FICTION

Swing Shift

A war plant is no place for a romance . . . but on the other hand, love pays no attention to time or place

ROBERT HYDE October 1 1943
FICTION

Swing Shift

A war plant is no place for a romance . . . but on the other hand, love pays no attention to time or place

ROBERT HYDE October 1 1943

Swing Shift

A war plant is no place for a romance . . . but on the other hand, love pays no attention to time or place

ROBERT HYDE

SOMETIMES this happens to a girl. She pins her attention on a certain man against all reason or judgment. Every added hour proves his unsuitability. And yet . .

Terry was that way about Pete Durand until the disgrace of the “Thirty-six.”

There was only one engine-mount master jig. Thirty-six was it. Somebody used it for a welding table and the heat warped the jig forty-thousandths out of plumb.

There was the devil to pay. Even the Big Shots came swarming down, shook their heads and muttered grim words like sabotage. Durand’s only recourse was to find fault with Terry as usual.

“Wrap up your hair, Clark!” he barked at her just when she stood a chance of being admired by something higher than a senior leadman. Durand always addressed her either as Clark or as You. Now he acted as if she had warped the master jig.

“Here, Miss!” it was the kindly old Scot they called Haggis who loaned Terry his bandanna. It smelled pleasantly of plum pudding.

Quivering with rage Terry wrapped her fluffy chestnut hair. She knew! Once a girl had got tangled in a drill—so now millions of women had to make themselves hideous with nets, bandannas, turbans and tams. Most of the leadmen would let you get by with a couple of inches of ribbon or braid in your hair. Not Pete Durand.

Hair was taboo. Skirts were out. Tricky little pullover sweaters were frowned upon. There wasn’t even a mirror in the girls’ rest rooms. “Girls, you don’t want to distract the men!” the matron warned. No one was supposed to care what an employee looked like. But the girls always cared.

Pete Durand wasn’t distracted. He just rasped, “Cover that sweater!” at a girl and she covered it.

The Big Shots stalked off and two company policemen came down the aisle. Terry had a fleeting hope of seeing her leadman led away in manacles hut the policemen were just bringing in the nightly flock of trainees. Terry rested her work on the table of the drill press to see them go by. Every night she watched them pass. There was so much to see in their faces. Pride in a new job, determination to make good, patriotic fervor. Perhaps cupidity, fear of the unknown or merely blank wonderment.

There was magic to those first few minutes in the plant. Each person’s self was written on his face clear as day. Which one would help speed the war to swift justice? Which one would he a small-time profiteer, riding along on the crest of high wages and his country’s need, breaking taps and drills, wasting emery and chrome moly, playing mumblety-peg with scrihers on the template tables . . .

TERRY could remember her feelings on her own first day. She had thought of a factory as a place of dingy greyness—a moving picture with sound hut no color. In her mind’s eye she saw only oil and dirt and steel all in shades of drab until the picture was

very real to her. Then she walked into the plant on a bleak December afternoon. The blaze of color was almost a blow between the eyes.

The factory was like a vast conservatory in brilliant sunlight—the sunlight of California. The grass-green fuselages of the planes, the wings, the flaps, down to the minutest part, coated with the chartreuse chemical used on dural. The distant walls were dazzling white. Airy and intricate as lace. High overhead were rows of yellow and lavender lights. If you worked on swing shift you forgot the sun had set outdoors.

The place was so vast, a progressive breed of sparrows adopted it for their habitat, harvesting crumbs among the shapers, lathes, milling machines.

Swing shift sparrows—drinking from the grindstone coolant, building nests of shavings, going to roost in the rafters at dawn.

The busy aisles of the factory were like the streets of a small city, noisy with the honking of impatient little vehicles bustling up to boulevard stops and hurrying on to their destinations. It had taken weeks of abuse from Pete Durand to dull Terry’s dazzled delight at being part of this dream world.

Even now with her hair hidden under Haggis’ bandanna Durand wouldn’t let her alone.

“Look,” he said. “If you’re going about it that way drill this piece first.” He substituted a scrap of dural in the drill press. When the drill broke through it jammed. The metal whipped around like a pinwheel and a squeak of surprise and pain escaped Terry’s lips. The fingers of her left hand were bruised and starting to bleed.

“The other piece could have taken your hand off,” Pete Durand said grimly. “Never hold work under a drill. Clamp it in a vise.” There was no humor in his grey eyes. They were hard, tired, impatient. They asked why in heaven’s name women had to work in aircraft factories.

When she first came to work in the plant Terry had tried diligently to please him. She learned to get through a whole day without signing one of those humiliating tool replacement slips. Now she almost never broke a drill.

But Pete Durand wasn’t pleased.

He deplored women in factories.

Every job that needed to be on schedule he gave to a man to do. So finally Terry had given up trying to please him. She hated him. It was so much easier.

She hated him and she spent more time with him than with any living soul. She was one of his riders by business arrangement. For a dollar a week he picked her up every afternoon on a corner of Main and brought her back and dumped her on the same corner nine hours later.

One night when the smudge pots had thrown out a choking smoke barrage Terry covered miles in the

parking lot looking for the car, calling plaintively, feeling like a lost soul in the mists of chaos. Her driver had long tired of waiting and had gone home.

There were plenty of men in the plant who weren’t rude. Men who looked up from their benchwork and smiled when you passed. Or whistled approvingly. Signs of attention never annoyed Terry. They seemed complimentary and natural.

Other men tried to make dates. Martin Troy was

assistant supervisor in Production Control. He wore a belt not suspenders and before the war he had worked in a movie studio.

The night of the Thirty-six Terry stopped riding with Pete.

“I have a ride,” she told her leadman briefly. “I owe you 60 cents.” And she was careful not to give him any nickels he could use in the slot machine. Terry wrote finis to the whole humiliating episode of Pete Durand—a rude and stupid man who hated women.

Martin Troy took her to her own curb instead of dumping her on a corner of Main.

He said he wanted to talk. Evidently what he did want was to kiss her.

But Terry wasn’t in a mood to be kissed. There seemed to be no time for that any more. This was war and you had to work with every ounce of your energy. It was as if kisses, with rubber and canned goods, were reserved for the military . . .

You left your home and friends hundreds of miles away and came to live in a bleak little room. You put all your strength into the job. You might feel lonely and low sometimes but just for that you weren’t going to kiss the first man who came along. You were

more dedicated than ever to the conviction that some day you would rate a hero. Especially with a world full of heroes—one in every uniform. Civilians, too, were on their mettle. Some of them were even heroes.

Terry only said, “I’m too tired, Martin.” She wasn’t kidding. When you rode with somebody there were other nights. On one of those nights Terry could let him kiss her.

And she did. But when it happened she only thought to herself that this was something her abusive leadman could have done more adequately if he had had sense enough. Pete Durand, of all people. That harsh, whiplashing martinet. There was no sense to the thoughts that flitted through a girl’s mind when she was kissed.

MARTIN wanted her to transfer into Production Control. There was no future in drilling, he said. So she transferred. But when anybody mentioned Pete Durand, Terry pricked up her ears. She couldn’t help it.

There was always gossip in the Control Booth. Terry always listened. Durand took the rap for the Thirty-Six, the girls said. He was docked 20 cents an

hour and transferred to third shift to mother a batch of trainees. But he was getting production out of the trainees and that was news!

The first time Terry saw him after his disgrace she was shocked at his bravado. You might have expected him to be contrite or abashed. He was neither.

“1 always hankered to boss some trainees,” he said. “Third shift is keen. Work for seven hours—-get paid for eight!”

If, Terry thought, you never saw anything but city streets perhaps you had no way to know your country was worth fighting for. Pete seemed never to have heard the wind in pine trees, never to have smelled wild honey in the air or hunted mushrooms after the first rain or crawled like an Indian up to a pool of fat trout . . .

Terry felt almost relieved to have her resentment against her ex-lead man change from offended vanity to simple outraged patriotism. In these days a good citizen didn’t use a master jig for a welding table.

He didn’t bother her any more because she almost never saw him. It was like that at the plant. Somebody was moved to another department or another shift and it was just as if they had died.

Then one day, “Your badge doesn’t show, Clark!”

She had no need to look up from the stack of tooling orders. Only Pete would walk by in just that careless moment when her badge wasn’t showing. It was pinned on the pocket of her shirt and she had buttoned lier sweater over it. She fixed it hastily, transferring into plain view the little plate with its horrible photograph of a rather pretty girl (Terry thought) garnished by her departmental and personal numbers.

“I’m doing brain work,” she boasted. “Work with a future. No more drilling for

me!”

“Somebody has to do the drilling, Clark,” Pete said. He strode off at his angry longlegged pace down the vista of the production line and blurred quickly into the haze of distance.

PETE was right, of course. Somebody had to do the drilling. Terry didn’t like working in the Control Booth. So much paper seemed to have little connection with winning the war. When you worked at a drill press you knew you were defending your country. A certain field of mustard, a meadowlark, a picture postcard of a tree. You were fighting for the privilege of riding a streetcar down Main Street without giving your seat to any Jap or Nazi!

In the depths of her heart Terry was homesick for those months of working a drill press. It gave her a sense of accomplishment. She was almost homesick to have Pete for a taskmaster, Pete who resented every woman that personnel sent into his department as if she were there for the sole purpose of exasperating an overworked leadman.

She smiled at the memory of his outbursts. “There used to be a decent smell of paint around this outfit,” he would say. “Now it’s cold cream!” The factory odors of oil and lacquer were lost in a tangled melee of perfumes.

One night she passed the riveting department on the way to supper. In a moment of curiosity she picked up one of the riveting machines and was examining it when she heard a voice bark, “Put that down, Clark, and get back to your own department.” She turned and saw Pete glaring at her. Suddenly he grinned. “Going to eat? Come on and we’ll have supper together.” Before she could protest he had her by the arm and into the line at the cafeteria.

When he paid for her tray there wasn’t anything to do but sit with him. You couldn’t heckle the cashier into taking your money while hundreds of employees waited in line to eat.

Pete moved the dishes from the trays and stacked the trays against a table leg.

“Never see you any more,” he said. “Got room for a passenger in the jalopy. Need one. Ration Board won’t give me a retread till I get another passenger.”

Continued on page 35

Swing Shift

Continued from page 19

That was why he bought her supper! To promote a tire with his Ration Board!

“Sorry about my hands,” he apologized. “Wanted to be sure and see you—”

He stared at her with troubled grey eyes, his unwashed hands retracted beneath the table, a scoop of vanilla ice-cream slowly tottering to one side of his untouched apple pie. Pete’s eyes weren’t hard tonight. Perhaps the trouble with the master jig had humbled him. But really, Terry assured herself, he was impossible. Imagine coming with unwashed hands to have supper with a girl. The company provided soap.

Pete said, “I used to be rough on you, Terry. I was sore all the time.

See? There was always some trifling filly that didn’t pull in the harness. You did, though.”

It seemed to Terry that he had hardly started talking to her when the warning whistle blew and she had to go. She stood up. “I hope you get your tire,” she said. And she hurried back to work with a miserable lumpy feeling in her throat.

IT WAS sunset time outdoors. After the war she would be able to see the soft California sunsets again. On each shift you lost touch with priceless things like that. The sunset, the warmth of noon, or the dawn. But you sacrificed the thing to protect it. For yourself and for the children you confidently expected . . .

Terry had a headache when she reached Production Control. The noise seemed worse than ever and the loudspeaker system kept calling for some-

body that sounded like Mr. Brainfag. A dozen yards away a woman was sawing up defective production parts with a band saw. Good dural spoiled by somebody’s carelessness. The blade screeched hideously through the uneven contours of metal, their wailing an almost human protest at being relegated to scrap. Terry could hear the cries of China, Poland, Norway . .

Little pellets of lead, Terry thought, heart-high in a wall. They must be avenged quickly, quickly! If people only wouldn’t make mistakes.

No wonder Pete had been harsh with her when she was a green little nuisance —when she broke more taps and drills in a day than a first-class toolmaker could make! But if he really cared how could he himself be careless? How could be ruin a master jig?

Above the screech of the saw Terry heard the lunch whistle. But lunchtime was past. Twilight must be falling outdoors. The whistle kept blowing piercingly, wavering up and down as if they were trying to turn it off and couldn’t.

People in Production Control looked at each other, their faces blank. Then the loudspeaker gave up its search for Mr. Brainfag. “Calling all departments,” it blared. The voice sounded somehow human and distraught in spite of intervening tubes, condensers, diaphragms.

“All departments,” blared the system. “Stop machines. Proceed to shelters! Calling all departments . . . ”

“Air raid !” Martin shouted. He ran.

An odd tingling went the length of Terry’s backbone. Her first reaction was to dab her nose with the powder puff from her compact. If she was going to be bombed her nose should be powdered.

The clatter of riveting faded suddenly. The screaming of the band saw was stilled. There was almost silence. But in the vast building you could hear distant high-pitched voices echoing hysterically. And there was the constant uneasy shuffling of sole leather on cement.

TERRY had no machine to stop. She put the sheaf of tooling orders neatly away in its pigeonhole. Everybody else in the booth was gone. She remembered the directions in the little red book they gave her when she came to work—In case of air-raid alarm proceed to your assigned shelter. They said “proceed” because it was a deliberate word. They wanted you to walk not stampede. But it was hard to walk if your knees felt queer . . .

So it only seemed inevitable when Pete brushed aside the swinging gate of the Production Control booth.

“This is it!” he said. His arm went around her, and had a sustaining feel strong and right and brutal. She knew suddenly that he, too, was part of the country she was fighting for. A man who could let everything go but the essentials.

“Some loafers are finding out there’s a war,” he said. There was a grin on Pete’s face. His voice had almost a laugh. “It’ll boost production—even if they blast the plant!”

Twilight was falling outdoors. There was a glimpse of an empty dark-blue sky. Terry held tight to Pete’s hand as they wedged into one of the little steel and concrete bomb shelters. Workers were packed in breathless, listening.

Things have to be settled quickly when you’re waiting for the sound of planes overhead. Quickly, or perhaps never.

There was only one assurance Terry needed. She didn’t realize until she spoke how urgently she needed it.

“Pete, when it’s so important not to make mistakes—?” She had to ask him about Thirty-six.

But already he understood. His arm squeezed her about the waist. “When old Haggis hasn’t got a hangover he’s worth his weight in gold. But you know how the company is. They’d have

fired him. I couldn’t spare Haggis. What’s my pride, Terry? It doesn’t weigh anything. Not against the work. Somebody had to take a rap. They wouldn’t fire me ...”

An overwhelming relief, synonymous with love, possessed Terry. Now she could wait for what the skies offered— heaven in any case! Terry had heard the all-clear. She had found her hero . . .