood, fishing her Fruit of the Loom panties from her puddled jeans under the desk and pulling them on with a little hop. The same way she had in GAP. He’d left her shirt on, so it was only her shoes left to find, kicked off somewhere near the door.
“I guess we should get to work on the chipper,” Uncle Harry said casually, as if they’d just finished lunch. He shouldered the door open before she could answer and started walking across the empty yard. No one was ever around on Sundays.
Leena stared after him, puzzled. They were actually going to work on the machines? Usually he took her for ice cream after. There must actually be a problem. Eager to learn she hurried after Uncle Harry, leaving the office door open behind her to help with the smell.
He was already wearing his big, yellow, industrial ear muffs when she arrived, and he handed her a pair too, letting his eyes linger while she pulled them over her hair. Next was the safety goggles, the same clear plastic ones the science lab at school used. Once she was safe, Uncle Harry turned a little silver key in the chipper and rested his fingers over a pair of buttons, one red and one green.
“First, I’ll show you the problem, then we’ll look under the hood to see what’s making it tick, okay?” he waited for her to nod before continuing. “Usually, this thing will shut off if something too big goes in, to stop it from getting damaged trying to chew through logs.”
Uncle Harry pressed the green button and the chipper belched to life. Its roar seemed impotent as the big circling blades ripped at nothing. With a grunt of effort Uncle Harry hefted a cross section of wood from beside the machine as wide as the circle of Leena’s arms. He placed it on the edge of the chute, gesturing for Leena to step back before sliding it down towards the mulching blades.
Leena felt a buzzing between her ears as the machine whirred and grumbled over its newest meal. It was straining with the effort of the log, laboring to chew through its girth. When it was finished it grew louder again, crying out after its force-feeding.
“Well, that’s that. We best get to it,” Uncle Harry said as he turned the chipper off, hitching his thumbs in his belt. He opened a panel in the side of the machine, swinging the red ChipMax logo in half. Within its belly the chipper was a crisscross of belts, impellers, and venting, all sandwiched between the hulking engine below and the hungry blades above.
Uncle Harry spoke, and Leena listened, as he explained the machine. He pointed from piece to piece, making sure she understood each one before moving on to the next. He could actually be a pretty good uncle sometimes. As he got to work Leena gave him more space, watching but out of the way. As he reached up to fiddle with something near the blades she let her finger rest idly on the green button.
It was a fantasy of course; it wouldn’t work. Even if it did, there would be too much blood everywhere to clean up, and besides, he wouldn’t leave her alone, even dead. She’d have to burn the wood chips to hide the gore, and the smoke would cling to her. It would wrap itself around her and worm its smell into her clothes, cloying at her skin.
She imagined it would be like Lady MacBeth from Mister Giln’s English class, but instead of not being able to wash the blood off, she’d always smell of smoke. It would follow her no matter how many loads of laundry she did, or new outfits she bought, they’d all smell of smoke. Of him.
“Can you pass me the Phillip’s head?” Uncle Harry asked, one hand reaching blindly behind him, breaking Leena from her fantasy. She sighed, taking her finger from the button and handing over the screwdriver. Another day perhaps.