Katie Sue Johnson had never gone more than a week without work. She was no longer as young as before, but was still slender, energetic, and had a warm friendliness in those big brown eyes of hers. Whenever she was on an interview for work, she was usually the first selected. So her recent company had sent notices to all the girls and managers that they were moving to Minnesota, just as soon as the finishing touches were complete on the new facility. Most of the people at the top were having the company pay for the realty costs, moving expenses, even finding the new homes. The factory workers were on their own.
“Oh, man, this is aggravating. Did you know they were shutting down?” Katie wondered if her friend Janet had any idea. Janet looked up and stared at Katie with a sad look. “I didn’t. Fact is, I heard Charlotte talkin’ a few weeks ago ‘bout how good the company was a doin’. I alwuz thought Charlotte knew what the big bosses were a doin’.” Katie looked down at her hands, still holding the canvas, ready to feed it into the threader. “Are we s’posed to finish these? Hey, there’s Charlotte. Charlotte, did they expect us to keep on doin’ these ‘r not?” Charlotte was one of those really thin older ladies who was in charge of this section. She looked really pissed off. She was waving her termination slip in the air. “How the hell am I supposed to know what these jackass s.o.b.s got planned? Nobody tells me nuthin’, uh well…anything!”
Katie, in kind of a whiney voice said, “Ya think we should just shut things off? It’ll take another half hour to finish sewing this darned cover.”
Charlotte starts waving her hands in a signal to get the other girls to listen. “Hey..hey..hey. If you just got a little to do, go ahead and finish your cover. The rest, turn ‘em off, but don’t move anything. One a’ the bosses should be down to tells what they want. Let’s just hope we get paid for what we did today, but wait.”
In a few minutes the racket from the sewing machines slowed down to three or four, then one, then silence. Some of the women stood with their arms folded, others just sat where they were. Suddenly old fat Harold Smothers appeared. He was one of the big shots who kind of waddled when he walked through. He had kind of a girly-boy voice that made Katie’s mouth stretch into a frown every time she heard it. “Hello o o ladies. Gosh, we are so sahhhry to bring you such awful, awful news today. Yes, Hubbard Covers is closing … well, now, closing here. Some of you, well, now, especially the hard workers like like “ he stared at Katie and Janet, “some of you will be considered at the new, you know, the really new plant in Eden Prairie. Listen, it’s just a hop and a skip from Minneapolis, and Mr. Covington is coming out with a travel bag division that has shown some okay results in the test markets. Ronald, get me that box over there. I left it there…by the door, Ron. No, no, that door. Yes, Ronald, that box.” Harold made a big fanfare of pulling a bag out of the box to a room of silence. It was beige with a light brown handle. Very dull and ordinary looking. A few girls close to his circle clapped politely. Harold had that same wide phoney smile on his face, eyebrows elevated, and dropped the boring sample back in the box. He made a sweeping motion to Ronald to pick up the box, and the two went back out the door.
Shirley, the girl with the bouncy blond curls came running up, looking all wide eyed and pleased “Katie!Katie! You too, Janet, guess what I just heard! Some diamond company is taking over this factory, just as soon as Hubbard Covers is gone! They’s looking for people to sign up, I think over’t Elm at 9th, the employment office. Soon as I get my check from Hubbard, I’m headin’ over there. Anyone need a ride? I got my van out in the lot if you want.”
Katie looked over at Janet and her eyebrows went up and her mouth made a tight little O. “Hey, I’m goin’! Diamonds! Wow, I can’t wait!” She grabbed Janet’s hand and did a little bouncy dance. Maybe we’ll get taught how to make rings! Ear rings! Necklaces! Oh, man, that is such great news! I think I’ll go ahead and take my car. Come on with me after we get our checks, and then afterwards we can stop and have a drinkeepoo to celebrate at Harry’s!”
It seemed like that darned check line took forever to move forward. The two bookkeepers were unaware of the closing date, and some work sheets weren’t up to date, and by 4:30, it was too late to go downtown. So, a quick stop at Harrys for a whiskey sour. Janet had a Bud. Then over to the smorgy place to get a bite to eat. Katie then took Janet over to her apartment complex and said, “I’m headin’ over to sign up first thing, right after eight. That’s when they open, right?” Janet gave a little shrug, and said, “hey, if you come by, I’ll be ready…quarter to eight or so, okay?”
Katie watched a little bit of TV, liked Jeopardy, caught some of the news and took herself to bed. She had dreams of sparkly diamond necklaces streaming all around catching the light with dancing stars and color rainbows. She woke up at six, and stumbled into her kitchen to brew some coffee. Her old Corolla started up just fine, and she drove a few blocks down Freeman to Alice and parked in front of Janet’s complex. Jan’s apartment was ground floor facing Alice so she saw Katie drive up. They were both happy and giggly that morning. Diamonds! After all that time, well a couple years sewing canvas covers, now they were going into the diamond business. There was a line leading from the employment office’s front door, and they saw all their friends and work associates in line.
“Ceerap!” Katie said. “We should have got up earlier. Looks like were gonna have to be lucky to get a job there. Wonder how many they’re hiring?” Janet said, “Oh, well. What d’we have to lose, come on, hurry, there’s a whole bunch coming from the parking lot.”
So, they stood in line, a slow line, as each person had to be interviewed, their work record checked, their history looked at. One by one, they did the slow march, stop and wait, take another step, wait. Finally, Katie got through the door and wrote her name on a sheet at the counter. Ten minutes later, she was called in. She started to feel the excitement again. She even had worn her cubic zirconia ‘diamond’ necklace to show the new bosses her interest in the product. She was told to take a seat. “Name?” the collegiate looking young man with a moustache said. “Katie Johnson.” “Previous employer?” Katie answered, trying to look eager and energetic, as the questions rolled out. At the end, the young guy said “thank you, Miss Johnson. I’ll be calling you in just a few days.” Katie was feeling anxious: “Do..uh..do you think I’ll get a job…uh, get put on?…uh, Mr. Webber…”
“Oh, it’s very likely. We have a need for probably the whole town. How do you feel working with chemicals and flammables?” Katie gulped, and felt her jaw drop open. “Uh, uh…well, I think okay. You mean like a soldering gun, or glue?” She was thinking of jewelry making. Young Webber smiled. “No, not exactly. You see, Diamond is a match company. We are going to need a slew of matchmakers.”
Katie felt a let down, and could imagine her dream of being a diamond girl light up and go out, leaving a wooden match with its top curled, black, ready to discard.