Fiction by Dawn Paul
Star City Glass Company made bottles, moving their factory from one
hard-luck state to another like a traveling tent show. When I was in high school,
they closed their plant in West Virginia and moved to my hometown in Rhode
Island. Our textile mills had been shut down for years and nothing had replaced
them. Star City beguiled the Town Council out of ten tax-free years in return for
local jobs for unskilled workers.
When Star City came to town, my dad quit tending bar and went to their
little white trailer to fill out an application. They hired him as a line inspector, a
worker who checked the bottles before they were shipped from the plant.
Star City stamped its bottles with a star-in-a-circle on the bottom. My
dad’s first week at the plant, my whole family loyally turned upside-down every
bottle that came to hand and looked for the Star City insignia. When we found
one, it was like a prize—proof that our dad had a real job at a big company.
That first week, he brought home reject bottles and taught me how to look
for defects. We stood together at the kitchen table, and he held misshapen
bottles up to the ceiling light. He turned them neatly in his big hands. The light
gleamed on the bottles and caught the silver in the close-trimmed sides of his hair.
He told me the names of the different defects: slump shoulders, slug bottoms,
and my favorite, the bird swing—a thread of glass stretched across the inside of
After that first week, when the tiredness set in, my dad didn’t talk much
about his new job. It was as though he had taught us all there was to be
Star City paid Big Money. They had to. Money was all they had to offer.
There were three shifts of line workers. They worked around the clock, seven
days a week, on a rotating schedule. My dad started on Second Shift, the 3 to
11 PM. If I was still awake, I’d hear his work boots drop to the kitchen floor
and his groan of relief to have them off his feet. He moved to the Midnight Shift
a week later. When I got up in the morning for school, he would be sitting at the
kitchen table drinking a few beers before he went to bed for the day. Just as his
body adjusted to sleeping in the day, he was moved to the morning shift. He
and all the other shift-workers walked around confused and exhausted. There
were accidents at the plant every week. Most of the shift-workers drank
themselves to sleep, night or day.
My mom said rotating shifts were inhuman. But she said it quietly, looking
down the hall where my dad slept his restless, broken sleep. She said it quietly
because Star City paid Big Money. Paid overtime, put food on the table, made
the car payments, bought school clothes, and allowed her to get her hair set in
a soft bouffant every week at the hairdresser’s. My dad liked her to look nice.
Summer came and school vacation and time to hang around and be bored.
I was at that in-between age, too young for a real job but too old to play wiffle
ball or hide-and-seek in the neighbors’ yards. Some nights I’d stay up late and,
just for something to do, go with my mom when she went to pick up my dad
after the 3 to 11 PM shift. The neighborhood was quiet at that hour, a few lights
still on, the sound of a TV from a screen door. Most families went to bed early.
There was never any traffic, and if the light at the town crossroads was red, my
mom slid under it without stopping.
We rode with the windows down, enjoying the cool air after sitting in the
stuffy house all night. We rode past the shushing of the waterfall by the boarded-
up textile mills, past jukebox music from the VFW Hall. There was a dark quiet
stretch of road past the Purina feed store with its checkerboard silo. Then we
were over the railroad tracks. From there we could see the orange glow of the
Star City furnace, where liquid glass was being fired. After that, we looked for
the narrow dark driveway to the plant. Star City never bothered to put up a sign.
The big ramshackle plant had appeared in the middle of an empty field almost
overnight. It was made of sheets of corrugated metal riveted together. Light from
inside showed in the corners where the walls didn’t meet squarely. The plant was
cold in winter and hot in summer. Scrap cardboard and broken wooden pallets
were piled up by the loading docks. The ground glittered with broken glass.
The cinder parking lot was lit only by the glare from the plant doors left open
in the summer heat. My mom parked in one of the empty spaces in the back of
the lot. She made sure we were in view of the main door. My dad’s legs were
tired after eight hours of standing on concrete. We didn’t want him to spend an
extra minute standing there looking for us.
A constant hungry noise came from the plant. It was the combined clamor
of the roaring furnace, of thousands and thousands of bottles clattering down the
metal roller-belt, the box machine thumping-thumping, and bad bottles crashing
onto the reject heap, to be fed back into the furnace. My dad told me it takes
glass to make glass. I didn’t ask how, if that was true, the first glass was made.
He had told me what he knew.
The noise of Star City beat inside my ears until my mom turned off the
ignition. Then I heard the closer sounds, the car engine ticking as it cooled, even
the soft singing of katydids in the weeds beside the car.
At eleven o’clock, C Shift came pouring out the main door. Shuffling,
sweating, strutting, reaching into a shirt pocket or handbag for a pack of cigarettes.
West Virginia people who had moved north with the plant hollered in twangy
accents—“Y’all ain’t takin’ our overtime, are yew?” The answers came back,
shouted in Rhode Island’s rural speech, the way my dad talked. “She took and
went home with a fevah and lost her ovah-time.”
My mom knew most of the people on C Shift. She pointed them out to me
as they walked out the big plant door. Otto, who looked like a farmer in his big
overalls but had played lovely songs on the violin at the company Christmas party.
Temple, wearing thick white make-up like a mask. Gina, with her short slicked-
back hair and mannish walk. Temple and Gina were roommates, my mom said,
then looked to see if I understood. I felt myself blush and was glad for the dark.
She pointed out who was married to whom, the ones divorced or heading that
way, a skinny heartbreaker from West Virginia, a young girl who had gotten
herself in trouble. Now she was stuck at Star City for the rest of her life.
My mom’s voice went on between the crash and din of Star City and the
katydids’ song. The women wore their pants too tight, the men wore theirs too
loose. They drank too much and gambled away their overtime checks. They all
made Big Money and not one of them saved a dime. They had no education.
They use bad English.
They laugh too loud.
They fall in love too young.
They’ll be here for the rest of their lives.
(Do you hear what I’m telling you?)
I sat in the dark car, picking at the cracked plastic on the dashboard. (Do
you know what you’re telling me?) I watched the tired people of C Shift file out
the door and looked for my dad among them. There he was, caught for a minute
in the bright light from the open door of the plant.
I kneel on the car seat and lean out the window. I know I’m kind of big for
that but I don’t care. I wave to him. He stops and bends his head down to light
a cigarette, throws the match and yells something to a fat woman who throws her
head back and laughs. Then he looks up, sees me hanging out the car window,
and smiles. He looks so tired.
A few years later, before they used up their ten tax-free years, Star City
moved on. I had started college by then, on a scholarship. Though Star City was
empty and rusting in a field a hundred and twenty miles away, sometimes its
clamor and roar sounded faintly across the campus, especially late at night. I hear
it sometimes still, like something coming to get me, the hungry yowl of the furnace,
making glass into glass.
Dawn Paul is the author of two novels, The Country of Loneliness and Still
River. She is the editor of Corvid Press and teaches writing at Montserrat
College of Art. Paul has an MFA from Goddard College and has received
fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, the Ragdale Foundation, and the
Spring Creek Project. She enjoys collaborating with other artists and has
recently created a text/video with painter Ben Johnson for the YouTube literary
journal Shape of a Box. She has also worked with choreographer Kelley
Donovan on pieces combining poetry and dance.
On “11 PM at Star City”:
I have an image (though this never happened) of my parents standing on
shore, waving as I sail away to a world they hope will be better in all ways
than theirs. This image is at the heart of “11 PM at Star City.” It is in part
the story of a parent encouraging her daughter to set out into a new world.
It also acknowledges the daughter’s unease with knowing she cannot stay,
but not knowing where she is supposed to be going.
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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of
Volume 6, Number 2
Copyright © 2011
by Leah Browning, Editor.
All future rights to
in the Apple Valley
Review are retained by
the individual authors