Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Punching the Clock

Nelda Rachels

Some that's here complain, and that's all they do. Annette says her daughter and son put her here, and she'll never forgive them no matter what they say, no matter how much they visit, which she says isn't very much.

Fred says he rung up Ray yesterday and told him to muzzle that dog of his or he was calling the law. Fred says Ray never did pay him any mind, just let that dog of his keep barking, and when the law hung up after his eighth cry for help, he decided he'd just take the matter into his own hands. Every time Fred tells it, he points his left index finger and thumb at my face, goes "psssst," and sprays spit up my chin. He slaps the arm of his wheelchair and cackles, "I fixed him. I squirted Raid for Insects into the phone, and I hear tell Ray's hearing has been dead as a hammer ever since."

Charles claims it's nothing but laziness that keeps the cook's hand away from the saltshaker, and wouldn't those mashed potatoes taste better with some salt? He says his mama knew a thing or two about seasoning, that she always used salt and fatback in the beans, and just a tablespoon of sugar, along with some butter, salt, and pepper in a skillet full of summer squash, and if it wouldn't make you slap your pappy in the creek, he'd just jump in himself.

Clara, who lazes in her bed twenty-four hours a day, hates the plain white bed sheets, says they're not the red satin ones she's used to, and she's going to rip them up soon as she gets her strength back.

But I say things are about the same no matter where you are. I walk just as much and just as fast as I ever did.

There was a church service today in the activity room. At least, I reckon that's what it was, and I just walked through the room, right in front of the guy in the gray suit, plopped down in a chair, and then moved on a few minutes later. I walked through that room three more times and sat down once or twice more, and he didn't pay me no more mind than daffodils do to a late winter—just kept on talking about that hope we all have, provided we all Christian.

I reckon I've been walking all my life, at least since I was nineteen months old. Mama says that's when I started, which is later than most, so I must have been afraid of something back then. Later though, I must've got my courage up because I walked to school every day, walked through those halls, down to one room one year and down to another the next, till I’d walked into ever’ teacher’s classroom there was.

Then I walked straight on over to the local garment factory, became a floor girl, and near about walked my legs off toting bundles of pajamas to those girls sitting on their butts and sewing cuffs on the end of each sleeve all day, ever' day. Yes, I walked up to that punch clock for forty-five years. When I retired, I walked on over to the Social Security office and then over here a few years later.

And I'm still punchin' the clock. My name is on a blue card right outside the door, and though the machine don't work right, I punch it just the same as always by pressing my right palm against it hard as I can. I punch it once in the morning and once at night, walk past it each day, and then walk up and down these halls and into the cafeteria, and I don't pay a bit more mind to what people think about it than that guy in the suit paid to me. I don't see any reason to complain about anything either because everything's just the same as it's always been--as far as I can tell.


Nelda Rachels works as a tutor in the Writing Center at the University of Tennessee at Martin. She also freelances and has published articles in Draft Horse Journal, Country Handcrafts, Back Home in Kentucky, local newspapers, and Hometown (a northwest Tennessee publication).

© Nelda Rachels

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012