Company Man

by Christina Dalcher

We don’t right know what Pa’s job is because we don’t see him except for dinner, and anyway he don’t talk much about what he does for a paycheck. Ma says he rides a big elevator down into the belly of the Earth, and that he looks for diamonds every night. It makes him so tired he has to sleep during the day while we’re at school. Pa sleeps a lot, and that’s when Mr. Jenkins from the company visits to check on us. Mostly, he talks to Ma. 

Neither one of us has ever seen a diamond, but Ruby Jo Abbott swears she saw a picture of one once in a magazine. She told us it was round and square at the same time, with all these little edges that sparkle, and that if you touch it, the sparkly dust rubs off on you. 

Day after we learned about diamonds, we snuck into Ma and Pa’s bedroom to check for their dust on Pa while he was sleeping. He rolled over and put his big hands on our heads before pulling us real close. We heard him sniff a little and cough a lot. Then Ma came in. She gave us both a whupping with her favorite wooden spoon, the one she uses to stir the soup on every day except Sunday, ‘cause on Sundays we have meat and not soup. “You leave your Pa be, girls. He’s dog-tired today.” Ma sounded like she was dog tired, too. Maybe from all that laundry work she does, maybe because that’s what happens when you get to be a grown-up, maybe because Mr. Jenkins came around again today and they talked for a real long time. 

The thing about Pa’s hands is they don’t got diamond dust on them, or if they got some, no one can see under all the black stuff that creeps under his fingernails and stays there, even after Pa takes his turn in the bath. We checked and checked and checked again before that time Ma came in and caught us, and me and my sis finally decided he put the black on so unchristian folk won’t try to steal the diamond dust. On Monday at recess, Ruby Jo nodded and said her Pa probably does the same. 

Ruby Jo isn’t the only girl in school, but she’s on the good-people side along with Emalee and Willadean and a bunch of others whose Pas work for the company. Mary Catherine Baker’s the one we have to watch out for. She thinks she’s hot stuff because her Pa is the company doctor. When she heard us talking about the diamond dust, she told all her friends that the coal rats were crazy. That’s what they call us, the girls on the bad side, and their own Mas call us that, too. ‘Coal rats.’ Ma says not to pay it no mind. “They can call us any old thing they want,” she told us. “Long as they keep bringin’ over those fancy dresses that need washed.” 

Sometimes we ask Pa if he’s a-scared of the elevator. 

“Nah,” he says. 

“What about the dark?” 

“You think Jonah was scared of being in the whale’s belly?” His eyes get real wide when he says this, and it’s sorta frightening because they look like big white saucers in all that black he covers himself with to keep the diamond dust hidden. 

“No,” we say. 

“Well, there you are.” 

Pa coughs a lot more now than he used to, but he still tells us stories while he eats his soup. They’re quick ones. Tonight it’s the story about some men who go down in the big elevator during the day and come out at night. He says they got smaller eyes than the other men, like those underground people in the book by Mr. Wells. “On account of they don’t see much sun, darlins.” 

Then he goes to bed, and we don’t see him until next day at supper after Mr. Jenkins leaves when he’s finished talkin’ to Ma. 

We don’t right know what Pa’s job is, but we know it’s a good job ‘cause we have meat for dinner on Sundays instead of soup. Also, every Christmas we each get a new pair of shoes. Pa laces them up tight on our small feet and says, “There you are.” 

Ma cries a little, ‘specially this morning when Pa says not to worry about next Christmas. “My girls are always gonna have shoes,” he tells us. “The company’s gonna take care of you.” 

We know it was true because his eyes shone when he said that, and because after the accident with the elevator, Mr. Jenkins came over with new shoes and dollies and a big box of candies for Ma. Also, we have meat for dinner every day now, and Mary Catherine Baker leaves us alone.

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