Recycle in five…
Tension claws at my shoulders. No matter how many times I’ve done this—four times a day, five days a week, for five years, but who’s counting?—I can’t get used to it. I wouldn’t want to.
Bodies pound on metal. Clang. Clang. Then harder. Clang! Clang! Then faster. Clangclangclang.
Mixed in with feeble cries for mercy that rattle through my skull. Help us, please!
The hiss of gas. As it crescendos, the buzz subsides.
And the convulsions begin.
Silence. I can almost breathe. Until…
The hair on my body, what little that’s left of it, threatens to jump off my skin as the gas ignites. I feel the warmth on my back. Without realizing it, I’ve turned away from the Recycling Room like I used to in the early days. Back when I had to worry about the intense blue light that filtered through the cracks in the outer containment doors. Back when I could still see.
I wait for the chime that signals the Recycling Room has cooled enough to enter. My fingers find the correct button—top right, second row, third in—and release the doors so the reclaimers can enter.
The shoe covers they’re required to wear swish across the floor as they go to collect the “recycled material.” As if euphemisms make what we do more palatable.
From the opposite direction, the staccato taps of uncovered shoes approach.
“Recycler,” a deep voice says. One that I don’t recognize, with the crisp inflection of someone who’s used to giving orders. “Was that the last run of the day?”
“The last run of the morning.” I turn my head in the direction of the voice. “There’ll be two more this afternoon.”
“I see.” A deep sigh. “I wonder if you’d join us for lunch?”
Like I have a choice.
I follow the tap-tapping footsteps—two people by the way the sound rebounds off the walls, and one of them a woman in heels—past the breakroom and into the elevator. We ascend to the top floor.
I trail my hand along the wall—left turn, left turn, second doorway—until we enter what must be a conference room. The air is full of leather and furniture polish.
“Have a seat, Jacob.”
I grope until my fingers find supple leather. I pull the chair back from the table and slide into its coffin-like grip.
High heels tap away and return, bringing the scent of roasted meat, potatoes, and perfume. My stomach clenches.
Clinking of silverware on plates—real, not disposable. Chewing, swallowing, sips of beverage, a glass returned to the table. Then silence.
“Aren’t you hungry?” The woman’s voice is velvet. Alto enough to have age, but still strong in timbre.
I imagine the hunk of turgid flesh on my plate. The faint red of weeping juice from what was once vibrant and breathing. “Not really.”
They shift in their seats, place silverware on plates. The chair to my left groans as the man leans back.
Another deep sigh. “I understand you have some concerns about what we do here.”
A statement, not a question. Why bring it up now, after so many years? “It doesn’t keep me from doing my job.”
“No.” The word is long, drawn out. “But we’ve had complaints from the people you work with, especially the new hires you’ve trained.”
I almost smile. Clearly, I’ve hit a nerve. The young still have a conscience after all, despite the company’s propaganda that recycling is necessary and humane.
“We’d like to hear your concerns from you directly.” A waft of perfume as she shifts in her chair. “To make sure we understand correctly.”
I consider how to start. How to convey to these decision makers the wrongness of their actions. A chance I’ve been waiting for years.
“There was a man in the twentieth century named Adolf Hitler,” I begin. “He wanted to create a master race. He rounded up all the undesirables from his country—the old, the infirm, people with different beliefs—and put them in recycling chambers—”
“You’ve got to be kidding.” The man’s voice is sharp. “That’s hardly what we do here.”
“You’re right.” Heat burns in my chest, intense as the incinerator light. “This company is so much worse than Nazi Germany, because you breed them first. You make them work for you until they are too old to be of use, and then you recycle them.”
The woman makes a sound, almost a squawk. “You can’t be serious. How could you work here if you feel this way?”
“Penance for wha—?”
“Jacob,” the woman interrupts her colleague, “you realize we’re talking about bees, not people, right? Anthopila was created to save the species, not eradicate it. Our company breeds bees to protect them. We allow them to pollinate flowers and crops so that we can both survive.”
“That’s what you want everyone to believe, but really you use them to make honey, which you sell for a profit. And then you incinerate them and recycle them for feed!”
“Bees are an excellent source of protein. Third world—”
“You think you’re the master race. Well, missy, I grew up on a farm. I know the score. The slaughtering of innocent animals. The widespread use of pesticides by the negligent, threatening hundreds of species with extinction.”
“Jacob,” Mr. Bee Killer says, “I’m really sorry, but we can’t allow you to work here anymore.”
“You can’t fire me!” I stand and my chair clatters onto the floor. “Your evil blue ray blinded me.”
“The Recycling Room light isn’t capable of—”
“Give me a colony,” I blurt.
“Give me a colony to tend, and I won’t sue you.”
And that is how I became Jacob the Beekeeper.
Thank you, Jacob, my charges buzz when I visit. You saved us.
The Recycling Room started as a thriller going in a very dark direction, but ended as a rather quirky, unreliable-narrator story. I don't think I'd like to have Jacob as an employee. I guess that's why they gave him a bee colony. ;)
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