There it was again. Petey. There’s this tonal shift in his voice when he says it, like he’s talking to a child, or an elderly relative whose brain has turned to mush. He doesn’t say it with anyone else, this tone. Condescending. Belittling.
Peter is quietly breathing in and out, just as Grace made him promise he’d do. In and out.
“C’mon, Petey. It’s not that hard. Everyone else is working.” Brad’s voice comes closer.
And there it is. The slap on the back. “Let’s wake up, Petey.”
Peter exhales long and slow.
“Big day needed. We can’t have anyone slacking off. Not today. We need you to bring your A game, mister.”
Peter’s job was to scrape the labels off the used wine bottles and then place them on the conveyor belt, where they rise and descend into the dragon, a twenty metre long machine that hissed plumes of smoke. The bottles came out the other side sterile and ready for reuse. Guys at the other end of the beast stacked them onto pallets before shrink-wrapping them.
Brad orchestrated the whole thing, making sure enough bottles came in for Peter to scrape, and that he took the clean bottles out ready for delivery.
And today, Brad had a massive order, a test run of sorts. If they could double their output, this new customer would become a standing order.
Brad stuck a wet finger into Peter’s ear. “I said wake the fuck up.”
Peter inhaled as slowly as he could. I cannot quit. I cannot quit. I cannot quit, he repeated to himself. He had to think of Grace and Matilda and how much it cost to raise a baby.